It’s clear that Australians whose daily out outpouring of bile against Muslims, refugees and strangers, in general, have never experienced the generosity, warmth and welcome of strangers in strange lands. Had they done so it is hard to believe that they would behave towards people with different values, skin colours and religions as they have been doing.
My childhood homes for 16 years, from the age of 6 weeks, were all in countries where people had no reason to feel friendly towards white, blond haired, privileged and wealthy children but my experiences and that of my family were overwhelmingly positive.
One Bhuddist country, Thailand, two Muslim countries, Egypt and Iran and one Apartheid country, South Africa, all provided a welcome which puts Australia’s xenophobic, racist and cruel Government to shame and where the welcome and warmth of the citizens of those countries is in sharp contrast to the outpouring of bile by a minority of Australians.
Those experiences, of so long ago, are not isolated or historical. More recently, I have spent weeks or months in Egypt (2014), Turkey (2015), Jordan (2014).
In every circumstance, both historical and recent, I have experienced no hostility, no racism or xenophobia and an overwhelming inclination from everyone to be friendly and helpful and to understand and be open to people from other cultures – and not just from those who might stand to benefit from the spending of tourists but more broadly from the person in the street. Perhaps I have been lucky but I like to think not.
We lived in Egypt between 1960 and 1965. This was just four years after the Suez Crisis when Israel, Britain and France had invaded Egypt in response to Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal. So there we were, a British family (I was born in Britain in 1955 just before my family left for Thailand), living in a country which only four years previously had been invaded by the British armed forces.
Despite this, the Egyptians were overwhelmingly welcoming. I had the same experience in 2014, during protests and repression in Tahrir Square, when Egyptians would invite me to their homes for tea, despite their knowledge of Australia’s role in the Middle East and about its attitude to refugees.
We moved to Iran between 1966 and 1969, to a country where the west, in the form of a CIA inspired coup had deposed the democratic, and popularly elected, Mossadeq Government in 1953, a mere 14 years previously and had restored the repressive Shah Reza Pahlavi to power. Despite this Iranians were welcoming and friendly.
We lived in South Africa between 1969 and 1972, at the height of apartheid, where no black or brown person had any reason to feel remotely friendly to people with white skin and yet, as a teenager, experienced no sense of hostility or racism. Compare this with the abuse of people of all ages, including teenagers in Australia, just for looking or being different
Compare this, also, with the hostility shown to French people, in Australia, during the protests against nuclear testing in Mururoa – a small island 8700 kilometres distant. As an example, in Darlinghurst, Marc and Murielle Laucher, a couple with dual French-Australian citizenship, found the windows of their cafe, La Petite Creme, smeared with faeces – and this was not an isolated incident.
More recently, I have been in Turkey, a country on the frontline of the hostilities in the Middle East, and which is dealing with hundreds of thousand of refugees. This is a country where an Islamic-leaning Government has encouraged a less secular society and where negotiations over many years to enter the EU have not exactly endeared many Turks to “western” oriented societies. Never mind Gallipoli and the history of conflict between the Ottomans and the west.
Yet every person from the most secular to the most religious was welcoming and friendly and there was no sense of people being prejudiced due to the alleged clash of western and islamic values. In fact the sense of a reconciliation of those values (women in bikinis and headscarfs) was far stronger than in Australia. None of this is to say that no racism exists in these other societies or that minorities in all societies don’t behave in the same way as the racist bigots in Australia but it seems less prevalent and less obvious.
There is something peculiarly obnoxious about the toxic mix of political conservatism, xenophobia, racism which is making Australia a less pleasant, less open and less welcoming society than many of consider it to be. It’s a subject about which we need a national debate. How do we combat this? How do we change the politics of fear that allows this prejudice to thrive. And what can every citizen do to assist?
The arrangement for Roger’s and my trip to Horizontal Falls is that we will fly out from Cape Leveque and that Kaylee and Jill will drive back to Broome. We question them about their confidence in changing the vehicle tyres, given the weight of the wheels and other assorted potential mishaps but are assured that anything Roger and I can do they can do better. It turns out that the main benefit of the solo trip home is that Jill and Kaylee are able to play Abba for two hours and that, that event, led to no intra-party arguments. That’s what happens when cultural guidance is removed.
Kaylee and Jill having departed, Roger and I depart on our boysâ€™ own adventure. Departure is by sea-plane from the airstrip near One Arm Point. There are twenty of us in two planes and itâ€™s relatively clear that the trip to Horizontal is a bit the Kimberley equivalent of going to Disney World, only more regimented.
After a half hour flight over the Kimberley coast â€“ which arguably is the highlight of the trip, we land next to a floating city onto which a new load of sightseers is disgorged at about half hour intervals. From there, after a short wait, one boards a jet boat for the trip through the falls â€“ which can only be taken at set times when the falls are neither two large nor too flat.
Generally I am a great believer in the power of cameras to focus ones attention on things that one would otherwise miss. While some may argue that if one spends one time looking through a lens of a camera, you don’t spend much time enjoying the scenery, I have discovered that looking for beauty that is photographable makes one see many things that one might otherwise miss.
Horizontal Falls, however, proves that there are exceptions to the rule. Altogether we do five round-trips through the two sets of falls, two through the wider falls and three through the narrower; so ten runs in total.
Having completed the ten runs, I realise that I didn’t really get to see the gorges or falls at all because I have spent my entire time trying to get video of them. And being a crap videographer, the end result is to have managed to spend a few hundred dollars on several very bad videos of out of focus rock walls and water.
There is probably some form of photographic narcissism involved. In an effort to get the best possible images, all you end up seeing is the inside of a camera and, in the process, you miss the beauty all around.
After our trips through the falls we have lunch and are served beautifully cooked barramundi. Our co-passengers on the trip are largely blue-collar retirees blue and not altogether politically correct. My dinner companion responds to my praise of the barramundi by telling his wife that she will now need to improve her cooking of barramundi. I respond that I would have thought that cooking barramundi was ideal for the barbie and that, that should be his domain, perhaps? He responded, thoughtfully, by saying â€œNo point in having a dog and barking yourself, eh dear?â€ Sometimes very little changes in life.
Back to Broome
Roger and I flyÂ back into Broome, getting a good aerial view of Cable Beach, as we land, after our trip to Horizontal Falls and get the bus to drop us at the tourist bureau which is our pre-arranged pick up.
After 15 minutes there is still no sign of our lift, so Roger texts to find out what is causing the delay. There is no reply so we wait on a while longer and try again. This time Roger gets through and is told that the delay has been caused by a puncture on the vehicle which Jill and Kaylee had to fix. They will be many minutes longer. Roger and I decamp to the pub.
Â Thirty minutes later the Nissan pulls up. Interrogated about the supposed flat tyre the story falls apart like a putrefying carcass in the sun. But any story will do to hide the fact that our long wait was caused by a shopping trip among other things.
While Roger and I have been away the two women have been shopping together. A part of the length of time taken is Jillâ€™s approach to shopping. We are back to the list conundrum. Kaylee believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to describe what needs to be bought. Jill believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to write a random list items that have no bearing on what she will buy. Hence they go shopping with a list of three items and have emerged with thirty.
We confer on options for dinner and decide that it’s time for a Thai dinner.. After numerous campground dinners a bit of variety is in order. At the restaurant, Jill orders a hot soup, which turns out to so hot that she, can barely eat it. So she orders a lassi to help take the edge off. The waitress looks extremely bemused wanting to know what a lassi is? Jill is equally bemused that an Indian does not, apparently, know what a lassi is. I point out to Jill that it is a Thai restaurant not an Indian one and that the Indian food she is eating is actually Thai. Fortunately Jill is not appearing any time soon on any reality cooking shows.
It’s not the end of our Thai restaurant confusion. I ask one of the other waitresses to confirm the name of the Thai King. But she doesn’t know. Scarcely surprising, since she is Indian but I can’t apparently tell a Thai from an Indian. Confusion reigns all around.
