Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 3) The Franklin Campaign: The Leaker – they came in the Dead of Night.

THIS IS NOT A HISTORICAL RECORD. AS PER TRUMPIAN LOGIC, NO APOLOGIES MADE FOR ERRORS, EXAGGERATION, OMISSIONS, BAD TASTE OR MISREPRESENTATIONS.

The call came from Canberra. I’d spent a year there as “National Liaison Officer” (NLO) for the Wilderness Society (TWS). A grand title but little else. I had been lobbying politicians and the media to act and write about the proposed Gordon-below-Franklin dam which, if built, would destroy the essence of the free-flowing Franklin River in south-west Tasmania.

But at the end of 1982 I’d been summoned by the cadres-that-be back to Tasmania to work on the Franklin Blockade. It was all hands on deck. The basic formula in TWS was this:

Take a completely inexperienced 20 something year old. Don’t just throw them to the lions but first make sure the lions are in a den of iniquity (eg Parliament House, Canberra). The goal you give them should be somewhere past the lions, over a bed of nails and a few burning coals.

Then make sure your chosen one comes un-armed and ill-equipped except, perhaps, with an unjustifiable over-estimation of their own abilities and worth. If they survive that experience then they probably have some worth to the organisation. Hence my summons.

Bob Burton, Vince Mahon, Karen Alexander, Tyndall Ranges
The cadres hard at work deciding who to order to where (L to R: Bob Burton, Vince Mahon, Karen Alexander). Some might argue that the level of organisation of the camp site reflects that in the Wilderness Society

But Canberra followed me to Hobart. The Leaker, called.

The voice on the line said “I have the Attorney-General’s opinion on the Federal Government’s responsibility, under the World Heritage Convention, towards South-west Tasmania and the Franklin River”.

This was, if we could organise it without the source losing their job, the smoking gun. A national story. A critical source of pressure on the Federal Government. The opinion was clear. The Commonwealth had an obligation, under the treaty it had signed, to protect world heritage. It could intervene to prevent the Franklin River dam being constructed.

This was an opinion and a document that, unlike the Loch Ness Monster, we knew existed but which, like the Loch Ness Monster, no one had ever proven to exist. The Government’s attitude was like the three wise monkeys. What opinion? See no evil, hear no evil and say nothing.

Loch Ness Monster
What Loch Ness Monster?

This was one of the most important outcomes of the year I’d spent in Canberra cultivating contacts and building relationships.

The source was clear, I needed to organise this, immediately and according to their instructions. It had to be done in secrecy. The journalists we were to use had to be completely trustworthy with no risk of the sources being revealed. It was on a need to know basis. Only a couple of people in the Wilderness Society were to be involved.

It was some compensation for my year of living ignominiously in Canberra. I was Mr “No, sorry, the Minister/the bureaucrat/the MP can’t see you.”

Robert the Bruce had nothing on me. The famous Robert took seven goes before he defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. Smiting the English was nothing on getting a meeting with a politician who didn’t want to know. Paul Keating took me eleven phone calls and several informal meetings with his staffers before I bagged my target.

Loosely, you can describe this job as follows: Ask some 26 year old smart arse who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows nothing, to give up his (paid), but extremely tedious, job working on the Examiner Newspaper, in Launceston.

2017-12-11_1429
Sending smart arse 26 year olds to Canberra; hubris always works well (source: Cartoonstock)

There, demonstrating overweening hubris, he feels frustrated because he thinks he should go from cadet journalist to senior investigative journalist in six months; reporting on country football is well below him. Offer him the opportunity to go to Canberra and live on the dole and an expenses stipend. Persuade him that, there, he will change the world. It would not appear to be the dream job. No office, no salary, no accomodation, no prospects and no friends.

 

When you are operating at this level of investigate journalism then almost anything looks good

Nevertheless at first sight this seems attractive. How many 26 year-olds are asked by a nationally known, and much loved, figure to take an apparently important national position and move to the national capital.  There, single handed, they will persuade the nation’s Government to reverse its long held position that the Franklin is a brown leech-ridden ditch which, more importantly, the Government believes, will not change a single vote.

In reality the job is to be the champion of, apparently, lost causes.

The role (because one could scarcely call it a job), for no salary, is to daily humiliate yourself before two groups of people, politicians and journalists, who, largely, don’t care about what you are asking, offering or telling. On the whole they think you are an annoying irrelevancy selling an irrelevant annoyance.

The cause you are championing, to protect, a small river, in a small state, at the arse end of the world, where it is cold, wet and miserable, 250 days of the year, is worth less than a politician’s promise.

Besides, there are virtually no voters living there and certainly none that are not so stupid that they can’t be persuaded that giving away free electricity to multinational companies is more important than some latter-day pseudo scientific concept of wilderness. And weren’t the blackfellas there first, anyway? So how can it be wilderness?

But you go, anyway. And very quickly learn the difference between big fishes in small ponds vs little fishes and large ponds.

There were exceptions to the rule about lack of political interest. Michael Hodgman, scion of a famous Tasmanian family. Now, while not wanting to speak ill of the dead, one has to say that Hodgman, who was the Minister for Tasmania, when such things existed in the Liberal Government, was one of the biggest media harlots of all time.

Hodgeman opens ACT office copy

Invite him to open a used septic tank and he’d come if it guaranteed publicity. He was pro-dam and widely detested but we invited him to open our new office and shop in the Monaro Mall, Canberra. He couldn’t refuse. This led to two things (1) good publicity in the Canberra Times and other papers and (2) widespread condemnation from colleagues as champion hypocrites (guilty!!).

The most difficult target of all, at least on the Labor side, was Paul Keating, the Shadow Treasurer.

Now Keating couldn’t give a rat’s arse for wilderness or the environment generally. If it didn’t walk, talk, vote and earn money then the Keating political radar couldn’t detect it. And if you were from (a) Tasmania (b) lobbying for an environmental cause you had less reason to attract his attention than a cockroach.

Cockroaches at least needed exterminating so someone could earn money from carrying out that extermination and that which was good for the economy. And the economy, to be clear, was, apart from antique clocks, the only thing on his radar.

After eleven phone calls and meetings with his minions, I finally organised a meeting to talk, I naively thought, about the economics, or lack of them, of constructing the Franklin River Dam and supplying its power to a small number of energy intensive, capital intensive and job-poor multinationals.

We met in King’s Hall, in the old Parliament House. It was to be an impromptu stand-up meeting. I was given five minutes to make my case. It was late 1982. I forget the date. But I remember the meeting well and the timing. I arrived at the scheduled time. Keating and minders arrived ten minutes late. He was en-route to another meeting. I introduced myself. No response, just silence for two seconds. “I, um, wanted to talk about the Franklin Dam…”.

Kings Hall, OPH
Kings Hall, old Parliament House. Ideal for the odd random meeting with the Shadow Treasurer

That was it. Keating started. Those fucking Tasmanians. They were a bunch of fuck-wits. There were worse terms. They were nobodies, knew nothing. It was a diatribe that lasted about fifteen to twenty seconds. Keating’s description of Tasmanians was not pretty and, I sense, much of his language was not generally heard in the Queen’s salons (see the collected insults of Paul Keating)

As for me? Well I got just enough time, after he’d finished, to advise him that the Franklin Dam made no economic sense before one of his minders intervened to advise he was already late for his next meeting. That was it.

But back to the Leaker. The terms were clear. The document could be removed from the office but it had to be done late at night. It could be out of the office for no more than two to three hours and had to be returned before first light in the morning. No more than two TWS people to be involved and a maximum of two trusted journalists.

The journalists could not keep the document but could only view it and make notes. And they could not name the source. They were to ensure that the relevant department was not named in the article. And it had to be done within the week. It was Monday October 4th . I made some very cryptic phone calls telling people I had something they wanted but they couldn’t know what it was or where it came from.

They were to meet me the following day for a briefing. I flew to Canberra the next morning. On October 6th, I met with the chosen journalists and one person from the Wilderness Society to brief them.

 

Meetings in the dead of night (L to R: Jennie Whinam, Crispin Hull, Simon Balderstone). Images: Russ Bauer (L), Others unknown.

On the night of October 7th, 1982, we met Crispin Hull from the Canberra Times and Simon Balderstone from the Age, in the offices of the Canberra Times. It was 4 am. Jennie Whinam from the Canberra branch of the Wilderness Society accompanied me. The fifth person was the leaker.

The journalists had 30 minutes to read the A.G.’s opinion and make whatever notes they needed. It was then to be spirited away. The stories in the Age and Canberra Times were to be published two days later, on Saturday October 9th. Crispin Hull and Simon Balderstone had a maximum of a day and a half to seek comment, do further research and write their stories.

At 5 am, the Leaker left the office to return the document. By 5.30 it was safely back in the office and locked away. I flew back to Hobart later than morning. Two days later the stories were on the front page of both papers. The shit hit the proverbial fan. But despite an intensive witch hunt within the Government the culprit was never found. Job done.

Previous Episodes in this series:

Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 1) :The Coronation Hill Campaign (Kakadu) Beating BHP with Bravado and Blue Tarps

Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 2): The Franklin The Law of the Land and other Legends in their own Lunchtimes

Images from these campaigns: Campaigns and Direct Actions

Environmental Anecdotes (Episode 1) Beating BHP with Bravado and Blue Tarps


The historical information in this blog is accurate so far as I can recall. However others are welcome to add comment which correct any factual inaccuracies and the blog will be updated as people do this.


February 13, 1988. BHP’s team had been drilling at Coronation Hill near Kakadu for months. More than enough time for us to carefully prepare to confront the crew from the Big Australian, as it was then known. In 1982 the preparation for the Franklin River blockade had taken months, with hundreds being trained in non-violent protest, with offices and communications plans carefully laid.

But in the NT, we didn’t do things like that. No, the plan was laid a couple of days before over a cafe latte and a bowl of pasta at the Roma Bar which was, then, the only place in the NT where, mythology had it, you could get a decent flat white. It was also the meeting place for all things ‘left’ in the NT.

Here with a single good bomb you could have wiped out most the NT Labor Party (if you could call it left), most of the leftie-stirrers from the Northern Land Council (NLC), every progressive lawyer in Darwin and anyone else with pretensions to undermining civilisation as the NT Government, the miners and the pastoralists saw it.

“What’ja doin’ next week?”. The question forced out through a mouthful of good Italian pasta and parmigiana was, it turned out, a leading one. No invitation to a good party or a day at the beach. Or this remains the legend of how this blockade was planned by a few of us.

No the invitation was to appropriate a leased NLC vehicle, obtain an access permit from the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Authority, with the consent of traditional custodians, chuck in a couple of blue tarps and swags, an esky with enough food and drink for a week and rack off to Coronation Hill, which lay in the middle of the proposed Stage 3 of Kakadu National Park.

Kakadu is one of Australia’s best known and important national parks. For many years Governments had been promising to incorporate a third stage into the park, the areas comprising the old Gimbat and Goodparla pastoral stations. This would protect the headwaters of the South Alligator River and the famous Yellow Waters.

The discovery of gold, platinum and palladium in the old uranium mining areas of the South Alligator River Valley had started the Commonwealth Government backtracking. The Wilderness Society, ECNT and other organisations had been campaigning to ensure that the Commonwealth Government kept its promise.

The Wilderness Society had recently obtained a legal opinion written by barrister, Tim Robertson and fortified by that and a few beers later that day, the idea of occupying BHP’s drill rig was agreed.

Coronation Hill Permit
The permit from the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Authority to enter onto the South Alligator Bula Complex.

The plan was to…well…go the exploration area. We had no plan about what we would do, no idea how many people BHP had working there, what their reaction would be, how long we might have to stay. There was no plan B in case of illness, violence or police arrest. It was the ultimate fly by the seat of your pants action.

In fact you could say…strategy preparation: nil. Planning for potential confrontation and violence in an isolated area, 150 kilometres from the nearest help? Don’t you worry about that. Communications strategy?..nope. Breakdown or injury? She’ll be right. Arrest potential and strategy? WTF. Exit strategy? What? But we were well armed with hubris and over-confidence.

Coronation Hill Age article
Government announces plans to “legitimise” BHP’s right to be at Coronation Hill (in effect stating their doubt about existing rights)

At this stage there were two of us, Richard Ledgar and me who had agreed to go. Not sufficient for our major intervention. We carefully fished around for a third person, making certain that we didn’t know them or anything about them, just to be certain that we could increase the margin for error as much as possible. We found Scott Wootten who agreed to accompany us on our meticulously well planned confrontation with what was then Australia’s largest company.

Ranger water
The NT Government had a fairly blasé attitude towards Aboriginal health and welfare (cartoon, Michael Pickering)

Richard and I knew each other well but we’d only just met Scott. So there was clearly no risk, under stress, for internal tension between the three of us. Our only contact with the outside world, was two way radio, powered by car battery. In the event of that failing, we planned to resort to carrier pigeon.

So, backed by the Wilderness Society (TWS) and fortified with local support from the NT Environment Centre (ECNT), the moral backing of the traditional custodians and sanctified with the legal opinion provided to TWS, which said that the drilling at Coronation Hill was illegal, off we went into the night.

Late on the 13th a white land cruiser, with our team of three, approached the first locked gate on the road on the road to Coronation Hill. The least organised, most impromptu and most poorly resourced “blockade” in Australian history was about to start.

rotated_Michael Pickering Cartoon - Eyes of their whites
The Government’s view of the land councils was that the problem was just the white advisors of the Central and Northern Land Council (CLC, NLC) and without them the traditional owners would be compliant (cartoon Michael Pickering)

We were armed with our permit from senior Jawoyn traditional owner, Peter Jatbula, and keys which allowed us access to Coronation Hill an area designated  a sacred site by the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Protection Authority. Other than that we had no right of entry and had to pass through several locked gates. The keys we had – issued as part of the Aboriginal permit, would open some, but for the rest our key was a bolt cutter.

Our legal opinion written by Wilderness Society legal counsel advised that the renewal of the mining exploration lease at Coronation was invalid as it had been incorrectly renewed. This was to be brandished at the unknown number of BHP workers, a bit like a wooden stake or cross at a vampire in the absolute knowledge that they would instantly admit defeat and pack up and leave.

Chris Harris, Richard Ledgar, Scott
How the NT News (Darwin’s newspaper) saw the Coronation Hill occupation

We planned to occupy BHPs rig and other equipment to highlight the illegality of the lease, to denounce the proposed gold mine in what had been promised by the Hawke Government as Kakadu National Park’s 3rd stage, and to condemn the desecration of Jawoyn sacred sites.

We had food for a week and expected to be arrested within a couple of days; we hoped the occupation and our arrest wouldlead to national media coverage on mining in and around Kakadu, an issue that had already been highly controversial and frequently covered by the mass media, and thus force the Government’s hand.

Our only means of communication with the outside world was via VJY, which was a short wave radio network which provided communications between remote areas in the territory. In the event of accident or any conflict with BHP staff we were more than 150 kilometres from any friendly assistance from comrades in Darwin.

Members of the Federal Government appointed Resource Assessment Commission visit Coronation Hill to inspect and report back to the Government

Just on dusk we passed through the final gate onto Coronation Hill itself, which we unlocked with our special key obtained from the hardware store. No illegal BHP chain shall go uncut!!

The proposed gold mine was the site of an old uranium mine and was part of what the Jawoyn traditional owners saw as “sickness country”. The boundaries of sickness country coincided almost exactly with the areas which had produced uranium deposits and had been mined subsequently.

Traditionally Bula, the spirit that inhabited this area, would create sickness if disturbed and this was one reason that local Aborigines were so opposed to further mining.

The drill site was quiet, with no security and no BHP employees present; everyone had knocked off for the night and were down at the main camp about 100 metres away. We did a quick recce and then set up camp just above the drill site and next to the front end loader. Camp was simply the vehicle, a tarpaulin, fridge and basic supplies, plus three swags and the radio. Satisfied that no one know we were there we turned in for the night.

Coronation Hill occupation
Occupying the drill rig while the BHP crew wait for us to make a mistake.

It was a dawn call in the morning as we were uncertain what the movements of the workers on site would be, but we were certain that they wouldn’t be offering us café latté from their BHP funded espresso machine.

We occupied the drill rig and then went to find the employees. In essence BHP had two pieces of equipment essential to their operations, the drill rig and a loader/backhoe. Due to our careful strategic planning we had just sufficient blockaders to occupy both and have a spare person to guard our camp, radio and to prepare food.

Neither machine could be left unattended at any time, so we could only change shifts when there were no BHP staff present. This left us all plenty of time to relax comfortably in the tropical sun with nothing to do and no one to talk to for hours on end, as clearly envisaged in our strategy.

We arrived in their camp and presented them with the legal opinion and a media release, as well as a notice stating that they were in illegal occupation of a sacred site and therefore liable to prosecution. All this was done with some degree of trepidation. Paranoia told us that had they so chosen the workers could have quietly murdered us, disposed of our bodies in some old mine shaft and then denied all knowledge of our arrival.

They were requested to cease operations and leave the area. The employees were clearly gob-smacked and didn’t know what action they should take. They returned to the accommodation area to discuss the unforeseen arrivals.

BHP coronation hill advert 10-3-1989
A story about BHP’s infamous advert posing the “it’s the platinum and palladium or the Pig-nose turtle” question

As it turned out in the long-run, we might just as well have pierced their entire operation with the metaphorical vampire stake since the legal opinion and the subsequent publicity that the occupation generated led directly to the abandonment of the entire mining proposal.

We returned to the drill pad and called the Environment Centre NT (ECNT)  to update them and give the go-ahead for the first media release. This set of a storm of action at our media centre under our blue tarp with numerous calls from national and local media. The media centre consisted of a portable radio and battery extracted from the NLC vehicle.

The use of the NLC vehicle and radio was another stroke of brilliant planning.  From the point of view of the NT Government, which behaved as if the proposed Coronation Hill mine was the only thing saving the NT from the next great depression, this implicated the NLC.

Monsoon forest at the creeks on the way to Coronation Hill

To the NT Government the NLC (which was the regional representative organisation of the traditional owners) was the Great Satan which continued to seduce the naive Traditional Owners from their rightful path – a path which would lead them to untold mining riches and, of course, more wealth for their white brethren.

So our use of NLC equipment, even though it was leased to Richard and technically entirely under his control, was a gift to the government. The end result being that a week later, on our exit from Coronation Hill, he lost his consultancy contract with the NLC. In our brilliance and careful planning we failed to foresee something so bleeding obvious.

But, ironically, it was our almost entirely non-existent media strategy and threadbare equipment that proved our greatest strength. Every broadcast over VJY, which is an open radio network, every media interview and every communication with our comrades in Darwin were monitored by anyone caring to listen including the Commonwealth and NT Governments, the NLC, the media, BHP and, no doubt, the intelligence services, among others. Normally one might think this a great disadvantage but it proved to be the opposite.

BHP’s chosen strategy was to intimidate us with their presence and sheer numbers. So whenever we called anyone or anyone called us, they would crowd around the radio to listen in thinking this would prevent us being able to talk for fear of communicating our deadly and secret strategies.

We quickly realised it had the opposite effect because we could bullshit away about how great our media coverage had been, or how the NT Government couldn’t intervene because it was Federal Government land and how the Federal Government had received legal advice that we were right about the leases having been incorrectly granted. For the BHP staff, listening in, it was quite demoralising.

To our support crew back in Darwin we’d tell them of our plans to stay as long as necessary, despite having no clue about how we could possibly do that since, after a week, we’d be reduced to three rice crackers between us; leaving aside the likelihood that we’d either die or heatstroke or boredom or both.

Our greatest satisfaction was knowing that our small effort at preserving Kakadu was being broadcast to the world to the world at remarkably regular intervals via a string of calls from national and regional broadcasters.

This included one ABC reporter who greeted us one day with “How is it going, Comrades?” completely unaware that every right wing philistine who thought the ABC was a nest of communist vipers was listening, and that his comment simply reinforced their prevailing views about the ABC.

Apart from this we resorted for entertainment to a range of unorthodox recreation. Among those, for me, was sitting up on the drill rig trying to learn to whistle effectively. I sat there inserting my fingers into my mouth at various different angles for a couple of days while various siffling and snuffling sounds emerged, much to the bemusement of the gathered BHP drillers, until one day a clear high pitched whistle emerged.

For the next two days I continued to practice while both my colleagues and the drillers became increasingly annoyed at being subjected to a variety of meaningless piercing whistles for no apparent reason. But at least now I could attract attention when needed.

Aside from this and reading, there was little to do except drink tea and coffee. We were ill prepared for our week long sojourn. And of course even had there been reception in this remote area of Kakadu-to-be there were no mobiles and no computers in this epoch.

By day four a sort of somnolent truce had settled over the place but on day five the BHP management decided they needed to get rid of us. This involved variously increased efforts at harassment including verbal and physical intimidation and culminating in hiring a helicopter to hover over the camp tarpaulin in an effort to blow it down and away.

Unfortunately for them, they were unaware that I had a private pilots licence and was well aware that the pilot of the chopper was acting in breach of all aviation rules. A quick call to the ECNT, assisted by the eavesdropping of the BHP interlopers, in which I said that I planned to make a formal complaint to the aviation authorities, at which point the pilot was at risk of his or her licence and the chopper quickly disappeared.

By day seven it was reasonably clear that we had successfully stopped work and elevated the issue up the national agenda. We had done this to the degree that we were shortly thereafter invited to Canberra to discuss the issue with then Resources Minister, John Kerin. Nevertheless it was clear we were not going to achieve our recently decided goal of getting ourselves arrested and therefore further elevating the issue in the public eye.

The NT Government could not arrest us because the mining lease was on Commonwealth Land and the Australian Government, we believed, was unwilling to do so because having clearly indicated that we believed we were legally on the lease, we had also earlier declared publicly that we would prosecute for unlawful arrest if anyone tried to arrest us.

By the end of day seven we made the decision to leave, leaving only the issue of how to get out of the place. The problem being that the NLC had decided to reclaim its vehicle leaving us stranded with no transport. So we had to arrange to get picked up by our colleagues in Darwin.

In keeping with the rest of the occupation, our exit from Coronation Hill was met by yet more unplanned eventualities. As we proceeded down the road back to Darwin, travelling at our normal speed of about 110 km, I was driving David Cooper’s landcruiser when I glanced out the window to see a wheel accelerating past the passenger side window. Moments later the vehicle lurched and their was a great grinding and tearing sound.

The bolts holding the rear passenger side wheel had sheered off, leaving us stranded 150 kilometres from Darwin in the middle of the night. So ensued a trip back to Pine Creek to get a new wheel and wheel studs. A glorious end to our brilliant campaign.

Postscript: While the Coronation Hill occupation elevated the issue a step or two higher on the national agenda it took another two years of vigorous campaigning by environmental and Aboriginal organisations before the Government even reduced the size of the exploration area (which it euphemistically called the “conservation area”) and until 1991 before the Commonwealth Government stopped the exploration and included the area in Kakadu National Park.

Images from these campaigns: Campaigns and Direct Actions

 

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.

IMG_2340
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.

IMG_2343
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

 

 

 

 

 

The Generosity of Strangers in Strange Lands

It’s clear that Australians whose daily out outpouring of bile against Muslims, refugees and strangers, in general, have never experienced the generosity, warmth and welcome of strangers in strange lands. Had they done so it is hard to believe that they would behave towards people with different values, skin colours and religions as they have been doing.

My childhood homes for 16 years, from the age of 6 weeks, were all in countries where people had no reason to feel friendly towards white, blond haired, privileged and wealthy children but my experiences and that of my family were overwhelmingly positive.

One Bhuddist country, Thailand, two Muslim countries, Egypt and Iran and one Apartheid country, South Africa, all provided a welcome which puts Australia’s xenophobic, racist and cruel Government to shame and where the welcome and warmth of the citizens of those countries is in sharp contrast to the outpouring of bile by a minority of Australians.

Those experiences, of so long ago, are not isolated or historical. More recently, I have spent weeks or months in Egypt (2014), Turkey (2015), Jordan (2014). In every circumstance, both historical and recent, I have experienced no hostility, no racism or xenophobia and an overwhelming inclination from everyone to be friendly and helpful and to understand and be open to people from other cultures – and not just from those who might stand to benefit from the spending of tourists but more broadly from the person in the street. Perhaps I have been lucky but I like to think not.

Baron Enpain palace Cairo
Baron Enpain palace Cairo, 1968
John, Michael, Stratton, Chris Harris (gen 10, 11)
Cairo, 1960

We lived in Egypt between 1960 and 1965. This was just four years after the Suez Crisis when Israel, Britain and France had invaded Egypt in response to Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal.  So there we were, a British family (I was born in Britain in 1955 just before my family left for Thailand), living in a country which only four years previously had been invaded by the British armed forces. Despite this, the Egyptians were overwhelmingly welcoming. I had the same experience in 2014, during protests and repression in Tahrir Square when Egyptians would invite me to their homes for tea, despite their knowledge of Australia’s role in the Middle East and about its attitude to refugees.

Karadj Mountains Nr Tehran
Karadj Mountains Nr Tehran
Chris Harris outside Tehran house in snow
Outside Tehran house in snow

We moved to Iran between 1966 and 1969, to a country where the west, in the form of a CIA inspired coup had deposed the democratic, and popularly elected, Mossadeq Government in 1953, a mere 14 years previously and had restored the repressive Shah Reza Pahlavi to power. Despite this Iranians were welcoming and friendly.

We lived in South Africa between 1969 and 1972, at the height of apartheid, where no black or brown person had any reason to feel remotely friendly to people with white skin and yet, as a teenager, experienced no sense of hostility or racism. Compare this with the abuse of people of all ages, including teenagers in Australia, just for looking or being different

Michael and Chris SA
South Africa 1969

Compare this with the hostility to French people during the protests against nuclear testing in Mururoa – a small island 8700 kilometres distant.  As an example in Darlinghurst, Marc and Murielle Laucher, a couple with dual French-Australian citizenship, found the windows of their cafe, La Petite Creme, smeared with faeces – which was not an isolated incident.

More recently, I have been in Turkey, a country on the frontline of the hostilities in the Middle East, and which is dealing with hundreds of thousand of refugees. This is a country where an Islamic-leaning Government has encouraged a less secular society and where negotiations over many years to enter the EU have not exactly endeared many Turks to “western” oriented societies. Never mind Gallipoli and the history of conflict between the Ottomans and the west.

Yet every person from the most secular to the most religious was welcoming and friendly and there was no sense of people being prejudiced due to the alleged clash of western and islamic values. In fact the sense of a reconciliation of those values (women in bikinis and headscarfs) was far stronger than in Australia. None of this is to say that no racism exists in these other societies or that minorities in all societies don’t behave in the same way as the racist bigots in Australia but it seems less prevalent and less obvious.

There is something peculiarly obnoxious about the toxic mix of political conservatism, xenophobia, racism which is making Australia a less pleasant, less open and less welcoming society than many of consider it to be. It’s a subject about which we need a national debate. How do we combat this? How do we change the politics of fear that allows this prejudice to thrive. And what can every citizen do to assist?

 

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.

hoist
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 (Pt. 21 – Broome)

Disclaimer: My fellow travellers have indicated that they feel there is an element of hyperbole in my description of Broome. For those from Broome who feel that their town is misrepresented please bear in mind that this blog only has the accuracy of the average Murdoch rag.

 

Also Kaylee would like it known that I refused to enter the water, initially, at Cable Beach, due to stingers (according to her three harmless brown jellyfish) and she feels that this demonstrated an almost unbelievable level of wussiness. But why anyone would go in the water with stingers when there is no surf, beats me?

 

Broome provided some of the more interesting behaviour patterns by our small group of travellers.

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Our campground was about 5 kilometres out of Broome but on the main town bus run. This allowed us not only to avoid having the collapse the roof tents every time we wanted to go somewhere but also for Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill to all operate fairly independently of each other.

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It also provided one of the more interesting examples of strange behaviour. Kaylee and I went to town for shopping and coffee. I required more reading glasses, a new camera filter, new sandals and shorts as I am now on my fifth pair of reading glasses for the trip and stocks are rapidly depleting.

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We decide to go the evening showing at the local cinema and propose to meet Roger and Jill there. We call them and they tell us they are in town and are also going. So Kaylee and I jump on the bus to go back to camp to shower and get warmer clothes. On boarding, we are surprised to encounter Roger and Jill who have clearly decided to spend their entire to visit to Broome sitting on a bus, as exiting the bus involves a 1% chance of Jill encountering a sandfly. As a result they have been doing blockies of Broome by bus and are on their fifth circuit of Broome by air-conditioned bus and thus entirely sand-fly free. Jill later tells me she is allergic to sand-flies and then a single sand-fly bite could be fatal.

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Bus rides are somewhat unusual in Broome in that that the drivers can be quite eccentric. Ours not only kept up a running conversation simultaneously with all five locals that he knew on the bus but interspersed it with various pithy comments and asides about Broome such as the ‘fact’ that the only croc farm still contains four old crocs over 5 metres. He claims that they lost the occasional tourist who decided to camp in the abandoned grounds but that no one minds since it saves on croc food. It’s best not to take his bus too often however since he is, apparently, on repeat rather than shuffle.

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It’s not only the buses that are a bit off the norm in Broome. According to Jill and Roger the taxis are also unusual as they act as a de facto delivery service for pizzas, alcohol, lost dogs and any other short term need that the average punter might need at short notice in Broome. Their taxi driver’s most bizarre evening was repeated condom deliveries to one customer. It’s unclear if it was an orgy in process or if the customer and partner were using up the condoms faster than the driver could deliver them.

 

20140807_174640Something in the Broome air also seems to have gone to Roger’s head. Alternatively it is the fact that we must spend four days in town so that he can do a job interview on the following Monday. At any rate we are all seated in the kitchen when Roger arrives. Proceeding briskly to other side of the camp kitchen he faces the microwave and proceeds to commence worshipping the it. Standing directly in front he commences genuflecting, raising and lowering his head in some form of ritual, repeating the exercise on numerous occasions. The entire kitchen stops to observe. Roger later claims his phone was on charge next to the microwave and he was merely looking at the phone but we know better.

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Being marooned in Broome for four days we need to find thing to fill our days. Both Kaylee and I decide a haircut is in order. Mine takes 15 minutes and costs $20 and Kaylee’s takes 90 minutes and costs $120. It is quite min-boggling for this average male that it could conceivably take 90 minutes to cut a few strands of keratin. What is it about the female psychology that allows them to accept being ripped off by the retail industry to such an absurd extent. It occurs with hairdressing, clothes, manicures, cosmetics and a myriad other things which, if you are male, that cost a fraction of the price, than that charged to women.

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Broome is not far from the end of our trip and we are rapidly managing to destroy the majority of items that started on the trip. Aside from cups, the chairs are deteriorating, the chair covers are ripped in numerous places, the kitchen implements are now operating in separate pieces, such the potato masher that fell apart in mid-operation. The coffee perc was destroyed by Kaylee in a fit of strength and is now handle-less (resulting in numerous burns). The stove has been dropped and is an advanced state of deterioration, the aerial is in two pieces, the kitchen boxes are mostly in two or more pieces, the bonnet has dents, the tent covers have holes and zips that don’t work properly, the external light has a switch that only operates when it’s in a good mood and there are numerous burn marks in every plastic surface due to my tendency to place the coffee pot down in a hurry. We hope that Nathan has good insurance/depreciation schedule

IMG_2406Broome is, possibly, the most over-rated tourist destination on earth. It’s hot, it’s windy, it’s flat, it’s architecture is so boring the Gold Coast seems inspired. Its tourist description should be “Boring Broome, come just so that you can bugger off to somewhere more interesting”. Sure it has Cable Beach but all that has is some nice white sand. It hasn’t seen decent surf since Jesus was a boy and even in winter they have ugly brown blob jelly fish which sting you. If Jesus turned up it’d be, in Australian vernacular “Jesus, can’t you do something about this place…?”. “No, my son, your trick with the loaves and fishes was easy, this would be impossible!”

 

You can’t even get decent coffee and you need to see the bank manager before you can afford it anyway. Either than or you need a job in the average WA iron ore mine. Ditto toasted sandwiches which have the world’s highest markup. Kaylee managed to purchase two bits of white bread, a bit of highly processed ham and ditto cheese, all very lightly toasted (why waste energy?) for $10. Total cost of ingredients about 65 cents, electricity 5c, overheads 5c, labour three minutes at $20 hour = $1, total cost $1.75, mark-up $8.25. Good money if you can get it.

 

What else? Dinosaur footprints you can only see every two years when the tide is low enough. A spot of whale watching; but then whales are so common these days it’s more interesting watching the planes land at Sydney airport. 200 a day passing Byron. It’s like plane, white plane, silver plane, spy plane. Just fat things that swim up the coast.

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What can they do? Jump, flap their tales and spy hop. They need to add to their repertoire. Someone should invite the Japanese over to do some research. “Excuse me sir, why or you watching whales? Don’t you have anything interesting to do?” Or perhaps they can ask the whales since they are supposed to be so intelligent “Do you have anything interesting you can do?”. While the Japanese are about it they can do some scientific investigations of Australian politicians and see if they can find out why 95% are complete morons. It’s likely that even the whales have lost their way. When they spy hop near Broome, it’ll be “What the fuck is this place? Oh shit did you turn right when we meant to turn left, we’re supposed to be at Byron”

 

And the caravan parks? Given they have squashed 30,000 people into a town built for 10,000, you are so squashed together you can even hear your neighbour thinking.

 

Broome does, however, have one of the world’s best cinemas, called the Sun Pictures. It advertises itself as the world’s operating garden theatre. This fantastic outdoor cinema shows film as it should be; surrounded by film paraphernalia from the 1920s onwards, you sit on extraordinarily uncomfortable chairs but nothing detracts from the setting and a good cushion more than compensates for the chair discomfort. The cinema also has the rather dubious but bizarre added bonus of being right at the end of Broome runway so that, while watching some sequence of film form the 1890’s you wonder why the director has put in sound of a 737 landing until suddenly the plane appears, just skimming the cinema screen on its final approach.

 

The relationship of the cinema and planes landing does have the added amusement that Jill is probably the only person in known history to miss almost the entire film due to running outside every 20 minutes or so to try and take a picture of a plane almost landing on the cinema. While there is no evidence that the plane was white and therefore especially exciting to Jill, it can nevertheless be marked against the special Jill Everett strange behaviour catalogue that I am running.

 

In fact there is a good argument in favour of NSW, ACT and Victoria (and potentially SA) seceding from the rest of Australia. That way all the Queenslanders that are making Byron crowded can be sent to Broome instead. They’ll never notice the difference. Because Broome is a bit like Brisbane really, flat, no surf, they both begin with Br….and for all the Bryon residents who register their cars in Queensland to save $40, tough. That’ll teach them to be tight arses. And the WA citizens who have been whingeing about paying too many taxes to easterners can try and survive once the mining boom dissipates and there are no eastern states to subsidise them as happened for the 120 odd years prior to the mining boom.

 

So it goes….

 

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 20 – Derby)

Our visit to Derby is to be a quick one. Generally, we are dubious that it justifies a visit at all, but we eventually decide that since we are nearby we should take a quick squiz. There isn’t much to Derby these days but it has an interesting and black history, in both literal and metaphorical sense.

We visit the old Boab tree which was used as a prison for Aboriginal people en route to Derby along with the longest cattle trough in the southern hemisphere. 7-IMG_1932 One of the astonishing idiosyncrasies of travelling in Australia is what totally boring structures we will visit as tourists. Not only that but Australian towns, cities and states have an insatiable appetite for promoting the totally mundane and nondescript as some form of towering heritage site or artwork. Inevitably they are also the biggest, longest, flattest, tallest, oldest, or whatever, in the world or the southern hemisphere. Or failing that the 5th largest in WA or the Kimberley or the west Kimberley or Derby or on the east side of School Road, downstream of the cross street drain and directly across from the general store.

No matter what we can manage to turn some insignificant Australiana into a world attraction of astounding proportions. Perhaps that accounts for our view of Broome (see more later). 6-IMG_1931 One of the celebrated tourist destinations near Derby is Frosty’s pool which apparently was used by soldiers during WW2 to cool off. This magnificent and unmissable attraction is a concrete pool about metre deep, 3 metres long and two metres wide, made of concrete and just a few metres off the main road. Magnifique!! (1292) 9-10 Frosty's Pool - Derby

First stop, however, is the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art Centre which has a good collection of Aboriginal artwork and provides a history of Aboriginal dispossession and frequent relocation, which ended with many of the east Kimberley people living at Mowanjum.

 

Lunch at Derby is at the cafe on the jetty. Derby sits on the Fitzroy River estuary and it’s location gives it the second highest tides in the southern hemisphere at around 11 metres on a king spring tide. As a 9-IMG_1934result the coast around Derby is a mud bath caused by the constant scouring and suspension of the fine Fitzroy River mud particles in the water.

We stroll along the jetty and read of Derby’s history before heading off to shop prior to leaving for Broome.   Shopping is one of the more problematic exercises of our joint trip, second only to parking the vehicle, so it seems. This time proves no exception.

We have purchased both food and essential alcohol supplies and Kaylee takes them back to the vehicle while I, futilely, go in search of more reading glasses having managed to lose, sit on or otherwise damage all my reading glasses. I have purchased a seemingly endless supply of reading glasses over the last few weeks but am down to my last pair.   I return to the vehicle reading glass-less. I can only surmise that (a) few people read, in Derby which, maybe, is not surprising when you observe the population; or (b) they are all blind and require a magnification of 6.5; or (c) the population of Derby is an outlier that has also perfect sight requiring only magnification of 1. But no reading glasses between 1 and 3.5, are available at any rate.

My return is just in time to witness the end of a shopping dispute. Kaylee has been putting the shopping in the back of the car; Roger on the other hand doesn’t agree that it should be in the back of the car and insists on removing everything Kaylee has carefully loaded in the back to the front.

In doing so he absolutely refuses to listen to any of Kaylee’s protestations that all will fit easily and securely. Apparently Kaylee is unable to understand Roger’s view that the gin or tonic will automatically self-destruct in the spots she has picked for them and so Roger has taken over. There is much under breath muttering occurring.

We leave Derby for Broome in the late afternoon having decided to camp along the way. Our choice was a section of the Fitzroy River on a pastoral property, about 60 kilometres south-west of Derby. We pass through a couple of gates and eventually end up on a beautiful stretch of the Fitzroy River not far upstream from its estuary.

Having parked, a celebration is in order since we have broken our collective record for parking having selected a parking spot and direction of vehicle within 30 seconds. 3-IMG_1937 This is definitely saltwater crocodile country and Jill has saltwater croc paranoia to world-champion levels, to add to some of the other concerns that appear to keep her in a perpetual state of elevated stress.

I’m sure if we had a gun we would be required to keep an armed guard permanently on watch all night. This is even though Jill has retreated to the safety of the rooftop tent for the night. Even the lonely cow calling in the night is transformed into a croc grunting. 4-IMG_1938

Croc fears aside, it is a beautiful, peaceful camp spot with only three other camping groups most of whom seem to be at this spot for the fishing. We pass a relaxed evening around the fire. 6-IMG_1940

As a part of the evening festivities Jill performs a ceremonial burning of the Ngurr burr she has found. This is a local noxious weed and the burning is part of our small contribution to maintaining the local environment but I am unconvinced it will play a significant role in the eradiction of the Ngurr burr.

I guess if everyone did the same, it would. Given the direction the Abbott Government is going, the Government could think about recycling some old Chinese policies such as the one child policy which would help with education and medical costs and could direct that everyone kill one cat, one cane toad and one Ngurr burr/salvinia plant/mimose plant (pick your noxious weed of choice) each day.   This would quickly bring the trade deficit, the budget and the feral week/animal problem under control in one easy set of policies.

The morning brings more precedents for our travelling circus. I wait until Roger is not looking and spray the zip of the tent housing with WD40. Roger doesn’t agree that this will work due to the propensity for WD40 to attract dust. So I need to wait until Roger is not looking so that, if he is right, I can pretend I never used it and if he is wrong I can loudly proclaim his clear lack of understanding of the maintenance and the workings of WD40.

We also have our first incidence of vandalism when Kaylee launches her expensive plastic tea cup from the tent to avoid the stress of having to carry it down the steps from her bed. As a result the cup loses its handle and is therefore designated, by her, as my cup rather than hers.   7-IMG_1941We are packed and ready to head to Broome by 8.30. Kaylee is concerned about her lack of fitness for her coming 1000 kilometre walk, so sets off to walk a few kilometres before we catch up with her. I observe her 1.5 km is probably not sufficient preparation for a 1000km walk with a 20 kg pack. This leads to me being in the doghouse again since, it seems, I am insufficiently supportive, despite the accuracy of my observation being bleedingly obvious.   Broome seems a good option at this point.

Beating About the Bush, 60 Days in Northern Australia (Part 19 – Fitzroy, Geikie)

We are just five kilometres from Fitzroy when we have our third puncture of the trip. Another nail. The team swings smoothly into action and the old tyre is quickly removed. We quickly move to get the new tyre in place. Roger sits on the ground holding the wheel in place with his feet. In doing so is sitting so that he is partly in the road. Not ideal with road trains going by.

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I quickly get all six nuts on the wheel and tell Roger that he can now move. But Roger, as is his wont, clearly desires to be a target for moving road trains. Despite being told several times that it is ok to move, he ignores all of us and insists on demonstrating that his judgement of tyre changing is more important than death by road train. Clearly even though I had all six nuts on the wheel, there is still the nut on the ground who would not change his mind.

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We find the main town caravan park which is pleasantly green after the dust of the last few weeks and we decide to stay a couple of nights. As we are early we are able to pick the most shady spot in the entire ground and proceed to spread out an occupy as large an area as possible. Grass makes one greedy.

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Before we can get set up, we need at least one more extended conversation about the best way to park the vehicle. This sends Kaylee into a psychological meltdown and she retires to her chair to eat the two picnic bars she has bought. Chocolate really does cure all psychological ills. It is the mental equivalent of cable ties.

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Our main goal in Fitzroy is to take a squiz at Geikie Gorge via a boat tour. But there are several subsidiary tasks including catching up with three weeks worth of emails, booking onward airfares, dealing with caffeine withdrawal symptoms, laundry (to avoid having to turn the jocks inside out for the fourth time) and sending off miscellaneous cards to various people to whom we have promised them.

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My first job, given we now have no spare tyre is to ring our long-suffering vehicle hire company owner, Nathan, and tell him of our latest trauma. I first explain to him, however, that we are running out of cable ties with which to hold the vehicle together. This seems to make him a little nervous, before I explain that I am joking and that we have only used one packet of cable ties so far.

White plane

Fitzroy Crossing brings new opportunities for each of us to demonstrate our peculiar tendencies. Jill (she of the extreme excitement about very weird things) becomes incredibly excited at seeing a……white plane…flying overhead. Apparently she has never seen a white plane before and although none of the rest of us are very excited at seeing a white plane at 20,000 feet, it does at least give me something to write about on this blog. More excitement, for Jill, is engendered by the site of Best and Less. This reaction also generates a level of incredulity among the observing masses. Apparently the excitement is a form of pavlovian response due to Best and Less being the only stores Jill experienced in various country towns during her youth.

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We spend a significant part of the day patronising the caravan park’s cafe as this provides us with an opportunity to re-charge both coffee and computers. We have also discovered they serve scones, so afternoon tea is in order morning, noon and night. We also have to investigate options for Kaylee fly back to Melbourne for a few days as a friend of ours, and especially of Kaylee, is ill. So much time is spent poring over travel and flight timetables. In the end however the decision is delayed by the news that the friend’s operation is will occur later rather than sooner.

 

On our second day we take an afternoon tour of Geikie Gorge. The gorge is a pretty impressive bit of landscape and one gets some idea of the floods that sweep through here during a big wet when one witnesses the flood levels. The mark is some 14 metres up the cliff faces on what is a fairly wide river. Our guide tells us that the locals know what size flood they are going to get each year by watching the freshwater crocodiles.

The crocs have to lay their eggs on the sandbanks out of reach of the seasons floodwaters and depending on the size of the coming flood they move up the bank, always keeping just out of reach of maximum floodwaters. Who needs the Bureau of Meteorology?

Our guide is ranger Dan and he gives us an informative tour of the gorge including about the endangered Sawfish of which the gorge’s population of 40 make a substantive part of the national population. However his crowning achievement was explaining the name of the swagman in the Banjo Paterson poem/song, Waltzing Matilda, is Andy. “Andy, sang as watched and waited till his billy boiled…..Andy sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag”.

Our second day at Fitzroy allows us to indulge in another form of camper envy. Two more vehicles from the fleet of “Drive Beyond” have turned up at the campground. This allows us to compare notes on the vehicles and decide who has been dudded in the equipment supply department.

Our last night in Fitzroy Crossing was to have been spent at the Tin Can cinema and suitably dressed and spivved up we turned up on time for our film, along with eight others. The ten of us mooned about outside the cinema speculating on if we could break in an run the film ourselves since, sadly, the projectionist must have had other business. After half an our of watching the comings and goings of the patrons of the Crossing Inn, which was just across the way, we all decided to pack it in for the night.

Before we can leave town in the morning we have to get our tyre fixed, so Roger and Jill head off to Doctor Sawfish’s tyre repair service. Only in the Kimberley is the local tyre repair service also a glass blower in the off-season. He runs a glass gallery immediately next door to his tyre shop. Roger and Jill are unaware of this and turn up to both get the tyre fixed and see the gallery but cannot see the gallery until their tyre is fixed since Dr Sawfish (http://www.drsawfish.com/about-us/) cannot do both at the same time.

Once the tyre is done it’s off to Derby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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