Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 18 – Windjana)

Windjana is our last proper stop on our Gibb River trip. Once we turn off for the gorge we will not be heading further down the Gibb but will press on through to Fitzroy Crossing and Geikie Gorge.

 

The country around Tunnel Gorge

The drive from Bell Gorge to Windjana takes about three hours. As you approach the turn-off to Windjana the landscape takes on a different dimension comprising massive sandstone escarpments, limestone reefs and what appear to be volcanic plugs. It is spectacular country laced and riven by massive rivers.

The country approaching Windjana

 

Just to ensure that we are not lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of anything having fallen off the vehicle for several days we get our second puncture of the trip. This time we have a tear in the sidewall, as a result of Roger using that tyre to move the fire pit, while we were at Bell Gorge. So it is farewell to that tyre.

Approaching Tunnel Gorge

 

We stop for lunch at a free camping spot just metres from the Windjana turn-off where the Lennard River crosses the main highway. Like many of the free camping sites it is nicer than the paid camping spots and they are often less crowded as well.

One just has to deal with the morons who are too lazy to dig a toilet hole and think that wads or streams of toilet paper decorated white and brown are a good adornment of any campsite. Kaylee takes the time to find some ochre rocks and gets into a bit of local rock art. The next civilisation that comes along, once ours has disappeared, will be confused.

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Windjana exterior walls

We arrive at Windjana in late afternoon. Kaylee is suffering from a sore neck from having nightmares the previous night. Kaylee has been psychologically disturbed by a dream about being unable to finish her shopping in the IGA, among other things. In order to hide from guests who were to be fed by the food she was supposed to buy, but are now starving, she was forced to hide her legs between her head and this has given her a cricked neck. It’s unclear how the position taken in the dream bears any relationship to an actual sore neck.

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Fortuitously she has managed to arrange it so that we are camped directly next to Jerome, a masseur from Victoria, who is travelling with his partner in a blue Kombi and who is able to restore the neck to something approaching operational status. I had already tried to fix Kaylee’s neck in the morning but after Jerome’s massage my status as masseur is significantly downgraded. Were I a film, it would be “I give it one star, David”.

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Sunset reflecting off the exterior walls at Windjana

Like many of the other campgrounds the facilities are good but it is hot and dusty and we put off going to the gorge until tomorrow. In lieu of being completely lazy we all take some short walks around the bush adjacent to the gorge.

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Windjana approaching nightfall

Windjana gorge is created by the Lennard river cutting through the Napier Range which is a part of a massive and ancient coral reef that was shipwrecked here by the retreating oceans as the planet cooled 450 million years ago.

The Napier range is part of a Devonian reef complex that extends for some 350 km along the northern margin of the Canning Basin. It skirts all around the Kimberley to join with similar reefs in the Ningbing Range, near Kununurra and also includes Tunnel Greek and Geikie Gorge.

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Windjana at sunset

We follow the outer walls of the reef which stands 100 metres high and is red but stained black by oxidation and/or minerals. The sun is setting behind us and, away from the wall, the temperature is dropping but, as one closes in on the wall, the black rock acts like a giant radiator giving off masses of heat.

As the sun drops the walls light up in a gold red glow punctuated by the silhouettes of boabs. It is one of those moments of light and colour that come rarely in a lifetime.

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We retire to camp to cook dinner and relax. The big news of the night is that Jill is happy with the toilets and showers. We are required to receive a Jill-dunny report at each campground we visit. This urge to dunny analysis has been created by her trauma at having to live for 20 odd years without an en suite at her house.

Consequently we get a star rating analysis of the dunny as part of the normal travel arrangements. The state of the dunny is in fact more important than whether the car has oil and only marginally less important that a non-stop supply of tea.

The camp manager comes around to check on fees and Jill questions her about the lights in the distance. She tells us it is a diamond mine and has a communications contract with Optus. Consequently Windjana is the only place in the Kimberley one can get Optus reception. Optus advertises that it covers 95% of Australians but doesn’t tell you that they all live in about 5% of Australia (the coast and major regional centres) and that it has no reception anywhere else.

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The news on the mine is received with some relief by Roger who up until this point has refused to stand up for the last hour. He feeds us some story about his childhood when he was, apparently, traumatised by the possibility of being kidnapped by aliens and the presence of unknown lights reminds him of this trauma.

Worse still this trauma is compounded by the fact that, according to Roger, in all the alien films he has seen, the aliens all torture/carry out the equivalent of scientific whaling by penetrating their human captives with anal probes. Roger’s fear of being anally probed by the nearby aliens that he has remained seated for hours and now has constipation, so over the next days the toilet stops are extended. Perhaps alien probes would be the solution for that constipation.

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Aside from freedom from concerns about alien captivity, the other result of the Optus information there is a mad scramble to re-fit Optus sim cards to phones. We have lost Roger since he is now marooned on top of the vehicle for the entire night trying to get the one bar of Optus reception.

Periodically, when he is not actually talking on the phone, he sticks his head over the side of the roof and we feed him a spoon of dinner. Roger’s sacrifice is not in vain and every five minutes we get updates via Roger, from son Arlen, on the Super 15 rugby union final and the ultimate one point victory of the Waratahs. Roger is so happy he almost falls off the vehicle roof.