After our meal we head out of town for the Broome Bird Observatory where we will be staying the night.
Â We arrive late at Broome Bird Sanctuary and have to unpack in the dark. This seems to pose special challenges for some. Most of us have had doors closed on our fingers at some point in life, but Jill is the only person ever known to have caused herself brain damage by actively smashing a car door down on her head by closing it while remaining standing directly underneath. Apparently she hadnâ€™t worked out that itâ€™s best not to close things while standing directly in the way of the closing object.
At the sanctuary we are allocated a cabin. Each hut is named after a different bird. Very appropriately our cabin has been named after at least one of our number and is called â€œGrey crested babblersâ€.
The Bird Observatory is a well equipped establishment with a kitchen that comes with all mod cons including no less than three espresso makers and, of course is laid out with the express purpose of allowing twitchers (bird watchers to the non-cognescenti) to eat and watch birds at the same time.Â Breakfast conversation is not only limited but tends towards the mono-cultural.
Compared with Broome camp grounds, this is a great place to stay and, even for those not addicted to bird-watching, it provides an eye opening experience of the variety of Australian bird, particularly water birds, of all types.
Itâ€™s unknown whether Jill, at this point had some form of unpleasant experience with bird-watchers or birds, possibly feeling that being assigned to a cabin called â€œGrey Crested Babblersâ€ was some type of deliberate punishment for unknown sins (although I, for one, could list them)â€¦but my notes simply say â€œKaylee on the other hand is going the other wayâ€. It is apparent that she has experienced a form of enlightenment about the possibilities of marital nirvana that might be possible with twitchers, who after one days interaction with them, are clearly the world’s best people.
She has her eyes on one in particular, who is our neighbour, Rod Warnock. Kaylee has decided that some form of pre-arranged marriage with Rod would clearly be better than another week with me â€“ despite her observation at some point that one of the amazing things on the trip is that I have been so nice to her. Apparently a new experience after only twelve years of non-marital bliss.
Kayleeâ€™s instantaneous morphing into a potential twitcheress as a result of her overwhelming attraction to the fraternity is somewhat surprising given some aspects of the kitchen. It is a paradise for existing or potential sufferers of OCD, since every available drawer, cupboard, shelf and implement are labelled to within an inch of their incorrect usage. Who knows, perhaps short sighted twitchers have attempted to mount the rolling pin on their camera instead of the telephoto? Normally however, a labelling frenzy such as this would send Kaylee running a mile but clearly the delights of the twitching world have overcome her distaste for too much order.
For dinner that night I cook wraps. In common with many experiences in life (relationships?) I still haven’t worked out that doing the same thing many times and expecting a different outcome is not good thinking. In this case I learn once again that hot stoves are hot. One might think that after 40+ years of cooking that this would have been a pre-learned lesson. But no, put on the gas, drop vegies down under the cooking pan hobs. Lift up hobs with fingers. Find out that gas flames make metal hot. One thinks of the famous observation, wrongly credited to Einstein, about idiocy, repeating things and expecting different outcomes.
On waking in the morning Kaylee requires defrosting, having been cold in bed. According to my notes this is because (a) Jill and Roger refuse to let us have the bed and (b) take all the blankets. This is exactly the behaviour one might expect from Roger who, is well known for his inordinately selfish behaviour, the type of behaviour that Jill, Kaylee and I are paragons at avoiding.
Again itâ€™s a little unclear what exactly happened, as 12 months after the event the memory is a little sun bleached and the memory synapses faded. Not to let that get in the way, we can assume that there was one double bed and two singles. Roger, no doubt, in his self centred way decided to take the double bed and having done that needed twice as many blankets. This probably left Kaylee and I with two single beds and one one blanket between us.
At this point there is a random note about Kayleeâ€™s feet which states, inter alia, â€œKayleeâ€™s beautiful mud-packed feet but Rogerâ€™s fire fucked themâ€.
What precisely this means, where it occurred and why is unclear but for your elucidation we here include, above, the quote and a picture of said feet to be included in the Museum of Random and unattributed quotes and images.
Prior to leaving the Bird Observatory we all decide to increase our worldly experiences with some bird banding of migratory water birds. This is to occur at midday, we have been told, and so we gather at the office to be given instructions. It’s apparently a team effort with multiple people. Some are required to shift the net, some to hold birds while they are placed them in bags and still others to transfer them to holding cages for banding. It appears, however, that the birds themselves have not been advised of their role in the team effort and, after two hours of fruitless waiting for uncooperative and ungrateful shorebirds, we depart. It appears that our feathered friends don’t realise that being captured under a net, stuffed in a bag and â€œmanâ€ handled into a box is all in their best interests. Ungrateful ingrates.
After our brief stay at James Price Point we head north to Cape Leveque. The plan is to take a couple of nights on route to sample the delights of the Dampier Peninsula. More than anything, the Cape is an area both rich with a living Aboriginal society and culture and with one of the most beautiful coastal environments anywhere in Australia.
Soaring red rock cliffs, huge tidal races, endless beaches; it is one of those environments where if you move more than a few metres from the camp you can have solitude and space which is an increasingly rare commodity, especially near the beach.
First stop is Whale Song Café, on Pender Bay. Pender Bay is a Humpback whale nursery and resting area. This hidden gem, with a small café (run by Jacinta) which, among other things makes mango smoothies.
The campground, with only six sites, is a couple of kilometres off the main road. Perched on the cliffs overlooking a spectacular and deserted beach, surrounded by rock pools and sandbars it’s a fantastic spot to while a way a few days. We were fortunate enough to be there at full moon and the light over the waves managed to create a iridescent tableau which can only be experienced and not described.
Add to this the birds, the café and one of the world’s most funky showers and you have one of a holiday’s most special experiences.
It’s at this point in our story that the author will finally admit to some degree of licence with the truth, every previous word having been gospel. However, due to delayed memory recovery with the passing of time, and inadequate note taking, from here on in the story may either be thin on the ground, be invented, or there may be little relationship between the specific anecdote and the actual trip.
En route north we pass and stop into two Aboriginal settlements, Beagle Bay andLombardina. The Beagle Bay community was established by Trappist monks around 1890 and features the famous Sacred Heart church with an altar made from pearl shells. It also has a shop which sells ice creams which, on a Kimberley trip, register about a 9 on the trip desirability scale (coffee and tea each also being a 9 or 10, depending who is counting).
We don’t stop for long since we need to find a campsite for the night and are, in any case, returning later but we were required to pause for coffee and cake; in the “remote wilds” of the Kimberley no opportunity was to be missed for the rituals of civilisation.
We arrive at Cape Leveque. The area is busy with tourists so we decide to find somewhere nearby to stay. After some poking around, we eventually stumble on Gumbarnam, down a side road a few kilometres short of Cape Leveque. The two main features of Gumbarnam were the fantastic sea-scape, including a fringing reef and a small tidal race between the mainland and adjoining islands, and a wind that made James Price Point feel like a light breeze.
Not understanding that the strong wind we experienced, on arrival, would increase to near hurricane force, we picked a nice spot in the open with a view of the ocean. The rest of the day, after putting up camp, was taken up with visits to the Trochus Shell farm at One Arm Point and to the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.
The former is run by the local Bardi people from the Ardyaloon Aboriginal community. A couple of young Aboriginal women, from the community, gave us the full run down on the venture and its success including the re-seeding of the reef with Trochus.
The latter is run by the Brown Family and is Australia’s oldest pearl farm. More importantly, is was the proud owner of an espresso machine and the provider of a passable latte and a good lunch. One Arm Point is named after an unfortunate pearler who had an accident with dynamite whilst attempting to catch fish using explosives in the bay.
Following the success of our exploratory expedition to Cygnet Bay, that tracked down the only good café latte north of Broome, we returned to the Cape for the afternoon for a quick squiz at the rest of the area.
