Beating about the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 15 – Manning)

Having left Drysdale Station at around 2 pm, evening sees us at Mt Barnett roadhouse at 4.45pm. We will stay tonight at Manning Gorge campground but first we must annoy the storekeepers, who are trying to close up, by buying supplies. I sample the coffee which is passable but Kaylee declares the machine dirty and the coffee bitter. Having fuelled up we complete the final five kilometres to the dusty campground.

Despite deciding to take it in turns to pick the camp spot no one can resist being a back seat camp site selector.

Roger is the first and gets a big fail since he suggests the first site he sees. It does not appear to be relevant to him that it is downwind of the septic, on the main traffic route to the toilets, about 10 metres from the generator and adjacent to a family that the Simpsons would call dysfunctional. To top it off it is covered with cattle droppings. He is barred from ever picking a campsite again.

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Subsequent discussion reveal Roger wishes to re-write history by claiming that his selection of the world’s worst camp site was just a joke. Alternatively that it was an appropriate response to being pilloried for losing us the lakeside spot in Kununurra due to being insufficiently decisive.

Breakfast sees us up early for a walk to Manning Gorge. But first we all have to do stretches as we all have bad backs due to carrying the breakfast box which weighs about 20 kg more than it should as a result of the great Muesli war. No one can agree on what constitutes good muesli.

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Kaylee refers to all raw muesli as ‘chook food’ and not one grain of uncooked muesli will ever pass her lips. I feel the opposite and in addition hate any muesli with sugar in it, Jill has some other bizarre preference that would certainly see her excommunicated from the Catholic Church and Roger makes a concoction from dried cattle dung and various other ingredients provided by a PNG witch doctor.

Since we all need enough muesli to last three weeks, we have not only had to sacrifice half of all normal grocery supplies (no Lindt balls) to accommodate the various types of muesli, but the payload of the breakfast box is roughly equivalent to a fully-laden 747.

 

In the morning we have to move the vehicle in order to meet Roger’s sunshine on solar panels quota. One of the great disadvantages of vehicles with tents on the roof is that, normally, if one stays at any campsite for more than a day, the tents have to be packed back down on the roof in order to go anywhere during the day.

To avoid this inconvenience we decide, for the first time, to move the vehicle with the tents up, as we only require a re-location of about 30 metres.

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Our plan is not revealed to Jill, who in blissful ignorance is doing her meditation session in her tent. She sits in her private nirvana listening to a meditation tape which, at the precise movement that the vehicle lurches into movement, is encouraging her to feel soft, relaxed and undisturbed and to the solid earth beneath her.

As a result Jill experiences severe psychological trauma as a result of the disconnect between her spiritual state and the real world and has been suffering from an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy every since. Given her historical obsession with photos of the most bizarre things we are fearful of what photos she may demand we stop to take in future.

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The campground is a little run down because the caretaker has gone walkabout and the roadhouse is advertising for a new caretaker. Whoever installed the water supply tank appears to have been drunk at the time since it is perched precariously on a mound at an odd angle. The basins are either some form of art installation or are from last century judging by the crazy paving cracks in them.

To compensate we have the amusing idiosyncrasy that, being on a cattle station, we may be joined for breakfast , at any time, by a passing herd of one-tonne herbivores.

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Manning Gorge is an easy walk across stone country through a couple of stony creek gullies. The landscape is scattered with ancient boab trees and sprinkled with kapok and spinifex. The odd Kimberley Rose tree is a splash of red and everywhere echoes with the calls of finches and cockatoos of all varieties.

At regular intervals the moving colour palette that is a rainbow bee-eater passes us by. While this Australian bush has a superficial similarity to savannah elsewhere, it has its own quite special spirit, variety, space and light that is found nowhere else in the world.

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The gorge itself is a little mini-paradise of rock and cool water. Different than any other gorge we have visited, it is smaller in scale. It is a quiet oasis and we spend the hottest part of the day cooling in the giant plunge pool and lounging under the trees on white sand.

In the late afternoon we walk back to camp in the company of a British woman and her visiting parents. She is on a two year working holiday in Broome, . She is also studying environmental sciences in Perth, while in Australia and is working as a tour guide on a pearl farm in Broome.

Her parents are accidental tourists to the Kimberley since her mother made the booking while still in a post operative haze and thought she was going to Perth, not realising that the daughter had moved to Broome. As a result the winter holiday in South-West WA turned into a sub-tropical excursion to the Kimberley. So it goes.

On the second morning of our stay at Manning Gorge we decide that it is laundry day. It is about 100 metres from the vehicle to the ablution block. We do our laundry in relays since, with four of us, we need to do more than one load. This is accomplished by using the white washing up bowl in which to carry the laundry. In the process of doing the laundry there is one  caravan we must pass, about six times, carrying the bowl.

At one point Kaylee sees me approaching the toilet block as she is standing on the entry ramp to the womens’ toilets and, not having any free hands, proceeds to wave at me with the bowl by raising and lowering it above her head several times. On looking up she sees four elderly women, who are trying to exit the block. They are staring at her and Kaylee tries to explain why she is using the bowl for semaphore, but they all scurry off, each of them casting worried looks behind.

On each trip a different person is carrying the bowl and the the female occupant of the caravan comments to Kaylee that there appears to be some form of strange ritual that requires the bowl to be passed to the next person before that person can participate in visiting the toilet block.

 

Breakfast that morning has its normal bizarre rituals. Roger has a weird psychological obsession about the nuts he must put in his cereal each morning. We must endure him taking one nut at a time and biting it in four before placing it in his weird cereal concoction along with his dried PNG cow dung or whatever other ingredients he uses.

This is because our mutual friend, Garth, once criticised him for being excessively noisy in the mornings (and presumably waking Garth at the late hour of 8 am, or similar) when he cut his (literal not euphemistic) nuts, noisily, on a breadboard.

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So Roger has taken to biting his nuts, quietly, in four, however unpleasant that may sound. It’s unclear who is more psychologically disturbed, Garth because he can’t stand the sound of nuts being cut before midday or Roger because he feels unable to do something eminently reasonable for fear of annoying Garth.

Kaylee is unable to even descend for breakfast before she has frightened the entire neighbourhood. This involves finding every object she can in the tent and projecting them, at speed, into the surrounding biosphere from the roof of the vehicle. Anything within a 25 degree arc of the tent door is at risk of being hit by flying cups, rejected bread crusts and anything else deemed surplus to requirements.

Surrounding campers may wonder why no one is occupying the only spot in the shade of the vehicle but the morning baseball pitching practice is the reason.

Following the morning ejections we have the descent. Placing ones head outside the tent and locating the steps on the stairs is, apparently, not an approved method of descending stairs safely. No, one must sit with your head inside the tent and, projecting both legs externally, you then wave them randomly around until you accidentally encounter a step with one leg.

Having done this you then place your second foot on top of the first foot so that you cannot more the first foot. The second foot cannot descend further since the placement of the first leg prevents the second leg being bent in order to lower the second foot. The head is still inside the tent. at this point.

We then have the half-jump technique, in which both feet are rotated into something approaching a safe position. One can then descend further. This process takes approximately five minutes by which time Kaylee’s camping partners have managed to gather up the various projectiles and bits of projectiles (such as the cups which the handles have broken off). The reaction to the destroyed cups? “Oh, I thought they were indestructible!”

At this point we can all safely re-commence our breakfast since the end of the performance means we are no longer likely to choke to death with laughter on our muesli.

The postscript here is that, on reading this to Kaylee, she was so outraged by the alleged lies that she almost choked to death on her own muesli. I, on the other had was so pleased at myself about my wit in writing about the morning performance, that I did not notice she was choking to death. I am currently once again in the doghouse. So it goes

Jill, meanwhile, is preparing the five thermos flasks of tea she requires to survive the day. The circus really is in town.

Finally we are ready to leave around 8.30 am and we hit the road for Mornington.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Manning Gorge

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)
  9. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)
  10. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 10 – Kununurra)
  11. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 11 – El Questro)
  12. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 12 – Ellen Brae)
  13. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 13 – Mitchell River)
  14. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 14 – Munurru)

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 14 – Munurru)

We spend the day at Munurru lazing by the creek, drinking tea, reading and writing. Our day is occasionally interrupted by people passing by to go to the river. Among them are three young Victorians who, we discover, have driven from the far side of the campground. We exchange comments about the failings of Gen X. They are somewhat embarrassed by their laziness and we are somewhat amused. I write on their car and take photos as evidence.

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“We drove 100m to swim in the river”

Our final evening at Munurru is a cool, still, starlit night and we sit around the fire tracking stars and planets. It is perfectly peaceful. By nine, bed time approaches and I go to get my toothbrush.

My companions are not happy as the ambience of the campfire-lit night is shattered by the electric whirring of my brush. To the others this is further evidence of my lack of sincerity about travelling light since I also require a charger and an inverter to keep my dental hygiene up to scratch.

The sound of the toothbrush adds insult to injury since the inverter itself has a noisy fan and I chose to charge my toothbrush during lunch. From their perspective I have now destroyed both a pleasant lunch and evening.

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Munurru rockart

We start to pull the tents down. Once again the zip will not close. The zip on the rear tent has malfunctioned due to excessive dirt in the zip. The subsequent use of excessive force to close it appears to have deformed several of the zip bits.

I have been advocating WD40 for several days as the solution since, as everyone knows, WD40 fixes almost any problem. In the absence of WD40, cable ties or fencing wire will do. Or duct tape.

Roger however is dubious. He believes that the presence of WD40 will only attract more dust, which of course it will. But more WD40 will fix that as I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction on many previous occasions. Too little lubrication? More WD40. Too much lubrication? More WD40 as this will attract dust and fix the over-lubrication. Any idiot knows that. But Roger has resisted and we still have no WD40.

