Andy Griffiths on the Journey That Changed Him

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As a teenager, the children’s author was given a dramatic lesson on the precariousness of human life. As told by Russell Shakespeare.

Melbourne to Mount Donna Buang, 1977

The lowdown Andy Griffiths is a lifetime ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which is holding its Great Book Swap on September 7. His latest book, The 78-Storey Treehouse, is out now.A near-death experience is not essential for – or even a guarantee of – achieving literary greatness but surely it can’t hurt. Mine came on a dark and freezing winter’s night in 1977 on Mount Donna Buang.

The mountain is 80 kilometres east of Melbourne, in the southern reaches of the Great Dividing Range. At 1245 metres, it’s by no means the tallest mountain in the Victorian Alps but it’s high enough to make it the closest snowfield to Melbourne and a popular place for tobogganing, snowman-building and – for the intrepid or just plain foolhardy – testing your hiking skills in the deep snow and freezing conditions. 

My father was driving me and two of my friends, Mark and Lucas, up the mountain. We were part of a convoy organised by our high-school bushwalking club to deliver about 15 of us to the starting point for a two-night snow hike.

As we wound our way up the narrow 16-kilometre road with unguarded edges, I could see the lights of Warburton in the darkness far below. 

I was trying not to think about plummeting over the edge when it actually happened. I remember Dad braking suddenly, the car spinning 180 degrees and then leaving the road. We tumbled over and over and over until we came to a stop, hanging upside down from our seatbelts, our heads just a few centimetres from the roof. The cabin smelled strongly of petrol and I remember thinking quite matter-of-factly that it would be a good idea to get out before the car caught fire. 

We released our seatbelts, wound down the windows, slid out onto the snowy ledge of rock that had broken our fall and scrambled up the rocky cliff back to the road.

These days, I guess, the walk would have been abandoned and we would have been taken to the nearest hospital for check-ups and counselling but, hey, it was the 1970s and, for better or worse, we just got on with things.

After establishing that nobody was hurt, Mark, Lucas and I retrieved our packs from the wreck and joined the other hikers. And, apart from some tumbling nightmares for a few nights afterwards, that was that.

So did this near-death experience afford me the insight to produce the profound and deeply thoughtful literary masterpieces that I felt it was my destiny to write? Well, with a title like The Day My Bum Went Psycho featuring prominently on my backlist, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one. 

What I did gain is a strong sense of how fragile life is – something for which I will always be both grateful and amazed. 

SEE ALSO: No Place Like Home: Samantha Harris

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