Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 24, Horizontal Falls)

Cape Leveque and Horizontal Falls

The arrangement for Roger’s and my trip to Horizontal Falls is that we will fly out from Cape Leveque and that Kaylee and Jill will drive back to Broome. We question them about their confidence in changing the vehicle tyres, given the weight of the wheels and other assorted potential mishaps but are assured that anything Roger and I can do they can do better. It turns out that the main benefit of the solo trip home is that Jill and Kaylee are able to play Abba for two hours and that, that event, led to no intra-party arguments. That’s what happens when cultural guidance is removed.

Kaylee and Jill having departed, Roger and I depart on our boys’ own adventure. Departure is by sea-plane from the airstrip near One Arm Point. There are twenty of us in two planes and it’s relatively clear that the trip to Horizontal is a bit the Kimberley equivalent of going to Disney World, only more regimented.

King Sound
King Sound

After a half hour flight over the Kimberley coast – which arguably is the highlight of the trip, we land next to a floating city onto which a new load of sightseers is disgorged at about half hour intervals. From there, after a short wait, one boards a jet boat for the trip through the falls – which can only be taken at set times when the falls are neither two large nor too flat.

Generally I am a great believer in the power of cameras to focus ones attention on things that one would otherwise miss. While some may argue that if one spends one time looking through a lens of a camera, you don’t spend much time enjoying the scenery, I have discovered that looking for beauty that is photographable makes one see many things that one might otherwise miss.

King Sound
King Sound

Horizontal Falls, however, proves that there are exceptions to the rule. Altogether we do five round-trips through the two sets of falls, two through the wider falls and three through the narrower; so ten runs in total.

King Sound
King Sound

Having completed the ten runs, I realise that I didn’t really get to see the gorges or falls at all because I have spent my entire time trying to get video of them. And being a crap videographer, the end result is to have managed to spend a few hundred dollars on several very bad videos of out of focus rock walls and water.

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Through Horizontal Falls

There is probably some form of photographic narcissism involved. In an effort to get the best possible images, all you end up seeing is the inside of a camera and, in the process, you miss the beauty all around.

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Horizontal Falls

After our trips through the falls we have lunch and are served beautifully cooked barramundi. Our co-passengers on the trip are largely blue-collar retirees blue and not altogether politically correct. My dinner companion responds to my praise of the barramundi by telling his wife that she will now need to improve her cooking of barramundi. I respond that I would have thought that cooking barramundi was ideal for the barbie and that, that should be his domain, perhaps? He responded, thoughtfully, by saying “No point in having a dog and barking yourself, eh dear?” Sometimes very little changes in life.

Back to Broome

Roger and I fly back into Broome, getting a good aerial view of Cable Beach, as we land, after our trip to Horizontal Falls and get the bus to drop us at the tourist bureau which is our pre-arranged pick up.

Broome Beach
Cable Beach, Broome

After 15 minutes there is still no sign of our lift, so Roger texts to find out what is causing the delay. There is no reply so we wait on a while longer and try again. This time Roger gets through and is told that the delay has been caused by a puncture on the vehicle which Jill and Kaylee had to fix. They will be many minutes longer. Roger and I decamp to the pub.

 Thirty minutes later the Nissan pulls up. Interrogated about the supposed flat tyre the story falls apart like a putrefying carcass in the sun. But any story will do to hide the fact that our long wait was caused by a shopping trip among other things.

While Roger and I have been away the two women have been shopping together. A part of the length of time taken is Jill’s approach to shopping. We are back to the list conundrum. Kaylee believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to describe what needs to be bought. Jill believes that the purpose of a shopping list is to write a random list items that have no bearing on what she will buy. Hence they go shopping with a list of three items and have emerged with thirty.

We confer on options for dinner and decide that it’s time for a Thai dinner.. After numerous campground dinners a bit of variety is in order. At the restaurant, Jill orders a hot soup, which turns out to so hot that she, can barely eat it. So she orders a lassi to help take the edge off. The waitress looks extremely bemused wanting to know what a lassi is? Jill is equally bemused that an Indian does not, apparently, know what a lassi is. I point out to Jill that it is a Thai restaurant not an Indian one and that the Indian food she is eating is actually Thai. Fortunately Jill is not appearing any time soon on any reality cooking shows.

