Bush Yarns and Poetry


A living legend in Alice Springs


Another inspirational bloke we’ve come to know well is Jol Fleming. He runs a successful 4WD training and tour business in Alice Springs – from his wheelchair and from the driving seat of his modified 4WD.

Jol FlemingJol was brought up in the 1950s, in the remote Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, some 400 kilometres north west of Alice Springs, where his parents ran a Baptist mission. Jol's playmates were full-blood Aborigines and Jol still carries his tribal skin name, Jabaltjari.

Jol’s vehicle accident happened in 1981, while he was working at Orange Creek Station and he spent nearly a year in Adelaide recovering from his injuries.

When he returned to his beloved Red Centre Jol needed a project to keep his mind active and he joined a team researching the accuracy of the records of early explorers of the interior. 

The journals of Giles, Winnecke and Gosse, combined with Jol's intimate knowledge of the area enabled the team to identify the exact routes of these intrepid explorers and to locate blaze trees and other markers.

This historic passion still drives Jol today and we Outback travellers are the beneficiaries.

                         Not your average bloke  (Courtesy of Jol Fleming)

Jolyon Roy FLEMING (Jol to virtually everyone who has ever had contact with him) is no newcomer to adversity.  Although born in Melbourne on the 11th of May, 1955, his place of birth was only a very temporary comfort zone.  His mother Pat (now deceased) had travelled to Melbourne from her home in Central Australia for the birth, returning as soon as possible afterwards.

Home to the Fleming family was like no other in Australia.  Jol's father, Tom, (also now deceased) was, at the time, and for many years after, the Baptist missionary at a remote Aboriginal Community in the desolate heart of Australia.  Yuendumu, even now, is one of the most isolated places on the continent.  It is the home of the fierce Walpirri and Warramunga tribes, whose fierceness and hostility at times of conflict can only be rivalled by that of the environment in which they live. Some 400 odd kilometres North West of Alice Springs, Yuendumu is in the heart of the central Australian desert country, an oasis in one of the harshest environments on the planet.

Jol Fleming and friends 1960Jol's education was via correspondence school, with the assistance of his parents and elder brother, Adrian.

The only other children were full blood Aboriginals, who at that time were very unsophisticated, very tribal in their beliefs and lifestyle, and very unfamiliar with traditional European custom.  To this day Jol still carries his tribal skin name, Jabaltjari (Jab al jar e), by which he is known to those with whom he grew up.

Upon reaching grade six he was inducted into the ways of Kings College, South Australia, for his further education, however at every available opportunity he returned to the home of his immediate and extended family, far more comfortable in the desert environment than the confines of a capital city.

In 1974 Jol was at Yuendumu when cyclone Tracey hit Darwin.  Santa may have never made it into Darwin, but he would have had hell's own job of reaching Yuendumu, with heavy rains isolating the community for an extended period of time.  With the only access route being a poorly maintained dirt road (as it remains today) Jol established a lifeline for the community, driving through unimaginable road conditions to reach Alice Springs in order to obtain urgent medical and food items, then returning as fast as he was able.

Following the recovery from the cyclone Jol moved to Ayers Rock, where he worked for the Northern Territory Reserves Board, maintaining essential services such as civil construction, the local powerhouse, emergency services for rescue and recovery off Ayers Rock and tours for hardy visitors to the region.  In this era the rock was somewhat of a last frontier, both comforted and threatened by it's isolation and the harshness of it's environment.

1977 saw Jol "come into town", establishing himself in Alice Springs driving coach tours from Alice to Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon and surrounds.  "Tours" conjours images of comfort and luxury, thereby making it a somewhat deceptive description of the epics undertaken on a regular basis.

In 1979 Jol left his beloved red centre again, this time for New South Wales, where he drove Southern Highland coaches.  The lure of the centre was too strong, and within 8 months he had returned to central Australia, this time working at Orange Creek Station.  Although the homestead is only some 90 odd kilometres South of Alice Springs Jol had a "back yard" to work in of several thousand square kilometres.  During this time his duties involved the maintenance of water bores, mechanical repairs, driving trucks, graders and tours, as well as the day to day Jackaroo duties associated with stock work.  Keep in mind that when he went out in the morning for a bore run he often did not return for a week or two, such was the distance and nature of the terrain he had to traverse in order to reach the bores.

