We were close to a month at Chile Creek. It was an easy place to let time slip by & a convenient location to let us explore the top end of the peninsula from. It soon became apparent however that whilst there is some wonderful country to be seen up there that much of it is either accessible only by boat or via bush tracks requiring permission from traditional owners. This means finding out who owns what places – not an easy task for blow-ins like ourselves. We have become aware of ‘local politics’ & inter family feuds. Nobody gives details & asking doesn’t feel right. This is the sort of information shared over much longer periods of time than we are here for. So we have an awareness of the bigger picture – enough to know that folk will not bad mouth each other to the likes of us. Respect for each other in the face of feuds which can be generations old. That’s ok by us, we don’t wish to be placed into awkward social situations where taking sides is necessary. Not placing us in those sort of positions is respect for us. However it does make finding out about places to go & who to ask for permission somewhat difficult.
So we got to a few places around the top end, but we also dropped into a fairly lazy routine of reading & dozing in between a little sight seeing. Visits to the general store at Djarandjin were highlights, allowing interaction with the young girls working there, & with the office staff when seeking to buy a postage stamp. One was eventually found but it seemed that such items were not commonly purchased.
A couple of visits to Jeff, the long term white resident caretaker at Djoodoon (Bully’s camp) were enjoyable. Plans to fish there were ditched in favour of long yarns interspersed with visits from Gouldian, Double Barred & Long Tailed Finches.
We learned lots about how things work up here, got recommendations for surviving the wet season, & what vegetables can be grown during the Wet. We think we’ll still get back up there to see Jeff again & perhaps to catch a fish or two before we eventually move on.
Interaction with the few folk living in the community was sparse & polite, but at no time did we feel there were any openings to develop relationships. Although a little disappointed by this we respected the fact that permission to stay had been granted by another who was absent, & that those remaining had not invited us.
The ‘Rat Debacle’ passed some time & provided a bit of excitement. One morning we opened the canopy doors on the rear of the Patrol to be met with a stench we recognised immediately. Early on in our time at Chile Creek we had done some cleaning up around the place for the lady who had allowed us to stay there during her absence. We had found a bush rat’s abode in an outbuilding cupboard, along with nest full of young kittens. The smell had been overpowering & it was this smell of rat urine which invaded our nostrils as we opened the canopy. An immediate search found droppings throughout & a plastic container of self raising flour with a rat sized hole gnawed in it, confirming that we had an unwelcome visitor. Our slight guilt about dehoming the one in the outbuilding, & euthanasing it’s young, made us wonder if it might be the same rat seeking vengeance. The search was neverthless on in earnest, everything removeable was taken out & the remaining spaces cleaned. No small task. Also no rat found. We hoped it had ‘jumped ship’ when we’d opened the doors, but this proved to be no more than misplaced optimism. Next day there was more evidence – footmarks in the carefully sprinkled pindan left just in case our optimism was indeed misplaced, along with more physical deposits. Again we hoped it had escaped unseen when the doors were opened, but this time with less optimism. We scrutinised every accessible space & prodded & poked into places we could not see, & then for good measure use compressed air to blow into those nooks & crannies too. Nothing! By now our optimism was rising again, but …… just in case, we left a present we thought our little rodent visitor might like overnight- a chunk of carrot.