 

 

 

Our other near neighbours are a father and daughter combination who have driven out in the daughter’s old commodore station wagon. Emily has retired early to a luxurious sleep in the back of the station wagon leaving her Dad stuck alone in the campground and destined to pass a long uncomfortable night in the front seat.

We invite him over for drinks and it turns out that he works for the WA Water authority. Among their concerns is keeping Coal Seam Gas drilling and extraction out of their catchments. But all that interests the WA Government, in common with most Australian state governments, is the almighty dollar. Hence they are losing the battle to protect water catchments in the face of massive pressure from the mining industry.

 

One of Windjana’s freshwater crocs

In the morning we head off early to the gorge. Aside from being physically impressive it is mightily. interesting geologically. The limestone abounds with fossilised marine creatures of all shapes and sizes, such as fossilised giant crocodile some thirty metres above the current river level in a cave.

There are also more freshwater crocs, in the gorge, than one can poke a stick at and we count 40 altogether on our walk.

The track abounds with bird life and we add to our twitcher score with some more varieties of fig bird and honeyeaters. The track is only 2.5 kilometres long but by the time we have scoured every corner of the gorge and stopped to look at about 50 birds it is already lunch-time. The gorge walls are already pumping out heat from their blacks surfaces. It’s something of a relief to exit and return to camp.

Freshies. Mostly not dangerous, just don’t make them feel threatened

Roger and Jill set off before Kaylee and I and are already back. They have retreated to the sanctuary of their tent which, in an effort to keep it cool, is covered by sarongs pegged on by our entire supply of pegs. As a result every time we do the washing another item of our clothing makes a getaway never to be seen again. The landscape is littered with clean jocks and socks everywhere from Mornington onwards.

As a result of the construction it is alternatively referred to as the sarong sanctuary or the senile sanctuary depending on the recent memory performance of the occupants.


Despite the wear and tear of packing and unpacking we are frequently rescued from difficult situations by the ubiquitous Australia Post box of aforementioned fame. This box has now traveled across the entire continent and continues to be pressed into service for multifarious uses such as yoga mat, pot stand etc. As a result we have now rewarded it with its own chair on which it watches sunrise and sunset with the rest of us.

The famous Australia Post carton which travelled with us for the entire trip

 

We start pulling the tent down for our departure for Tunnel Gorge and then on to Fitzroy Crossing. The packing up has taken on a new dimension since, effectively, Roger and Jill must now pack up two tents. The process involves opening up their tent on the roof, removing the mattress and other contents, then putting up their own ground based tent, inserting the contents from the roof tent and then finally folding up the roof tent again. To leave the reverse process must be followed.

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Jill and Roger perform their daily packing routine

Once this is done the final stage is packing the magic pudding as Jill’s and Roger’s case is known. This involves completely opening the case and stuffing as much into the bottom half of the case as possible. Once done, there is a pile of clothing in the case roughly three times its height of the case when it is empty and closed.

To address this either Roger or Jill closes the lid over the bulging pile, then kneels on the lid of the case while attempting to stuff errant items down the side. Meanwhile the other party attempts to close the clips holding the lid to the bottom. Usually this struggle takes multiple minutes accompanied by much swearing and cursing.

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The Magic Pudding. The next stage is to kneel on the lid

Despite the obstacles to departure we are out of the camp ground by around 11 am. We head off for Tunnel Gorge via a quick stop at the ruins of the police station which was used during the war against local Bunaba people. The most famous of the resistance leaders was Jandamarra who started as a police tracker and later led the resistance against the local police and settlers.

(see: http://www.jandamarra.com.au/jandamarratheman.html).

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Tunnel Creek was one of his main hideouts and we arrive for a walk through the gorge that has cuts through the ancient reef. We arrive to be greeted by three giant Brahmin bulls that are clearly Buddhist as they are entirely docile. We are fortunate to have the place to ourselves other than two of the resident freshwater crocs which put in an appearance as we are wading through.

The absence of other people in the gorge allows one to sense how it might have been when Jandamarra and his resistance fighters were using the tunnel.

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The cave system, of which the tunnel comprises a part, are massive and we walk under enormous ceilings of stalagmites and other limestone formations. The tunnel is pitted with other caves that go off far beyond the walls of the tunnel and the creek is fed by a spring that emerges from the walls part way down. It is an impressive end to our gorge walking.

We leave Tunnel Creek and take the road south to Fitzroy Crossing but night starts falling before we arrive. So we pull up at an old quarry site which is mentioned in the bush camping guide which Kaylee has purchased. It’s a beautiful site with views over the entire surrounding areas of bush but the swimming hole, sadly, is not inviting.

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Police Station ruins near Tunnel Creek

 

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Part of Tunnel Creek

 

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Inside Tunnel Creek

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Bell Gorge to Windjana
Windjana
Tunnel Creek

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)
  15. Beating about the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 15 – Manning)
  16. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (part 16 – Mornington)
  17. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 17- Bell Gorge)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 17- Bell Gorge)

We depart Mornington after three nights. The atmosphere remains somewhat strained and tense after the morning of premature packing. Jill and Roger have indicated they will no longer sleep on the roof and will from now on put up their tent.