Change of Life:

It was while he was working at Orange Creek Station that the single biggest influencing factor in Jol's life occurred.  While returning to Orange Creek on the 19th of October, 1981, Jol was involved in a single vehicle rollover, during which he was thrown through the rear window of the Hilux 4 x 4 utility in which he was a passenger.  The severity of the accident was soon realised with Jol unable to move.  The injuries he sustained in the accident included a C 5-6 spinal injury, reducing a man exceeding 6'1" and 260 lbs (nearly 200cm and 120 kg) to a future as a quadriplegic reliant upon a wheel chair for mobility.

Jol was again forced to leave the sanctuary of central Australia, spending 11 months in Adelaide, 9 of those in Royal Adelaide Hospital Spinal Unit, Hampstead Centre, Northfield.

A Time of Change:

Upon returning to Alice Springs Jol and Anne began adjusting to their new way of life, living in a flat owned by Jol's parents.  This was a time for reassessing life in general, and coming to grips with the fact that his former way of life was no longer viable.  The open spaces, enchanting surroundings and inhospitable environment with which he was so comfortable was no longer accessible to him, in the short term at least.

With so much time on his hands Jol needed a project to keep his mind active and avoid slipping into morose self pity.  He became instrumental in a team researching the accuracy of the records of early explorers of the interior.  From his wheel chair he was a part of a group confirming the location of historical landmarks identified in the writings of explorers describing their routes in the late 1800's.  The words of Giles, Winnecke and Gosse, combined with Jol's intimate knowledge of the area and the mobility of others enabled the team to identify the exact routes of these intrepid explorers.

One achievement in this period of which he is most proud is the locating of Tin Can Hill.  On a remote hill south of Kings Canyon in 1872, while on the same trek which lead to the discovery of Ayers Rock and the Olga's, Gosse blazed a mark on a tree as a reference point for his expedition.  In 1896 Winnecke followed the same path, further marking the hill with a tin can.  The actual tin can was located nearly 100 years later using the records of both explorers.

Further research also clarified a misnomer previously held concerning the naming of the Olga's (Kata Juta).  Lake Amadeus, in South Australia, was named by Ferdinand Von Muller, a wealthy German botanist who was the major sponsor of Ernest GILES exploration in 1871.  Von Muller named the lake after King Amadeus of Spain.  It was thought that the Olga's were named after his wife.  Further research by Jol and others dispelled this myth, as Von Muller actually named The Olga's in reverence to Queen Olga of Wortenburg.  News of these historic revelations was unfortunately somewhat overshadowed by Australia winning the America's Cup at the same time!

Creating Goals and Meeting Challenges:

While immersing himself in such work Jol was frustrated and hampered by the confinement of a residence never designed or intended to accommodate his individual needs.  He set about designing and having built his own house, a design compiled with such forethought and practicality that he still lives in his "dream" home, without having the need to extend or modify the original design.

His foray's out of Alice Springs had been confined to trips North and South, as these were the only directions serviced by bitumen roads.  Rather than just accept such confinement Jol bought a Holden ute, with the specific intention of modifying the vehicle to suit his needs and the conditions in which he was most comfortable.  The first modification was the installation of hand controls for all aspects of the vehicle, enabling him to drive again.  Further modification to suspension and drive train components permitted a new lease of life, and a return to the desert country he so loves.

With his new freedom combining with his knowledge, experience and ability Jol was soon able to go places in a two wheel drive ute that most four wheel drive owners would not contemplate.

With his mobility giving him the means to return to the desert, along with a couple of quiet beers with a few friends from motor cycle racing days gone by (Jol had previously raced "The  Finke" - Australia's most gruelling Desert race - in 1980 on a TT 500, breaking down around Mt Squires on the way home and 1981 on a Yamaha 465, only managing to reach Rumbulara on the way down).  The concept of an off road racing club for cars based just outside of Alice Springs was formulated. 