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Munurru rock art

Meanwhile our neighbours, who are a large party with four vehicles, have a mechanical problem of indeterminate nature. It requires a bloke conference to fix it and the numbers progressively grow.

It’s a form of mens’ shed but without the shed. Initially there are just two blokes examining the ‘thingymajig’ or the ‘howsyourfather.’..whatever it is that is broken. Within five minutes there are four blokes and by the time ten minutes have passed there are 6 blokes discussing the issue. Blokes have started to arrive from neighbouring sites and there are even two women standing nearby marvelling at the DIY miracle that is a bloke(s) and a ‘howsyourfather’.

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Munurru rock art

I wander over on my way to the dunny and, as an aside, ask whether if another six blokes were added to group which is diligently looking at and passing around the ‘thingummywhatsit’, it might in fact just fix itself. One of the group looks at me: “Nah, that would never work, none of us have a beer in our hands”.

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Butcher bird

We are nearly packed. I have found a large attractive rock that would work well in my garden but, sadly our group refuses me permission to put it in the car even though it only weighs 250kg and has a diameter of only 450 mm. They question our ability to get it off the ground in any case and feel it would be detrimental to the local environment if everyone removed a rock even though, as I point out, there are a lot of rocks.

My bona fides now come under attack as Roger suggests I have undergone a personality transformation as I was the primary motivational speaker behind our efforts to travel light but am now trying to add large rocks to our entourage.

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The creek at Munurru

The final task as always is the Magic Pudding. Roger and Jill have decided to pack their entire worldly possessions into a conventional blue suitcase.

Apart from the fact that it is bulky and unwieldy, it has to contain about ten times as many clothes and other items as it was designed to take.

The time taken to pack the magic pudding is about the same as an orbit of Pluto around the sun.

Kaylee and I can take a half day bush-walk, eat breakfast, scratch all required body parts and say more ‘Hail Marys’ than the Pope at Mass, by the time the Magic Pudding is packed and loaded.

On our way to the main road we stop in at the two art sites nearly. Both are set in a idyllic landscape of rock outcrops.

By 8.30 we are away and travelling south. We make good time and about 40 kms from Drysdale Station we pass a Britz hire troop carrier travelling slowly in the same direction. Another 25 kms on and we are flagged down by a crew in a white Landcruiser. They have already had two punctures and now have a third. But we cannot help them as we have a six stud wheel and they have a five stud wheel. The lead actor introduces himself as Alex Frank from Kalumburu. He has his two sons, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren with him.

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We offer to take one of his wheels to Drysdale station, get it fixed and bring it back but he is not keen on that idea. As we are debating the issue, the hire vehicle that we passed previously, from Britz campers, approaches. Alex flags them down but comes back dispirited. They are French speakers and their English is limited. But Alex is fortunate and I am shanghaied as translator. We have two very cautious Belgians, Jaques and Brigitte.

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Jaques, in particular is very reluctant to be a party to loaning their only spare tyre. He is worried about losing their deposit if something goes wrong. My role now moves from translator to negotiator. I try to persuade Jaques that they are at no risk and that we can proceed to Drysdale Station “ensemble” (together). He remains reluctant. Alex, on the other hand, is pressing his case.

He wants me to just get a wrench and simply hijack Jaques tyre. Jaques doesn’t understand the culture, he tells me. He starts gesticulating, telling Jaques if he doesn’t help it will rain and he will all get bogged.

We are in a conundrum where Alex cannot possibly under stand Jaques attachment to his spare tyre and thinks he can resolve the situation by persuading me to take direct action.

I work on Jaques. He is about to concede to loaning his spare wheel when he notices that the front passenger tyre of Alex’s vehicle is also half flat.

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Munurru’s gloriously polished red rocks

C’est impossible…” he tells me looking at the state of the fourth tyre.

I spring into mid-east shuttle diplomacy mode, telling Alex, on the one hand, to stop humbugging me. It’s not me he needs to persuade but Jaques.

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A large decorative rock – ideal for any garden

With Jaques, on the other hand I am in cultural interpreter mode, explaining that “C’est toujours comme, en Australie” (it’s always like this in Australia). I try to explain that by the standards of many Aboriginal communities Alex’s vehicle is a Rolls Royce…virtually new. By now Alex’s sons have got out the compressor and are blowing up the half-deflated tyre.

Meanwhile Alex is demanding to know why we went to Mitchell Plateau and didn’t visit Kalumburu. I tell him that I heard the blackfellas up that way were too dangerous and that we were a little scared. “I worked with Aboriginal people in Darwin and they warned me about people from Kalumburu” I say.

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The famous blue suitcase, aka the Magic Pudding

This manages to divert Alex from harassing me and Jaques, and he starts explaining to his sons that I worked with Blackfellas and this explains why he can’t humbug me.

Jaques meanwhile has his ear to the newly pumped up tyre. He cannot hear any more hissing. We are on the cusp of victory. Finally he gets out the key which locks the the spare wheel to his vehicle. Within 2 minutes the sons have the spare on the car and we are away, Jaques leading the way.

But a few minutes of eating dust and Alex and sons decide to overtake. Within minutes they are out of sight. We plod along in Jaques wake who has told me he is convinced that Australians are “fou” (mad) for driving so fast on dirt roads. It’s why they get so many punctures he says. At this point my French runs out as we try and debate concepts such as corrugations and principles of speed versus comfort.073-IMG_1397

We round a corner. Alex and Sons are stopped. The bonnet’s driver side rear attachment has been fractured for some time and now  the baling twine which was holding it in place has broken and it has half flown off.

It is completely detached with the exception of the passenger side attachment and the hydraulic arm on the drivers side. When we arrive it is precariously perched on the vehicle, but we cannot get it back into position because the pressure from the hydraulic arm prevents us pushing it back.

At this point Jaques gets into the swing of things and suggests removing the hydraulic arm so we can push it back. The bonnet clicks satisfyingly into position. We are off again.

Finally we arrive in Drysdale. But Alex and Sons seem disinterested in giving back Jaques his tyre. I ask Jaques if he is “pressé” (in a hurry). He says he is. I go to Alex and tell him Jaques and Brigitte are in a hurry. I explain they are on Whitefella time. Time is money. Alex shouts at his boys to get the tyres repaired and back on the vehicle and they spring into action.

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Alex explains how to use your hands as a magnifying glass while looking for the bush skills of white people.

We go for lunch. But fifteen minutes later Jaques and Brigitte who are supposed to be lunching with us have still not reappeared.

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The more people you have looking at the broken vehicle the easier it will fix itself

I go to check. Alex’s boys have got diverted into stripping another deceased Landcruiser that belongs to another son who is not with them. I have to remonstrate with Alex and remind him that the others are in a hurry. He seems to have forgotten and another set of instructions are issued. Within a couple of minutes all is fixed. So it goes.

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This is whitefellla work

Finally we lunch. Jaques is retired farmer from southern Belgium and Brigitte is a child care worker. They have five children between them, one of whom is in construction in Sydney. Hence their frequent visits to Australia. Lunch is very staccato as I speak to Jaques and Brigitte and Kaylee and Roger look bemused. When I remember, I translate. I will not soon be applying for a job as an international translator since the series of diplomatic incidents that would result would make the series of gaffes byTony Abbott’, the ex-Australian Prime Minister, look inoffensive.

My final note for this blog records that Kaylee was provocative on Sunday 28th. But there is no supporting information, so one can only surmise who was being provoked and why.

Since it was Roger who stated that Kaylee was being provocative and in keeping with the traditional deterioration in relationships between travelling companions, it’s likely that Kaylee was making some pertinent and accurate comment on either Roger or Jill’s proclivities. In Roger’s case this was likely his inclination to spend his entire rest day grovelling under vehicles attaching additional bits of fencing wire and cable ties. No rest for those with OCD.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Munurru
Alex Frank

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)
  9. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)
  10. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 10 – Kununurra)
  11. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 11 – El Questro)
  12. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 12 – Ellen Brae)
  13. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 13 – Mitchell River)

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 13 – Mitchell River)

From the Gibb River, we easily reach Mitchell River in a day. Along the way the road gets progressively worse but we are still encountering nothing worse than corrugations and a few rocks, so have been making good time.

Just before lunch we turn off the Kalumburu Road and onto the Mitchell River Road. It’s now mostly one lane and the corrugations are interspersed by areas of rock. Still Kaylee’s driveway, at home in Wandiligong, is much worse.

At lunch-time we stop at Munurru, a beautiful spot on the Prince Edward River, just 7 kilometres from the turn off at the junction of the Kalumburu and Mitchell River roads. We decide we will spend a couple of days here on the way back. In the interim  we just have a swim and quick lunch.

The 80-odd kilometres to Mitchell Falls camp ground takes us about two hours. Kaylee, who has already been driving for a couple of hours, decides she wants to drive the rest of the way to avoid car sickness from the windy, bumpy road. She insists on this, even though we have agreed that no one will drive for more than two hours at one go and, as a result, she gets increasingly grumpy as she gets tired.

On arriving at Mitchell River, tired, dusty and beaten up by corrugations, we cannot decide how to park the vehicle. Roger simply wants to face it due north, as always. Jill is worried about being too close to the neighbours and I want to ensure that the external light on the car faces the proposed cooking area. Since all of these things are mutually exclusive we end up moving the vehicle at least four times. By this time neighbouring campers are throwing things at us, Kaylee wants to kill us all and the vehicle ends up almost exactly as it started. Much like last time. Don’t they say the definition of stupidity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different outcome?

Rock Art, Mertens Falls

At this point Kaylee decides she is turning into a bogan because she keeps saying me instead of my. She tells us that it is now our duty to correct her on each occasion and, if she corrects herself, to give her a Lindt ball each time. I have a strong suspicion that Kaylee actually has no concern about her speech but simply wants to have to eat lots of Lindt balls.

