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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 (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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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ahead but when we arrived the repeater station that allows one to radio to the station office was out of action and had been replaced by a sign saying “If you arrive prior to 11 am just come on down”.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

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Mornington is one of a string of reserves established by AWC [http://www.australianwildlife.org/] which are designed to address the appalling state of the Australian natural environment which has the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world. The failure to protect habitat, effectively, is one of the key factors in this decline, with the others being excessive burning and feral animals. We should all be eating Cat pie on a daily basis since this would (a) put the cattle industry – which is one of the key factors in habitat destruction – into terminal decline. It would also mean that we would reduce the impact of cats which kill 70 million Australian native animals daily.

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The great attraction of Mornington is that it provides some respite from the crowds one encounters in most other parts of the Kimberley. Despite its reputation the Kimberley is not remote and the Gibb River Road is better than the average road in Byron Shire and certainly has less potholes. If you happen to break down the only way you would get as many offers of assistance in, say Sydney, in 30 minutes would be if you stood at the side of the road offering free bags of money. So there is little risk to travelling in the Kimberley any more unless you are either (a) drive dangerously or (b) go fishing for salties with your arms or legs.

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The other nice thing about Mornington is that they have a good restaurant – although you have to take what is on offer but a la carte might be a bit much to expect given where they are located. Both Kaylee and I and Roger and Jill separately decided assist environmental efforts by eradicating some of the excess beef cattle around. Very nice romantic starlit evenings with good wine and food. Or at least Jill and Roger’s would have been had Roger not spent most of the evening on the phone to their sons.

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

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The end result of this is that anyone who camps within about 200 metres is at risk of having their entire morning devoted to showing Kaylee every spare inch of their ‘rig’. With each inspection some new requirement is added: the motorised tent so that no effort is required to stow it, the double fridge all on rollers, the sliding sink, the kitchen with 50 separate little drawers for every conceivable object, the espresso machine, the built in massage space etc. As each mornings passes you can an extra year to the length of time she will need to work before she can afford even half of such a beast.

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Our first morning is spent at Bluebush water hole, on the Fitzroy, its is yet another beautiful swimming hole but from my perspective the main asset is a rope swing which allows me to indulge my never to be sated passion for being a ten-year old and my fantasies about flying.

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We visit two gorges at Mornington, Dimond Gorge and Sir John Gorge. Both of these sit on the Fitzroy River which drains a vast area of the Kimberley and has 20 major tributaries. It is 733 kilometres long and drains an area of 94,000 square kilometres, just over 3 times the size of Belgium. Flood flows are among the largest in the world for a catchment of this size and the 1993 flood reached 25,000 cubic metres per second equivalent to 15 Olympic pools each second. Each gorge and waterhole are completely different.

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On our second day we head off for Dimond Gorge. Normally we would have hired canoes and gone for a paddle but they are allegedly all booked. On arriving we find 7 canoes lined up unused. Either they have more cancellations than Tiger Air or the booking system leaves something to be desired. Fate comes to our rescue however and we are able to bot a canoe from two couples who have just finished using theirs. They are graziers from Walcha and discussion turns to the drought. They have now had two dry springs and say that a third one, which seems imminent, will be disastrous. Already they have cattle on agistment around Ensay in Victoria.

 

On the way back from Dimond Gorge we take a quick detour to the wetlands. These are also part of the Fitzroy River and we are fortunate enough to see a pair of Brolgas close up, as well as a mass of long tailed finch’s. On our departure I am ambushed by a gaggle of restless flycatchers nearby and in my struggle to both follow them and take pictures I start dropping everything in my possession. Roger following behind dutifully collects everything I drop until he has the appearance of my hired sherpa. He is carrying my binoculars, binocular case, hat, sunglasses, reading glasses, jumper, t-shirt, lens hood, phone, water bottle and almost everything else I seem to have brought on the two month trip. I keeping with our reward policy he gets a Lindt ball but since he can’t eat Lindt balls I add it to my tally of rewards for giving him the opportunity to win one.

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Perhaps the most picturesque of the gorges is Sir John Gorge. Unlike most of the others it is not a high sided gorge but a long flat stretch of water bounded by low red rock walls and peppered throughout the water with rock outcrops. At sunset it turns into a photographers paradise with the sunset lighting up the walls and their reflections in the water. When we were there is was perfectly still and there was a perfect sense of tranquility while sitting on the rock ledges.

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

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Roger, Kaylee and I are already up and Jill is awake in her tent. As Kaylee are going for breakfast in the restaurant I don’t want to leave Roger and Jill to have to pull down the tents alone, so I jump on the roof and start packing it up. But Jill has decided she needs another five minutes dozing and asks me to stop. I assume from her tone that she is joking and carry on. She descends into laughter and keeps repeating her request, so I assume she is finding the sensation of being in a small boat in a storm somewhat amusing. But sadly no, she tells me later, laughter is how she deals with stressful situations and she is not amused. I am, apparently, either as sensitive as sandpaper or have the behaviour patterns of a fifteen year old, but Jill cannot tell which.

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

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

 

By 10 am we are packed and on the road to Bell Gorge. En route we stop to try and spot the ever-elusive and extremely endangered Gouldian Finch but we are out of luck so we have to make do with Boab Valley which is a creek line almost dominated by 100s of Boab trees.

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

 

 

 

 

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 12 – Ellen Brae)

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

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Our next major stop is Mitchell River but we plan to stop over-night along the way. It is possible to make it to Mitchell River in a day but it’s a very long day. The road is good and we make good time past a series of spectacular bluffs. For anyone who has ever seen a western flick, we feel like we are riding through the American west and that a bunch of so-called “Indians” should appear on the horizon at any moment. Jill is almost orgasmic with “bluff” pleasure and, with some difficulty, we restrain her from wading into crocodile infested rivers, such is her excitement.

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

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We pull into the lookout and are assailed by hundreds of chirps and squawks. We have finally come in range of the only Telecom tower between here and Alaska. It sits at the top of the hill and three phones and two iPads have gone berserk, instantly downloading hundreds of emails and messages. We chat to a car full of Canadians, coming from the west, who tell us that rounding the corner, a kilometre or so back, they were mystified as to why this car was apparently parked on a long stretch of featureless road until they realised that both occupants were busy looking at their mobiles next to the Telstra tower.

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

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

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For all those who may follow in our intrepid footsteps, your trip advisor can report as follows: Ellen Brae is a pleasant interlude from traveling but we were sadly let down by both the food and the standards of those eating the food. Despite claiming to be a tea connoisseur, there was one among us who failed to uphold proper tea standards. The absence of correct bone china cups, the poor quality of jam (neither home made nor good quality purchased jam), the acceptance of long-life milk, tea bag tea and lower than expected standards for cream should lead to permanent expulsion from the tea connoisseurs club. Even the scones which, it was generally agreed, were of reasonable quality were given unreasonably high marks by our nameless member. We can report as follows the following stars:

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

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

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

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

Ambiance: 3.75 out of 5, pleasant old-style shed and furniture. Well placed bird feeders added to the interest and charm. In addition the station had a first rate bush-dunny consisting of bog-standard long-drop, roof height at about 170 centimetres (leaving many visitors with scarred foreheads) and walls of shadecloth.

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

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

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The group also faced a major issue of guilt at Ellen Brae. The walls were adorned with some quality paintings and prints of the region and Kaylee was keen to buy one for a memory. However Roger caused a strong Presbyterian/consumer guilt outbreak by saying that he felt that Kaylee was, somewhat astoundingly, “Worse than Jill when it comes to momento shopping…”. This caused Kaylee to have a first world onset of consumer guilt and she refused to purchase anything else. Her children and their partners, being the main recipients of said consumerism, will no doubt be saddened by this.

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

Having variously fed, failed to purchase, visited the dunny and self-flagellated over historical gifts of double-barred finches we returned to our vehicle. In keeping with Roger’s practice the interior was at around 70 degrees centigrade since, despite the presence of many shade trees, we are required to park facing the sun at all times in order to avoid any minimal risk of battery degradation.

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It was now around 3 pm and there was certainly no chance of reaching Drysdale River Station on the Kulumburu Road. The search for a bush camp commenced. At 4 pm we reached the intersection with Kolumburu Rd. Several people were stopped there but we discounted it as it was dry, dusty and right on the main highway. We continued north. 5 kilometres further on we crossed the Gibb River which was still flowing strongly and was a perfect spot for a camp. In one of those conundrums of road naming the Gibb River never crosses the Gibb River Road. It is, perhaps, a peculiarly Australian phenomenon. If you go to Tennant Creek town you will find it is ten kilometres from Tennant Creek. During a big wet, a few years after Tennant was established, the dray delivering supplies became bogged short of the town. All the beer was on the dray. So they moved the town to the beer.

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Among our fellow campers are three cyclists who have cycled from Kununurra to Kulumburu and are heading back to the Gibb River Road. Our nearest neighbours are tour guides who tell us they have been coming to the Kimberley for 20 years and that next year will be their last trip due to the increasing numbers of tourists. It’s now too crowded for them. They have a small poodle which, in my view, like all small dogs, should be used for crocodile bait. It’s a perfect solution. Cats eat 70 million Australian native animals per night. So lets feed the cats to the dogs and the dogs to the crocs. Failing that babies in campgrounds are an option – though whether they should be fed to the cats, dogs or crocs is a moot point.

Sunset is beautiful and Kaylee and I sit by the river and have a quite drink to her Mum whose birthday it was. A perfect spot for good memories. We settle in for a relaxing and quiet evening around the camp fire. Moments later our silence is shattered by an approaching rumble and we hear the sound of air brakes and engine brakes. A road train has arrived and it pulls in about 20 metres away. The two drivers proceed to set up camp and to introduce us to their exemplary taste in music. Rocktober starts blasting the camp, with various renditions of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out for Summer, Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, Billy Idol’s White Wedding etc. Our involuntary concert finishes up around 10 pm.

Morning starts at 6 am when the boys from Big Rig start up their engine for departure. The concepts of consideration or of ‘camp voice’ seems to have eluded them. But our early alarm call has the advantage that we are also on the road early, so that we are in Drysdale River around 10 am. This is the last stop for fuel and food before Mitchell Falls. Our stop is not entirely useful given that the Drysdale River store’s entire supply is one shrivelled apple, a black banana and a can of tinned peaches. It does appear to have half of Australia’s known supply of meat, however, and at least it is not the servo with no diesel.

While the supply of diesel is no problem actually getting it into the tank is another issue since the pumps are busier than a Kings Cross brothel during happy hour and, unlike said brothel, it is not self-service. All the pumping has to be done by one of the employees rather than the clients. Not to complain, 30 minutes later we are fuelled and ready to leave. Only the tyres remain to be checked. I head off in search of the compressor and find the workshop. There is no one around so I enter the building. At this point the local bush equivalent to the ancient mariner appears and orders me out of the workshop – he does not look if he is friendly to latte sipping southern tourists. It is the first time this has ever happened to me in 40 years of ignoring workshop signs. The nanny state has clearly reached northern WA. I am, regardless, offered the use of the air-line and after checking pressures we depart.

 

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

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

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There are two camp grounds and we have opted for the northern one. There are four potential camping areas which poses a greater than normal challenge. Even under normal circumstances, where there is only one camping area, it takes us about 15 minutes of inspection before we select a site and another fifteen minutes arguing about how the tents should be aligned and whether the solar panel (which is fixed to the front of vehicle) needs to face due north, or slightly west or east of north.

 

12-_MG_0733Roger is a fundi and insists on due north, whereas I am a realo and think that the sun will shine tomorrow. Being a fundamentalist Roger normally wins out. At this point he normally gets out his compass and forces the driver to perform something akin to the mating dance of a preying mantis in order to get the truck aligned to his satisfaction.

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

Purnululu is another game altogether. Before we can even start discussing the correct camp site or the car parking preferences, we must select a camping area. We circle each camping area, no doubt losing all the best camp sites to other more decisive campers in the process. Finally camping area D is selected although the revisionists later point out that, in fact, area C was better.37-_MG_0868

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

Evening sees us on the lookout over the northern parts of Purnululu. As with many spectacular parts of the world, no photograph can actually prepare you for the reality of the real thing. The red rocks of the escarpment are lit up orange and red by the setting sun and we all sit there clicking away. A Kiwi tourist is busy taking multiple photos and demonstrates the in-built photo stitching 11-_MG_0782facility of his camera which produces a neat panorama in a matter of seconds. I attempt to do the same with my camera and succeed only in a beautiful set of out of focus and over-exposed shots. Time to read the manual, I think.

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In the morning we head off for the first of our gorge walks, Echidna Gorge. It is a little over-rated and the track is like walking along Bourke Street, such are the crowds. There is a tour party in the Gorge and we get into conversation at the end of Gorge. One of their party observes that it has taken aeons to form the gorge and that this proves that climate change is rubbish since change is always occurring. Who, he asks, is making money from climate change? Exercising my well known self restraint I refrain from bludgeoning him with a nearby rock but Jill is convinced he only just escaped with his life.

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We return down the gorge and Roger and I nick up to the lookout at the beginning. It is a spectacular view both ways down the valley. We finish the day with a stroll along the escarpment walk which few people do, apparently, but which I find more interesting and infinitely more rewarding than Echidna Gorge. The escarpment walk is a twitchers paradise with a mass of finches, pardalotes and wrens.

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

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The others are now envious of my newly pristine body shining in the evening sun and decide to follow suit. Jill is next and Roger rigs a form of Moroccan bath-house for her which preserves a degree of modesty. Roger follow but decides that while no bath-house is necessary, he will shower in his jocks. Only one fellow traveller remains un-showered but Kaylee is reluctant since she is unabashedly modest. And besides her modesty, there is the problem, she announces in her best teachers voice, that she needs to “wash her cracks”. The volume of the announcement is such that it is therefore audible throughout the entire camp site.

13-_MG_0734We all fall about laughing at the irony that while Kaylee won’t shower naked she is prepared to tell approximately 100 fellow campers that she is about to wash her cracks. I question her about why it is a problem to do said washing in the shower? After all I have. She glances at the tarpaulin which is covered with about 5 mm of used shower water and looks at me in horror. “But that means you and Jill and Roger were all standing in faeces laden water.” Surprisingly we are all still alive and seem unaware of and unfazed by this revelation. Kaylee’s resistance crumbles and, with the aid of a couple of sarongs and towels, the cracks and other nether regions are made pristine.

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

07-_MG_0714Because it is one of the longer walks there are few people along the trail and when we arrive at the end of Whipsnake Gorge the only other people are a Swiss-German family to whom we provide some light entertainment.

I am the last to arrive at the end of the Gorge and I do so to the sight of Jill and Kaylee scrambling for cover, away from the cliff above. They warn me about the cracking sound we can hear saying that we are in danger of being hit by an imminent rockfall (or perhaps a part falling from MH370). Moments later the sound occurs again and they both move further away from the cliff. A discussion ensues and it’s pointed out that in fact, as with trees losing their branches, it’s arguable that the safest place during a rockfall is pressed against the cliff-face. I’m not sure that this is in fact true but it sounds good. There is a further cracking and cautious glances are made at the cliff face until Roger points out the Swiss man has a plastic drink bottle in his pocket which makes a crackling sound each time he moves. Jill and Kaylee have spent more energy avoiding a drink bottle than they have spent walking. The only thing that has taken Jill more energy on the trip is making tea. Roger tells the Swiss man this and he repeats it with some amusement to his wife and children.

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

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

39-_MG_1015Despite reservations, the chopper ride is a raging success. There are no doors on the helicopter so one almost has a sensation of being outside. It’s only from above that one can really appreciate the scale of Purnululu which, amazingly was only discovered by the tourist industry and wider world in the 1970s when a local grazier took a TV crew for trip over the landscape.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

I return to find Kaylee on the phone to Telstra again. The frustration meter has finally rea13-IMG_0555ched the red zone and I fear for her blood pressure levels. My attempts to persuade her to calm down are met with a stream of invective and arm movements that resemble a manic semaphore operator. I retreat. Kaylee gives up. We head for the campground.

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The campground ‘grass’ doesn’t look as if it has seen water in several years and the pine railings have passed their use by date. We camp near a permanent resident living in a dilapidated camper that clearly no longer runs. The resident himself has seen better days and has a hang dog look and one arm. On the other side of the camping circle are two women who appear obsessively neat. Jill postulates that they are lesbian based on her extensive sampling of lesbian campers which has led to her lesbian camping theory.

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According to Jill, she has camped with two groups of lesbian campers at different times. Both have been very neat and therefore, so the theory goes, if two women campers are neat they are, ipso facto, lesbians. We question her on her theory and the margin of error. Did she run controls? No satisfactory answers are forthcoming. Further research and larger samples are required.

We rush to cook dinner ahead of the approaching rain. Despite the approaching rain and cold, however, we must first complete important pre-dinner rituals. We have purchased gin and tonic and dinner cannot be consumed prior to gin and tonic, as is required by travel regulations. Up to this point dinner standards have been unacceptably low since not only have pre-dinner rituals not been followed but decent coffee has not been available after dinner due to the absence of an espresso maker. That was a situation that was remedied in Katherine with the purchase of a stove-top espresso maker.

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

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Across the campground is a lone cyclist who we invite for drinks. Bert is a Dutch mechanic who works for four months of the year and cycles for another eight months. His partner who is back in the Netherlands is due to join him. He met her while cycling from Puntas Arenas in southern Chile to Alaska. He rides a specially constructed mountain bike which can carry all his gear. This includes a special single wheel behind his bike over which he hangs 50 litres of water enabling him to ride from Sydney to Perth via Alice and his current ride which is the Canning Stock route. He has also cycled through China to Lao, Vietnam and Burma.

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

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

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

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During the day we have discovered that the car has suffered more undercarriage issues. It is this tendency to temperamental behaviour that has led to her being called Beyonce. It appears that the car repairs that Jill undertook that neatly removed the radiator crash plate from beneath the car also sheared off the bolts that held the main sump protection plates and these are now hanging down about two inches beneath the front of the vehicle, perfectly placed to hit any large rocks or other obstructions in the road. It this occurs the plate will buckle smashing the sump and bringing our trip to a premature climax.

The night brings heavy rain and in the morning it is cold and gloomy. Our night has been disturbed by the NAIDOC celebrations but the music quality was good. No Abba, country music or heavy metal was played. But Kaylee feels she has been living on the edge in a risky town with the repeated sound of police sirens. She is a little disappointed when I point out it was a car alarm.

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

Kaylee’s spirit is lifted, however by her visit to the shower. On entering the shower the sole female occupant turns to Kaylee and radiant smile and a look of joy and adulation passes over her face as she raises her arms and shouts “At last you have come”. It is apparently truly a miracle and Kaylee foresees a new career as the Messiah. Sadly, she reports later, it is merely that the worshipper was unable to reach the socket in order to plug in her hair drier and Kaylee, being three inches taller, could. Kaylee tries to persuade us that she was the same height as the other woman and, in keeping with her new status as Messiah, simply levitated.

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I, again, call Nathan the company owner about Beyonce’s problems. He commiserates with us that in two years of operations he has received five calls from renters who have had on-road problems and we have made three of them. I suspect he is thinking that we are the on-road problem. He is concerned at the potential terminal damage if we cannot get the plate fixed and suggests we do so in Halls Creek. We set off to do a grand tour of Halls Creek looking for workshops. The first place can do nothing for a week.

At Fitzgerald Motors the proprietor is not happy. Neither is the proprietor’s Rottweiler which Jill has had to befriend before it is possible to approach Mr Fitzgerald. While the Rottie seems happy with white friends the two little black girls cycling past do not seem confident that it will like people with black skin and ask if the dog is “safe”. It reminds me that when living in South Africa, dogs would let us white kids walk past peacefully but any blacks-skinned people were at risk of being torn limb from limb. White South Africans would train their dogs to attack black people.

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The reason for Fitzgerald’s unhappiness is that he has two mechanics but, apparently, they have been playing in a World Cup Final which took place at 2 pm the previous day and have been unable to attend work as a result. His general level of satisfaction with Halls Creek is apparent “Who would want to live in this cunt of a place he observes.” So he is also unable to assist.

We re-pare for a further coffee and cake. Roger and I consult. We need to fix the plate so a visit to the hardware is in order for a couple of 6 mm bolts. The owner of the hardware is in worse condition than Beyonce and will not advance beyond his counter since such a long walk might bring on an early end. After much searching we find the right bolts. But we are to be disappointed since one of the missing bolts has sheared off in the nut preventing the repair. We consult further; my advice is cable ties and fencing wire which will fix 95% of all mechanical and household problems. 20 minutes later we are done. Beyonce is ready for anything she will encounter and Roger has also fixed an errant water problem by tightening the clamp on the hose. Our potential future earnings are escalating; rally driving, blues band and now Horton and Harris car repairs. Right on!!

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Next stop Wolf Creek Meteorite Crater.

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