In furtherance of this Jol invited his former employers from Orange Creek Station, Terry and Marilyn KARGER, out to dinner over Alice Springs Show weekend, 1984.  Jol had formulated a proposal to use the North Eastern "paddock" of Orange Creek Station, which he knew to have no sustainable agricultural use, as there was no reliable source of useable bore water.  In addition to this the area was littered with "shot lines" - stretches of graded road which are straight and of several kilometres in length.  These "shot lines" had been made by Pancon Petroleum in 1981, in order to conduct seismic surveys in the quest for fossil fuels.  This was done by grading a road, installing systems of subterranean sensors along the road in series for about 6 - 7 kilometres, then travelling over the sensors with a huge vibrating pad mounted on a purpose built truck, with the readings from the sensors thereby determining the nature of the subterranean composition.  Jol knew these shot lines would be a perfect basis for his concept of the best off road racing complex in Australia.

Jol's proposal for a lease arrangement was considered and accepted by the Karger's, and the Alice Springs Off Road Race Club was formed.  With the assistance of Dennis Zaglas, Mark Rodda, Peter Elston and Brian Cartwright the original pit area was sited in August, 1984, with the first race held shortly after.  Jol filled the position of President of this newly formed club, a position he held for the next 14 years.  Through his initiative the barren surrounds of the first pit area has developed into the best permanent off road racing facility in Australia with a multitude of tracks available, varying in distance from 2 km to 90 km, permanent structures for canteen, shower, toilet, pit and playground facilities and a unique family environment.

Once established the club had a rapid rise in membership, becoming popular throughout a broad cross section of the community.  This popularity led to a trial run for cars in the 1987 Finke Desert Race, which was previously the exclusive domain of the motorcycles.  This first trial run was not the full length of Australia's harshest desert race track, however it did take in the roughest 200 kilometres of it.  Local driver Nicky Balmer was only 6 minutes slower than the fastest bike, a highly commendable effort which led to the first joint race in 1988.

With Jol as the Director / Co-ordinator / Sweep driver and general dogs body 12 cars officially entered the 1988 Finke Desert Race.  The cars were forced to leave Alice Springs at 5.00 am, battling the bitter cold, the dark and the desert, racing to Finke, staying partially overnight, then departing Finke at 3.00 am.  That year was the only year that all who started the race finished.  The weather in that first year was so cold that Jol had to put cardboard across the car radiator in order to get the heater inside the car to work!

Through his involvement with off road racing Jol had perceived a need for a supplier of specialised components suitable for race vehicles.  He established a business called J & A Spares in 1985, operating from the shed at the rear of his premises.  The business dealt mainly with Volkswagen specialised parts, which were favoured heavily by off road racing enthusiasts at the time.  Jol secured a Penrite Oils distributorship, and included a selection of racing essentials.

By 1989 J & A Spares had flourished sufficiently to warrant moving to a permanent business premises.  He arranged the lease of a shed / office in Hele Crescent, which was one of the first areas of Alice Springs to be developed outside of the central business district during World War II.  By 1991 the business had developed sufficiently for Jol to purchase the premises. Jol's first attempt at being self employed since his accident had succeeded, only due to hard work, persistence and ability.

Probably the highlight of Jol's adult life was the birth of his son Ryan in 1990.  Once Ryan was able to walk the wheelchair was not so much an obstacle but a great form of entertainment, as Ryan deftly climbed all over his father, the chair and anything else in his way.  Ryan became the spark Jol, and many others in similar positions, would often need to fight off the inevitable bouts of self doubt and depression.

Not satisfied with simply running a motor vehicle related business from his wheel chair Jol expanded his interests in all aspects of recreational vehicles.  This included a need to share his knowledge and experience in four wheel driving and awareness.  Jol proceeded to gain the necessary qualifications to become a fully licenced driving instructor and adult educator, thereby becoming possibly the only fully fledged driving instructor bound to a wheel chair.  With business prospects flourishing in this direction the decision was made to close J & A in 1998.

A Brief Resume:

Jol now runs Direct 4wd Awareness, a business catering for all aspects of 4 x 4 travelling.  Courses he instructs cover everything from the basics through to a Nationally recognised Occupational Four Wheel Drive Certificate, involving a comprehensive ten days tuition.  His is a registered training organisation qualified to deliver National competency based training programs to the standards of the National Four Wheel Drive Council.  He is actively involved in all areas, including the practical application of lessons learnt, at which time he keeps pace with his students providing support and direction, all from a two wheel drive utility, travelling through the same conditions as his students do in four wheel drives.  He is the provider of choice for the Central Land Council, the unified body representing the interests of all Central Australian Aboriginals, for the training of their many staff in all aspects of four wheel drive vehicles.