This reminds me of the joke about the Australia cricketer who sledges an English batsmen asking him why he is so fat. The Englishman replies that it is because every time he fucks the Australian’s wife, the wife feeds him a Lindt ball.

Mitchell Falls

After a month we are all occasionally getting on each others nerves and so the conversation morphs into one about remediation of bad habits, preferably each others rather than our own. Key to the discussion is behaviour modification, to prevent us all killing each other. We cannot agree however on who’s habits most require modification. Other than that Jill wants Roger to become less predictable which, given that the single most predictable habit of the entire trip is Jill’s requirement for tea at ten minute intervals, might be a case of pot, kettle, black.

In the morning we set off early for Mitchell Falls. It’s an easy walk through beautiful country. For the last few days we have been passing through open woodland, interspersed with palm forest and stunning rock outcrops, rich with birdlife and wildflowers.

Periodically it morphs from savannah, into palm forest and then into littoral forests some of which is remnant rainforest. Much of the landscape is dominated by giant escarpments. It’s incredibly rich but diverse. When one adds in the presence of boab trees everywhere, it gives the Kimberley landscape a form that is dissimilar to any other landscape in the world, although the African veldt is probably the closest.

As we move through the valley of the Mertens River towards the Mitchell River we descend into rich, wet valleys rich with Aboriginal rock art and palm gullies and then climb back into rock country, littered with outcrops and spinifex. The landscape is interspersed with grevilleas, acacias and kapok bushes. As we walk we pass flocks of finches and red-tailed black cockatoos.

There are three sets of falls on the walk, Little and Big Mertens Falls and Mitchell Falls. Mitchell Falls splits into four sets of falls, even in the dry. In the wet it splits further into several more falls as the side channels pour over the rock platforms on top.

One approaches all three falls from the top across highly polished river rock, allowing easy access and great views down the gorges.

In the dry season both rivers follow a smallish main channel down over the falls but the rock platforms, over which the river runs in the wet, are easily 200 metres wide at the top of the Mitchell Falls.

These rock platforms are deeply incised by gullies and channels. Even mid-way through the dry a good flow of water is dropping over the main and side falls. The Mertens River joins the Mitchell below Mitchell falls.

We make our way around the falls to a long-deep pool just below an upper fall and join the relative throngs (about 20-30 people) relaxing in the water and shade. Above the falls one can cross the main channel, where it widens out and becomes shallower.

It’s there that the teeming masses, who cannot be bothered to walk back, take the six minute, $130 helicopter ride back to the camp or the lodge. The crossing point allows access to the track leading to the viewing point where one can look back to the main falls.

Lunchtime is peak hour at Mitchell Falls but by 2 pm there are only a handful of people left. By the time we leave at 3 pm there are just us and one other family.

In the air and at the campground on the other hand it is ‘Apocalypse Now‘. There are four helicopters operating and they land just metres from the campsite shuttling back and forth to the falls every few minutes. It is at moments like these that one wishes for a ground to air missile.

We walk back to camp stopping to swim along the way. The red tailed cockatoos are kicking up racket in the trees as we pass.

In the morning we head out and back to Munurru.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Mitchell Falls

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)
  9. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)
  10. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 10 – Kununurra)
  11. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 11 – El Questro)
  12. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 12 – Ellen Brae)

Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 12 – Ellen Brae)

We leave El Questro. Three days is enough. While parts of the station are spectacular and it’s a well run operation, albeit pretty understaffed, it feels too much like what it is – a mass tourist operation.

Our next major stop is Mitchell River but we plan to stop over-night along the way. It is possible to make it to Mitchell River in a day but it’s a very long day. The road is good and we make good time past a series of spectacular bluffs.

For anyone who has ever seen a western flick, we feel like we are riding through the American west and that a bunch of so-called Indians should appear on the horizon at any moment. Jill is almost orgasmic with bluff pleasure and, with some difficulty, we restrain her from wading into crocodile infested rivers such is her excitement.

We cross several major rivers on route including the Durack and the Pentecost and then head to higher country. Shortly after crossing the Pentecost we pass a lookout which gives a great view right along the whole line of bluffs, stretching for miles, back up to Wyndham.

We pull into the lookout and are assailed by hundreds of chirps and squawks. We have finally come in range of the only Telecom tower between here and Alaska. It sits at the top of the hill and three phones and two iPads have gone berserk, instantly downloading hundreds of emails and messages.

We chat to a car full of Canadians, coming from the west, who tell us that rounding the corner, a kilometre or so back, they were mystified as to why this car was apparently parked on a long stretch of featureless road until they realised that both occupants were busy looking at their mobiles next to the Telstra tower.

Fifty kilometres further on we strike our first accident. We later find that this is a notorious corner on the road. An old 1980s land cruiser has left the road and rolled. The driver’s side is all smashed and the driver is lying by the road waiting for an ambulance which has been called by satellite phone. Half a dozen vehicles have stopped to assist. There is nothing we can do, so we proceed on to Ellen Brae Station for a mid-afternoon stop.

The selection of Ellen Brae is not random. It was noted, on the very first day of our trip, that it advertises freshly baked scones, jam and cream and tea. So this has been a higher priority for some people on our trip (who shall of course be nameless) than Purnululu or the Horizontal Falls. Never mind the gorges, feel the jam and cream.

For all those who may follow in our intrepid footsteps, your trip advisor can report as follows: Ellen Brae is a pleasant interlude from traveling but we were sadly let down by both the food and the standards of those eating the food. Despite claiming to be a tea connoisseur, there was one among us who failed to uphold proper tea standards.

The absence of correct bone china cups, the poor quality of jam (neither home made nor good quality purchased jam), the acceptance of long-life milk, tea bag tea and lower than expected standards for cream should lead to permanent expulsion from the tea connoisseurs club. Even the scones which, it was generally agreed, were of reasonable quality were given unreasonably high marks by our nameless member. We can report, as follows, the various star ratings for each item of food and drink etc:

Tea: 2.25 of of 5 but marked down to 2 for being served in standard pottery mugs and being made with tea bags!

Jam: 2 out of 5, poor mass produced jam.

Scones: 3.5 out of 5. Warm, good texture and consistency but not cordon bleu.

Cream: 3 out of 5. Reasonable quality but not whipped sufficiently.

Ambiance: 3.75 out of 5, pleasant old-style shed and furniture. Well placed bird feeders added to the interest and charm. In addition the station had a first rate bush-dunny consisting of bog-standard long-drop (no pun intended), roof height at about 170 centimetres (leaving many visitors with scarred foreheads) and walls of shade cloth.

We can however report that the toasted sandwiches were of a high standard and, Margaret, I’m giving it a 4. Had there been pineapple it would have been 4.5 stars.

Evening reflections on the Gibb River

Mine hosts appeared to be a bit over it. Bog standard tourist questions such “what are the names of the dogs?”, had obviously led to response fatigue. As a result the owners had provided a standard Q and A, posted on the board, in order to avoid unnecessary interaction with visitors. Among the Q and As were: “The dogs’ names are Ned and Kelly, born….; yes, this is the homestead; we bake 200 scones a day” etc

Our group also faced a major issue of guilt at Ellen Brae. The walls were adorned with some quality paintings and prints of the region and Kaylee was keen to buy one for a memory. However Roger caused a strong Presbyterian/consumer guilt outbreak by saying that he felt that Kaylee was, somewhat astoundingly, worse than Jill when it comes to momento shopping.

This caused Kaylee to have an onset of first world consumer guilt and she refused to purchase anything else. Her children and their partners, being the main recipients of said consumerism, will no doubt be saddened by this.

It’s possible the situation was compounded by the presence of large numbers of double barred finches at the bird feeders. Kaylee had been given a pair of double barred finches as a child and has suffered life-long trauma over the imprisonment of her finches. This guilt had been made worse when one died leaving the other a widow (or possibly widower since sex had not been determined). Apparently the remaining finch had survivor guilt and shuffled off the mortal coil soon afterwards.

We left Ellen Brae, with those among us having, variously, fed ourselves, failed to purchase presents for family, visited the bush dunny and self-flagellated over historical gifts of double-barred finches.

We returned to our vehicle where the interior temperature was at around 70 degrees centigrade. This was as a result of Roger’s insistence that, despite the presence of many shade trees, we are required to park facing the sun at all times in order to avoid any minimal risk of battery degradation.

Sunset on the road to Mitchell River, overnight camp stop by the Gibb River

It was now around 3 pm and there was certainly no chance of reaching Drysdale River Station on the Kalumburu Road where we had intended to spend the night. The search for an overnight bush camp commenced. At 4 pm we reached the intersection with Kalumburu Rd. Several people were stopped there but we discounted it as it was dry, dusty and right on the main highway.

We continued north. Five kilometres further on we crossed the Gibb River which was still flowing strongly and was a perfect spot for a camp.

In one of those peculiarities of road naming, the Gibb River road never crosses the Gibb River itself. It is, perhaps, a peculiarly Australian phenomenon. If you go to Tennant Creek town you will find it is ten kilometres from Tennant Creek. During a big wet, a few years after Tennant was established, the dray (cart) delivering supplies became bogged short of the town. All the beer was on the dray. So they moved the town to the beer.

Among our fellow campers at the Gibb River crossing are three cyclists who have cycled from Kununurra to Kalumburu and are heading back to the Gibb River Road. Our nearest neighbours are tour guides who tell us they have been coming to the Kimberley for 20 years and that next year will be their last trip due to the increasing numbers of tourists. It’s now too crowded for them.

They have a small poodle which, in my view, like all small dogs, should be used for crocodile bait. It’s a perfect solution. Cats eat 70 million Australian native animals per night. So lets feed the cats to the dogs and the dogs to the crocs. Failing that crying babies in campgrounds are an option as a food source though whether they should be fed to the cats, dogs or crocs is a moot point.