At this point we have no information on what activities Jill and Roger may have engaged in, but Kaylee and I walked on past the lighthouse to the beach the other side where we squatted in one of the beach shelters for lunch and then checked out the luxury camping units at the top of the hill.
These are, to the average two-person tent, what Versailles Palace is to the average bush donga.
Carefully supervising Kaylee due to her light-fingered tendencies to make off with every piece of commercial soap, shampoo, cream etc., ever provided to any accommodation complex, we sneaked into give them a once over and decided that this was the perfect location to come with our rich Beechworth friends, Jenny O’Connor and Michael Bink.
We decide that on some future visit, they can rent the chalet and entertain us for dinner every night and we can rent the cheap beach shacks and entertain them for free swimming.
We find, on returning to Gumbarnam for the night, that the wind has decided to see if it can escape the limitation of the Beaufort scale.
It is unlikely that we could actually have been lost to human kind, due to the entire truck being blown out to sea, as a result of the near hurricane force winds. Nevertheless trying to sleep, or rest, in the vehicle was to experience the type of motion that made it seem like the entire Indian nation were engaged in trying out every position in the Kama Sutra simultaneously. A move was in order.
Come late evening we had made a last minute retreat to a more sheltered spot, sans view. This was fortunate for many reasons but none more so that it appeared to reduce the inflow of grit into Roger’s teeth. As it was there was enough whinging about grit that it appeared we had the entire British nation around the fire, as well as sufficient sand supplies to re-build Dresden.
The following morning we de-camp to go to Middle Lagoon, on our way to Cape Leveque. This is yet another gorgeous coastal spot but is fisherperson central (mainly fishermen). Judging by the number of four wheel drives, giant fridges, eskis and generators it’s a veritable fish slaughterhouse.
We get to Cape Leveque at lunchtime. Seeing as Roger and I had our boys own adventure to Horizontal Falls to get excited about, Jill and Kaylee decided that they needed something to get vaguely excited about, so Roger and I were treated to long discussion about the charms of the cute pilot at Cape Leveque.
Here I note, as exhibit A, that there was no interest whatever in his potential intelligence, emotional or otherwise, or his ethics or morals, or even of his potential income generating potential, but only and solely his physical charms and whether this would translate into acceptable child making activity.
It seems that this was a to be a pattern repeated, since my notes indicate that at some unknown point Jill and Kaylee also got excited about a bunch of male diners during a lunch in Broome.
This led to a long discussion about their role in life, given that all of them had biceps, each one of which, had more muscle mass that both Roger or I possessed in our entire bodies. Not being able to decide on whether they were oil rig workers, male prostitutes, gym owners or some other paragon of the male species, I was forced to go and ask, and explain the source of the interest, much to the embarrassment of our female dining companions.
Sadly it seems that Roger and I were and, presumably remain, a very poor second in the muscle and machismo race
From Broome we head north up the Dampier Peninsula to Cape Leveque. First stop is James Price Point, famous for Woodside’s proposal to build a completely unnecessary gas terminal that would destroy both one of the most magnificent parts of the Australian coast and a plethora of important Aboriginal sites and dreaming (about the JPP conflict).
It is difficult to describe the hard beauty of JPP. This is not a soft place. The blood red sand cliffs dip to a beach of red/brown sand and miles of rocks stretching out to sea. There are three other camps on the cliffs above the beach but otherwise the seascape stretches for miles apparently devoid of human life or footprints.
The colour of the cliffs and beach backed by the green of the coastal plants and the backdrop of blue sky makes JPP the sort of dramatically spiritual vista that is rarely encountered. For us it is doubly special because we arrive on the full moon which, of course, rises as the sun is setting and, as it rises, turns the the landscape into a different sort of wonderland.
We spend our afternoon and early evening wandering the beach, dunes and fronting rock pools which are battered incessantly by wall of white driven by a westerly wind. It’s hard to imagine a place more evocative of its long and continuing Aboriginal occupation.
Our night at JPP is someone disturbed by a howling gale which whips around the tents making every available bit of canvas moan like a witch at a seance. We all have a disturbed night that is not helped by the full super-moon.
Morning at JPP arrives with no respite from the wind but no one cares given the scenery. All the chairs have collapsed into the fire pit that allows Kaylee to enjoy her moment of hubris since she insisted on my putting the fire out last night despite my observation that there was nothing flammable within 20 metres…apart from the chairs of course.
As with all famous events in history this example of my wilful obstinacy will no doubt be repeated at every public event until the second coming.
Our main obstacle to relaxation in the morning is that any item including every chair, the stove, drinking utensils and every other moveable object decides to have a mind of its own and seek to escape from captivity. Nothing is safe from the wind.
On the plus side we are all witness to famous plastic bag escape during which, tea in hand, Jill attempts to re-capture an errant bag and avoid it entering the ocean and thus killing a passing dolphin.
For those who don’t know Jill, this exercise involves a very short human moving erratically in a half crouch, one eye on her tea and the other on the bag. The state of the morning’s first cup of tea, especially ensuring it is hot, full and of appropriate strength is a mission more important than the search for the Holy Grail. In fact it is the modern day equivalent of the Holy Grail. No mission since the search for Bin Laden has taken on greater urgency than a good cup of early morning tea.
The difficulty in the plastic bag pursuit is that as the bag changes course, the terrain underfoot alters and so the risk of unacceptable tea loss escalates. It is unclear if Jill is more concerned about the imminent plastic bag death of the last living James Price Point dolphin or potential loss of a mouthful of tea.
The terrain situation is compounded by the need to alter posture to grab the bag at the critical moment. This difficult manoeuvre occurs about five times since, just as the final lunge is about to occur, the bag moves on and/or the tea lurches unacceptably such that the bag grab must be aborted.
Despite the attractions of staying longer at JPP we must move on as we have trips booked further up the line. There is a long drive ahead but fortunately the howling wind leavens our drive by prompting the telling of the The Black Hole story; this is a true story that begs no embellishment.
Principally it involves a baby cot masquerading as a pre-ironing clean laundry store but which is actually a black worm hole in space which starts in Kaylee’s laundry.
Clothes travel down this wormhole never to be seen again; a Hills Hoist masquerading as a implement for drying clothes but is actually a feeding facility for sheep; clothes pegs masquerading as instruments with which to attach clothes to the Hills Hoist but which are actually secret agents for the sheep and, finally, a bag of single socks which, having escaped being eaten by sheep, end in the Black Hole where they live a long but single life.
One of the principal faults in Kaylee’s upbringing is that her Mother failed to teach her how to peg clothes on the washing line. As a result clothes are pegged haphazardly, some with no pegs and some with only one. On windy days (such as that at JPP- hence the connection) the socks seek to escape their fate of ending in the Black Hole by using the wind to escape over the neighbouring fence/border.
This story serves no useful purpose other than to amuse people in long motor vehicle trips and as a moral about hanging out clothes properly. It also serves to annoy and frustrate Kaylee through its frequent re-telling. It also allows anyone to point out that you can use any useless story as an analogy for refugee/terror threats.
Disclaimer: My fellow travellers have indicated that they feel there is an element of hyperbole and negativity in my description of Broome. For those from Broome who feel that their town is misrepresented please bear in mind that this blog only has the accuracy of the average Murdoch rag.
Also Kaylee would like it known that I refused to enter the water, initially, at Cable Beach, due to stingers (according to her three harmless brown jellyfish) and she feels that this demonstrated an almost unbelievable level of wussiness. But why anyone would go in the water with stingers when there is no surf beats me?
Broome provided some of the more interesting behaviour patterns by our small group of travellers.
Our campground was about 5 kilometres out of Broome but on the main town bus run. This allowed us to avoid driving to town and thus also be able to avoid having the collapse the roof tents every time we wanted to go somewhere. It also allowed for Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill to all operate fairly independently of each other for the first time in several weeks.
It also provided one of the more interesting examples of strange behaviour by our trip companions.
Kaylee and I went to town for shopping and coffee. I required more reading glasses, a new camera filter, new sandals and shorts.