Jol has managed to use his knowledge and experience to also enable him to conduct incentive and 4 x 4 training programs for the Ford Motor Company.  He has now conducted several "expeditions" into desert areas, leading groups from the company on organised tours and target specific testing of the companies product.

A brief summary of his achievements in recent years include the following:

* 1992 - Founding member and first President of the Central Australian Drag Racing Association.  He remained President for the first two years, standing aside once the club had become established in it's own right.

 * 1995 - After many years planning the pursuit of his childhood dream, having received further motivation in the form of a book from his brother Adrian on the area in 1993, Jol successfully crossed the Simpson Desert driving a 2 wheel drive Ford utility.  The feeling of euphoria upon reaching "The French Line" is one he can not verbalise.

 * 1996 - Not satisfied with simply crossing the desert Jol had to try again, this time travelling from Alice Springs to Birdsville and return in his two wheel drive, specially modified and self designed XG Ford utility.  This trip was achieved on his own effort, for even when crossing "Big Red" - the infamous, huge, last monster sandhill in the Simpson Desert, Jol did it all unassisted.  He has now crossed the Simpson via a number of routes seven times, each time vowing "I will return".

 * 1996 - Jol became the Race Director for the now infamous Finke Desert Race, seeing a need for improvement and professionalism, subsequently dedicating himself to that task.

 * He has progressively improved his qualifications within the Confederation of Australian Motorsport, and is currently a fully licenced Grade 2 CAMS Steward and Grade 2 CAMS Race Director.  This is one level below international standing

 * He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Finke Desert Race since 1996

 * He is on the Executive Committee for the Alice Springs 4 x 4 Club

 * He is on the Executive Committee for the Alice Springs Off Road Club

 * He has been called upon by the Department of Lands Planning and Environment, in conjunction with the National Tread Lightly association, to assist with the development of a recreational vehicles awareness group.

 * He has been used as a consultant by the New South Wales Variety Bash organisers in the planning, preparation and execution of the 1999 "Brickpit to Broome" Bash, with that organisation calling upon his specific expertise in the desert.

 * 1998 Led a Ford Light Truck incentive winners (all 40 of them) on a 5 day Alice to Birdsville expedition, the another group back from Birdsville to Alice. Total of 90 people and 17 vehicles.

 * May 1999 Tackled the Hay River Jaunt from Jervois to Poeppels Corner, with four 4WD’s and a quad. This piece of land hadn’t been used for years, then infrequently, some 350km cross country with a GPS point of the Madigan Expedition, Camp 15 on the small screen of the GPS. After 4 days meeting the track on the Hay of the Madigan Line Track, follow it south to Poeppels Cnr. Seeing other vehicles when getting to Poeppel Corner was a bit of a shock, funny what solitude in the desert can do.

This was the start of project to get another place on the Map, Batton Hill an Aboriginal Entrprise up and running, with the traditional owner Lindsay Bookie and access for the southerners not only to the desert but to traditional aboriginals.

 * November 1999 he took a group of 35 journalists from around Asia, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, on a trek through "The Gardens", a spectacular, rarely visited area to the North East of Alice Springs, providing them with a "snapshot" of Central Australia.

 * March 2000 Ford Motor Company ran two more incentive programmes in Central Australia, From Alice to the Rock, the back way’.

 * In April 2000 Jol was confronted with the reality that his family life had broken down, his interests and those of his wife Anne having slowly drifted apart with the passage of time and personal growth, resulting in him now being a single man again.  For one so dependent upon the assistance of others in the simple execution of his daily essential needs this was a devastating blow.  His wife Anne and son Ryan now reside in Mandurah, Western Australia, leaving Jol to seek suitable home care and assistance.  Given the highly personal and intimate nature of the duties required to enable his daily life and performance of his bodily functions due to his incapacitation, this has been no easy task.  The school holidays have never held such enjoyment, even as a child himself, for it provides the only opportunities for a reunion with his best mate, Ryan.  Predictably a large portion of this quality time is consumed "out bush".