Sunset is beautiful and Kaylee and I sit by the river and have a quite drink to her Mum whose birthday it was. A perfect spot for good memories. We settle in for a relaxing and quiet evening around the camp fire. Moments later our silence is shattered by an approaching rumble and we hear the sound of air brakes and engine brakes.

A road train has arrived and it pulls in about 20 metres away. The two drivers proceed to set up camp and to introduce us to their exemplary taste in music. Rocktober starts blasting the camp, with various renditions of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out for Summer, Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, Billy Idol’s White Wedding etc. Our involuntary concert finishes up around 10 pm.

Morning starts at 6 am when the boys from Big Rig start up their engine for departure. The concepts of consideration or of ‘camp voice’ seems to have eluded them. But our early alarm call has the advantage that we are also on the road early, so that we are in Drysdale River around 10 am. This is the last stop for fuel and food before Mitchell Falls.

Our stop is not entirely useful given that the Drysdale River store’s entire food supply is one shrivelled apple, a black banana and a can of tinned peaches. It does appear to have half of Australia’s known supply of meat, however, and, at least, it is not the servo with no diesel.

While the supply of diesel is no problem actually getting it into the tank is another issue since the pumps are busier than a Kings Cross brothel during happy hour. Unlike said brothel, it is not self-service. All the pumping has to be done by one of the employees rather than the clients. Not to complain, (although we did) 30 minutes later we are fuelled and ready to leave.

Only the tyres remain to be checked. I head off in search of the compressor and find the workshop. There is no one around so I enter the building. At this point the local bush equivalent to the ancient mariner appears and orders me out of the workshop. He does not look if he is friendly to latte sipping southern tourists.

It is the first time  in 40 years of ignoring workshop signs that I have actually been ordered out of a workshop. The nanny state has clearly reached northern WA. I am, regardless, offered the use of the airline and after checking pressures we depart.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Ellen Brae
Gibb River Bush Camp

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)
  9. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)
  10. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 10 – Kununurra)
  11. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 11 – El Questro)

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 11 – El Questro)

Leaving Wyndham, it’s a sealed road all the way to the El Questro turn off. El Questro describes itself as a wilderness. It’s a dubious claim given it is still an active cattle station, leaving aside the tourist facilities. For many wilderness enthusiasts it is anything but wilderness but, no doubt, many Aboriginal people would view it differently since, in their view, all of Australia would be managed land.

After the turn off, it’s about an hour down a dirt road to the main station complex, although the homestead is elsewhere. The place is heaving as it is still school holidays and a weekend to boot, with many visitors from Kununurra. We find a campsite and settle in for the evening. The Royals from Kununurra are also here, as are our Kiwi friends from Purnululu. This is to be a pattern repeated with others throughout the trip.

Dinner preparation is down to one burner on the gas stove, as the other, which was already about as much use as the proverbial mammary glands on a bull, has given up completely. Horton and Harris, bush mechanics start to pull it apart but after a while I lose interest.

Kaylee and I decide that breakfast at the restaurant is of more interest than trying to fix the stove. Eggs and pancakes beckon.

In our absence the camp supervisor comes around and Roger is able to get detailed jet removal and cleaning instructions. Apparently ours is a common problem and Roger tells us that our mutual friend, Hugh, who travelled around the north, several years ago, with his family, became a global expert on fixing gas stoves as a result of the persistent impact of red dust on the gas valves.

We return after breakfast to the news that the stove has been fixed. Roger is now the new Hugh. There is a general evacuation of the camp ground. The weekend warriors are returning to Kununurra and Wyndham and many others are homeward bound for the start of school term. They abandon their firewood piles so we disperse around all the abandoned fireplaces and as a result of our scavenging accumulate an Everest like pile of firewood for our remaining two evenings.

At 9 am we set off to walk to Champagne Springs about two hours away. It’s a walk that starts along the banks of the Pentecost River and then enters a stunning grevillea forest. We pass silently along a flower and leaf strewn path that threads its way through six metre flowering grevilleas.

Grevillea Forest on the walk to Champagne Springs

The forest is filled with the noise and sight of birds of all sizes, calls and colours. None of us have ever seen a patch of forest quite so completely dominated by flowering grevilleas. We emerge from the grevilleas into a rock and spinifex landscape dominated by soaring gorge walls and, twenty minutes later, arrive at a clear fast flowing creek, with a series of rapids and waterfalls. We have it entirely to ourselves. It appears that a two hour walk is a bridge too far for most visitors.

Champagne Springs

On our second morning we head off to Zebedee hot (warm) springs. On arriving at the springs we discover that disaster has struck. I have managed to abandon my thongs at the El Questro main car park and, if we can’t recover them, I am down to just boots for the next couple of weeks. Australia and the globe are strewn with random items of personal possessions which I have been managing to spread around the world with abandon for years. Glasses, wallets, combs, hats, phones, pens, daypacks, shoes, clean and dirty laundry, computers. No item is too big or too expensive for me to lose.

Zebedee Springs is a beautiful spot but is suffering severe visitor pressures and is heavily populated by grey nomads many of whom are very overweight. To get around one has to walk and climb very carefully over very sharp rocks. Watching people move around, there is an element of having emerged into some sort of heavily choreographed dance routine, but performed at snails’ pace, as posses of old and not so old visitors perform a staccato circulation around the various pools, trying not to fall.

Champagne Springs

When we arrive there are more than 50 people in the 1000 square metres that constitute the area of the springs. The best spot is right at the top where the springs emerge. Roger, Jill and I laze around in the top pool and I then go to fetch Kaylee who is in one of the lower pools.

As we ascend the rocks, she calls out to me and I pirouette gracefully on the crest of our nation’s most slippery rocks, elegantly sliding down them, to land horizontally with my head on one rock, my hip on another and my hand on a third. Fortunately my pride suffers more than any body part since, so far as I can see, the collection of 80 year olds have managed to negotiate the pools without incident.

As we leave I manage to abandon my hat and sunnies on the rocks and they are rescued by Jill. I am on about strike six so far as lost items are concerned and I continue to be banned from care of car keys.

In the afternoon we head for El Questro Gorge. It is an easy hours walk up the Gorge to the first waterfall. The gorge is cool and narrow, quite different from many of the others we have visited. The walk above the first falls is a further 40 minutes, but we go no further as the end of the gorge is heavily populated.

In the absence of more heroic feats to perform, I leap to the rescue of a plastic floating baby which has escaped the grasp of two young girls. I bask in the universal acclaim of a 3 and a 5 year old, which redeems somewhat the opprobrium which has been heaped on me due to my amnesia about my various possessions.

A quick swim and lunch and we head back to the camp. Jill has decided not to come up the gorge with us and has stayed in the lower part of the river to do some drawing. When Roger, Kaylee and I all arrive back at the car park and there is no Jill, Roger has to go off on a search and rescue mission.

This is normally accomplished, we are told, through a series of whistles which they have allegedly perfected for just such a situation. It seems fortunate that Jill is not really lost since the system clearly does not work even when they are just five metres apart. It would be entirely useless in more critical situations.

Jill appears to want Roger to find her by some form of symbiotic process since, seeing Roger walking past, she stops whistling and waits for prescience to set in. Jill on the other hand blames Roger for not listening. All is sweetness and light.

We return to El Questro Central. My thongs are continuing to reside where I left them that morning. Kaylee is not amused and berates me for my carelessness. When I suggest that my leaving the sandals was due to her distracting me at the critical moment when I was due to load my sandals into the vehicle the lack of amusement turns to verbal assault. My pleas about early onset Alzheimers are ignored.

Being Saturday night, decide to have dinner at the restaurant. The big question of the night is did the Swans beat Hawthorn? We interrogate each of the waiters, in turn, but no one knows and the General Manager, who is a footie fanatic, has knocked off.

On our return to our camp the question of the week is still unresolved. Somewhat jokingly, I despatch Jill to ask nearby campers to put us out of our misery. But she takes me seriously and returns to report it is a split round and the match is not for another week.

Kaylee decides on the second afternoon that she wants to go trail riding on our final morning and I agree to accompany her. At 6 am we stagger forth for our 7 am start. There are 10 of us plus the two guides, Laura and Christian, who run this business and another one near Mansfield in Victoria where they have an additional 55 horses.

Kaylee trail riding

We set off along the trail. Having being used to riding my friend Lizzie Clay’s horses on which I have been, variously, thrown, nearly decapitated and have witnessed another friend being rolled on by her horse it is a little lacking in excitement. If my horse was any more docile it would be dead. When I drop the reins and remove my helmet in order to remove my jumper, I receive a stiff dressing down from Laura. She apparently believes it is possible to fall off a lounge suite and break ones neck because falling off these horses is about as likely as falling off a lounge suite.

Still the bush is beautiful and we have an exciting rendezvous with a large and aggressive bull which sends all the leading riders scattering. The main excitement of the trip is my conversation with Christian, one of the other riders, about high country grazing, climate change and live animal exports. I doubt he is a Greens voter

On our return to camp we discover Roger has had a partially sleepless night having woken, with a scream, from a bad dream in which he has to rescue me from the attack of a large Irish wolfhound or similar. We are unable to determine the cause of the nightmare, and my suggestion that the wolfhound might represent Kaylee does not meet with universal approval.

We are packed and we head for Emma Gorge. We have just crossed the Pentecost River and the occupants of the car behind start leaning on their horn. Roger tries to ignore them but after a while he pulls up. Someone has failed to lock the rear compartment and Jill’s walking boots have fallen out. Roger is blamed because we have decided to assign Roger the blame for everything that goes wrong.

Emma Gorge is another shortish walk up the creek leaving from the Emma’s Creek Resort where we take note of how the idle rich pass their Kimberley holidays. Here they are pandered with spas, massages, restaurants and auto massage water beds and silk sheets. We, on the other hand, who are down among the dust are increasingly blending with the landscape. We all have complete sets of red dust clothes, shoes and hair. The vehicle is red, the sheets are turning reddish and the cameras, phones, iPads and all other electronic devices are increasingly covered with a miasma of red.