Kaylee and I feel that this is just a dummy spit which will add to the packing time in the mornings. Where is Hillary Clinton when you need a bit of shuttle diplomacy? I consider launching cruise missiles at their tent but consider that this may lead to unrestrained playing of Abba, as retribution, which would be a fate worse than death.

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On our way out of Mornington we stop to look for finches but despite lots of quiet waiting we find none. So we press on. We are heading for a day at Bell Gorge which, we are told, is one of the Kimberley’s finest.

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En route we stop off at the Imintji store for supplies. Imintji is a triumph of remote enterprise, encompassing as it does Aboriginal enterprise, good coffee, wifi, a well stocked store and friendly service. We can report good smoothies, scones that are so-so but heart shaped (so they get an extra half a point from the romantics among us). and great milkshakes. We are giving it a five, Margaret.

29-_MG_1742At Imintji we run into our first motorcyclists. The two of them are both in their 60’s, are riding a BMW and Triumph and were last on the Gibb River Road in the late 1980s. They seem a little contemptuous of both the road and the drivers, especially those among the latter who don’t slow down.

They recount historical tales from their last visit. These include stories of bull dust holes so deep you could lose a road train and of pot holes bigger than a house.

But mostly they recall  a maelstrom of abandoned trailers and caravans as drivers, ambushed by corrugations as deep as the Grand Canyon, and bull dust holes wider than the Sahara, abandoned their whatever they were towing in a desperate attempts to escape the Gibb.

The current Gibb is a tame beast in comparison. Our principal consultant has been riding bikes all his life and has more steel in his body than that in the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Fortunately he can still raise his arm high enough to get his beer to his lips.

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Imintji also has a posse of Korean tourists who have turned up. There are about 15 of them in five nearly identical four wheel drives which, as befits the children of one of the world’s most efficient economies, are all neatly parked in a row, equidistant apart, all facing the same way and perfectly lined up with each other.

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Arriving at Imintji has released a huge burst of oestrogen in Jill, Kaylee and, apparently, Roger all of whom indulge in a frenzy of child phoning. No child is safe from distant calls from errant parents.

All of my fellow travellers appear to be suffering either from some form of 20+ years later baby craving or alternatively from a form of guilt due to having abandoned their babies for 2 months plus.

By the time they have finished telephoning every available child and/or leaving 12 minute messages on their message bank beseeching them not to put petrol in their diesel cars, which have been loaned to the said children, the queue for the only phone stretches around the shop.

 

We also receive good news. It is snowing heavily down south and well below zero in parts of Victoria. This radically increases our ability to gloat about our holidays. From now on, at every available opportunity between here and Perth, we all proceed to send images of ourselves sunning our bodies in warm gorges and lying on beaches

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We head over to the Aboriginal art centre and Kaylee indulges her need to buy a momento of every stop on this trip by investing in a painting by Edna Dale. I’m quite convinced that half the NT/WA economy has been supported for several weeks by Kaylee and Jill’s purchases.

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Finally we leave Imintji and head off on the 45 minute drive to Bell Gorge campground. We had planned to have a simple dinner of jaffles tonight. We had planned on having jaffles, several days ago, but in an extraordinarily Un-Australian act, Nathan, the owner of the hire company, has failed to supply jaffle irons in his vehicle. A purchase of a jaffle iron is in order.

The desire to have jaffles disappears however when we discover that cost of jaffle irons at the Imintji store is about the same as buying the entire stock of Tesla. We do, however, invest in a camp toaster to use on the gas stove.

05-IMG_1697We are camping the night at Silent Grove campground about 10 kilometres from Bell Gorge.

About 2 hours after setting up camp the tour group, ‘AMOS’ arrived. In theory the area for tour groups was at the entrance to the camp ground but AMOS apparently felt they had a God given right to ignore signs that had clearly been placed only for ordinary mortals.

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While not exactly enamoured to be sharing our quiet camping area with 20 others we were able to spend dinner hypothesising about the meaning of the name AMOS based on the behaviour of the members of the group. Our preferred choice was Australian Masturbation and Orgasm Services, which presumably explained the good humour and laughter of the group.

Australian Marine and Oceanographic Society seemed a possibility but arguably they were a little far from the Ocean and the Antarctic Mission for Orcas and Seas also seemed unlikely given the heat. Their truck is adorned by a windmill which, according to Roger is an orgasmatron or some new fangled version of a dildo. It fits with the preferred name.

When we eventually found that AMOS stood for Australian Mission Outreach Service, implying some sort of Christian cult, our first choice seemed a suitable alternative name.

Because Bell is 10 kilometres from the camp ground we need to drive to the Gorge. Roger takes this as an opportunity to use the front tyre of our vehicle to re-locate the concrete fire pit as we drive past it . He later states that this had nothing to do with his poor driving skills but rather he felt the need to improve his tyre changing skills since this deliberate relocation of the fire pit is to later lead to our next puncture.