We decide to go the evening showing at the local cinema and propose to meet Roger and Jill there. We call them and they tell us they are in town and are also going. So Kaylee and I jump on the bus to go back to camp to shower and get warmer clothes.
On boarding, we are surprised to encounter Roger and Jill, who are still on the bus and who have clearly decided to spend their entire to visit to Broome sitting on a bus. They explain that exiting the bus involves a 1% chance of Jill encountering a sandfly.
As a result they have been doing blockies of Broome by air-conditioned bus. They are on their fifth circuit of Broome, and thus have managed to spend the entire day sand-fly free. Jill later tells me she is allergic to sand-flies and that a single sand-fly bite could be fatal.
Bus rides are somewhat unusual in Broome, in that that the drivers can be quite eccentric. Ours not only kept up a running conversation, simultaneously, with all five of the locals that he knew on the bus but interspersed that conversation with various pithy comments and asides about Broome.
This included the ‘fact’ that the derelict croc farm still contains four old crocs over 5 metres long. He claims that they had lost the occasional tourist who decided to camp in the abandoned grounds not knowing that it was an old croc farm. But, apparently, none of the locals mind since the crocs still require feeding and it saves on croc food.
It’s best not to take his bus too often however since he is, apparently, on repeat rather than shuffle as we discovered on subsequent trips.
It’s not only the buses that are a bit off the normal in Broome. According to Jill and Roger the taxis are also unusual as they act as a de facto delivery service for pizzas, alcohol, lost dogs and any other short term need that the average punter might need at short notice in Broome.
According to their taxi driver, his most bizarre evening was repeated condom deliveries to one customer. It’s unclear if it was an orgy in process or if the customer and partner were using up the condoms faster than the driver could deliver them.
Something in the Broome air also seems to have gone to Roger’s head. Alternatively he has been psychologically disturbed by the fact that we must spend four days in town so that he can do a job interview on the following Monday.
At any rate we are all seated in the kitchen, one evening, when Roger arrives. Proceeding briskly to other side of the camp kitchen he faces the microwave and appears to commence worshipping the it.
Standing directly in front he starts genuflecting, repeatedly raising and lowering his head apparently in some form of ritual. The entire kitchen stops to observe. Roger later claims his phone was on charge next to the microwave and he was merely looking at the phone but we know better.
Being marooned in Broome for four days we need to find thing to fill our days. Both Kaylee and I decide a haircut is in order. Mine takes 15 minutes and costs $20 and Kaylee’s takes 90 minutes and costs $120.
It is quite min-boggling for this average male that it could conceivably take 90 minutes to cut a few strands of keratin. What is it about the female psychology that allows them to accept being ripped off by the retail industry to such an absurd extent. It occurs with hairdressing, clothes, manicures, cosmetics and a myriad other things which, if you are male, cost a fraction of the price, that women are charged.
Broome is not far from the end of our trip and we are rapidly managing to destroy the majority of items that started on the trip. Aside from cups, the chairs are deteriorating. The chair covers are ripped in numerous places, the kitchen implements are now operating in separate pieces, such the potato masher that fell apart in mid-operation.
The coffee perc was destroyed by Kaylee in a fit of strength and is now handle-less (resulting in numerous burns).
The stove has been dropped and is an advanced state of deterioration, the aerial is in two pieces, the kitchen boxes are mostly in three or more pieces. The vehicle bonnet has dents, the tent covers have holes and the tent zips don’t work properly.
The external light has a switch that only operates when it’s in a good mood and there are numerous burn marks in every plastic surface due to my tendency to place the coffee pot down in a hurry. We hope that Nathan has good insurance/depreciation schedule
Broome is, possibly, the most over-rated tourist destination on earth. It’s hot, it’s windy, it’s flat, its architecture is so boring the Gold Coast seems inspired. Its tourist description should be “Boring Broome, come just so that you can bugger off to somewhere more interesting”.
Sure it has Cable Beach but all that has is some nice white sand. It hasn’t seen decent surf since Jesus was a boy and even in winter they have ugly brown blob jelly fish which sting you.
You can’t get decent coffee and you need to see the bank manager before you can afford it anyway. Either that or you need a job in the average WA iron ore mine.
Ditto toasted sandwiches which have the world’s highest markup. Kaylee managed to purchase two bits of white bread, a bit of highly processed ham and plastic cheese, all very lightly toasted (why waste energy?) for $10. Total cost of ingredients about 65 cents, electricity 5c, overheads 5c, labour three minutes at $20 hour = $1, total cost $1.75, mark-up $8.25. Good money if you can get it.
What else? Dinosaur footprints you can only see every two years when the tide is low enough. A spot of whale watching; but then whales are so common these days it’s more interesting watching the planes land at Sydney airport.
And the caravan parks? Given they have put 30,000 people into a town built for 10,000, you are so squashed together you can even hear your neighbour thinking.
Broome does, however, have one of the world’s best cinemas, called the Sun Pictures. It advertises itself as the world’s oldest operating garden theatre.
This fantastic outdoor cinema shows film as it should be; surrounded by film paraphernalia from the 1920s onwards, you sit on extraordinarily uncomfortable chairs but nothing detracts from the setting and a good cushion more than compensates for the chair discomfort.
The cinema also has the rather dubious but bizarre bonus of being right at the end of Broome runway so that, while watching some sequence of film from the 1890’s you wonder why the director has put in sound of a 737 landing until suddenly the plane appears, just skimming the cinema screen on its final approach.
The relationship of the cinema and planes landing does have the added amusement that Jill is probably the only person in known history to miss almost the entire film due to running outside every 20 minutes or so to try and take a picture of a plane almost landing on the cinema. This behaviour can be marked against the special Jill Everett strange behaviour catalogue that I am running.
Our visit to Derby is to be a quick one. Generally, we are dubious that it justifies a visit at all, but we eventually decide that since we are nearby we should take a quick squiz. There isn’t much to Derby these days but it has an interesting and black history, in both literal and metaphorical sense.
We visit the old Boab tree which was used as a prison for Aboriginal people en route to Derby and also take a squiz at the longest cattle trough in the southern hemisphere (or so the plaque claims).
One of the astonishing idiosyncrasies of travelling in Australia is what totally boring structures we will visit as tourists. Not only that but Australian towns, cities and states have an insatiable appetite for promoting the totally mundane and nondescript as some form of towering heritage site or artwork.
Inevitably they are also promoted as the biggest, longest, flattest, tallest, oldest, or whatever, in the world or, at the very least, in the southern hemisphere.
Failing being the biggest in the world or the southern hemisphere, Australians will state, for example, that this ‘thing’ is the 5th largest in Western Australia. Not the 5th largest in Western Australia? Well, certainly then, it is the 5th largest in the Kimberley or the west Kimberley or Derby. None of those apply? Well it is definitely the largest on the east side of School Road, downstream of the cross street drain and directly across from the general store.
No matter what, we can manage to turn some insignificant Australiana into a world attraction of astounding proportions. Perhaps that accounts for our view of Broome (see more later). One of the celebrated tourist destinations near Derby is Frosty’s pool which apparently was used by soldiers during WW2 to cool off. This magnificent and unmissable attraction is a concrete pool about metre deep, 3 metres long and two metres wide, made of concrete and just a few metres off the main road. Magnifique!!
First stop, however, is the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art Centre which has a good collection of Aboriginal artwork and provides a history of Aboriginal dispossession and frequent relocation, which ended with many of the east Kimberley people living at Mowanjum.
Lunch at Derby is at the cafe on the jetty. Derby sits on the Fitzroy River estuary and its location gives it the second highest tides in the southern hemisphere at around 11 metres on a spring king tide. As a result the coast around Derby is a mud bath caused by the constant scouring and suspension of the fine Fitzroy River mud particles in the water.
We stroll along the jetty and read of Derby’s history before heading off to shop prior to leaving for Broome. Shopping is one of the more problematic exercises of our joint trip, second only to parking the vehicle, so it seems. This time, it proves no exception.