Emma Creek narrows out into a steep-sided gorge and terminates into a giant plunge pool which gets no sun at all in winter. The water is cold but, off to the right, as you face the waterfall there is a miniature sculpted rock bowl smoothed to a marble finish. This pool is fed by a warm spring which wards off hypothermia. It is just large enough for one or two people to get in. Fifty metres downstream is another warmer pool, the Turquoise Pool, and Kaylee and I leave the sun-phobic among us to the cool pool.

Lunch brings us back to the resort and then we leave for the Mitchell Plateau and falls.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

El Questro (general)
El Questro Gorge
El  Questro Horse Riding
El Questro Zebedee
El Questro Champagne
El Questro – Emma Gorge

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)
  9. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)
  10. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 10 – Kununurra)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 10 – Kununurra)

From Purnululu we head for Kununurra which will be our next rest day after Katherine. Our first stop, for fuel and refreshments is Warmun (formerly Turkey Creek).

Here we meet, John, another intrepid cyclist. He is from New Zealand and is en route from Darwin to Perth. His wife has abandoned him for the trip as she considers his passion for riding long distances over main roads to be something only explicable in the average asylum.

 

His two main loads are 30 litres of water and a bird book the size of the average car fridge. He expects to be in Broome, some 700 kilometres away, in two weeks. His trip has been a positive experience with passing motorists offering, water, lifts, tea and cake.

He notes that women are much more positive about his trip than men, with the women offering praise and enthusiasm and the men offering assessments of his sanity. John suggests that men feel that their masculinity is threatened, because they are cruising comfortably in four-wheel drives, so they feel compelled to belittle his achievement.

 

The scenery, as we travel east, is a mixture of spinifex plains and low mountain ranges topped by escarpments. The Goddess of Weird Excitability at Very Small Things Indeed (GoWEaVSTI), aka Jill, is agog. If we still used cellulose film instead of digital there would scarcely be enough cellulose on earth to sate her enthusiasm.

As we broach a rise in the road a low range of hills appears as a pimple in the distance. It is indeed topped by a very nice escarpment. Stop! the GoEaVSTI urges us. Scarcely a more glorious range of hills has ever been seen, she exclaims, it must be photographed immediately and multiple times.

A collective rolling of eyes occurs. But, GoWEaVSTI, we say, it is very similar to hundreds of other such ranges we have seen and will, indeed, not be capture-able on the implement for capturing such images. It will be simply a line on the horizon. But captured it was. And, lo, it was a line on the horizon.

We roll into Kununurra, which advertises itself as the gateway to the Kimberley. It is packed full of tourists along with a few intrepid “travellers”, like ourselves, who are exploring where thousands have gone before. We find ourselves ensconced in the Kimberley-land Holiday Park.

Unfortunately the lakeside site which we should have had is denied us when Roger appears unable to choose between a beautiful, green lakeside side with views of sunsets, birds, water and numerous other upmarket facilities and a dusty, non-lakeside site, with no views, directly on the toilet block and hence passed by several dozen visitors each five minutes.

As an added bonus we are mere feet from the kiddies playground which, I should add, does not change my view on involuntary euthanasia for noisy children.

Forced by Roger to consult and achieve consensus over such a difficult choice we find ourselves gazumped by the next arrivals. They for some reason, unlike Roger, are able to see, on the map, that the site indicated as being by the lake is, indeed, by the lake. Our camp site is lost.

Some compensation is achieved by the fact that we are adjacent to a very pleasant family from Macedon, Victoria, called the Royals. The Royals pass us important and confidential information about destinations which are, of course, not available to other tourists. This includes secret information such as the most popular camping spots around Wyndham.

Since it is late and no one feels inclined to cook we go for dinner across the road. The food is passable but the decor, which consists of photographs of a variety of female crotch and tit shots leaves something to be desired. MONA it is not.

Our days in Kununurra are dedicated to business and provisions, as well as a brief lunch with Lloyd, Lynda and two friends who are traveling with them. But first order of business is locating the town’s best coffee shop which is the Mango Tree on the corner of the main street. We also have to get our temporary repair to the sump crash plate fixed.

While the car is being fixed I retreat to the library. It is a beautiful new library. I am apparently funding its entire construction costs in the amount I am paying for access to the internet. At least it is a good investment since I am able to respond to my tax accountant about some questions he has about my tax return. He is unconvinced that by using the local coffee shop in Byron for work, I can charge all my several thousand coffees against my tax.

We replenish our food and alcohol supplies. Licensing rules in Kununurra limit us to one bottle of spirits per person, so we need three separate purchases. The most important additional purchase, over and above the gin and tonic, is a bottle of Baileys to add to the morning espresso.

For the uninitiated this is an essential component of camping trips which I discovered on freezing cold climbing trips in Joshua Tree and Red Rocks in the US. When you get up, sit in a chair facing east, in your sleeping bag and watch the sunrise while drinking coffee and Baileys.

Apart from being a perfect day-starter, it has the added advantage of relaxing one enough that one’s climbing techniques improve considerably. On this trip its function is to improve ones dexterity while climbing on the vehicle to put the tents away.

A part of our alcohol allocation permitted the purchase of six bottles of apple cider for Jill, who promptly gets drunk on one bottle. Jill observes that alcohol does not really agree with her. Jill’s tendency to be a cheap drunk has a very problematic downside on the morning that we leave Kununurra.

Kaylee and I are outraged to discover that she has given away the rest of our communal bottles of cider because she can’t cope with the entirely predictable side-effects of alcohol.

Roger and Jill are out canoeing on the lake when Lloyd and Lynda turn up. Kaylee and I meet them in the Mango Tree. They are travelling in an identical hire vehicle to us, albeit that, because theirs not a one way hire, they have been able to leave the surplus swag, chemical toilet and other encumbrances in Alice Springs. The vehicles are equipped, unlike most similar four-wheel drives, with two double tents constructed on the one roof.

I observe to Lloyd and Lynda that the main drawback is their proclivity to roll around like a ship in a storm when anyone moves. There is no need for Kaylee and I to move if we want to have sex. One person simply lies on top of the other and we simply wait for Roger to turn over, at which point the swaying motion of the vehicle accomplishes everything for which one might otherwise have to exert oneself. There is the added benefit that the only thing Roger and Jill notice is that Roger has turned over. It is the perfect sexual technique for shared vehicles.

Saturday morning sees Kaylee and I go kayaking on Lake Kununurra. My paddling technique is somewhat limited since I managed to put my back out due to Roger’s night-time movements but it’s an easy and short paddle surrounded by a plethora of water birds.

It is one of the bizarre eccentricities of bad backs that you can spend three weeks walking, lifting heavy boxes, climbing on vehicles, crawling under vehicles etc with no ill effects. On the other hand one tiny movement, with no apparent stress, and ones back decides to pack it in for three days. I am consoled by the thought of cooked breakfast at the Mango Tree.

While Kaylee and I are breakfasting, Roger does the shopping. This later proves problematic since, according to Jill, Roger is foolish enough to actually follow the shopping list. Jill’s technique, according to her own admission, is to waste a considerable amount of time writing a detailed list of requirements and then completely ignore it.

Having written your redundant shopping list you then go shopping, randomly adding anything you feel like and increasing or decreasing the shopping list accordingly.

To quote: “I just add at least a third more things to any list to ensure we have enough”. The logic of writing a list seems to have passed Jill by. After our breakfast I visit the chemist to replenish my reading and sunglass supply. I have a reading glass consumption rate of about 2 pairs per month and, regrettably no strategy, such as tying glasses to fixed objects, has managed to reduce that.

Our final job is to explore getting rid of surplus gear to make packing easier. We plan to freight the chemical toilet and spare swag to Perth. We ring the local trucking companies. Only one is open on a Saturday morning. They need to check on costs and delivery schedules and promise to ring back. But by the time that call comes we have already left and are out of mobile range.

We are now officially on the way down the Gibb River Road which branches off from the road to Wyndham. But first we plan a quick detour to Wyndham. It is one of those towns on which one gets mixed reports. But like Halls Creek its sum is greater than its parts.

Many of the alleged attractions of the town are closed, such as Look Sea Fishing Charters, the crocodile farm, the botanic gardens, the Lee Tong’s Oriental Grocer, the video store and the war memorial gardens. The town is also a tad overwhelmed by a constant stream of road trains carrying ore from the nearby mine.

Having had a poke around the town we stop for afternoon tea at the Rusty Shed, where, as with virtually ever other place we have visited, we are served by a French woman on a working holiday.

It seems our hospitality industry is sustained by visitors on long-term holidays. We meet Fred there who recounts his life history as a emigre from the Netherlands and a long-term resident of Wyndham.

Fred is fascinating and has strong links with the Aboriginal community. His father was part of the resistance during World War 2. He recounts the difficulties of surviving the war with virtually no food and getting arrested for cutting down trees for firewood.

He says that even in the fifties there were massacres of Aboriginal people occurring He quotes a case where a black tracker, from one clan group, assisted some people to kill a group of other blackfellas from a different clan group.

On Wyndham’s positive side there is a thriving and well managed caravan park, as well as the aforementioned Rusty Shed which a great cafe, There is an impressive Aboriginal memorial which is hidden in the back blocks and is half dignified and half kitsch. Nearby there is the fantastic Five Rivers Lookout from which you get a Panorama of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf where the five huge rivers meet on an enormous flood plain.

Leaving the Five Rivers Lookout we pick up fuel and head out down the road to the Gibb turnoff.

En route we stop to photograph the boot tree which appears to be a random tree into which passing motorists have thrown their worn out boots. It is at the top of the hill on the other side of double white lines. I insist we stop to get a photograph of this phenomenon and my insistence persuades Roger, just short of the crest of hill, to swerve at high speed across the double white lines in order to meet my request.

