For 47 days, a 66-year-old traveller remained trapped on top of his Landcruiser, surrounded by floodwater in Victoria.
For 37 of those days, Bulgarian national Vahlinov Freedman had no human contact. Luckily he’d just been to the supermarket before he became isolated. A block of cheese, a stick of salami, honey and cans of beans kept him satiated.
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia on Tuesday, Mr Freedman said his vehicle soon became a “Noah’s Ark” for desperate wildlife. He sliced off salami and cheese for a hungry kookaburra and it quickly became his dedicated companion. A soaking mouse nested in his cabin and he nourished it. He even dished out food for a colony of hungry ants. The black snake he ignored.
“I didn’t even want to know what it was doing and where it was,” he said. “But it was inside in the car and I slept on the top.”
Mr Freedman first came to Australia 33 years ago, but his accent which he describes as his “identity” is still strong. He had originally intended to tour Australia but then he became “distracted” after falling in love. Finding himself single again four years ago he decided to embark on his road trip. “I wanted to experience what I saw in that movie Crocodile Dundee,” he said.
Then Covid hit, stalling his plans. Then came the flooding.
Decision not to leave his vehicle
When the waters from the Goulburn River surrounded his car in mid-October, the headstrong man didn’t want to flee. “You can’t fight nature,” he said.
He was heading home when the waters first surrounded him. “I was on the road to my camp when the road collapsed and a tree dropped on the road,” he said. “I basically couldn’t go either forwards or backwards. There was water from the sky, water from the ground, water from everywhere,” he said.
While he was offered help to leave, his car was filled with expensive documentary equipment that is difficult to insure, so he couldn't afford to flee his vehicle. “The rescue was just for me, no baggage. I can’t leave my things,” he said.
“For one or two days I was sleeping inside the car, but the water got inside, so I had to sleep on the top,” He said. “I made a kind of a tree house and put the majority of the baggage there.”
Eaten alive by millions of mosquitoes
To cook his food and boil his water, he floated half a metal barrel and lit a fire inside. Although he had a swag to sleep inside, mosquitoes bit him “millions” of times. “I tried to smoke the mosquitoes” out of my car.
Speaking with his kookaburra during their ordeal, he would reaffirm to tell her: “We’re going to survive”. “We didn’t talk too much. I’d just say don’t drop the bloody food. Because it was eating so fast,” he said.
Despite being isolated for such a long time he never felt scared. “I like nature and I’ve always been nature’s friend,” he said. “I’m not a person who gets panicked. But the snake did scare me. I said to the kookaburra: 'You’re supposed to watch out for me with the snake'.”
To his knowledge, the kookaburra never ate the snake or the mouse.
Lessons learned from being trapped for 47 days
This week Mr Freedman touched down on dry land again. His kookaburra has followed him and even brought a younger friend.
Thinking back on the weeks isolated with his car, he characterises it as a "learning experience".
"It was to some degree a kind of challenge. It wasn't life threatening, well it was, but not like what you see in the movies," he said. "I was kind of testing myself. I discovered in a situation like that, you really can do the things you never thought you were capable of. But of course I don't recommend it."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.