We have purchased both food and essential alcohol supplies and Kaylee takes them back to the vehicle while I, futilely, go in search of more reading glasses having managed to lose, sit on or otherwise damage all my reading glasses.
I have purchased a seemingly endless supply of reading glasses over the last few weeks but am down to my last pair. I return to the vehicle reading glass-less since there are no glasses with magnification of less than about x5.
I can only surmise that (a) few people are able to read, in Derby which, maybe, is not surprising when you observe the population; or (b) they are all blind and require a magnification of 6.5; or (c) the population of Derby is an outlier that has also perfect sight requiring only magnification of 1. But no reading glasses between 1 and 3.5, are available at any rate.
My return is just in time to witness the end of a shopping dispute. Kaylee has been putting the shopping in the back of the car; Roger on the other hand doesn’t agree that it should be in the back of the car and insists on removing everything Kaylee has carefully loaded in the back into the front.
In doing so he absolutely refuses to listen to any of Kaylee’s protestations that all will fit easily and securely. Apparently Kaylee is unable to understand Roger’s view that the gin or tonic will automatically self-destruct in the very secure spots she has picked for them and so Roger has taken over. There is much under breath muttering occurring.
We leave Derby for Broome in the late afternoon having decided to camp along the way. Our choice was a section of the Fitzroy River on a pastoral property, about 60 kilometres south-west of Derby. We pass through a couple of gates and eventually end up on a beautiful stretch of the Fitzroy River not far upstream from its estuary.
Having parked, a celebration is in order since we have broken our collective record for parking, having selected a parking spot and chosen the direction in which the vehicle should point all within 30 seconds.
This is definitely saltwater crocodile country and Jill has saltwater croc paranoia to world-champion levels, to add to some of the other concerns that appear to keep her in a perpetual state of elevated stress.
I’m sure if we had a gun we would be required to keep an armed guard permanently on watch all night. This is even though Jill has retreated to the safety of the rooftop tent for the night. Even the lonely cow calling in the night is transformed, in Jill’s view into that of a croc grunting.
Croc fears aside, it is a beautiful, peaceful camp spot with only three other camping groups most of whom seem to be at this spot for the fishing. We pass a relaxed evening around the fire.
As a part of the evening festivities Jill performs a ceremonial burning of the Ngurr burr she has found. This is a local noxious weed and the burning is part of our small contribution to maintaining the local environment but I am unconvinced it will play a significant role in the eradication of the Ngurr burr although, I guess, if everyone did the same, it would.
Given the direction the Abbott Government is going, the Government could think about recycling some old Chinese policies. This could include a one child policy which would help with education and medical costs. It could also encompass directions that everyone kill one cat, one cane toad and one Ngurr burr/salvinia plant/mimose plant (pick your noxious weed of choice) each day.
These policies would quickly bring the trade deficit, the budget and the feral week/animal problem under control.
The morning brings more precedents for our travelling circus. I wait until Roger is not looking and spray the zip of the tent housing with WD40. Roger doesn’t agree that this will work due to the propensity for WD40 to attract dust. So I need to wait until Roger is not looking so that, if he is right, I can pretend I never used it and if he is wrong I can loudly proclaim his clear lack of understanding of the maintenance and the workings of WD40.
We also have our first incidence of vandalism when Kaylee launches her expensive plastic tea cup from the tent to avoid the stress of having to carry it down the steps from her bed.
As a result the cup loses its handle and is therefore designated, by her, as my cup rather than hers.
We are packed and ready to head to Broome by 8.30. Kaylee is concerned about her lack of fitness for her coming 1000 kilometre walk, so sets off to walk a few kilometres before we catch up with her. I observe to her that a 1.5 km walk is probably not sufficient preparation for a 1000km walk with a 20 kg pack. This leads to me being in the doghouse again since, it seems, I am insufficiently supportive, despite the accuracy of my observation being bleedingly obvious. Broome seems a good option at this point.
We are just five kilometres from Fitzroy when we have our third puncture of the trip. Another nail. The team swings smoothly into action and the old tyre is quickly removed. We quickly move to get the new tyre in place. Roger sits on the ground holding the wheel in place with his feet. In doing so he is sitting partly in the road. Not ideal with road trains going by.
I quickly get all six nuts on the wheel and tell Roger that he can now move. But Roger, as is his wont, clearly desires to be a target for moving road trains. Despite being told several times that it is ok to move, he ignores all of us and insists on demonstrating that his judgement of tyre changing is more important than death by road train.
Clearly even though I had all six nuts on the wheel, we still have a problem that there is a nut on the ground who would not change his mind.
We find the main town caravan park which is pleasantly green after the dust of the last few weeks and we decide to stay a couple of nights. As we are early we are able to pick the most shady spot in the entire ground and proceed to spread out and occupy as large an area as possible. Grass makes one greedy.
Before we can get set up, we need at least one more extended conversation about the best way to park the vehicle. This sends Kaylee into a psychological meltdown and she retires to her chair to eat the two picnic bars she has bought. Chocolate really does cure all psychological ills. It is the mental equivalent of cable ties.
Our main goal in Fitzroy is to take a squiz at Geikie Gorge via a boat tour. But there are several subsidiary tasks including catching up with three weeks worth of emails, booking onward airfares, dealing with caffeine withdrawal symptoms, laundry (to avoid having to turn the jocks inside out for the fourth time) and sending off miscellaneous cards to various people to whom we have promised them.
My first job, given we now have no spare tyre is to ring our long-suffering vehicle hire company owner, Nathan, and tell him of our latest trauma. I first explain to him, however, that we are running out of cable ties with which to hold the vehicle together. This seems to make him a little nervous, before I explain that I am joking and that we have only used one packet of cable ties so far.
Fitzroy Crossing brings new opportunities for each of us to demonstrate our peculiar tendencies. Jill (she of the extreme excitement about very weird things) becomes incredibly excited at seeing a……white plane…flying overhead.
Apparently she has never seen a white plane before and although none of the rest of us are very excited at seeing a white plane at 20,000 feet, it does at least give me something to write about on this blog.
More excitement, for Jill, is engendered by the sight of Best and Less. Jill’s excitement generates a level of incredulity among the observing masses. Apparently the excitement is a form of pavlovian response due to Best and Less being the only stores Jill experienced while living in various country towns during her youth.
We spend a significant part of the day patronising the caravan park’s cafe as this provides us with an opportunity to re-charge both coffee and computers.
We have also discovered they serve scones, so afternoon tea is in order morning, noon and night. We also have to investigate options for Kaylee to fly back to Melbourne for a few days as a friend of ours, and especially of Kaylee, is ill. So, much time is spent poring over travel and flight timetables. In the end however the decision is delayed by the news that the friend’s operation is will occur later rather than sooner.
On our second day we take an afternoon tour of Geikie Gorge. The gorge is a pretty impressive bit of landscape and one gets some idea of the floods that sweep through here during a big wet when one witnesses the flood levels. The mark is some 14 metres up the cliff faces on what is a fairly wide river. Our guide tells us that the locals know what size flood they are going to get each year by watching the freshwater crocodiles.
The crocs have to lay their eggs on the sandbanks out of reach of the seasons floodwaters and depending on the size of the coming flood they move up the bank, always keeping just out of reach of maximum floodwaters. Who needs the Bureau of Meteorology?
Our guide is ranger Dan and he gives us an informative tour of the gorge including about the endangered Sawfish of which the gorge’s population of 40 make a substantive part of the national population.
However his crowning achievement was explaining the name of the swagman in the Banjo Paterson poem/song, Waltzing Matilda, is Andy. Andy, sang as watched and waited till his billy boiled…..Andy sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag.
Our second day at Fitzroy allows us to indulge in another form of camper envy. Two more vehicles from the fleet of Drive Beyond have turned up at the campground. This allows us to compare notes on the vehicles and decide who has been dudded in the equipment supply department.
