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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock Art, Mertens Falls

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

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

Mitchell Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the morning we head out and back to Munurru.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Mitchell Falls

Other posts in this series:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evening reflections on the Gibb River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Ellen Brae
Gibb River Bush Camp

Other posts in this series:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grevillea Forest on the walk to Champagne Springs

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

Champagne Springs

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

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

Champagne Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaylee trail riding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

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

Other posts in this series:

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









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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

Purnululu aerials
Purnululu South


Other posts in this series:

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








Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 8 – Wolf Creek)

We are heading for Wolf Creek. Despite the film, we have been able to persuade Kaylee’s children that we unlikely to suffer an early death as a result of the visit.

Our final hours before leaving Halls Creek were filled with joy and redemption. Kaylee has given up on getting internet on her phone after the previous days traumatic call. But over dinner the evening before I decided to add another employment option to my expanding CV and have managed to find and fix the issue within 1 minute.

Two Optus employees and three Telstra employees were unable to surmise that an iPhone 4 has a function in which you can pre-set your data connection to a particular network. With my immense IT skills I was able to find that setting within a matter of seconds. Kaylee is now in my debt for to the tune of 10 chocolate Lindt balls.

In addition to the Telstra phone saga, two parcel sagas have resolved themselves. Bert, our Dutch cyclist, has received his parcel. We have all, independently bumped into him in the street and have had separate parcel conversations with him. He will now return to the Netherlands convinced that Australians have a very limited conversational repertoire.

My parcel has re-materialised in Byron and has allegedly been returned to sender.

It’s unclear how Australia Post did this since the sender is actually in Melbourne, the intended recipient in Halls Creek and the return address given on the envelope is not given. But full marks to Australia Post for creativity.

We do have to congratulate Australia Post on their boxes, however. In Katherine I purchased a box in which I had intended to pack my surplus and redundant items such as 4 android phone cables, surplus jocks (overpacking) and mail them back home.

But it turned out that it was cheaper to send them in two pre-paid plastic postal bags, so we ended up with one surplus box which, when flattened, it turns out, has extraordinary powers. It has served as a substitute tarpaulin, mechanics trolley, yoga mat, table mat, chopping board, sun-shade, fire-fanning device, pot-stand, among other uses.

It is undoubtedly the best $3.50 I have ever spent and the flattened box is clearly so much more versatile than a flattened box from Woolworths.

On the road to Wolf Creek, I am cogitating about snakes and tenants. The tenants, in the downstairs flat, in Byron have emailed me and sent pictures showing a dead and bloodied brown snake on their bed. Indi had, apparently gone to embrace her partner, Josh, during the night and, instead, put her hand on a snake coiled on his chest.

Leaping from her bed and abandoning her intention to hug Josh she then grabbed a nearby knife (the flat is small and similarities to Fatal Attraction are just coincidental ) and beheaded the snake.

Indi has been sufficiently traumatised by the incident that she now wants to move out and break their lease. My pointing out the fact that they have consistently left their bedroom door open and that closing the screen door will prevent snakes entering in future are apparently unpersuasive. As election results show, logic will never overcome fear.

The road to Wolf Creek is also the road that crosses the Tanami desert. It has a fearsome reputation for destroying vehicles. On the trip into Wolf Creek it is relatively smooth highway but presumably, given its reputation, it must deteriorate at some point.

In the absence of anything dramatic about the road to talk about the conversation turns to the trip blog. I am somewhat mortified to find myself on the side of George Brandis, in arguing that I should be free to be entirely bigoted about anything that I feel like being bigoted about, and that vilification of my fellow-travellers is justified poetic license.

Still, I think, I am defending free speech. The three fascist defenders of censorship, in the car, feel that the blog should somehow reflect truth and reality whereas, I suggest, in the spirit of Rupert Murdoch that you should not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The three fascists offer that in the absence of truth, justice and the Australian way, they may refuse to participate in the blog and will with-hold circulation to their friends. But I have already pirated all the necessary email addresses so their arguments fall on deaf ears.

At this point the conversation deteriorates further. We have side-tracked into discussions about population and the other two defenders of censorship are, according to Kaylee, entirely misrepresenting her views on population.

When I joke that, based on her defending having had three children, there is clearly no relationship between population and fornication, something is lost in translation. Kaylee and I are in imminent danger of separation. Jill, on the other hand, is happy about something Roger has said to her and offers to re-marry him.

This subsequently turns out to be a shallow and superficial offer since, judging by Jill’s offer to marry me when I bring her tea in bed, in appears that Jill will offer herself to any man who either agrees with her point of view or brings gifts. As a postscript, Roger confirms this tendency, since he notes that Jill has offered herself to Garth, Hugh, Megan and Georgie and Margie at different times, in return for tea. A woman of Catholic tastes.

We arrive at Wolf Creek. It is just this side of freezing. A wind is blowing from somewhere near Macquarie Island.

We rug up and ascend the 60 metres to the rim of the crater. The pictures of the crater do not do it justice. As one descends into the crater, one progressively enters a little oasis. The centre appears to have almost permanent water and it is an oasis of plant life and birds. The plant life is quite different because as the moisture evaporates it makes the area more saline and the plants in the middle must be salt tolerant.

Most of the crater has been filled by sand and what was originally 160 metres deep is now only around 60 metres deep.

The sand blows in off the Tanami and, if you walk around the rim on the side facing the Tanami, the sand is only about two metres from the top of the rim. Eventually the sand will fill the crater and it will disappear as Roger reports (only Roger has been energetic enough to do the full circuit of the rim).

Our trip to Wolf Creek is over but we stop for lunch nearby. Roger and Kaylee disagree over the use of meths plus water in Kaylee’s trangia. Kaylee clearly has a view that Roger is very similar to climate deniers in that she has tangible evidence of the beneficial effects of adding water to meths but Roger is not prepared to accept scientific fact.

We head back to Halls Creek and decide to stay in a motel since it is pissing with rain. We have a choice of the Best Western or the Best Western and choose the Best Western. I am not convinced that the decision to stay in a motel is unconnected to the fact that it is the final of the world cup soccer.

The motel is significantly better than it appears from the outside and has been completely and tastefully renovated. It also is an important stop for Grey Nomads since the operation of the coded locks on the room doors require a level of intelligence or memory which is clearly superior to mine.

It is an exercise in mental agility which, no doubt, is intended to slow one’s decline into senility thus assisting said Grey Nomads. My companions, far from assisting me to get in to my room, simply enjoy my intellectual inability to manage a simple memory task.

We have dinner at Russian Jack’s the restaurant attached to the motel. The decor is modern and decorated with images of various film actors (sometimes referred to as “stars”). The food is good and the service is excellent. Who needs gorges?

Other hidden gems of Halls Creek include a display at the IGA promoting literacy and numeracy. One gets the impression, maybe wrongly, that the town is a relatively cohesive community.

See the Flickr archive from which these images were taken:

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)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next stop Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater.

Other posts in this series:

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

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