Mission accomplished, Roger is advised by Jill that crossing a double white line at speed is risky and out of character and that he has been in my company for too long.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Kununarra
Wyndham

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)
  9. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)

Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 9 – Purnululu)

Purnululu has been on the bucket list of all four of us since the year dot. We turn off the road to Kununurra with a fair degree of anticipation. Rumour has it that the road is rough but in common with all the other allegedly bad roads it is, in fact, an easy run and the trip from the Great Northern Highway takes us just two hours.

 

There are two camp grounds/areas and we have opted for the northern one. There are four potential camping areas, within the two camp grounds, which poses a greater than normal decision making challenge.

Even under normal circumstances, where there is only one camping area, it takes us about 15 minutes of inspection before we select a site and another fifteen minutes arguing about how the tents should be aligned and whether the solar panel (which faces forward on the roof) needs to face due north, or slightly west or east of north.

Roger is a ‘fundi’ and insists on due north (“the panels MUST face north), whereas I am a ‘realo‘ and think that the sun will shine tomorrow and that getting late western sun is a good thing.

Being a fundamentalist Roger normally wins out. At this point he normally gets out his compass and forces the driver to perform something akin to the mating dance of a preying mantis in order to get the truck perfectly aligned to his satisfaction.

 

Further points for debate are about the direction the tents should face, whether the light which is attached to the passenger side door is correctly aligned for cooking and if we are near enough to a fire ring. Who cares if we visit Mitchell Plateau or Geikie Gorge so long as we get the right camp spot.

Purnululu is another game altogether. Before we can even start discussing the correct camp site or the car parking preferences, we must select a camping area. We circle each camping area, no doubt losing all the best camp sites to other more decisive campers in the process. Finally camping area D is selected though the revisionists later point out that, in fact, area C was better.

 

Two circuits of D later, we finally select a site. Godot has come and gone but everyone is happy. Only the parking/mating ritual remains to be accomplished but exhaustion has set in and the punters have ceased arguing.

Evening sees us on the lookout over the northern parts of Purnululu. As with many spectacular parts of the world, no photograph can actually prepare you for the beauty of the real thing.

The red rocks of the escarpment are made vibrant orange and red by the setting sun and we all sit there clicking away. A Kiwi tourist is busy taking multiple photos and demonstrates the in-built photo stitching facility of his camera which produces a neat panorama in a matter of seconds.

I attempt to do the same with my camera and succeed only in a beautiful set of out of focus and over-exposed shots. I have had the camera several years but it is time to read the manual, I think.

 

In the morning we head off for the first of our gorge walks to Echidna Gorge. It is a little over-rated and the track is like walking along Bourke Street, such are the crowds. There is a tour party in the Gorge and we get into conversation.

One of their party observes that it has taken aeons to form the gorge and that this proves that climate change is rubbish since change is always occurring. Who, he asks, is making money from climate change? Exercising my well known self restraint I refrain from bludgeoning him with a nearby rock but Jill is convinced he only just escaped with his life.

 

We return down the gorge and Roger and I nick up to the lookout at its beginning. It is a spectacular view both ways down the valley.

We finish the day with a stroll along the escarpment walk, which few people do, apparently, but which I find more interesting and infinitely more rewarding than Echidna Gorge. The escarpment walk is a twitchers paradise with a mass of finches, pardalotes and wrens.

Its been a long and hot day. Our truck is equipped with a 100 litre water tank and a shower and I decide to ablute. The tarpaulin is set up, the shower is cranked and I disrobe. There is a measure of disbelief in the assembled ranks that I don’t seem to care one jot that the campers on both sides are able to view me cavorting naked in the shower. I point out that if a naked body bothers them it is their problem not mine.

The others are now envious of my newly pristine body shining in the evening sun and decide to follow suit.

Jill is next and Roger rigs a form of Moroccan bath-house for her which preserves a degree of modesty. Roger follows but decides that, while no bath-house is necessary, he will shower in his jocks. Only one fellow traveller remains un-showered but Kaylee is reluctant since she is unabashedly modest.

Besides her modesty, there is the problem, she announces in her best, very loud, teachers voice, that she needs to wash her crack. The volume of the announcement is such that she may as well have used a loud hailer and it is therefore audible throughout the entire camp site. Perhaps she should have gone tent to tent to advise them of the forthcoming event.

We all fall about laughing at the irony that while Kaylee won’t shower naked she is prepared to tell approximately 100 fellow campers that she is about to wash her cracks. I question her about why it is a problem to do said washing in the shower? After all I have. She glances at the tarpaulin which is covered with about 5 mm of used shower water and looks at me in horror.

“But that means you and Jill and Roger were all standing in faeces laden water!!” Surprisingly we are all still alive and seem unaware of and unfazed by this revelation. Kaylee’s resistance crumbles and, with the aid of a couple of sarongs and towels, the cracks and other nether regions are made pristine.

Day two is our expedition to the southern part of the park the area which contains the famous beehive formations. It’s a day long walk up Whipsnake Gorge with side trips into Cathedral Gorge and to the lookout. The walk is mainly along the dry bed of the main creek and makes a great day walk. The bed of the river is its own little tapestry of massive sculpted channels and holes, while on both sides are the massive sandstone walls of alternating red and black rock.

Because it is one of the longer walks there are few people along the trail and when we arrive at the end of Whipsnake Gorge the only other people are a Swiss-German family for whom we provide some light entertainment with the ensuing paranoid conversation.

I am the last to arrive at the end of the Gorge and I do so to the sight of Jill and Kaylee scrambling for cover, away from the cliff above. They warn me about the cracking sound we can hear saying that we are in danger of being hit by an imminent rockfall.

Moments later the sound occurs again and they both move further away from the cliff. A discussion ensues and it’s pointed out that in fact, as with trees losing their branches, it’s arguable that the safest place during a rockfall is pressed against the cliff-face. I’m not sure that this is in fact true but it sounds good.

There is a further cracking and cautious glances are made at the cliff face until Roger points out the Swiss man has a plastic drink bottle in his pocket which makes a crackling sound each time he moves. Jill and Kaylee have spent more energy avoiding a drink bottle than they have spent walking. The only thing that has taken Jill more energy on the trip is making tea.

Roger tells the Swiss man that his crackling water bottle has created a sense of an imminent disaster and he repeats this story with some amusement to his wife and children.

We are back at the car in mid-afternoon and head back to camp. Along the way a couple of photo stops are made and at one I climb on the bonnet which leads to a couple of temporary dents in it. Kaylee is unamused and I end in the doghouse. The rest of the trip is passed in a mixture of strained silence and conversational attempts to ignore the opprobrium that has descended on me. Kaylee thinks I am an irresponsible idiot and I think it’s just a car.

Our final morning features the apparently obligatory helicopter ride which features in all the advertising for Purnululu. The proposal to do the helicopter ride has been the source of some debate but we have eventually opted for a contingent of three, with Jill guarding Beyonce, and a duration of 18 minutes which is the shortest trip one can buy. Kaylee is a reluctant passenger.

Despite reservations, the chopper ride is a raging success. There are no doors on the helicopter so one almost has a sensation of being outside. It’s only from above that one can really appreciate the scale of Purnululu which, amazingly was only discovered by the tourist industry and wider world in the 1970s when a local grazier took a TV crew for trip over the landscape.

We return to the ground. Kaylee is a convert and now wants, apparently, to be a helicopter pilot.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Purnululu
Purnululu aerials
Purnululu South

 

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)
  8. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)

Having repaired our first puncture, we head for Halls Creek. It’s a town that suffers from mixed reports but we find it a pleasant stop. Physically it is not particularly attractive but it clearly has a strong sense of community.

It has a great caravan park with a toilets that are cleaner than the average hospital operating theatre, a new(ish) pool/recreation centre, a good and helpful visitor centre and good coffee at the cafe. It even has an ubiquitous Best Western Motel which, while looking entirely uninviting from the outside, is newly and relatively tastefully renovated. Even its restaurant, called “Russian Jack’s” and named after a gold mining legend, is more than passable, , .

Our first stop on entering town is to fuel up and then to the tourist bureau. We are beautifully served by two very efficient tourist workers who look as if they may well have been abandoned when Priscilla Queen of the Desert passed through.

We ask about tyre repairs and I race off to find the recommended location but it is very closed. The only solution to that problem is more coffee because it has turned out that Halls Creek is more multicultural than one might have imagined. We were served good coffee at the Bakery by a South American woman who clearly knows her coffee.

I return to the bakery to find Kaylee on the phone to Telstra again. The frustration meter has finally reached the red zone and I fear for her blood pressure levels. My attempts to persuade her to calm down are met with a stream of invective and arm movements that resemble a manic semaphore operator. I retreat with my coffee. Kaylee gives up. We head for the campground.

The campground ‘grass’ doesn’t look as if it has seen water in several years and the pine railings have passed their use by date. We camp near a permanent resident living in a dilapidated camper that clearly no longer runs. The resident himself has seen better days and has a hang dog look and one arm.

On the other side of the camping circle are two women who appear obsessively neat. Jill postulates that they are lesbian based on her extensive sampling of lesbian campers which has led to her lesbian camping theory.

According to Jill, she has camped with two groups of lesbian campers at different times. Both have been very neat and therefore, so the theory goes, if two women campers are neat they are, ipso facto, lesbians.

We question her on her theory and the margin of error. Did she run controls? No satisfactory answers are forthcoming. Further research and larger samples are required.

We rush to cook dinner ahead of the approaching rain. Despite the expected rain and cold, we must first complete important pre-dinner rituals. We have purchased gin and tonic and dinner cannot be consumed prior to gin and tonic, as is required by travel regulations.

Up to this point dinner standards have been unacceptably low since not only have pre-dinner rituals not been followed but decent coffee has not been available after dinner due to the absence of an espresso maker. That was a situation that was remedied in Katherine with the purchase of a stove-top espresso maker.

To complement the important elements of the meal we are having pasta with roast chicken and Roger is despatched to town with orders never to return without an organic, free-range, roast chicken. When he has not returned after 60 minutes we fear he may have taken his instructions seriously. But, no, he was just having a toilet stop which, for Roger, can take a long time.

Across the campground is a lone cyclist who we invite for drinks. Bert is a Dutch mechanic who works for four months of the year and cycles for another eight months.His partner, who is back in the Netherlands, is due to join him. He met her while cycling from Punta Arenas, in southern Chile, to Alaska.

He rides a specially constructed mountain bike which can carry all his gear. This includes a special single wheel trailer behind his bike over the connecting arm of which he hangs 50 litres of water which allowed him to ride from Sydney to Perth via Alice. It will also facilitate his current ride which is the Canning Stock route. He has also cycled through China to Lao, Vietnam and Burma.

I am able to commiserate with Bert who after two weeks is still waiting for a special food parcel with his dehydrated food. It was sent via Australia Post from Adelaide and is still somewhere in a special Australia Post orbit. Here it is communing with my package to Darwin which has clearly been lost somewhere in the same parcel black hole. This reminds me to check Australia Post’s special email tracking system, since we now have internet reception.

Checking the Australia Post tracking system is the equivalent, in the internet world, of being put on hold by Telstra. Thank you for checking, but your package is entirely unimportant to us. We have no idea where it is, failed to scan it properly. We cannot give you any useful information and, in any case, can only give you information if you are the sender but not if you are the recipient. Your parcel may or may not still be extant and may or may not arrive one day. Check again when your frustration levels have fallen.

Bed-time approaches. Today, Jill sets a new record for early to bed as she turns in slightly before 7 pm. Even Kaylee who thinks that any bed-time after 9.30 pm is the equivalent of a night on the town, has not managed to get to bed this early. 9.30 pm, I note, judging by the parties going on around us, (NAIDOC week celebrations are ongoing) is earlier than the bed-time of a Halls Creek 10 year old.

During the day we have discovered that the car has suffered more undercarriage issues. It is this tendency to temperamental behaviour that has led to her being called Beyonce.

It appears that the car repairs that Jill undertook and which neatly removed the radiator crash plate from beneath the car also sheared off the bolts that held the main sump protection plates.

These are now hanging down about two inches beneath the front of the vehicle, perfectly placed to hit any large rocks or other obstructions in the road. It this occurs the plate will buckle smashing the sump and bringing our trip to a premature climax.

The night brings heavy rain and in the morning it is cold and gloomy. Our night has been disturbed by the NAIDOC celebrations but the music quality was good. No Abba, country music or heavy metal was played.

Kaylee feels she has been living on the edge in what she perceives as a risky town replete with the regular sound of police sirens. She is a little disappointed when I point out it was a car alarm.

Jill and I both have early morning showers. Mine occurs when I pass under the tent awning at 7am and it decides to drop its night’s accumulation of cold water on me. Jill suffers early morning trauma when, at 7.10 am she pours the content of her third cup of tea on herself. But her trauma is not caused by the shock of the hot water but by the loss of the tea. Counselling is in order.

Kaylee’s spirit is lifted, however by her visit to the shower. On entering the shower the sole female occupant turns to Kaylee and radiant smile and a look of joy and adulation passes over her face as she raises her arms and shouts “At last you have come”. It is apparently truly a miracle and Kaylee foresees a new career as the Messiah.

Sadly, she reports later, it is merely that the worshipper was unable to reach the socket in order to plug in her hair drier and Kaylee, being three inches taller, could.

Kaylee tries to persuade us that she was the same height as the other woman and, in keeping with her new status as Messiah, simply levitated.

I, again, call Nathan the company owner about Beyonce’s problems. He commiserates with us that in two years of operations he has received five calls from renters who have had on-road problems and we have made three of them. I

suspect he is thinking that we are the on-road problem. He is concerned at the potential for terminal damage if we cannot get the plate fixed and suggests we do so in Halls Creek. We set off to do a grand tour of Halls Creek looking for workshops. The first place can do nothing for a week.

At Fitzgerald Motors the proprietor is not happy. Neither is the proprietor’s Rottweiler which Jill has had to befriend before it is possible to approach Mr Fitzgerald. While the Rottie seems happy with white friends the two little black girls cycling past do not seem confident that it will like people with black skin and ask if the dog is safe.

It reminds me that, when living in South Africa, dogs would let us white kids walk past peacefully but any black-skinned people were at risk of being torn limb from limb.

White South Africans would train their dogs to attack black people by putting them in sacks, then beating the dogs and, on releasing them, ensure that the first people they saw were black. This created in the dogs a fear and visceral hatred of blacks.

The reason for Fitzgerald’s unhappiness is that he has two mechanics but, apparently, they have been watching a World Cup Final which took place at 2 pm the previous day and have been unable to attend work as a result.

His general level of satisfaction with Halls Creek is apparent. “Who would want to live in this cunt of a place he observes”. So he is also unable to assist due to his mechanic shortage.

We repair for a further coffee and cake. Roger and I consult. We need to fix the plate so a visit to the hardware is needed in order to search for a couple of 6 mm bolts. The owner of the hardware store cannot assist since he is in worse condition than Beyonce and will not advance beyond his counter since such a long walk might bring on an early end to life.We have to do our own searching among the bombed out wasteland of the hardware store

After much searching we find the right bolts. But we are to be disappointed since one of the missing bolts has sheared off in the nut preventing the repair. We consult further; my advice is cable ties and fencing wire which will fix 95% of all mechanical and household problems. 20 minutes later we are done.

Beyonce is now ready for anything she will encounter and Roger has also fixed an errant water problem by tightening the clamp on the hose. Our potential future earnings are escalating; rally driving, blues band and now Horton and Harris car repairs. Right on!!

Next stop Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)
  6. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)
  7. Beating About the Bush, 60 days in Northern Australia (Part 7 – Halls Creek)

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 6 Jasper Gorge)

We decide on our route beyond Katherine as we are leaving Katherine. As a group, advance planning is clearly not our forte. We all have jobs that require detailed planning and so we are avoiding it like the plague. But we are at least managing to buy diesel before leaving town.

We plan to stay at Jasper Gorge tonight. As I am the only one that has travelled this way before, the others ask me numerous questions about the route, the history, the camping area. Sadly, my memory is not up to the task so I just give them random lies.

As we leave town, Kaylee is on the phone to Telstra….again. Her second call to Optus reveals that, in fact, despite their previous assurances, her phone was locked to Optus. In order to unlock it we have had to back it up, restore the factory settings and then restore the backed up files.

It is good that Australia’s unrivalled communications industry makes things so easy. But the phone still does not work. So it is back to Telstra. Kaylee has had to take four blood pressure tablets just to deal with them.

By the time we lose reception, the problem is still not resolved.

 

We travel on. A quick stop at the Victoria River roadhouse for ice creams are in order. The country we are travelling through, around the Victoria River and Gregory National Park, has changed to magnificent sandstone escarpment and woodland.

Beyond Victoria River we turn left for the Jasper River Gorge. I worked throughout this area in the 1980s, with the local traditional owners (TOs), when Gregory National Park was being established.

Under the Commonwealth Land Rights Act, any land which remained in public ownership and had not been alienated for grazing, mining or national parks, was open for a land claim by the Traditional Owners. The NT Government had deliberately attempted to prevent a land claim by alienating the land as a national park. But to finalise the process, legally, it needed to immediately gazette the park at exactly the same moment that they resumed the former grazing lease.

One of the land council lawyers had spotted this and, in the few hours before the NT Government could redress its oversight, had lodged a land claim. As a result the Government had been forced to involve the traditional owners in joint park planning and management in a way they never intended.

Jasper wildflowers

The road to Jasper Gorge is where I committed one of my most fundamental crimes against the local Aboriginal people. We were traveling down the road when one of the TOs spotted a large goanna crossing the road. Cries of “Run ‘im down” echoed around the vehicle but I instinctively swerved to avoid it and the goanna shot away into the bush.

This was met with a stream of insults “Ah bloody stupid whitefella…stop, stop..” I braked as hard as I dared and the mob jumped out pursuing the goanna through the bush with a couple of rifles. It had run up a tree and was a goner Goanna. Goanna for dinner. But I was in disgrace for my shameful driving and hunting skills.

At 4 pm we arrive at Jasper Gorge. It is a beautiful deep water hole fringed by Pandanus and bordered by rocky gorges and spinifex hills as far as the eye can see. But you cannot swim due to the risk of crocodiles. The only other negative is that previous visitors apparently thought that there was no requirement to bury toilet paper. The level of laziness and lack of care never ceases to amaze.

There are two other vehicles and it is nearly full moon. We sit around our first camp fire of the trip. Roger and I plan our first album. The fact that neither of us can sing does not deter us. Roger maybe can manage backing vocals but I am not convinced that I can even meet that standard.

Jill finds a cane toad but is not convinced that it is a cane toad. Roger cannot decide whether it is a cane toad or frog despite the fact that it is the size of a large feral cat. He fails to kill it and has no excuses. He is an environmental failure.

In the morning we walk up the ridge. The country is beautiful and we all enjoy the walk except for Kaylee who had decided to walk in sandals and has been brutally attacked by the resident spinifex.

At 10 am we leave for Halls Creek via Top Springs and Kalkarinji. The country flattens out. It is about 700 kms to Halls Creek, mostly on dirt roads, so there is a long drive ahead. The sky is filled with whistling kites which are ubiquitous in the Territory but we also come across two magnificent wedge tails (eagles) feasting on a dead wallaby.

We pass Victoria River Downs Station, once the world’s largest cattle station. It is still immense and there are seven helicopters parked next to the road ready to do the mustering. We finally arrive at Top Springs in time for lunch. Roger asks about vegetables but is told: “Too far to bring ’em, you can’t keep ’em and nobody buys them”. But we do succeed in buying the world’s worst and most expensive apples. The cost of diesel is up to $2.30 a litre.

We are making good time but will not make Halls Creek today. At 3 pm we arrive at Kalkarinji. This is where Vincent Lingiari led the walk off from Wave Hill station and started the land rights movement. It is immortalised in the song by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’.

We consider staying at the camp ground but Kaylee reports back that it does not look enticing. She states that the camp ground resembles a cross between the local footie oval and ground zero after a nuclear attack, except that the toilets would undoubtedly have been in better condition at ground zero. After fuelling up we press on.

At four we start looking for camp sites but as we are in rocky spinifex country; there are few camp sites that do not require a grader to make them usable.

We explore a few side tracks and apart from trespassing on a couple of stations have found nothing useful. Finally at 4.30 we stumble on a road workers old clearing. It is a gem, nicely cleared. The road workers, as is there wont, have found a beautiful spot with views and nicely cleared an excessively large area. The one downside is that it is only one hundred metres from the main road and at 3 am the night’s convoy of road trains rolls through.

If you have never heard empty road trains passing over corrugations, imagine Deep Purple in their 1972 concert. At that concert the urban myth is that three members of the audience were rendered unconscious by the volume. Once you have imagined that level of noise, you need to amplify it somewhat to comprehend the disturbance.

Kaylee reported she could not hear me snoring, less than a foot away, for the sound of road trains. Given that she normally complains that she can hear me snoring when she is sleeping with her head beneath four doonas and I am at a distance of a kilometre this is something of a record.

We find we have mobile reception. Kaylee is excited because she has so been looking forward to talking to Telstra….As we watch we know that the stress levels are rising….arms are starting to flap around and attempts to assist her are met with impromptu shooing motions.

Two calls later, two rounds explanations and of switching phone on and off there is still no solution to the lack of data. The climax is postponed until Halls Creek which is where we will next have reception. We settle down for dinner which is roast chicken and pasta with warm water laced with a slight nose of dust and a delicate flavour of saline extract.

Sunrise at the Kalkarinji road workers clearing is equally beautiful. The sun is rising as the moon is setting. Jill and Kaylee both remain in a semi-comatose state until intravenously fed their first tea. Kaylee calls it her transitional tea and, generally, nothing of world significance happens until it is consumed.

Roger, on the other hand, is engaged in hand to hand combat with Mother Earth. Out here there is no easy way to dig a 15 cm hole for the morning toilet stop. The ideal solution would be either a jackhammer or a small amount of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) plus a detonator. Absent those tools it is a long laborious struggle through rock-hard dirt with a shovel. Just make sure you eat your muesli afterwards.

The moon sets

After tea and muesli disputes (each person eats different muesli and considers the others muesli a disgrace to humankind) we press on.

The landscape changes. We have been passing through a magnificent landscape of red and green after one of the biggest wets of recent years all interspersed with giant termite mounds.

Now we are passing through a vast expanse of grasslands. All is going well. We crest the rise of a hill and pull off to admire the view. There is a hissing sound and it is not Jill’s normal expression of disapproval in the face of any comments that I might offer to the assembled group.

Sadly we regard our rear passenger tyre. It is now an ex-tyre due to an unfortunate incident with a nail. But no problems..the bush mechanics are on to it.

We pull out the air jack in which we have been extensively trained. For those who have never used one this involves placing a rubber hose over the end of the exhaust and starting the engine. The exhaust gases then fill the jack raising the vehicle. Rumour has it that it is easy to use and much safer than a standard jack but we are determined to prove otherwise.

If you happen to be on a trip with someone you don’t like, get them to hold the hose on the exhaust. Apart from the burn marks on their hands they are likely to be numbed into semi-consciousness for several hours by the exhaust fumes. I am unsure why I was allocated this particular job. But in any case I am a singular failure.

After several attempts during which the jack becomes part inflated and the slumps sideways repeatedly like some badly designed dildo, we give up and get out the bog standard scissor jack. With this antiquated machine we change the tyre in minutes. We are elated.

See the collections from which these images were selected on Flickr:
Jasper Gorge
Top Springs
Kalkarinji/Dagaragu

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom
  5. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)

Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 5 – Katherine)

Beyonce has returned!! Our vehicle which suffered a cracked brake line has been returned to us but with no guarantees. The mechanic believes the repair will last for our trip, at least, but someone, somewhere in the future, will suffer the same fate, he predicts.

It appears that the original modifications to the vehicle were not carried out to spec and this has led to the brake problem.

Roger wants to see Katherine Gorge so we decide on a two night stay in town. We book into the Katherine River Lodge. It is clean but based on room size, cat-swinging is prohibited. The motel has a large resident population some of whom appear not to like each other much. Our neighbour has pasted a large sign on the pole outside his door “Don’t touch my laundry you bitch”.

Good relations among the motel residents

The next room to our neighbour’s is occupied by a young Chinese woman. We approve of her ability to adopt Australian ‘tea leaf’ practice but we wonder if she is into cross-dressing, since she is, allegedly, stealing male underwear, .

The first night brings another major decision. Will we stay at the motel and partake of the $15 pasta night or get takeaways. Kaylee vetoes the pasta night. She has seen a picture of one dish which she describes as looking like excreted tape-worms covered by a dollop of pasta sauce. We want Thai but the nearest Thai restaurant is at the Border Store in Kakadu some 200 kilometres away. So Chinese takeaway it is.

We use Katherine to finish numerous jobs. Roger has a job application to write. Among other jobs I have my tax return to complete so that I have something to live on for the next few weeks. Kaylee has to change her phone over from Optus to Telstra Pre-paid so that she can get reception. For Kaylee, dealing with Telstra is as desirable as an Abbott Government or walking on hot coals. Katherine is the start of her Telstra saga, a saga that will last a week or two.

With numerous jobs to do that require internet we become permanent members of the Coffee Club which provides free internet, half-decent coffee and air-conditioning. By the time we leave town we are on first name terms with most of the staff. Jill and Roger are unaware that I have invited all of them to stay with Roger and Jill at Bundagen. Surprises are good things in life.

A key task for Kaylee is to get her Telstra sim card working so that she can occasionally have phone and internet access on this trip but, more particularly, on her subsequent 1000 km bushwalk along the Bibulman track through south-west Western Australia. Currently she can get phone calls but she cannot get data.

There are no Telstra shops in Katherine, so Kaylee is on the phone to Telstra. Telstra advises Kaylee that it is not their problem but that of Optus because the phone must be locked to Optus.

Katherine Gorge

Kaylee calls Optus who advise that it is not their problem as it is not locked to Optus. By this time there are a long stream of expletives emitting from the vicinity of Kaylee. She abandons the issue, for now, as it is time for her, Roger and Jill to decamp to Nitmiluk, where Roger and Jill will go kayaking up the gorge. I am left to the pleasures of tax returns and similar tasks.

Later Kaylee calls Telstra again. After an hour on phone to Telstra most fragile objects within metres of Kaylee are at risk of imminent destruction. But apparently the problem has been resolved. Or so she believes. I think pigs might fly.

Chrystal Creek, Katherine Gorge

Roger, Jill and Kaylee return from Nitmiluk. Kaylee has multi-tasked by responding to a call from Energy Australia which she received while at the lookout at Nitmiluk. This is another of her favourite tasks. Two months after installation, Energy Australia advises her that they have been unable to activate her solar panels because Adam Cartwright, her electrician, failed to tick box six on the form which he submitted two months ago.

In keeping with the extraordinary level of customer service in Australia, rather than ringing and advising Kaylee of the issue, they decided the customer should use their omniscience to automatically know that there was a problem.

Kaylee has suggested that one of the helpful Energy Australia staff could perhaps ring the electrician and directed them not to call her for two months since she wouldn’t be answering her phone.

While Kaylee struggles with Telstra and Energy Australia, I am dealing with Australia Post. My parcel which I had hoped to receive in Darwin and which I had asked to be forwarded to Katherine is still lost.

Abandoning all hope of receipt I have concentrated on other tasks. A tour of Katherine’s op shops has delivered me a long sleeve shirt and a mossie-proof pair of long trousers. With my exceptional packing skills I had ended up with 6 pairs of jocks, 6 cords to charge my phone, 8 pens, a tube of punctured rectal cream which leaks through everything and  enough warm clothes for Antarctica (very useful in the tropics) but no long trousers or long-sleeved shirt or coffee maker.

My walking boots which gave me blisters walking 200 metres down Ann St in Brisbane have, however been replaced. My consumer blitz also delivers me a new espresso maker and a head torch (another useful omission during my packing frenzy).

Post Katherine Gorge kayaking we meet back at the Coffee Club. We are now life members. Jill and Roger report that they covered the Katherine Gorge sprint of 3.2 kms in the unparalled time of 30 minutes. Since the Olympic record for the K1 2000 metres is about 30 seconds, some Olympic training is still required, but I don’t mention this.

During their absence I have discovered the joy of the Katherine library which has also set a world record for a public library internet access charge of $6 per hour. A good book burning is deserved as retaliation for the library’s unrivalled exploitation of the public.

We have some final tasks before we leave. Woolworths is calling, as is shopping for a few car spares. We head for Repco to buy hoses and belts among other things but leave empty handed. Katherine’s biggest car spares shop has no spares for Australia’s second most popular four-wheel drive.

Our time in Katherine is almost at an end. Time for a barbie at the hot springs and a moonlight swim. We head out to the springs for dinner. It’s the last supper in Katherine.

See all collection from which these images were selected on Flickr:
Katherine: https://flic.kr/s/aHskx3dtCG
Katherine Gorge: https://flic.kr/s/aHsiYhi6DU

Other posts in this series:

  1. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 1 – Darwin)
  2. Beating About the Bush – 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 2) – Kakadu Part 1 Twin Falls
  3. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr
  4. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom

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