Our last night in Fitzroy Crossing was to have been spent at the Tin Can cinema and suitably dressed and spivved up we turned up on time for our film, along with eight others.
The ten of us mooned about outside the cinema speculating on if we could break in and run the film ourselves since, sadly, the projectionist must have had other business. After half an our of watching the comings and goings of the patrons of the Crossing Inn, which was just across the way, we all decided to pack it in for the night.
Before we can leave town in the morning we have to get our tyre fixed, so Roger and Jill head off to Doctor Sawfish’s tyre repair service. Only in the Kimberley is the local tyre repair service also a glass blower in the off-season.
He runs a glass gallery immediately next door to his tyre shop. Roger and Jill are unaware of this and turn up to both get the tyre fixed and see the gallery but cannot see the gallery until their tyre is fixed since Dr Sawfish (http://www.drsawfish.com/about-us/) cannot do both at the same time.
Windjana is our last proper stop on our Gibb River trip. Once we turn off for the gorge we will not be heading further down the Gibb but will press on through to Fitzroy Crossing and Geikie Gorge.
The drive from Bell Gorge to Windjana takes about three hours. As you approach the turn-off to Windjana the landscape takes on a different dimension comprising massive sandstone escarpments, limestone reefs and what appear to be volcanic plugs. It is spectacular country laced and riven by massive rivers.
Just to ensure that we are not lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of anything having fallen off the vehicle for several days we get our second puncture of the trip. This time we have a tear in the sidewall, as a result of Roger using that tyre to move the fire pit, while we were at Bell Gorge. So it is farewell to that tyre.
We stop for lunch at a free camping spot just metres from the Windjana turn-off where the Lennard River crosses the main highway. Like many of the free camping sites it is nicer than the paid camping spots and they are often less crowded as well.
One just has to deal with the morons who are too lazy to dig a toilet hole and think that wads or streams of toilet paper decorated white and brown are a good adornment of any campsite. Kaylee takes the time to find some ochre rocks and gets into a bit of local rock art. The next civilisation that comes along, once ours has disappeared, will be confused.
We arrive at Windjana in late afternoon. Kaylee is suffering from a sore neck from having nightmares the previous night. Kaylee has been psychologically disturbed by a dream about being unable to finish her shopping in the IGA, among other things. In order to hide from guests who were to be fed by the food she was supposed to buy, but are now starving, she was forced to hide her legs between her head and this has given her a cricked neck. It’s unclear how the position taken in the dream bears any relationship to an actual sore neck.
Fortuitously she has managed to arrange it so that we are camped directly next to Jerome, a masseur from Victoria, who is travelling with his partner in a blue Kombi and who is able to restore the neck to something approaching operational status. I had already tried to fix Kaylee’s neck in the morning but after Jerome’s massage my status as masseur is significantly downgraded. Were I a film, it would be “I give it one star, David”.
Like many of the other campgrounds the facilities are good but it is hot and dusty and we put off going to the gorge until tomorrow. In lieu of being completely lazy we all take some short walks around the bush adjacent to the gorge.
Windjana gorge is created by the Lennard river cutting through the Napier Range which is a part of a massive and ancient coral reef that was shipwrecked here by the retreating oceans as the planet cooled 450 million years ago.
The Napier range is part of a Devonian reef complex that extends for some 350 km along the northern margin of the Canning Basin. It skirts all around the Kimberley to join with similar reefs in the Ningbing Range, near Kununurra and also includes Tunnel Greek and Geikie Gorge.
We follow the outer walls of the reef which stands 100 metres high and is red but stained black by oxidation and/or minerals. The sun is setting behind us and, away from the wall, the temperature is dropping but, as one closes in on the wall, the black rock acts like a giant radiator giving off masses of heat.
As the sun drops the walls light up in a gold red glow punctuated by the silhouettes of boabs. It is one of those moments of light and colour that come rarely in a lifetime.
We retire to camp to cook dinner and relax. The big news of the night is that Jill is happy with the toilets and showers. We are required to receive a Jill-dunny report at each campground we visit. This urge to dunny analysis has been created by her trauma at having to live for 20 odd years without an en suite at her house.
Consequently we get a star rating analysis of the dunny as part of the normal travel arrangements. The state of the dunny is in fact more important than whether the car has oil and only marginally less important that a non-stop supply of tea.
The camp manager comes around to check on fees and Jill questions her about the lights in the distance. She tells us it is a diamond mine and has a communications contract with Optus. Consequently Windjana is the only place in the Kimberley one can get Optus reception. Optus advertises that it covers 95% of Australians but doesn’t tell you that they all live in about 5% of Australia (the coast and major regional centres) and that it has no reception anywhere else.
The news on the mine is received with some relief by Roger who up until this point has refused to stand up for the last hour. He feeds us some story about his childhood when he was, apparently, traumatised by the possibility of being kidnapped by aliens and the presence of unknown lights reminds him of this trauma.
Worse still this trauma is compounded by the fact that, according to Roger, in all the alien films he has seen, the aliens all torture/carry out the equivalent of scientific whaling by penetrating their human captives with anal probes. Roger’s fear of being anally probed by the nearby aliens that he has remained seated for hours and now has constipation, so over the next days the toilet stops are extended. Perhaps alien probes would be the solution for that constipation.
Aside from freedom from concerns about alien captivity, the other result of the Optus information there is a mad scramble to re-fit Optus sim cards to phones. We have lost Roger since he is now marooned on top of the vehicle for the entire night trying to get the one bar of Optus reception.
Periodically, when he is not actually talking on the phone, he sticks his head over the side of the roof and we feed him a spoon of dinner. Roger’s sacrifice is not in vain and every five minutes we get updates via Roger, from son Arlen, on the Super 15 rugby union final and the ultimate one point victory of the Waratahs. Roger is so happy he almost falls off the vehicle roof.
Our other near neighbours are a father and daughter combination who have driven out in the daughter’s old commodore station wagon. Emily has retired early to a luxurious sleep in the back of the station wagon leaving her Dad stuck alone in the campground and destined to pass a long uncomfortable night in the front seat.
We invite him over for drinks and it turns out that he works for the WA Water authority. Among their concerns is keeping Coal Seam Gas drilling and extraction out of their catchments. But all that interests the WA Government, in common with most Australian state governments, is the almighty dollar. Hence they are losing the battle to protect water catchments in the face of massive pressure from the mining industry.
In the morning we head off early to the gorge. Aside from being physically impressive it is mightily. interesting geologically. The limestone abounds with fossilised marine creatures of all shapes and sizes, such as fossilised giant crocodile some thirty metres above the current river level in a cave.
There are also more freshwater crocs, in the gorge, than one can poke a stick at and we count 40 altogether on our walk.
The track abounds with bird life and we add to our twitcher score with some more varieties of fig bird and honeyeaters. The track is only 2.5 kilometres long but by the time we have scoured every corner of the gorge and stopped to look at about 50 birds it is already lunch-time. The gorge walls are already pumping out heat from their blacks surfaces. It’s something of a relief to exit and return to camp.
Roger and Jill set off before Kaylee and I and are already back. They have retreated to the sanctuary of their tent which, in an effort to keep it cool, is covered by sarongs pegged on by our entire supply of pegs. As a result every time we do the washing another item of our clothing makes a getaway never to be seen again. The landscape is littered with clean jocks and socks everywhere from Mornington onwards.
As a result of the construction it is alternatively referred to as the sarong sanctuary or the senile sanctuary depending on the recent memory performance of the occupants.
Despite the wear and tear of packing and unpacking we are frequently rescued from difficult situations by the ubiquitous Australia Post box of aforementioned fame. This box has now traveled across the entire continent and continues to be pressed into service for multifarious uses such as yoga mat, pot stand etc. As a result we have now rewarded it with its own chair on which it watches sunrise and sunset with the rest of us.