 * Year 2000 Jol was awarded "The Australian Sports Medal" from the Governor General for services to Motor Sport

 * 2001 ended a 3 year business partnership with David Koch, Jol keeping the Direct 4WD Awareness business.

 * July 2002 Jol's community spirit and dedication was recognised, with him being awarded the Regional Territorian of The Year for Community Service, an honour for which his mother was nominated, but never achieved.  How proud she would have been.

 * December 2002 saw recognition of Jol's volunteer efforts in Motor Sport, with the CAMS National Official of the Year award presented to him in Melbourne, at the same presentation as all National title awards for the likes of Mark Skaife (V8 Supercars) and Mark Burrows (National Off Road Champion for the 6th time and close friend of Jol's).

 * Feb 2003 saw Jol "jump ship", by assisting with hosting and leading Toyota dealers from around Australia with the launch of the new Landcruiser Prado.  Toyota provided a vehicle for Jol to have adapted to suit his hand controls, which were fitted by Peter Towler, another local outback adventurer.  With Jol at the wheel his lead Prado set the pace, with none of the "able bodied" Toyota dealers able to hold a match to him while he "played" in his favourite back yard, showing the "city boys" what their product was really all about.

 *May 2004 on: Jol has been a mentor for tourism in the Simpson Desert and has helped Lindsay Bookie set up the Batton Hill Bush Camp, allowing travellers access to the Hay River Track and the northern Simpson. He does the tour bookings for the camp as well as using his influence to get good press on this special place, this has seen the visitation go from 10 vehicles in 2003 to 210 vehicles in the winter of 2006.

 * July 2004 The Big Trip was launched, a Megga Tour of 84 Days in length, to cover the northern parts of Australia, a great trip.

 * December 2004 the return of his son Ryan, having had enough of the big smoke and the lack of freedom, came back to be with his dad, getting to do his first love, compete on a motor bike. This hasn’t been with out its setbacks but the dream keeps them both going.

Through the wonders of modern technology Jol is able to operate a personal computer, using pens and pencils as pointers to skip around the internet, or a voice activated program with which he is able to dictate correspondence, both personal and business.  His initial efforts at this were the cause of much frustration for both Jol and those around him, thanks to a few teething problems.  With his usual perseverance and courage Jol has developed from what initially came out as a jumbled mess to copious notes, letters and submissions flowing with eloquence from the rubberised end of a pencil pounding a keyboard.  The satisfaction he derives from this is immense, giving independence and a strong sense of achievement.  Such highs have assisted him in coming to grips with the complexities of long distance fatherhood and single life.  Through such achievements he has gained the momentum to propel himself into achieving the fulfillment of his goals, surrounded by his "harem" of carers instead of his family unit.

In spite of the adversity faced throughout a lifetime it is indicative of the quality of the man that he is able to relate to the basic essentials of life, and feel empathy for others wronged.  Such empathy is evident when he tells the story of an elderly tribal Aboriginal man known simply as Peg Leg.
Peg Leg and others arrived in Yuendumu in the 1960's, after a lifetime of traditional living in the remoteness of the desert country west of Yuendumu extending into Western Australia. They were forced to come in due to the small band living together in complete traditional style had becoming dominated by men, with insufficient women for the group to survive.  Those remaining refused to assimilate with European influences and culture, instead choosing to remain nomads of the desert.  Peg Leg and friends were to return to the group once locating the appropriate women to accompany them.  Peg Leg developed a taste for the luxury of Yuendumu, and did not return to his tribe with the others.  The rest of the tribe never again approached the settlement.

In 1985 a group who had heard of this mythical band wandering the desert sands mounted an aerial search.  They had convinced Peg Leg to accompany them.  Eventually they located the group, and landed nearby.  These traditional people had never had contact with the white man, and Peg Leg was sent to calm and assure them.  This plan backfired drastically however, for upon the group recognising Peg Leg they were furious, mounting a concerted attack in an effort to kill the man who had betrayed them by not returning as agreed over 25 years earlier.  Jol's mirth lies with his empathy for Peg Leg, as he explains it, "the poor bugger was just trying to have a good time!"

 Visit Jol's website

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