Just 30 minutes after closing the doors MrsTea heard the unmistakeable sound of Mr or Mrs Ratticus gnawing on the carrot. We immediately formed ourselves into a precision rat catching team & on the count of three flung open both canopy doors simultaneously to find ……. a rapidly disappearing tail. The first sighting! The piece of carrot, complete with gnaw marks had been re-located to under the gas griller, a darker spot where we assumed our smelly friend felt safer. With one of us acting as lookout & the other as ‘rat agitator’ we again poked, prodded & blew compressed air with the same results as before … nothing ,,,,,,,,,, BUT ……. we now knew for certain it was in there & had a hiding spot where we couldn’t get to it. A rat trap may have been worthwhile, but it’s not something we carry. Instead the next plan was to block off as many potential escape routes as possible, utilising a collection of rocks, found objects & masking tape. In addition we skewered the carrot chunk with a length of wire & attached it so the carrot could not be moved, & then shut the doors & skulked around outside listening. 10 minutes later we could again hear gnawing sounds & this time the scraping sound of the wire being moved. Lightning fast I opened the door to find a well gnawed piece of carrot ….. but again no rat. But this time I was on a roll, I had my wits about me & they were in good working order. Immediately I crouched & looked into the darkness of the griller & there staring back at me was the four legged target of our efforts. With only milliseconds hesitation, if that, I slid the griller out of canopy on it’s runners, sure that when the rat made it’s bid to escape that it could only be onto the ground at my feet & not back into it’s previous hiding place. And so it came to be …. a giant leap for a rat-kind & off across the pindan & leaves he ran at a rate of knots. The 36 hour battle to rid ourselves of the unwelcome visitor had been finally won. We danced a little elated & celebratory dance.
We think that in many ways our Chile Creek stay was good preparation for what was, & is to come in our wet season caretaking role at Goombaragin. It has eased us into ‘bush living’ in a country relatively unfamiliar to us & at a time of the year when the creatures who’s country we are placing ourselves into will become increasingly active. That is part of both the attraction & the challenge which lays ahead for us. The Wet (monsoon season) is, we are told, the time of the year when nature goes into overdrive. Learning to slow ourselves down in ways to cope with the high daily temperatures & increasing humidity is a pre-requisite for sanity. We think we are managing it reasonably well, but as they say “We ain’t seen nuthin’ yet”.
Goombaragin (pronounced Goom-baa-rargin) is a small coastal ’eco resort’ at ‘out station on Pender Bay. Approximately 180kms north of Broome & 25 kms north of Beagle Bay community (although more than double that once the rains come). It is named after the traditional name for that section of country. Pender Bay is on the western side of the peninsula, & on the northern side of a promontory out into the Indian Ocean, & thus the bay’s coastline runs east west. This makes the location one where the daily movement of the sun follows the coastline & means that the veranda on our bedroom ‘eco chalet’ looking out across the bay provides day long shade. Although in forest, it is not a tall forest with a thick shade producing canopy & thus any outdoor shade where the sea breezes can be felt is a major bonus. We would go as far as saying it is of primary importance if we are to enjoy rather than ’survive’ the Wet.
We have a central ‘compound’, a clearing in the forest on the edge of the pindan cliffs, approximately 4 kms from the locked gate. Surrounding the clearing are a few permanent buildings, a couple of luxury tents with ensuites & small kitchens, on raised platforms , & several clearings for folk who travel with their own accommodation.
At the base of the cliffs, & a few minutes walk is the beach, with it’s maze-like rock formations. We still have a lot more beach to explore & are looking forward to when wet season storms wash up a variety of treasures. Judging by the number dotted around Goombaragin, large Trumpet shells will be easily found.
Our bedroom, is similar to the luxury tents, but has solid walls & roof, & in place of zippered doors & windows we have flyscreened louvred glass windows to allow a cross breeze through the bedroom & louvred window french doors opening onto the verandah & looking out from the clifftop across the bay. It is significantly cooler than the tents & nicely finished. The small kitchen is outside under the roofline, as is the ensuite. Solar hot water is as hot as you want it with good pressure, but mostly we take cold showers. Cold is a relative term for water in these parts, here it means tepid to warm depending upon time of day. All the poly pipes supplying the water are only buried a few inches into the pindan, which keeps the heat in. Multiple fridges & freezers allow us to maintain a good quantity of cold water for drinking.
We use the larger & well appointed kitchen that the owners use, & the office a few metres away is our storage space for anything removed from the vehicle which will get little or no use but reduces weight & creates space for the occasional ‘big shop’ trips to town (Broome).
Further back along the cliffs is another shaded & raised platform – it is another luxury tent site, but one not used this year due to some unresolved waste water mechanical problems. However it makes a gorgeous afternoon siesta spot, with a couple of banana lounges, a great view & best breezes that Goombaragin offers. We laze & read here during the heat of the day.
So our ‘house’ is comprised four separate buildings, all within a minute or two’s walk from each other. It’s a nice way to live. Our bedroom, the ‘Eco Chalet’ costs $220 a night during tourist season. There is another building housing a communal composting toilet & shower for campers, but we don’t have any need to use this, but do use the washing machine located there.
Providing power for the place is an impressive solar array, with another building housing the control system, batteries & emergency generator. The owners have told us that the system was installed to service a larger tourist enterprise in the future & that they currently only utilise 3% – 4% of it’s generating & storage capacity. By my reckoning I think the solar array is around 13 Kw (100 x 130watt panels). It’s a government funded & serviced system. Checked 6 monthly by a government contracted company, so we don’t need to have anything to do with it other than report any faults should they arise, & possibly fire up the generator once in a while if asked to by the owners.
A couple of storage sheds house all manner of ‘one day it’ll be useful’ items down one of the tracks cut into the bush a short distance from the central compound.
Further away from the compound, perhaps 3 kms back along the entry track is the water bore. All the water in Broome & the peninsula comes from a huge underground aquifer & it’s good water. Not the smelly sulfur stinking stuff found elsewhere. The water is quite deep here, 48metres down, where a submersible pump sits, once powered by dedicated solar panels no longer operational. Instead a petrol generator powers the pump, & one of our jobs is to fire it up & re-fill the tank back at the compound regularly. Lots of leaks see refilling needed more frequently than once was the case.
Beyond the bore & well hidden from sight is the rubbish tip. Like most community tips it has a variety of dead & rusting vehicles, but unlike some we’ve seen it is clean & tidy. This we believe being due to the practice followed with waste disposal. It is the usual bulldozed pit in the ground. Anything which can be composted is & everything else goes into the pit. The difference here, as taught to us by the outgoing caretakers, is to set fire to rubbish taken on each visit. The result is a lack of rubbish spread around by birds & animals.
We have the use of an old & beaten up Toyota Landcruiser to go back & forth to the bore & the tip as well as to use locally. It is unregistered & has no plates, one front corner together with headlight has been wiped out in a collision, 3 of the four windows don’t close, most of the door handles are missing, the main petrol tank has a hole in it so only the smaller sub tank can be filled. The seats are all ripped, & the bonnet stays down seemingly by magic rather than by anything mechanical. Starting it when cold is a challenge, it burps & farts, splutters & misses, requiring a degree of determined fettling with the foot on the throttle to keep it running. However once warmed up, which it does quickly in this climate, it’s attitude changes & it runs quite well. It also drives & stops surprisingly well. We’ve been told that working brakes are a bit of a rarity around these parts, & have witnessed cars cruising to a halt using the friction of the sand in the absence of effective brakes. The nearest community, Beagle Bay, approx 25kms south from here via bush tracks has many such cars, some with far worse appearances, but when we drove in to get some fuel & supplies we fitted in well. I derived a degree of pleasure from this. Nothing says you’re a local more than a ‘peninsula car’. It seems that as long as they are not used on the main Cape Leveque Road the authorities pay little attention. With no spare wheel, & wheel nuts which are seized on anway every trip off the property is an ‘adventure’. Our satphone & water goes with us ‘just in case’.
We registered as patients at the Beagle Bay Clinic, a larger clinic than the one at Lombadina, run by two Remote area Health Nurses, several Aboriginal Health Workers & a lovely receptionst named Stan. Open Monday to Friday & nurses on call 24 hours for emergencies. A GP visits two days per week, when a sign saying ‘Doctor Day’ is hung out on the fence.
Beagle Bay store is well stocked (although surprisingly (to us) they had no ordinary butter (only the soft stuff blended with margarine). We’ll use the store now & then to top up fresh produce, but main shopping will be in Broome. The outgoing caretakers, John & Jan, told us they went to Broome about once a month to resupply. We intend to carry sufficient stocks to hopefully last us for longer periods as we expect there will be times during the Wet when we are unable to get out to Beagle Bay, let alone to Broome. The use of several fridge freezers will mean we can expand the diets we have had whilst on the road. In particular we will be able to have ice cream! Woohoo!