We start pulling the tent down for our departure for Tunnel Gorge and then on to Fitzroy Crossing. The packing up has taken on a new dimension since, effectively, Roger and Jill must now pack up two tents. The process involves opening up their tent on the roof, removing the mattress and other contents, then putting up their own ground based tent, inserting the contents from the roof tent and then finally folding up the roof tent again. To leave the reverse process must be followed.
Once this is done the final stage is packing the magic pudding as Jill’s and Roger’s case is known. This involves completely opening the case and stuffing as much into the bottom half of the case as possible. Once done, there is a pile of clothing in the case roughly three times its height of the case when it is empty and closed.
To address this either Roger or Jill closes the lid over the bulging pile, then kneels on the lid of the case while attempting to stuff errant items down the side. Meanwhile the other party attempts to close the clips holding the lid to the bottom. Usually this struggle takes multiple minutes accompanied by much swearing and cursing.
Despite the obstacles to departure we are out of the camp ground by around 11 am. We head off for Tunnel Gorge via a quick stop at the ruins of the police station which was used during the war against local Bunaba people. The most famous of the resistance leaders was Jandamarra who started as a police tracker and later led the resistance against the local police and settlers.
Tunnel Creek was one of his main hideouts and we arrive for a walk through the gorge that has cuts through the ancient reef. We arrive to be greeted by three giant Brahmin bulls that are clearly Buddhist as they are entirely docile. We are fortunate to have the place to ourselves other than two of the resident freshwater crocs which put in an appearance as we are wading through.
The absence of other people in the gorge allows one to sense how it might have been when Jandamarra and his resistance fighters were using the tunnel.
The cave system, of which the tunnel comprises a part, are massive and we walk under enormous ceilings of stalagmites and other limestone formations. The tunnel is pitted with other caves that go off far beyond the walls of the tunnel and the creek is fed by a spring that emerges from the walls part way down. It is an impressive end to our gorge walking.
We leave Tunnel Creek and take the road south to Fitzroy Crossing but night starts falling before we arrive. So we pull up at an old quarry site which is mentioned in the bush camping guide which Kaylee has purchased. It’s a beautiful site with views over the entire surrounding areas of bush but the swimming hole, sadly, is not inviting.
See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:
We depart Mornington after three nights. The atmosphere remains somewhat strained and tense after the morning of premature packing. Jill and Roger have indicated they will no longer sleep on the roof and will from now on put up their tent.
Kaylee and I feel that this is just a dummy spit which will add to the packing time in the mornings. Where is Hillary Clinton when you need a bit of shuttle diplomacy? I consider launching cruise missiles at their tent but consider that this may lead to unrestrained playing of Abba, as retribution, which would be a fate worse than death.
On our way out of Mornington we stop to look for finches but despite lots of quiet waiting we find none. So we press on. We are heading for a day at Bell Gorge which, we are told, is one of the Kimberley’s finest.
En route we stop off at the Imintji store for supplies. Imintji is a triumph of remote enterprise, encompassing as it does Aboriginal enterprise, good coffee, wifi, a well stocked store and friendly service. We can report good smoothies, scones that are so-so but heart shaped (so they get an extra half a point from the romantics among us). and great milkshakes. We are giving it a five, Margaret.
At Imintji we run into our first motorcyclists. The two of them are both in their 60’s, are riding a BMW and Triumph and were last on the Gibb River Road in the late 1980s. They seem a little contemptuous of both the road and the drivers, especially those among the latter who don’t slow down.
They recount historical tales from their last visit. These include stories of bull dust holes so deep you could lose a road train and of pot holes bigger than a house.
But mostly they recall a maelstrom of abandoned trailers and caravans as drivers, ambushed by corrugations as deep as the Grand Canyon, and bull dust holes wider than the Sahara, abandoned their whatever they were towing in a desperate attempts to escape the Gibb.
The current Gibb is a tame beast in comparison. Our principal consultant has been riding bikes all his life and has more steel in his body than that in the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Fortunately he can still raise his arm high enough to get his beer to his lips.
Imintji also has a posse of Korean tourists who have turned up. There are about 15 of them in five nearly identical four wheel drives which, as befits the children of one of the world’s most efficient economies, are all neatly parked in a row, equidistant apart, all facing the same way and perfectly lined up with each other.
Arriving at Imintji has released a huge burst of oestrogen in Jill, Kaylee and, apparently, Roger all of whom indulge in a frenzy of child phoning. No child is safe from distant calls from errant parents.
All of my fellow travellers appear to be suffering either from some form of 20+ years later baby craving or alternatively from a form of guilt due to having abandoned their babies for 2 months plus.
By the time they have finished telephoning every available child and/or leaving 12 minute messages on their message bank beseeching them not to put petrol in their diesel cars, which have been loaned to the said children, the queue for the only phone stretches around the shop.
We also receive good news. It is snowing heavily down south and well below zero in parts of Victoria. This radically increases our ability to gloat about our holidays. From now on, at every available opportunity between here and Perth, we all proceed to send images of ourselves sunning our bodies in warm gorges and lying on beaches
We head over to the Aboriginal art centre and Kaylee indulges her need to buy a momento of every stop on this trip by investing in a painting by Edna Dale. I’m quite convinced that half the NT/WA economy has been supported for several weeks by Kaylee and Jill’s purchases.
Finally we leave Imintji and head off on the 45 minute drive to Bell Gorge campground. We had planned to have a simple dinner of jaffles tonight. We had planned on having jaffles, several days ago, but in an extraordinarily Un-Australian act, Nathan, the owner of the hire company, has failed to supply jaffle irons in his vehicle. A purchase of a jaffle iron is in order.
The desire to have jaffles disappears however when we discover that cost of jaffle irons at the Imintji store is about the same as buying the entire stock of Tesla. We do, however, invest in a camp toaster to use on the gas stove.
We are camping the night at Silent Grove campground about 10 kilometres from Bell Gorge.
About 2 hours after setting up camp the tour group, ‘AMOS’ arrived. In theory the area for tour groups was at the entrance to the camp ground but AMOS apparently felt they had a God given right to ignore signs that had clearly been placed only for ordinary mortals.
While not exactly enamoured to be sharing our quiet camping area with 20 others we were able to spend dinner hypothesising about the meaning of the name AMOS based on the behaviour of the members of the group. Our preferred choice was Australian Masturbation and Orgasm Services, which presumably explained the good humour and laughter of the group.
Australian Marine and Oceanographic Society seemed a possibility but arguably they were a little far from the Ocean and the Antarctic Mission for Orcas and Seas also seemed unlikely given the heat. Their truck is adorned by a windmill which, according to Roger is an orgasmatron or some new fangled version of a dildo. It fits with the preferred name.
When we eventually found that AMOS stood for Australian Mission Outreach Service, implying some sort of Christian cult, our first choice seemed a suitable alternative name.
Because Bell is 10 kilometres from the camp ground we need to drive to the Gorge. Roger takes this as an opportunity to use the front tyre of our vehicle to re-locate the concrete fire pit as we drive past it . He later states that this had nothing to do with his poor driving skills but rather he felt the need to improve his tyre changing skills since this deliberate relocation of the fire pit is to later lead to our next puncture.
Our visit to Bell was hugely improved by the presence of a film crew and the members of a Four wheel club with their eight sponsored vehicles. When we first arrived at Bell Gorge itself there were just seven people there.
By the time we left there were close to 60 including two tour groups, and the 20 odd drivers and crew of the club, plus camera crew and accompanying drone operator who proceeded to buzz the gorge with his drone and camera for about an hour.
As a result I can state that Sydney Airport seemed likely to be more peaceful than Bell Gorge was while we were there.
Bell is certainly a beautiful gorge and you can get away from the crowds by following the creek up or down river through a series of pools and ledges. It is certainly suffering however from its reputation as one of the more spectacular Kimberley Gorges and its relatively easy access via an easy 30 minute walk.
After a brief hour at Bell we decide to leave the crowd to its own devices and we head back for a quiet afternoon in the camp. The ground has filled up and among our fellow campers are the motor cyclists from Imintji and five other motorcyclists on bikes with side cars. As with many other of our fellow travellers we are to see them several more times.