Our visit to Bell was hugely improved by the presence of a film crew and the members of a Four wheel club with their eight sponsored vehicles. When we first arrived at Bell Gorge itself there were just seven people there.

By the time we left there were close to 60 including two tour groups, and the 20 odd drivers and crew of the club, plus camera crew and accompanying drone operator who proceeded to buzz the gorge with his drone and camera for about an hour.

As a result I can state that Sydney Airport seemed likely to be more peaceful than Bell Gorge was while we were there.

Bell is certainly a beautiful gorge and you can get away from the crowds by following the creek up or down river through a series of pools and ledges. It is certainly suffering however from its reputation as one of the more spectacular Kimberley Gorges and its relatively easy access via an easy 30 minute walk.

After a brief hour at Bell we decide to leave the crowd to its own devices and we head back for a quiet afternoon in the camp. The ground has filled up and among our fellow campers are the motor cyclists from Imintji and five other motorcyclists on bikes with side cars. As with many other of our fellow travellers we are to see them several more times.

Our nearest campers (aside from the nest of a pair of double barred finches) are a young couple from Melbourne who have been on the road for eighteen months. She left straight from school and he is a plumber which allows him to work everywhere they go. We frighten them with tales of the giant potholes on the Gibb and other lies, which they deserved for having bacon and eggs for breakfast while we were engaging in muesli delight.

In the morning we prepare to set off for Windjana Gorge but before we go Kaylee must indulge in a bit more camper-rig envy. On the other side of us from the young couple are another couple who we encountered previously, at Mornington, but Kaylee had not seen their rig while we there. However she now realises she has missed a major opportunity to indulge in camper fantasy.

Kaylee is a little inclined to psychological attachments to moving objects and can often be found in her house bent over watching the washing machine going round and round for hours at a time. This apparently puts her into some form of relaxing trance.

She also loves little boxes and, on shopping trips, has to be restrained from buying cabinets with dozens of little drawers. So the adjacent camper is like the orgasmatron of previous mention. It not only has a mechanical camper awning that Kaylee could spend her mornings raising and lowering but an entire perspex-fronted kitchen section. This contains about 40 little drawers and slots for various spices and other cooking bits and pieces. Kaylee is beside herself with excitement.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Bell 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)
  15. Beating about the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 15 – Manning)
  16. Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (part 16 – Mornington)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (part 16 – Mornington)

After Manning Gorge, Mornington ‘wilderness’ camp is our next stop.

Mornington is run by Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). Normally one has to book ahead but when we arrived the repeater station that allows one to radio to the station office was out of action and had been replaced by a sign saying “If you arrive prior to 11 am just come on down”. Since we have arrived at 10 am we proceed down to the camp.

Mornington is one of a string of reserves established by the AWC which are designed to address the appalling state of the Australian natural environment which has the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world.

The failure to protect habitat, effectively, is one of the key factors in this decline, with the others being excessive burning and feral animals. We should all be eating cat pie on a daily basis since this would put the cattle industry, which is one of the key factors in habitat destruction, into terminal decline. It would also mean that we would reduce the impact of cats which kill 70 million Australian native animals daily (a million feral cats each eating 7 native animals nightly).

The great attraction of Mornington is that it provides some respite from the crowds one encounters in most other parts of the Kimberley.

Despite its reputation the Kimberley is not remote and the Gibb River Road is better than the average road in Byron Shire and, certainly, has fewer potholes. If you happen to break down in the Kimberley you can be sure of assistance from passing vehicles.

The only way you would get as many offers of assistance in, say Sydney, would be if you stood at the side of the road offering free bags of money. So there is little risk to travelling in the Kimberley unless you are either (a) drive dangerously or (b) go fishing for salties with your arms or legs.

The other nice thing about Mornington is that they have a good restaurant although you have to take what is on offer. for the meal of the day A la carte might be a bit much to expect given where they are located.

Both Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill, separately, decided to assist environmental efforts by eradicating some of the excess beef cattle around. Very nice romantic starlit evenings with good wine and food. Or at least Jill and Roger’s would have been had Roger not spent most of the evening on the phone to their sons.

Mornington is where camper-rig envy first kicked in. Having spent the last five weeks lazing around in creeks and walking to remote-ish parts of the Kimberley, Kaylee has decided that would like to continue in this manner should the Department of Education be prepared to continue funding her to laze around on each school holiday. But to do it she requires a state of the art four wheel drive and camping rig.

The end result of this is that anyone who camps within about 200 metres is at risk of having their entire morning devoted to showing Kaylee every spare inch of their ‘rig’.

With each inspection some new requirement is added: the motorised tent so that no effort is required to stow it, the double fridge all on rollers, the sliding sink, the kitchen with 50 separate little drawers for every conceivable object, the espresso machine, the built in massage space etc. As each mornings passes you can an extra year to the length of time she will need to work before she can afford even half of such a beast.