It’s not the end of our Thai restaurant confusion. I ask one of the other waitresses to confirm the name of the Thai King. But she doesn’t know. Scarcely surprising, since she is Indian but I can’t apparently tell a Thai from an Indian. Confusion reigns all around.

Roebuck Bay - Broome Bird Observatory
Roebuck Bay – Broome Bird Observatory.

After our meal we head out of town for the Broome Bird Observatory where we will be staying the night.

 We arrive late at Broome Bird Sanctuary and have to unpack in the dark. This seems to pose special challenges for some. Most of us have had doors closed on our fingers at some point in life, but Jill is the only person ever known to have caused herself brain damage by actively smashing a car door down on her head by closing it while remaining standing directly underneath. Apparently she hadn’t worked out that it’s best not to close things while standing directly in the way of the closing object.

Roebuck Bay - Broome Bird Observatory
Roebuck Bay – Broome Bird Observatory

At the sanctuary we are allocated a cabin. Each hut is named after a different bird. Very appropriately our cabin has been named after at least one of our number and is called “Grey crested babblers”.

The Bird Observatory is a well equipped establishment with a kitchen that comes with all mod cons including no less than three espresso makers and, of course is laid out with the express purpose of allowing twitchers (bird watchers to the non-cognescenti) to eat and watch birds at the same time. Breakfast conversation is not only limited but tends towards the mono-cultural.

Compared with Broome camp grounds, this is a great place to stay and, even for those not addicted to bird-watching, it provides an eye opening experience of the variety of Australian bird, particularly water birds, of all types.

Broome Bird Observatory
Broome Bird Observatory

It’s unknown whether Jill, at this point had some form of unpleasant experience with bird-watchers or birds, possibly feeling that being assigned to a cabin called “Grey Crested Babblers” was some type of deliberate punishment for unknown sins (although I, for one, could list them)…but my notes simply say “Kaylee on the other hand is going the other way”. It is apparent that she has experienced a form of enlightenment about the possibilities of marital nirvana that might be possible with twitchers, who after one days interaction with them, are clearly the world’s best people.

She has her eyes on one in particular, who is our neighbour, Rod Warnock. Kaylee has decided that some form of pre-arranged marriage with Rod would clearly be better than another week with me – despite her observation at some point that one of the amazing things on the trip is that I have been so nice to her. Apparently a new experience after only twelve years of non-marital bliss.

Observing at Broome Bird Observatory
Observing at Broome Bird Observatory

Kaylee’s instantaneous morphing into a potential twitcheress as a result of her overwhelming attraction to the fraternity is somewhat surprising given some aspects of the kitchen. It is a paradise for existing or potential sufferers of OCD, since every available drawer, cupboard, shelf and implement are labelled to within an inch of their incorrect usage. Who knows, perhaps short sighted twitchers have attempted to mount the rolling pin on their camera instead of the telephoto? Normally however, a labelling frenzy such as this would send Kaylee running a mile but clearly the delights of the twitching world have overcome her distaste for too much order.

For dinner that night I cook wraps. In common with many experiences in life (relationships?) I still haven’t worked out that doing the same thing many times and expecting a different outcome is not good thinking. In this case I learn once again that hot stoves are hot. One might think that after 40+ years of cooking that this would have been a pre-learned lesson. But no, put on the gas, drop vegies down under the cooking pan hobs. Lift up hobs with fingers. Find out that gas flames make metal hot. One thinks of the famous observation, wrongly credited to Einstein, about idiocy, repeating things and expecting different outcomes.

On waking in the morning Kaylee requires defrosting, having been cold in bed. According to my notes this is because (a) Jill and Roger refuse to let us have the bed and (b) take all the blankets. This is exactly the behaviour one might expect from Roger who, is well known for his inordinately selfish behaviour, the type of behaviour that Jill, Kaylee and I are paragons at avoiding.

Again it’s a little unclear what exactly happened, as 12 months after the event the memory is a little sun bleached and the memory synapses faded. Not to let that get in the way, we can assume that there was one double bed and two singles. Roger, no doubt, in his self centred way decided to take the double bed and having done that needed twice as many blankets. This probably left Kaylee and I with two single beds and one one blanket between us.

At this point there is a random note about Kaylee’s feet which states, inter alia, “Kaylee’s beautiful mud-packed feet but Roger’s fire fucked them”.

Famous Feet
Famous Feet

What precisely this means, where it occurred and why is unclear but for your elucidation we here include, above, the quote and a picture of said feet to be included in the Museum of Random and unattributed quotes and images.

Prior to leaving the Bird Observatory we all decide to increase our worldly experiences with some bird banding of migratory water birds. This is to occur at midday, we have been told, and so we gather at the office to be given instructions. It’s apparently a team effort with multiple people. Some are required to shift the net, some to hold birds while they are placed them in bags and still others to transfer them to holding cages for banding. It appears, however, that the birds themselves have not been advised of their role in the team effort and, after two hours of fruitless waiting for uncooperative and ungrateful shorebirds, we depart. It appears that our feathered friends don’t realise that being captured under a net, stuffed in a bag and “man” handled into a box is all in their best interests. Ungrateful ingrates.

Time to head south.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 23 – Cape Leveque)

North to Cape Leveque

After our brief stay at James Price Point we head north to Cape Leveque. The plan is to take a couple of nights on route to sample the delights of the Dampier Peninsula. More than anything, the Cape is an area both rich with a living Aboriginal society and culture and with one of the most beautiful coastal environments anywhere in Australia. Soaring red rock cliffs, huge tidal races, endless beaches; it is one of those environments where if you move more than a few metres from the camp you can have solitude and space which is an increasingly rare commodity, especially near the beach.

Pender Bay Beach
Pender Bay Beach
Whale Song Shower
Whale Song Shower

 

Full Moon Whale Song WA
Full Moon Whale Song WA

First stop is Whale Song Café, on Pender Bay. Pender Bay is a Humpback whale nursery and resting area. This hidden gem with a small café (run by Jacinta) which, among other things makes mango smoothies. The campground, with only six sites, is a couple of kilometres off the main road. Perched on the cliffs overlooking a spectacular and deserted beach, surrounded by rock pools and sandbars it’s a fantastic spot to while a way a few days. We were fortunate enough to be there at full moon and the light over the waves managed to create a iridescent tableau which can only be experienced and not described.

Pender Bay (Whale Song) at Sunrise
Pender Bay (Whale Song) at Sunrise
Pender Bay
Pender Bay

Add to this the birds, the café and one of the world’s most funky showers and you have one of a holiday’s most special experiences.

It’s at this point in our story that the author will finally admit to some degree of licence with the truth, every previous word having been gospel. However, due to delayed memory ejaculation with the passing of time, and inadequate note taking, from here on in the story may either be thin on the ground, be invented, or there may be little relationship between the specific anecdote and the actual trip.

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Full Moon at Pender Bay (Whale Song)
The Daily Plait
The Daily Plait

En route north we pass and stop into two Aboriginal settlements, Beagle Bay and Lombardina. The Beagle Bay community was established by Trappist monks around 1890 and features the famous Sacred Heart church with an altar made from pearl shells. It also has a shop which sells ice creams, which on a Kimberley trip register about a 9 on the trip priorities scale (coffee and tea each also being a 9 or 10, depending who is counting).

 

We don’t stop for long since we need to find a campsite for the night and are, in any case, returning later but we were required to pause for coffee and cake; in the “remote wilds’ of the Kimberley no opportunity was to be missed for the rituals of civilisation. On departure, after some poking around, we eventually stumble on Gumbarnam, not far past Cape Leveque. The two main features of Gumbarnam were the fantastic sea-scape, including a fringing reef and a small tidal race between the mainland and adjoining islands, and a wind that made James Price Point feel like a light breeze.

Pender Bay at night
Pender Bay at night
Sunrise Whale Song
Sunrise Whale Song

Not understanding that the strong wind we experienced, on arrival, would increase to near hurricane force, we picked a nice spot in the open with a view of the ocean. The rest of the day, after putting up camp, was taken up with visits to the Trochus Shell farm at One Arm Point and to the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

The former is run by the local Bardi people from the Ardyaloon Aboriginal community, from which a couple of young Aboriginal women gave us the full run down on the venture and its success including the re-seeding of the reef with Trochus. The latter is run by the Brown Family and is Australia’s oldest pearl farm. More importantly, is was the proud owner of an espresso machine and the provider of a passable latte and a good lunch. One Arm Point is named after an unfortunate pearler who had an accident with dynamite whilst attempting to catch fish using explosives in the bay.

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Roger and Jill praying for better traveling companions
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Lombardini Church

 

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Lombardini

 

Following the success of our exploratory expedition to Cygnet Bay, that tracked the only good latter north of Broome, we returned to the Cape for the afternoon for a quick squiz.

At this point we have no information on what activities Jill and Roger may have engaged in, but Kaylee and I walked on past the lighthouse to the beach the other side where we squatted in one of the beach shelters for lunch and then checked out the luxury camping units at the top of the hill. These are, to the average two-person tent, what Versailles Palace is to the average bush donga. Carefully supervising Kaylee due to her light-fingered tendencies to make off with every piece of commercial soap, shampoo, cream etc. ever provided any accommodation complex, we sneaked into give them a once over and decided that this was the perfect location to come with our rich Beechworth friends, Jenny O’Connor and Michael Bink. They can rent the chalet and entertain us for dinner every night and we can rent the cheap beach shacks and entertain them for free swimming.

Gumbarnam
Gumbarnam
Gumbarnam brain coral
Gumbarnam brain coral

We find on returning to Gumbarnam for the night that the wind has decided to see if it can escape the limitation of the Beaufort scale.

Gumbarnam Giant clam
Gumbarnam Giant clam

It is unlikely that we would actually have been lost to human kind due to the entire truck being blown out to sea, as a result of the near hurricane force winds. Nevertheless trying to sleep, or rest, in the vehicle was to experience the type of motion that made it seem like the entire Indian nation were engaged in trying out every position in the Kama Sutra simultaneously. A move was in order.

 Come late evening we had made a last minute retreat to a more sheltered spot, sans view. This was fortunate for many reasons but none more so that it appeared to reduce the inflow of grit into Roger’s teeth. As it was there was enough whinging and sufficient grit that it appeared we had the entire British nation around the fire, as well as sufficient sand supplies to re-build Dresden.

Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset
Gumbarnam sunset

 

Gumbarnam coral
Gumbarnam coral

The following morning we de-camp to go to Middle Lagoon, on our way to Cape Leveque. This is yet another gorgeous coastal spot but is fisherperson central (mainly fishermen). Judging by the number of four wheel drives, giant fridges, eskis and generators it’s a veritable fish slaughterhouse.

Gumbaram fringing reef
Gumbaram fringing reef

We get to Cape Leveque at lunchtime. Seeing as Roger and I had our boys own adventure to Horizontal Falls to get excited about, Jill and Kaylee decided that they needed something to get vaguely excited about, so Roger and I were treated to long discussion about the charms of the cute pilot at Cape Leveque. Here I note, as exhibit A, that there was no interest whatever in his potential intelligence, emotional or otherwise, or his ethics or morals, or even of his potential income generating potential, but only and solely his physical charms and whether this would translate into acceptable child making activity.

It seems that this was a to be a pattern repeated, since my notes indicate that at some unknown point Jill and Kaylee also got excited about a bunch of male diners during a lunch in Broome. This led to a long discussion about their role in life, given that all of them had biceps, each one of which, had roughly the same muscle mass that both Roger or I possessed in our entire bodies. Not being able to decide on whether they were oil rig workers, male prostitutes, gym owners or some other paragon of the male species, I was forced to go and ask, and explain the source of the interest, much to the embarrassment of our female dining companions.

Sadly it seems that Roger and I were and, presumably remain, a very poor second in the muscle and machismo race

Full Sets of images here:

Whale Song Cafe/Pender Bay

Lombardini

Gambaram

 

 

 

 

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 22 – James Price Point)

From Broome we head north up the Dampier Peninsula to Cape Leveque. First stop is James Price Point, famous for Woodside’s proposal to build a completely unnecessary gas terminal that would destroy both one of the most magnificent parts of the Australian coast and a plethora of important Aboriginal sites and dreaming (about the JPP conflict).

The Moon and its Phantom
The Moon and its Phantom
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James Price Point, cliffs, backing dunes and beach

It is difficult to describe the hard beauty of JPP. This is not a soft place. The blood red sand cliffs dip to a beach of red/brown sand and miles of rocks stretching out to sea. There are three other camps on the cliffs above the beach but otherwise the seascape stretches for miles apparently devoid of human life or footprints. The colour of the cliffs and beach backed by the green of the coastal plants and the backdrop of blue sky makes JPP the sort of dramatically spiritual vista that is rarely encountered. For us it is doubly special because we arrive on the full moon which, of course, rises as the sun is setting and, as it rises, turns the the landscape into a different sort of wonderland.

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James Price Sunset
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JPP Campsite
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Beach and rock pools at Sunset JPP

 

We spend our afternoon and early evening wandering the beach, dunes and fronting rock pools which are battered incessantly by wall of white driven by a westerly wind. It’s hard to imagine a place more evocative of its long and continuing Aboriginal occupation.

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James Price Point
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Lunch JPP

Our night at JPP is someone disturbed by a howling gale which whips around the tents making every available bit of canvas moan like a witch at a séance. We all have a disturbed night that is not helped by the full super-moon.

 

Morning at JPP arrives with no respite from the wind but no one cares given the scenery. All the chairs have collapsed into the fire pit that allows Kaylee to enjoy her moment of hubris since she insisted on my putting the fire out last night despite my observation that there was nothing flammable within 20 metres…apart from the chairs of course. As with all famous events in history this example of my wilful obstinacy will no doubt be repeated at every public event until the second coming.

Our main obstacle to relaxation in the morning is that any item including every chair, the stove, drinking utensils and every other moveable object decides to have a mind of its own and seek to escape from captivity. Nothing is safe from the wind.

On the plus side we are all witness to famous plastic bag escape during which, tea in hand, Jill attempts to re-capture an errant bag and avoid it entering the ocean and thus killing a passing dolphin.

For those who don’t know Jill this exercise involves a very short human moving erratically in a half crouch, one eye on her tea and the other on the bag. The state of the morning’s first cup of tea and ensuring it is hot, full and of appropriate strength is a mission more important than the search for the Holy Grail. In fact it is the modern day equivalent of the Holy Grail. No mission since the search for Bin Laden has taken on greater urgency than a good cup of early morning tea.

Megan and Jill hunt for tea

The difficulty in the plastic bag pursuit is that as the bag changes course, the terrain underfoot alters and so the risk of unacceptable tea loss escalates. It is unclear if Jill is more concerned about the imminent plastic bag death of the last living James Price Point dolphin or potential loss of a mouthful of tea. The terrain situation is compounded by the need to alter posture to grab the bag at the critical moment. This difficult manoeuvre occurs about five times since, just as the final lunge is about to occur, the bag moves on and/or the tea lurches unacceptably such that the bag grab must be aborted. Were Jill a low flying aircraft, all on board would be dead.

 

Despite the attractions of staying longer at JPP we must move on as we have trips booked further up the line. There is a long drive ahead but fortunately the howling wind leavens our drive by prompting the telling of the The Black Hole story; this is a true story that begs no embellishment. Principally it involves a baby cot masquerading as a pre-ironing clean laundry store but which is actually a black worm hole in space which starts in Kaylee’s laundry. Clothes travel down this wormhole never to be seen again; a Hills Hoist masquerading as a implement for drying clothes but is actually a feeding facility for sheep; clothes pegs masquerading as instruments with which to attach clothes to the Hills Hoist but which are actually secret agents for the sheep and, finally, a bag of single socks which, having escaped being eaten by sheep, end in the Black Hole where they live a long but single life.

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Kaylee with sock-searcher looking for escaping socks

One of the principal faults in Kaylee’s upbringing is that her Mother failed to teach her how to peg clothes on the washing line. As a result clothes are pegged haphazardly, some with no pegs and some with only one. On windy days (such as that at JPP- hence the connection) the socks seek to escape their fate of ending in the Black Hole by using the wind to escape over the neighbouring fence/border.

These escapes over the fence/border leave a large number of orphaned socks which are then captured by Kaylee and imprisoned in the Black Hole. Anything imprisoned in this black hole is at risk of never ever being seen again. Meanwhile the escaping socks some are eaten by Death Cult sheep in the neighbouring paddock since, unbeknownst to them, the clothes line doubles as a mechanism for feeding sheep. Periodically Kaylee, being a compassionate person, rescues a few of the socks from the Black Hole and attempts to reunite them with their relatives – unfortunately unbeknownst to her most have perished at the hands of the Death Cult Sheep.

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Hills Hoist with sock guardian
Killer sheep
Killer Sheep

This story serves no useful purpose other than to amuse people in long motor vehicle trips and as a moral about hanging out clothes properly. It also serves to annoy and frustrate Kaylee through its frequent re-telling and allows anyone to point out that you can use any useless story as an analogy for refugee/terror threats.

 

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

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

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Our final evening at Munurru is a cool, still, starlit night and we sit around the fire tracking stars and planets. It is perfectly peaceful. By nine bed time approaches and I go to get my toothbrush. My companions are not happy as the ambience of the campfire-lit night is shattered by the electric whirring of my brush. To the others this is further evidence of my lack of sincerity about travelling light since I also require a charger and an inverter to keep my dental hygiene up to scratch. The sound of the toothbrush adds insult to injury since the inverter itself has a noisy fan and I chose to charge my toothbrush during lunch. From their perspective I have now destroyed both a pleasant lunch and evening.

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We start to pull the tents down. One again the zip will not close. The zip on the rear tent has malfunctioned due to excessive dirt in the zip. The subsequent use of excessive force to close it appears to have deformed several of the zip bits. I have been advocating WD40 for several days as the solution since, as everyone knows, WD40 fixes almost any problem. In the absence of WD40, cable ties or fencing wire will do. Or duct tape. Roger however is dubious. He believes that the presence of WD40 will only attract more dust, which of course it will. But more WD40 will fix that as I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction on many previous occasions. Too little lubrication? More WD40. Too much lubrication? More WD40 as this will attract dust and fix the over-lubrication. Any idiot knows that. But Roger has resisted and we still have no WD40.

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Meanwhile our neighbours, who are a large party with four vehicles, have a mechanical problem of indeterminate nature. It requires a bloke conference to fix it and the numbers progressively grow. It’s a form of mens’ shed but without the shed. Initially there are just two blokes examining the thingymajig or the howsyourfather…whatever it is that is broken. Within five minutes there are four blokes and by the time ten minutes have passed there are 6 blokes discussing the issue. Blokes have started to arrive from neighbouring sites and there are even two women standing nearby marveling at the DIY miracle that is a bloke(s) and a howsyourfather.

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

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

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

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The final task as always is the Magic Pudding. Roger and Jill have decided to pack their entire worldly possessions into a conventional blue suitcase. Apart from the fact that it is bulky and unwieldy, it has to contain about ten times as many clothes and other items as it was designed to take. The time taken to pack the magic pudding is about the same as an orbit of pluto around the sun. Kaylee and I can take a half day bush-walk, eat breakfast, scratch all required body parts and say more hail marys than the Pope at Mass by the time the Magic Pudding is packed and loaded.

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

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

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

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

 

He wants me to just get a wrench and simply hijack Jaques tyre. Jaques doesn’t understand the culture he tells me. He starts gesticulating, telling Jaques if he doesn’t help it will rain and he will get bogged. We are in a conundrum where Alex cannot 019-IMG_1327possibly under stand Jaques attachment to his spare tyre and thinks he can resolve the situation by persuading me to take direct action. I work on Jaques. He is about to concede when he notices that the front passenger tyre is also half flat.

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“C’est impossible…” he tells me. I spring into mid-east shuttle diplomacy mode, telling Alex, on the one hand, to stop humbugging me. It’s not me he needs to persuade. With Jaques I am in cultural interpreter mode, explaining that “C’est toujours comme ça…” I try to explain that by the standards of many Aboriginal communities Alex’s vehicle is a Rolls Royce…”virtually new..” By now Alex’s sons have out the compressor and are blowing up the half-deflated tyre.

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Meanwhile Alex is demanding to know why we went to Mitchell Plateau and didn’t visit Kulumburu. I tell him that I heard the blackfellas up that way were too dangerous and that we were a little scared. I tell him I worked with Aboriginal people in Darwin and they warned me about people from Kulumburu. This manages to divert Alex from harassing me and Jaques and he starts explaining to his sons that I worked with Blackfellas and this explains why he can’t humbug me.

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Jaques meanwhile has his ear to the newly pumped up tyre. He cannot hear any more hissing. We are on the cusp of victory. Finally he gets out the key to the spare and we are under way. Within 2 minutes the sons have on the car and we are away, Jaques leading the way. But a few minutes of eating dust and Alex and Sons decide to overtake. Within minutes they are out of sight. We plod along in Jaques wake who has told me he is convinced that Australians are “fou” (mad) for driving so fast on dirt roads. It’s why they get so many punctures he says. At this point my French runs out as we try and debate concepts such as corrugations and principles of speed versus comfort.

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We round a corner. Alex and Sons are stopped. The bonnet’s driver side rear attachment has fractured and the bonnet has broken the baling twine and flown off. It is completely detached with the exception of the passenger side attachment and the hydraulic arm on the drivers side. When we arrive it is precariously perched on the vehicle, but we cannot get it back into position because the pressure from the hydraulic arm prevents us pushing it back. At this point Jaques gets into the swing of things and suggests removing the hydraulic arm so we can push it back. The bonnet clicks satisfyingly into position. We are off again.

Finally we arrive in Drysdale. But Alex and Sons seem disinterested in giving back Jaques his tyre. I ask Jaques if he is “pressé” (in a hurry). He says he is. I go to Alex and tell him Jaques and Brigitte are in a hurry. I explain they are on Whitefella time. Time is money. Alex shouts at his boys and they spring into action. We go for lunch. But fifteen minutes later Jaques and Brigitte who are supposed to be lunching with us have still not reappeared.

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I go to check. They boys have got diverted in stripping another deceased landcruiser that belongs to another son. I have to remonstrate with Alex and remind him that the others are in a hurry. He seems to have forgotten and another set of instructions are issued. Within a couple of minutes all is fixed. So it goes.

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

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My final note for this blog records that Kaylee was provocative on Sunday 28th. But there is no supporting information, so one can only surmise who was being provoked and why. Since it was Roger who stated that Kaylee was being provocative and in keeping with the traditional deterioration in relationships between travelling companions, it’s likely that Kaylee was making some pertinent and accurate comment on either Roger or Jill’s proclivities, such as Roger’s desire to spend his entire rest day grovelling under vehicles attaching additional bits of fencing wire and cable ties. No rest for those with OCD.

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

From Purnululu we head for Kununurra which will be our next rest day after Katherine. Our first stop, for fuel and refreshments is Warmun (formerly Turkey Creek). Here we meet, John, another intrepid cyclist. He is from New Zealand and is en route from Darwin to Perth. His wife has abandoned him for the trip as she considers his passion for riding long distances over main roads to be something only explicable in the average asylum.

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His two main loads are 30 litres of water and a bird book the size of the average car fridge. He expects to be in Broome, some 700 kilometres away, in two weeks. His trip has been a positive experience with passing motorists offering, water, lifts, tea and cake. He notes that women are much more positive about his trip than men, with the women offering praise and enthusiasm and the men offering assessments of his sanity. John suggests that men feel that their masculinity is threatened because they are cruising comfortably in four-wheel drives, so they feel compelled to belittle his achievement.

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The scenery as we travel east is a mixture of spinifex plains and low mountain ranges topped by escarpments. The Goddess of Weird Excitability at Very Small Things Indeed (GoWEaVSTI) is agog. If we still used cellulose film instead of digital there would scarcely be enough cellulose to sate her enthusiasm. As we broach a rise in the road a low range of hills appears as a pimple in the distance. It is surely topped by a very nice escarpment! “Stop, the GoEaVSTI urges us, “scarcely a more glorious range of hills has ever been seen, it must be photographed immediately”

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

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

Unfortunately the lakeside site which we should have had is denied us when Roger appears unable to choose between a beautiful, green lakeside side with views of sunsets, birds, water and numerous other upmarket facilities and a dusty, non-lakeside site, with no views, directly on the toilet block and hence passed by several dozen visitors each five minutes. As an added bonus we are mere feet from the kiddies playground which, I should add, does not change my view on involuntary euthanasia for noisy children.

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Forced by Roger to consult and achieve consensus over such a difficult choice we find ourselves gazumped by the next arrivals, who for some reason, unlike Roger, are able to see, on the map, that the site indicated as being by the lake is, indeed, by the lake. Our camp plot is lost. Some compensation is achieved by the fact that we are adjacent to a very pleasant family from Macedon, Victoria, called the Royals. The Royals pass us important and confidential information about destinations which are, of course, not available to other tourists. This includes secret information such as the most popular camping spots around Wyndham.

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

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

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While the car is being fixed I retreat to the library. It is a beautiful new library and I am apparently funding its entire construction costs in the amount I am paying for access to the internet. At least it is a good investment since I am able to respond to my tax accountant about some questions he has about my tax return. He is unconvinced that by using the local coffee shop in Byron for work, I can charge all my 365 morning coffees against my tax.

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We replenish our food and alcohol supplies. Licensing rules in Kununurra limit us to one bottle of spirits per person, so we need three separate purchases. The most important additional purchase, over and above the gin and tonic, is a bottle of Baileys to add to the morning espresso. For the uninitiated this is an essential component of camping trips which I discovered on freezing cold climbing trips in Joshua Tree and Red Rocks in the US. When you get up, sit in a chair facing east, in your sleeping bag and watch the sunrise while drinking coffee and Baileys. Apart from being a perfect day-starter, it has the added advantage of relaxing one enough that one’s climbing techniques improve considerably. On this trip it improves ones dexterity while climbing on the vehicle to put the tents away.

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A part of our alcohol allocation permits the purchase of six bottles of apple cider for Jill, who promptly gets drunk on one bottle. Jill observes that alcohol does not really agree with her. Jill’s tendency to be a cheap drunk has a very problematic downside on the morning that we leave Kununurra, when Kaylee and I are outraged to discover that she has given away the rest of our communal bottles of cider because she can’t cope with the entirely predictable side-effects.

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

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

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Saturday morning sees Kaylee and I go kayaking on Lake Kununurra. My paddling technique is somewhat limited since I managed to put my back out due to Roger’s night-time movement, but it’s an easy and short paddle surrounded by a plethora of water birds. It is one of the bizarre eccentricities of bad backs that you can spend three weeks walking, lifting heavy boxes, climbing on vehicles, crawling under vehicles etc with no ill effects. On the other hand one tiny movement, with no apparent stress, and ones back decides to pack it in for three days. I am consoled by the thought of cooked breakfast at the Mango Tree.

57-IMG_1080While Kaylee and I are breakfasting, Roger does the shopping. This later proves problematic since, according to Jill, Roger is foolish enough to actually follow the shopping list. Jill’s technique, according to her own words is to waste a considerable amount of time writing a detailed list of requirement and then completely ignore it.

You then go shopping randomly adding anything you feel like and increasing or decreasing the shopping list accordingly. To quote, “I10-IMG_1033 just add at least a third more things to any list to ensure we have enough.” The logic of writing a list seems to have passed Jill by. After our breakfast I visit the chemist to replenish my reading and sunglass supply. I have a reading glass consumption rate of about 2 pairs per month and, regrettably no amount of efficiency efforts have managed to reduce that.

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

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We are now officially on the way down the Gibb River Road which branches off from the road to Wyndham. But first we plan a quick detour to Wyndham. It is one of those towns on which one gets mixed reports. But like Halls Creek it’s sum is greater than its parts. Many of the alleged attractions of the town are closed, such as Look Sea Fishing Charters, the crocodile farm, the botanic gardens, the Lee Tong’s Oriental Grocer, the video store and the war memorial gardens. The town is also a tad overwhelmed by a constant stream of road trains carrying ore from the nearby mine.

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Having had a poke around the town we stop for afternoon tea at the Rusty Shed, where, as with virtually ever other place we have visited, we are served by a French woman on a working holiday. It seems our hospitality industry is sustained by visitors on long-term holidays. We meet Fred there who recounts his life history as a emigre from the Netherlands and a long-term resident of Wyndham. Fred is fascinating and has strong links with the Aboriginal community. His father was part of the resistance during World War 2. He recounts the difficulties of surviving the war with virtually no food and getting arrested for cutting down trees for firewood.

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

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

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Leaving the Five Rivers Lookout we pick up fuel and head out down the road to the Gibb turnoff. En route we stop to photograph the “boot tree”, which appears to be a random tree into which passing motorists have thrown their worn out boots. It is at the top of the hill on the other side of double white lines. I insist we stop to get a photograph of this phenomenon and my insistence persuades Roger, just short of the crest of hill, to swerve at high speed across the double white lines in order to meet my request. Mission accomplished, Roger is advised by Jill that crossing a double white line at speed is risky and out of character and that he has been in my company for too long.        55-IMG_1078

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