Our nearest campers (aside from the nest of a pair of double barred finches) are a young couple from Melbourne who have been on the road for eighteen months. She left straight from school and he is a plumber which allows him to work everywhere they go. We frighten them with tales of the giant potholes on the Gibb and other lies, which they deserved for having bacon and eggs for breakfast while we were engaging in muesli delight.
In the morning we prepare to set off for Windjana Gorge but before we go Kaylee must indulge in a bit more camper-rig envy. On the other side of us from the young couple are another couple who we encountered previously, at Mornington, but Kaylee had not seen their rig while we there. However she now realises she has missed a major opportunity to indulge in camper fantasy.
Kaylee is a little inclined to psychological attachments to moving objects and can often be found in her house bent over watching the washing machine going round and round for hours at a time. This apparently puts her into some form of relaxing trance.
She also loves little boxes and, on shopping trips, has to be restrained from buying cabinets with dozens of little drawers. So the adjacent camper is like the orgasmatron of previous mention. It not only has a mechanical camper awning that Kaylee could spend her mornings raising and lowering but an entire perspex-fronted kitchen section. This contains about 40 little drawers and slots for various spices and other cooking bits and pieces. Kaylee is beside herself with excitement.
See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:
After Manning Gorge, Mornington ‘wilderness’ camp is our next stop.
Mornington is run by Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). Normally one has to book ahead but when we arrived the repeater station that allows one to radio to the station office was out of action and had been replaced by a sign saying “If you arrive prior to 11 am just come on down”. Since we have arrived at 10 am we proceed down to the camp.
Mornington is one of a string of reserves established by the AWC which are designed to address the appalling state of the Australian natural environment which has the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world.
The failure to protect habitat, effectively, is one of the key factors in this decline, with the others being excessive burning and feral animals. We should all be eating cat pie on a daily basis since this would put the cattle industry, which is one of the key factors in habitat destruction, into terminal decline. It would also mean that we would reduce the impact of cats which kill 70 million Australian native animals daily (a million feral cats each eating 7 native animals nightly).
The great attraction of Mornington is that it provides some respite from the crowds one encounters in most other parts of the Kimberley.
Despite its reputation the Kimberley is not remote and the Gibb River Road is better than the average road in Byron Shire and, certainly, has fewer potholes. If you happen to break down in the Kimberley you can be sure of assistance from passing vehicles.
The only way you would get as many offers of assistance in, say Sydney, would be if you stood at the side of the road offering free bags of money. So there is little risk to travelling in the Kimberley unless you are either (a) drive dangerously or (b) go fishing for salties with your arms or legs.
The other nice thing about Mornington is that they have a good restaurant although you have to take what is on offer. for the meal of the day A la carte might be a bit much to expect given where they are located.
Both Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill, separately, decided to assist environmental efforts by eradicating some of the excess beef cattle around. Very nice romantic starlit evenings with good wine and food. Or at least Jill and Roger’s would have been had Roger not spent most of the evening on the phone to their sons.
Mornington is where camper-rig envy first kicked in. Having spent the last five weeks lazing around in creeks and walking to remote-ish parts of the Kimberley, Kaylee has decided that would like to continue in this manner should the Department of Education be prepared to continue funding her to laze around on each school holiday. But to do it she requires a state of the art four wheel drive and camping rig.
The end result of this is that anyone who camps within about 200 metres is at risk of having their entire morning devoted to showing Kaylee every spare inch of their ‘rig’.
With each inspection some new requirement is added: the motorised tent so that no effort is required to stow it, the double fridge all on rollers, the sliding sink, the kitchen with 50 separate little drawers for every conceivable object, the espresso machine, the built in massage space etc. As each mornings passes you can an extra year to the length of time she will need to work before she can afford even half of such a beast.
Our first morning, at Mornington, is spent at Bluebush water hole, on the Fitzroy. It’s yet another beautiful swimming hole but from my perspective the main asset is a long rope swing from which one can leap from a great height into the pool below. This allows me to indulge my never to be sated passion for being a ten-year old with access to water and swings and to combine that with my fantasies about flying.
We visit two gorges at Mornington, Dimond Gorge and Sir John Gorge. Both of these sit on the Fitzroy River which drains a vast area of the Kimberley and has 20 major tributaries. It is 733 kilometres long and drains an area of 94,000 square kilometres, just over 3 times the size of Belgium.
Flood flows are among the largest in the world for a catchment of this size and the 1993 flood reached 25,000 cubic metres per second equivalent to 15 Olympic pools each second. Each gorge and waterhole are completely different.
On our second day we head off for Dimond Gorge. Normally we would have hired canoes and gone for a paddle but they are allegedly all booked. On arriving we find 7 canoes lined up unused. Either they have more cancellations than Tiger Air or the booking system leaves something to be desired.
Fate comes to our rescue however and we are able to bot a canoe from two couples who have just finished using theirs. They are graziers from Walcha and discussion turns to the drought. They have now had two dry springs, in succession, and say that a third one, which seems imminent, will be disastrous. Already they have cattle on agistment around Ensay in Victoria.
On the way back from Dimond Gorge we take a quick detour to the wetlands. These are also part of the Fitzroy River and we are fortunate enough to see a pair of Brolgas close up, as well as a mass of long tailed finches.
On our departure I am ambushed by a gaggle of restless flycatchers nearby and in my struggle to both follow them and take pictures I start dropping everything in my possession. Roger following behind dutifully collects everything I drop until he has the appearance of my hired sherpa.
He is carrying my binoculars, binocular case, hat, sunglasses, reading glasses, jumper, t-shirt, lens hood, phone, water bottle and almost everything else I seem to have brought on the two month trip. In keeping with our reward policy he gets a Lindt ball but since he can’t eat Lindt balls I add it to my own tally of rewards which I receive just for giving him the opportunity to win a Lindt ball.
Perhaps the most picturesque of the gorges is Sir John Gorge. Unlike most of the others it is not a high sided gorge but a long flat stretch of water bounded by low red rock walls. The water is dotted with large and small rock outcrops. At sunset it turns into a photographers paradise with the sunset lighting up the walls and their reflections in the water.
While we were there it was perfectly still and we sat on the rock ledges enjoying the beauty. The combination of the stillness, the quiet, the views and reflections instilled in one a perfect sense of tranquility
On our final morning we all plan to go off and do various short walks. But first we must achieve our own version of lost in translation. It is the morning of Premature Packing.
Roger, Kaylee and I are already up and Jill is awake in her tent. As Kaylee and I are going for breakfast in the restaurant I don’t want to leave Roger and Jill to have to pull down the tents alone, so I jump on the roof and start packing it up.
Jill has decided she needs another five minutes dozing and asks me to stop. I assume from her tone that she is joking and I carry on packing. She descends into laughter and keeps repeating her request, so I assume she is finding the sensation of being in a small boat in a storm somewhat amusing. But sadly no, she tells me later, laughter is how she deals with stressful situations and she is not amused.
As with all things it is a question of perspective. I view Jill as being incredibly selfish for wanting extra sleep when everyone else is up and running and somewhat weird for expressing her annoyance with peals of laughter. Jill views me as incredibly insensitive and disrespectful for not listening to her requests to stop packing. Everyone is displeased. If nothing else one understands how World War 1 started.
I am largely oblivious to all this since Kaylee and I have taken off for a bit of amateur twitching on Annie’s Creek where we see a myriad of bush birds including the purple crowned wren, double-barred finch and crimson finch, as well as bower birds, pigeons, doves, honeyeaters etc. Jill meantime is working herself into a state of furious indignation which is to reveal itself later.
By 10 am we are packed and on the road to Bell Gorge. En route we stop to try and spot the ever-elusive and extremely endangered Gouldian Finch but we are out of luck so we have to make do with Boab Valley which is a creek line dominated by hundreds of Boab trees.
Mornington disappears behind us and we are on our way to Windjana Gorge.
See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken: