Okie dokie, where were we? Ahh yes. My beloved Big Suse. The original beach cleaning brew lounge, with whom I was uncovering just how extensive our rubbish problems are. 

All over my home state and beyond, it seemed it didn’t matter how far-flung the coast; beneath the initial beauty would be bottles, bait bags, cigarette lighters, and thongs. You name it, it was - still is - out there. 

And spending days on end picking it all up and taking it off the beach made me feel good. Really good. 

But for all her voluptuous charm, there was no avoiding Suse’s impracticality. From the admittedly rickety reclaimed wooden exterior to her dinosaur-chugging motor, formerly rumbling away underground in the mines and now belching sooty exhaust into the sky behind me during my “environmental” quarter-life crisis. Smitten though I was, she just wasn’t the truck for the adventure ahead. 

One day picking up rubbish in the dunes, I remembered something I’d heard a long time ago, about how you could run old motors on vegetable oil. But I didn't know the first thing about how, so I started researching online that evening. 

It quickly became apparent that I was mechanically over my head even considering it. Which didn’t take much, mind you; only weeks earlier I’d needed to phone in the cavalry to help me change a tyre. But I was determined that an alternative to fossil fuel was going to be essential for my coast cleaning mission, which would necessitate me selling Big Suse, and buying a bigger truck with an appropriate motor for the conversion. 

And so, late one night the week after I got home from Stockton, I impulsively purchased an ex-RFS 4x4 miniature firetruck off the internet. The week after that, it had been delivered to my driveway and I was instantly in love. It was 25 years old but only had 20000kms on the clock, so it was effectively the newest vehicle I’d ever owned. 

Whilst I was sad to wave goodbye to Suse, this new yellow beast held all the potential for plant-powered progress. I named it Nugget and got to work swapping the (fully functioning) firefighting equipment for a roof tent, a fridge and surfboards. 

Soon after, I found an imported vegetable oil conversion kit online and began searching for a mechanic that could help. After lots of depressing conversations with a broad variety of grease monkeys, I finally found a garage that said they understood what I wanted to achieve with Nugget, and would help me install the kit. 

Oh, how I cringe looking back on the trust I so radically misplaced in those fellas. 

Turns out they hadn’t understood how to do it at all, but were happy to charge me almost ten thousand dollars, keep me waiting for three months longer than they’d quoted, only to then deliver a hopelessly ineffective job that broke down as soon as I hit the road with it.

Being such an obscure modification, and not being a mechanic myself, I was in a difficult position to prove that they had ripped me off, and by the time I’d fully realised, I was already too far away from home to bring it back. I was truly, horribly gutted. 

But luckily for me, the universe was watching and had brought me miraculously close to the friendly German bloke who I had bought the conversion kit from in the first place. So I called him up, paid him a visit, and with his guidance, began undoing all the incorrect work the “professional mechanics” had done, and fixing up Nugget to work as intended. 

And then, just like that, the greatest cheat code I had yet encountered was unlocked. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever played video games, but using vegetable oil instead of diesel legitimately feels like a real-life cheat code. Nugget and I sailed off into the distance for about 45,000 km over 18 months, through the interior to some of the most remote corners of Australia, and with the most delicious smelling exhaust on the road. 

Informed by a decade in hospitality, I’d had a hunch that used vegetable oil would be in abundant supply everywhere in the outback. I mean, fried food is everywhere, right? And where food is fried, waste oil is produced. 

Sure enough, I was right. Every roadhouse I stopped at had a bain marie brimming with chiko rolls, chicken nuggets and hot chips flying out the door. And without the dedicated recycling services available back east I would consistently find hundreds of litres of used 

cooking oil piled up out the back of the kitchens in 20L drums. So while the grey nomads and truckies were licking chicken salt off their fingers and filling up with diesel north of $3 per litre, I was filtering a discarded waste product in the desert instead. 

Seriously, cheating! 

And so, after a lot of exploring - and expenditure - I got back to Sydney with an impoverished bank account but a wildly invigorated brain. Several suspicions had been confirmed: vegetable oil was absolutely the abundant fuel source I had theorised, and rubbish was indeed everywhere too. 

What’s more, free coffee had proved to be a sufficient incentive for others to join me in cleaning up. I had been simulating an espresso machine with a butane stove and various camping gadgets, which worked well enough to make one cup at a time but quickly became ridiculous with more than one person waiting for a coffee. 

But sadly for Nugget, by the time I had learned all these things my finances had well and truly bottomed out. I had no choice but to sell the truck, and invest the proceeds in another cafe. After a stimulating two years of intensely niche R&D behind the wheel, it was back to the espresso machine to try and build some savings again. 

COVID had been complicating my travel from the beginning, and now two years into the pandemic I found myself back at the helm of a cafe, but this time with a bizarre new layer of enforcement. Masks, social distancing, intermittent lockdowns, compulsory QR check-ins and broad-spectrum hysteria all plagued my business in 2021. It seemed it had somehow fallen

upon the baristas of Australia to manage the most severe community fallout in living memory. 

After two years out bush, I was back in the city, in a world suddenly terrified of reusables and each other, and also now the hall monitor of the neighbourhood.Excuse me sir, thank you for choosing to buy coffee from me and not from across the road, and I’m sorry to hear your kids are struggling so much with lockdown, but could you please show me your vaccination passport? 

Such a turbulent time! And during all of it, the only thing I kept thinking was that I needed to get another truck, urgently. I needed to get back to the mission. I’d learned so much, and our rubbish habits seemed to be getting worse, not better. During the day I was discounting $1.50 for people who brought me reusable takeaway cups, but at night I was squirming that I wasn’t contributing enough of a solution to the problems I was lying awake thinking about. 

I ended up working 208 days in a row on that particular espresso machine. I know that number because I kept count. Up at 5am every morning as part of a meticulously measured budget, working 7-day weeks for about 8 months straight, followed by 6-day weeks for another 8 months after that, just to save up enough money to buy another truck, and pick up where I left off. 

And buy another truck I did. But that’s for the next chapter.

Words by Roland Davies.

Learn more about Emu Parade here.
Keep up with Emu Parade: @ep.cleanup


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