LEFT hand on the wheel, right arm resting out of the window of the old panel van, Peter Smith veers to the side of the road.
He eyes a light pole behind a fence in a wobbly little sloping street crowded with parked cars and trees.
The car is still moving as his right arm flicks at the elbow, then the wrist, and a rolled up newspaper slides out of his fingers.
It tumbles through the pre-dawn darkness and falls at the foot of the pole.
The accuracy is breathtaking – an art perfected through years of practice.
Peter, 57, has delivered newspapers in the Maroochydore area for 26 years.
It is a job for a sportsman, self-starter, hermit and Good Samaritan – long hours of largely solo work, the daily “target practice”, and brief meetings with night owls, early birds, and lonely souls who know they can count on his appearance in their lives as surely as they can count on the sunrise.
I meet Peter at 3.45am on Thursday at the newsagency in the Big Top Shopping Centre at Maroochydore, although his “day” has started three hours earlier sorting, rolling and wrapping papers.
A 1985 Mazda – coveted because its long doors and wide windows make throwing easier – is stacked with newspapers front and back, ready to go.
Seventeen boxes of newspapers are ready to go out to sub-newsagencies, such as corner stores, and 450 newspapers have been rolled for delivery.
We will cover 76km of roads in two trips (there are too many papers for one carload) before we finish in four hours time, although we are never much more than 4km from the newsagency at any time.
Back and forth, in and out, we twist and turn through so many carparks, unit complexes and cul-de-sacs so quickly that I become disoriented in streets that I have known by daylight for 20 years.
A run book tells Peter who wants what where but he knows many of the orders, the names and the street numbers without looking.
He was a single father of two young boys when he began delivering papers. The job appealed because it allowed him to work while the kids slept.
“I’d be home in time for breakfast.”
Peter has seen some unusual sights in 26 years of delivering papers. He twice witnessed a store being burgled, and once interrupted a robbery at knife-point.
“I kept chasing the guy in my car, running him down, until the police arrived,” he said.
The streets are quiet up to about 5am. Barely a car passes. A cat flashes past and survives, unlike two which once played chasey under his wheels. A possum meanders along. We pass the remains of another that went too slowly.
Peter flings newspapers constantly as he tells me his stories, timing his shots to miss trees, parked cars, swimming pools and water features.
“I always make it my thing to get the paper in the same spot every day,” he said.
“You see that place there?” he said, as we swing into yet another street.
“You have to get it on the pavers. The bloke’s in a wheelchair, and otherwise, he gets bogged trying to get the paper.”
Last Christmas, Peter received three bottles of wine, 69 stubbies, a Christmas cake and a packet of biscuits. He also gets the occasional lotto ticket and birthday card from customers who appreciate his reliability.
We slow pass a house in another street. We don’t deliver a paper.
“The bloke there used to wait on a chair in the sun for me every day. One day I came past and there was a different bloke waiting for me,” Peter said.
“He said, ‘Finally you’re here. Mum said I had to wait out here and tell you that Dad won’t be getting the paper any more. He died yesterday.”
“I went to his funeral.”
The last stop on the run is the boss, Ian “Bushy” Busch. He does the journey once a week on Peter’s day off. I marvel at how efficiently the massive task of delivery what to whom and where is carried out.
“It’s all in the noggin’,” “Bushy” tells me.
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