Our first morning, at Mornington, is spent at Bluebush water hole, on the Fitzroy. It’s yet another beautiful swimming hole but from my perspective the main asset is a long rope swing from which one can leap from a great height into the pool below. This allows me to indulge my never to be sated passion for being a ten-year old with access to water and swings and to combine that with my fantasies about flying.

We visit two gorges at Mornington, Dimond Gorge and Sir John Gorge. Both of these sit on the Fitzroy River which drains a vast area of the Kimberley and has 20 major tributaries. It is 733 kilometres long and drains an area of 94,000 square kilometres, just over 3 times the size of Belgium.

Flood flows are among the largest in the world for a catchment of this size and the 1993 flood reached 25,000 cubic metres per second equivalent to 15 Olympic pools each second. Each gorge and waterhole are completely different.

On our second day we head off for Dimond Gorge. Normally we would have hired canoes and gone for a paddle but they are allegedly all booked. On arriving we find 7 canoes lined up unused. Either they have more cancellations than Tiger Air or the booking system leaves something to be desired.

Fate comes to our rescue however and we are able to bot a canoe from two couples who have just finished using theirs. They are graziers from Walcha and discussion turns to the drought. They have now had two dry springs, in succession, and say that a third one, which seems imminent, will be disastrous. Already they have cattle on agistment around Ensay in Victoria.

On the way back from Dimond Gorge we take a quick detour to the wetlands. These are also part of the Fitzroy River and we are fortunate enough to see a pair of Brolgas close up, as well as a mass of long tailed finches.

On our departure I am ambushed by a gaggle of restless flycatchers nearby and in my struggle to both follow them and take pictures I start dropping everything in my possession. Roger following behind dutifully collects everything I drop until he has the appearance of my hired sherpa.

He is carrying my binoculars, binocular case, hat, sunglasses, reading glasses, jumper, t-shirt, lens hood, phone, water bottle and almost everything else I seem to have brought on the two month trip. In keeping with our reward policy he gets a Lindt ball but since he can’t eat Lindt balls I add it to my own tally of rewards which I receive just for giving him the opportunity to win a Lindt ball.

Perhaps the most picturesque of the gorges is Sir John Gorge. Unlike most of the others it is not a high sided gorge but a long flat stretch of water bounded by low red rock walls. The water is dotted with large and small rock outcrops. At sunset it turns into a photographers paradise with the sunset lighting up the walls and their reflections in the water.

While we were there it was perfectly still and we sat on the rock ledges enjoying the beauty. The combination of the stillness, the quiet, the views and reflections instilled in one a perfect sense of tranquility

On our final morning we all plan to go off and do various short walks. But first we must achieve our own version of lost in translation. It is the morning of Premature Packing.

Roger, Kaylee and I are already up and Jill is awake in her tent. As Kaylee and I are going for breakfast in the restaurant I don’t want to leave Roger and Jill to have to pull down the tents alone, so I jump on the roof and start packing it up.

Jill has decided she needs another five minutes dozing and asks me to stop. I assume from her tone that she is joking and I carry on packing. She descends into laughter and keeps repeating her request, so I assume she is finding the sensation of being in a small boat in a storm somewhat amusing. But sadly no, she tells me later, laughter is how she deals with stressful situations and she is not amused.

As with all things it is a question of perspective. I view Jill as being incredibly selfish for wanting extra sleep when everyone else is up and running and somewhat weird for expressing her annoyance with peals of laughter. Jill views me as incredibly insensitive and disrespectful for not listening to her requests to stop packing. Everyone is displeased. If nothing else one understands how World War 1 started.

I am largely oblivious to all this since Kaylee and I have taken off for a bit of amateur twitching on Annie’s Creek where we see a myriad of bush birds including the purple crowned wren, double-barred finch and crimson finch, as well as bower birds, pigeons, doves, honeyeaters etc. Jill meantime is working herself into a state of furious indignation which is to reveal itself later.

By 10 am we are packed and on the road to Bell Gorge. En route we stop to try and spot the ever-elusive and extremely endangered Gouldian Finch but we are out of luck so we have to make do with Boab Valley which is a creek line dominated by hundreds of Boab trees.

Mornington disappears behind us and we are on our way to Windjana Gorge.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Mornington

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

 

 

 

 

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 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 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 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

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 4) – Kakadu Pt. 3 Yellow Waters and Gunlom

The end of week one sees us heading for Cooinda to do the obligatory Yellow Waters cruise and, beyond that, to head further south to Gunlom and Koolpin Gorge.

We are booked in for a sunset cruise and arrive in time to set up camp and head down to Yellow Waters, a part of the South Alligator wetlands. I last did this cruise 20 years ago. Then there was one boat with about 15 people on the evening cruise, now there are four boats each with forty people on board.

The Yellow Waters sunset cruise used to be one of the truly great wetland experiences, particularly later in the year when up to a million magpie geese feed on the wetlands along with thousands of other water birds.

I am cynical that with 160 people on four boats it will be anything other than a very superficial tourist experience, but am pleasantly surprised. You still get to see much of what you would have seen in a smaller boat and the guide is excellent. The only drawback being one can’t really ask the questions one used to be able to ask.

We spend the night at the Cooinda Hotel camp ground. It’s not the most peaceful or natural of locations and, for pretty much every resident of the campground, sleep was an intermittent exercise up until about 2 am. This is when the group of ten or so Indian tourists, who had apparently been attempting to imitate a Bombay Indian wedding with a thousand guests, decided to turn in.

Dinner duties were allocated to Kaylee and I, but Jill decided that, after about 36 seconds without food, she was hungrier than a bear after winter. Jill has a metronomic gastric system which requires replenishing with tea at about 10 minute intervals and food about every two hours.

As a result, when Kaylee and I decamped for pre-dinner drinks at the hotel, dinner duties changed hands. This was to later cause mayhem in the dinner stakes since she and Roger cooked dinner with unauthorised ingredients, without informing us, thereby throwing succeeding dinners into chaos since the ingredients for those planned dinners had already been consumed.

Reflections 2

The stress involved in the our discovery of the theft of Kaylee’s and my dinner ingredients leads to an urgent requirement for relief for Jill. This involves plugging her earphones into her iPod, closing her eyes and performing a public dance routine. That routine involves a cross between rap, salsa, a brolga dancing, yoga, and giving birth. But it seems to work for Jill and provides some degree of hilarity for the rest of the campground.

On Monday July 7, we decamp for Koolpin Gorge and Gunlom. When I lived in Darwin Gunlom was known as UDP (Uranium Development Project Falls) so-named, rather romantically, by mining companies at the height of the 60s uranium boom.

We had planned to visit Koolpin first but we discover that it is closed due to a large saltie having been spotted. It’s now almost 50 years since crocodiles were hunted almost to extinction and they are no longer scared of humans. As the number of crocodiles has increased the smaller crocs have been forced further upstream. Places where it was perfectly safe to swim 20 years ago are no longer safe.

With plan A foiled by too much crocodile sex, we head for Gunlom. Jill has attempted to reach back into her memory synapses and has convinced us that she once visited Gunlom and that it was the highlight of her previous trip to the NT…astoundingly fabulous. She has talked it up so much that she is now nervous that we will not be impressed.

All of this area, including Koolpin, was once excluded from Kakadu. The Hawke Government promised to include it as a third extension of Kakadu, the original area of Kakadu having already been expanded once. At that time the two grazing leases, Gimbat and Goodparla, which comprised the proposed stage 3,  were resumed (the leases were re-purchased by the Federal Government) with the intention of including them in the park.

The proposed Stage 3 extension was stymied by the discovery in the 1980s of gold, by mining company BHP,  at Coronation Hill adjacent to the South Alligator River.

As a result there was a 10 year struggle to prevent gold mining before Kakadu was eventually extended in 1991. This area has a special significance for me as I was part of that campaign, for three years, while I lived in Darwin.

For a week in February 1988, Richard Ledgar, another local, Scott Wootten, and I sat on BHP’s drill rig and loader at the exploration site at Coronation Hill to highlight the illegal nature of the exploration permit.

(for more on Coronation Hill see: https://theemperors-clothes.com/2014/08/05/on-top-of-coronation-hill/ and images at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/29402953@N02/sets/72157606707022747/detail/ )

As we drive towards Gunlom the butterfly wings start beating again. Kaylee comments that she has heard an odd noise under the vehicle but, in our desire to avoid having to do anything, we all rush to reassure each other that chaos is not about to befall us again. Along the way to Gunlom we pull in for a short walk up a gorge to a another waterfall.

After a quick leg stretch we are getting into the car and Jill notices a bit of metal hanging down beneath the car. We check it out. The metal plate that protects the underside of the radiator has buckled. Not much we can do. But Jill, decides on immediate remedial action and “deliberately” removes the loose metal plate by backing over the largest rock in the car park. That fixed it. No more loose metal. We pick it up and chuck it in the back of the Nissan. As we are driving to Gunlom, Jill comments once again on the spongy brakes.

We arrive at Gunlom at lunchtime and after a quick lunch head straight for the plunge pool for a swim. There are about 10 people swimming and a conversation ensues about water temperatures at various beaches including WA.

This leads onto the the issue of WA shark attacks at which point I politely point out that the WA Government’s policy, which advocates killing sharks, could only have been designed by a bunch of ignorant, ill-informed fuckwit bogans. The man on my right demurs and a conversation ensues in which it turns out our fellow tourist believes that anything that threatens human life should be exterminated, including all crocodiles.

I refrain from telling him that he is Richard Head or pointing out that his knowledge of ecology could fit into a box of matches, so peace is restored.

We are standing around after swimming and chaos theory activates for the fourth time. A passing tourist tells us he has noted a leak near the rear passenger wheel. He thinks it might be transmission fluid. We check it out and it is clearly a brake line issue. At this point there is no mechanic, no phone line, internet or mobile reception, so we cannot call anyone to get it fixed.

The four of us enter bush mechanic mode. This is a state of delusion in which all Australians apparently know everything about repairing cars and are able to undertake that repair with bog, fencing wire and cable ties.

It appears the join between the metal brake line and the rubber brake line is leaking. We opt for a bodgy repair using two pack bog which we borrow from our neighbours. If we can slow or stop the leak we figure we can get to Pine Creek on the spare lot of brake fluid we have purchased from the campground caretaker

Eventually Roger locates the exact source of the leak which is a crack on the upper side of the brake line. The bog will clearly not work. We now need to find something to bind the pipe. It must be non-porous, highly flexible and resistant to brake fluid.

We debate where to find this magical repair material. Eventually Jill suggests dental floss. The brains trust considers this. It’s a wax coated nylon, thin and flexible. Perfect. Roger and Jill go to work and, in an hour, the brake line is perfectly bodgied with dental floss and white cable ties. The white cable ties are chosen, of course, to coordinate with the dental floss. It is another victory for Australia’s bush mechanics, albeit one that is far from perfect – the fluid is still leaking but more slowly than before.

The following morning we leave Gunlom. Roger is on the wheel and I am on the handbrake. We make haste slowly. The process is that at each creek crossing Roger slows the car with the gears and where necessary I add extra braking with the park brake. We try to avoid doing doughnuts (handbrake turns), wherever possible, but soon the excitement is getting too much for us and Roger and I decide to form a rally driving team on our return to civilisation.

At 10 am we arrive in Pine Creek sans accidents. I call Nathan the company owner and explain the dilemma. There is nowhere in Pine Creek (a town comprising one horse and a pub) where we can get the brake lines fixed and we cannot buy more brake fluid to replenish our supply.

Nathan cannot send a replacement vehicle because he is not allowed to risk the safety of his mechanic who would need to return to Darwin in our dodgy vehicle.  But, for us it’s ok to drive on. No worries. Let us travel, without brakes, to Katherine where we can get the brakes repaired. Boldly we press on using our patented gears and handbrake technique.

Roger and I are bonding nicely and we decide, in addition to our rally driving venture, to form a band based on our shared knowledge of Patti Smith and the Grateful Dead. The conversation mutates into one about road trips. I reveal that, in 1992/3, I toured the US, Canada and Mexico in an $1100 blue and white Kombi purchased in Oregon and equipped with everything a person could wish for; namely a reconditioned engine and a Grateful Dead sticker. Could any human being be more cool?

Finally we roll into Katherine and overshoot the location of our designated mechanic when the gear/handbrake stop is not effectively coordinated. By the time we eventually stop we are in downtown Katherine where, cleverly avoiding an oncoming road train with an extra notch on the handbrake, Roger and I drop off Kaylee and Jill at the Coffee Club.

our newly formed Rally Drivers Association then manages to turn around and drop the vehicle off at the mechanics. At this point we have no prognosis on the recovery of our vehicle which we have named Beyonce.

In the absence of any future plans other than an indefinite stay in Katherine town, a place which would feature only one star on any reputable trip advisor, we decide to drown our sorrows with alcohol. We ask a local shopkeeper which is the best pub. She wouldn’t recommend any. I translate for Jill and Kaylee. She means we have a chance of encountering Aborigines in them which, apparently, makes them undesirable destinations. It appears the RSL is the drinking hole of choice for the colonial white population. Absent other recommendations we decamp for the RSL.

Wandering the streets of Katherine while Roger goes to check up on the vehicle, we are hailed by a passing motorist. She is worried that we appear lost and has seen a group of blackfellas approaching. Our safety is of concern, apparently. She is extremely friendly and offers us a lift to the RSL but her attitude epitomises the state of race relations in Katherine which veers between fear, distrust, contempt and pure racism and hostility.

At the RSL we must remove our hats…it’s important, apparently, to respect dead people but not the living ancestors of this ancient continent’s original inhabitants.

We settle in for a stay in Katherine, which remains the shit hole it always has been.

See all collection from which these images were selected on Flickr:
Gunlom– https://flic.kr/s/aHskx3cTub
Yellow Waters – https://flic.kr/s/aHskujUCvo

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

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 3) – Kakadu, Pt 2 – Nourlangie and Ubirr

After departing Twin Falls, we head for Nourlangie Rock. As we approach the Kakadu Highway, the main road between Pine Creek and Jabiru, Kaylee complains about the brakes. They are spongy and it takes a while to stop. But we think maybe it is just dust or water in the brakes. But, hey, there isn’t much to hit out here so who cares.

The car park is packed. It is a chaos of buses, cars and a parade of 4WDs in all shapes and sizes. Two rangers are checking park entry tickets. They are being harangued by a French man in his 50s who appears not to understand that it is not the rangers’ fault that he is apparently functionality illiterate (at least in English) and cannot understand signs with the simple words “park entry permit required”. I wish I had a baguette and I would stuff it somewhere he deserved to receive it.

It is the antipodean version of my experience in France where ignorant English speakers would behave like ill-mannered louts if someone couldn’t speak English. First ask your question. If you don’t get the answer you want repeat the question, just louder until you are shouting. I Always felt like I should hand them the quotation that says “the definition of stupidity is repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome”.

We do a lazy tour of Nourlangie, admiring some of the world’s finest indigenous rock art, and then climb to the lookout. We wonder why the parks service still insists on retaining signs calling it Nourlangie when the interpretive signs clearly say that the traditional owners want it renamed with its traditional name. Renaming would have the additional advantage that a large proportion of visitors would no longer be able to find it and would make the visit of the remainder much more pleasant.

Most of the visitors are blissfully ignorant that if our Governments, of both political persuasions, had got their way, Nourlangie Rock would have been blessed with the sound and dust of a proposed uranium mine only a couple of kilometres distant.

The proposed Koongarra mine lease was excised from the park back when it was established in the 1970s and was only added to the park this year (2014) due to the persistent opposition of the Aboriginal traditional owners to mining at the location.

 

Lunch brings us to Jabiru, the mining town created for the Ranger uranium mine. It is a little oasis of neo-colonial white development on Aboriginal land. The Ranger mining lease existed before the park was created and prior to land rights, so traditional owners had no right to veto it, even had they wanted to.

Tidy quarter acre blocks bake in the sun, each with their ugly brick veneer home. In common with most communities in the NT, Jabiru has a major drinking and domestic violence problem.

Ranger Mine (now closed as at 2021)

For white people those social problems are hidden behind the neat facades of modern Australia, whereas for the black community the issues with alcohol and violence are played out on the streets. This means that society can look down on Aboriginal people as being hopeless drunks while pretending their own issues don’t exist.

Ranger has been operating for about 35 years. It is a model of mismanagement, regularly enduring accidents, leaks of contaminated water and similar malfunctions. But neither Federal nor NT Governments really care since both are client states of the mining industry. So Ranger, which should have been closed years ago, goes blithely on.

Our party of four continue on our un-planned way. Even though we plan nothing we still operate more smoothly than the Ranger mine.

Sun and smoke over the Magela wetlands

We have forgotten that it is Saturday, so our planned shopping expedition suffers credit card interruptus because the supermarket closes at 3 pm. As a result we are forced to decamp sans the espresso maker I planned to buy. Mawson was forced to eat huskies and I shall be forced to drink earl grey. In fact I shall apparently be forced to drink it very often.

So far we are two days behind schedule, solely and only because Jill insists on stopping for tea about every 17 minutes. Few first world problems could be more daunting than earl grey tea every 17 minutes and no coffee.

Last sun from the top of Ubirr

Next stop is Ubirr. The road, which was a windy dirt road of many creek crossings, often closed in wet season, is now sealed. The crossing of Magela Creek, once  an expendition in its own right, is now a routine exercise. Many of the side roads down which one could venture to the flood plain have been closed and locked with gates. The camp ground which used to border the East Alligator is now set back 3 kilometres from it and the Border store which was once an archetypal remote store now has a Thai restaurant.

Ubirr is not only a major rock art site but also one of the best places in the park to experience the interaction of flood plain and stone country. I have visited it more than 20 times over the years to experience the sublime sunsets from the top of the rock and the unequalled sense of the spiritual.

Some of that remains although the numbers watching the sunset have increased more than 10 fold and there are more than 200 people enjoying the Kakadu equivalent of Uluru’s sunset strip when we arrive.

Jill is so seduced by the elixir of sunset and flood that, despite her alleged fear of heights, she thinks she can fly. She moves ever closer the the rock edge much to Kaylee’s consternation, who, as a result, has her  experience of the tranquility of Ubirr severely undermined.

Jill contemplating flight

Dinner time brings us to the Border Store, which is arguably Australia’s most remote Thai restaurant. We eat duck curry surrounded by $1000 art works all of which lean crazily on bits of wire. The food and coffee are good. But there is no dessert…Kaylee is devastated and she suffers dessert withdrawal symptoms.

This lack of dessert and its associated sugar hit appears to lead to some sort of memory loss over coming days…such as thinking she has lost her phone which she plugged into the charger only 30 seconds ago. She also manages to  go for a shower with no soap, towel, shampoo, or change of clothes, but takes her phone as a substitute for those items, meaning she has to do another 100 metre return trip to the showers.

Before leaving the Ubirr area we embark on a short walk around the rock country near the East Alligator River. As with almost of Kakadu there is rock art on most of the rock outcrops. Crane your head and some figure or creature appears; the entire landscape is peopled by the spirits of 40,000 years of occupation.

Finally we head down to Cahills Crossing where one crosses the East Alligator from Kakadu into Arnhem Land. The crossing is a sort of mythical divide between Aboriginal Arnhem Land and the rest of Australia and is impassable in the wet.

The occasional person has become crocodile bait here. In 1987, when I was working in the park, a local miner imbued with alcohol immunity waded into the downstream side of the crossing to fish one evening, despite warnings of sightings of a large black crocodile. He was reported to have said that he had been fishing there for 15 years and had never had a problem. Minutes later he was dead. So it goes.

Most years people get caught out by a sudden onset of the wet and get trapped on one side or the other; in 1988 a sudden wet caught dozens of vehicles on the Arnhem Land side and the Gagadju Association did a nice business towing vehicles across using its grader. Cost $200 a pop.

See all collection from which these images were selected on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHskwuKZAM

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

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