Christmas is meant to bring loved ones together, but when a “biblical flood” wreaked havoc on a family celebration, it forced one Australian man to make an almost 5,000km detour alone through the outback to get his car home.
Chris English, a 64-year-old from Kununurra in far northern Western Australia, is this week driving through red desert by day and camping out at night on his way back home.
In December, English and his wife drove from Kununurra to the coastal hub of Broome so they could catch a cheaper flight to Perth to be with their children and their families for Christmas and the new year.
But by early January, towards the end of their stay in Perth, the couple realised they were in trouble.
They watched on as the northern part of Western Australia was inundated by the “worst ever” floods to hit their state.
The road between Broome and Kununurra was destroyed when the Fitzroy River flooded, and the couple came to the realisation they would not be able to pick up their car as planned and drive the same route back home.
When they consulted Google Maps for the next best way home to avoid road closures, the trip was staggering – a vast U-shaped route down through the centre of Western Australia, feeding into the base of the Northern Territory and up to its tip, before driving west back to Kununurra.
The trip would take 64 hours, across 4,770km of road – a longer journey than driving from Madrid to Moscow.
English’s son Craig told the Guardian his father is “a very seasoned in terms of outback driving” so was undeterred by the mammoth detour.
“He’s very much a country guy, so it seemed normal to us that he wanted to, that’s just what he’s like,” Craig said. “He’s the only one mad enough to do the trip.”
English managed to persuade his wife and got permission to fly to Broome and rescue their stranded car, while she would fly back to Kununurra as she needed to get back earlier for work.
On Monday morning, English set off on the ambitious trip in his Nissan Patrol four-wheel-drive with a swag, a portable stove and supplies for a week.
His son Craig began sharing updates intended just for his small following of friends on Twitter. Soon, Craig had thousands of new followers eager to hear about his father’s latest whereabouts. When English next entered a town with reception, Craig told his father of his newfound celebrity.
“He was laughing his head off that people were supporting,” Craig said. “Totally blown away by it and even a bit overwhelmed I think.”
“He told me ‘I’m not doing this for any attention, I just want to get the car back’,” Craig said.
By Wednesday, English had made it into the Northern Territory, and spent the night camping just next to Uluru.
His family expect him to arrive back home in Kununurra by Monday. Craig estimates his father will spend about $1,000 in petrol over the course of the trip, with higher bowser costs at remote service stations.
“None of us are worried about him. If he gets lost the whole country is looking for him.”