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Sport 3: Spring 1989

Lloyd Jones — Wilder in Eden — Coon's Story

page 122

Lloyd Jones

Wilder in Eden
Coon's Story

The sky in the West turned a brilliant molten orange, and for a brief desperate moment, clung to the Kaimai Ranges. Lights out, George turned his EP Holden for the coast. The tapedeck played Jimmy Rogers — that was for the benefit of Farley Reynolds, George's drunk Auckland lawyer. But Reynolds was sober enough to have his own observations. For instance, the way George was driving. Those quick eyes with their hands-in-the-cookie-jar mentality, pecking away at the passing landscape. Those beautiful white hands taking the Holden into a drift, then, to wrench the wheel back the other way like something he lassooed; in this way, Eden reeled them in.

There were problems from day one. George plainly underestimated the task of running a motorcamp. Hadn't dreamt it would turn out this way. Eden drew more campers than expected, indeed, more than he wanted or needed. His needs, after all, were modest: cigarettes, beer, paint supplies. But even these became surplus to requirement with spare time tight as it was. He got little in the way of fishing done. His blank canvasses drew armies of red ants. Work on his stable of cars suffered. The daylight hours saw him positioned at his office window, like an old soak at a bar taking deposits and organising people to sign the registrar. His first tax return aptly describes his employment as 'tollgate operator'.

Nor had he, twenty years after his prison escapes, anticipated his notoriety surving on. Usually it was a guy in stubbies and jandals, with a carload of kids, who asked him, 'Don't I know you from somewhere?' And George said, 'Sure, you probably seen my face in the newspapers.'

'George Wilder!'

'Right first time.'

The men got a big kick out of this, and as George showed the family to their site the kids in a tight knit exotic group stuck to George, stopping when he did, moving off again, not ever taking their eyes page 123off him, as if certain he was a door about to swing open and spring a ghost. Sometimes George went 'boo!' and they scattered like pigeons. Their father laughed, and the kids' mother gathered them in again with orange drink from the back of the stationwagon.

The nights gave George no rest either. People hounded him to get generators fixed. The plumbing in the shower block needed unblocking. New fuses dropped into the switchboard in the kitchen. Disputes needed mediation.

Alcohol caused most of the trouble. Youths who drank like camels. George sat by their fire, warmed his hands, maybe uncorked one from their supply, and soothed out the evening's hijinks with stories from the other Eden. The cold quarry stone, the tiny cells, the greenness of everything. One by one the drunk youths passed out or crawled away to their sleeping bags.

Well, as 'Coon' tells it, trouble started and George began looking out for a car to hotwire. It was a natural reflex, to allow his eye to wander. 'My nervous twitch,' he called it, made somewhat redundant by the cars already at his disposal. 'Coon' said this wasn't quite so, as none of them were going. They had all been picked clean, ready for rehabilitation.

George mentally catalogued each part. The East Wing (named after the first Eden) which in fact lay to the West, tucked up against the hill, offered a walk in George's scrapyard. Wheel rims stacked on end; unsteady columns of black tyres; grease rods, axles and other limbs caringly laid on canvas. Shells of cars, empty-eyed skulls propped off the ground with bricks. George roamed this ward in a black t-shirt and gardening gloves. He was a rat on a rubbish heap. He climbed over his stockpile imagining all kids of unholy cross-fertilisation: V-6 engines in a lap sewing machine; fat Capri tires on a Mini. Once a week a crossbreed sputtered to life, and this thalidomidic 'thing' crawled along the stock tracks to the gates of Eden. There, George left the motor gasping and leant on a fender, waiting on his worshippers to show.

He took as many kids as he could, growling 'In the back with you lot. "Coon" pull up that boot. Unscrew the hinges if you have to. That's it. Pop a few more kids in there...' The 'thing', sagging on arthritic suspensions, rolled out the gates. Out of sight of the camp he fed the beast some gas and gravel spat from the road into the dusty ferns. Corners on two wheels and George's lips held a cigarette in that curious way of a carpenter's pencil. The same kind of page 124deliberation, which loosened to a smile when he made a difficult bend. The kids relived it for the next two miles, whooping and screaming from the backseat and boot and other points south of George's thin, hunched back. At sunset he fantasised about America. He had only a film to go on. 'Coon' thought he mentioned some Western. Its cactus views. Land that took the pedal to the floor, all day. He drove quietly, his leg made a big tick half off the gas, while he fumbled in his shirt pocket for a Castro. The kids were all asleep in the back, a mess of limbs sandwiched together, and George spoke quietly of the continent he was supposed to have been born in.