Driving to Broome for ‘a shop’ will be long day, leaving early in the morning & getting back late afternoon, but prices are much lower & choices higher. The previous caretakers described needing to plan such shopping trips like a military manouvre to ensure getting all they needed & back before dark.
Beagle Bay store also sells fuel (unleaded petrol & diesel) but unusually the fuel bowsers are in a different location to the store. Cliff, the store manager has strict times for when fuel is available, on the hour for half an hour. 9 -9:30, 10 – 10:30 etc with an hour off for lunch. He & his wife Melinda are a friendly couple who have kindly agreed to let us use their address as our postal address. We expect they will visit us at Goombaragin sometime.
Goombaragin’s owners, Kathleen & John are staying with family in Queensland for a while, for health reasons, but keep in contact with us by phone & email. We have a very slow satellite wifi & our mobile phone sometimes picks up a useable signal, but overall ‘comms’ are very limited. We are also unable to pick up any AM or FM radio signals which concerned us initially as we had expected to use a radio to monitor weather, particularly if/when we are potentially in the path of a cyclone. However we do have satellite Tv, & can pick up live radio broadcasts through this. Whether satellite signals will work during extreme weather events is an unknown, but we should get prior warning before the event & neighbours, Willie & Colleen (6kms walk along the beach, or 30kms drive along bush tracks) have told us that in the event of needing to evacuate the authorities will visit to tell us if unable to contact us. We also have a ‘public’ satellite phone in the middle of the compound. Free to call landlines & emergency services, but requiring a pre-paid card number (which we don’t have) to call mobiles.
Willie & Colleen also wanted to impress upon us that we are in the middle of bushfire season, & that if fire should threaten us, the chances of any emergency services turning up are just about zero. We already knew that & have our emergency ‘grab bag’ & water ready to grab & take down to the beach. They also told us that we are just coming into snake season. Until yesterday we hadn’t seen a single snake up here on the peninsula, not even Mr P, the regular visiting 2.5 metre Olive Python that John & Kathleen told us about. He’s good to have around as apparently the only time less welcome snakes are seen here is when he hasn’t been around in a while. He was here the night before we arrived. However last night got rather exciting for MrsTea, whilst I was fast asleep.
Our ensuite in the eco chalet is ideal for hot climates, it has solid walls which don’t go all the way up to the roof, & an open ‘picture window’ looking out across the bay. A lovely outlook with pleasant breezes. It does little however to prevent wildlife coming in. Like all the buildings it has geckos & grasshoppers, but it also has frogs. Not just the large green variety commonly seen in tropical loos, but a variety of smaller ones too. If they are not sitting in the bowl staring up at your nether regions, or hiding under the ceramic rim, they can be found on the underside of the toilet seat, behind the cistern & even just climbing the walls or hopping across the floor. Squashing one accidentally with ones bare foot is not one of life’s pleasures, but this pales into insignificance when compared to MrsTeas’s experience in the wee hours of last night. You see frogs are choice snake tucker.
I’ll let MrsTea tell her tale, as she wrote it to her Aunt.
“Had my first snake experience here last night. We have an outdoor/indoor type of ensuite. I’m always on the alert for snakes, so going for a wee, I put the toilet light on& quickly shut the door so as not to disturb Cuppa sleeping. I nicely persuaded the resident frogs to get off the toilet seat, sat down, & then a long thin snake appeared through a gap in the floor just inches from my bare feet, & between me & the door. I swore! My heart rate went up. It’s only a small room, with walls & a gap around the roof. If I’d tried to get out I risked being bitten. The advice is to freeze. If you are still it doesn’t see you as a threat. Try sitting stark naked on a toilet with an unknown snake moving around your feet, so scary! After what seemed like forever (but probably only a few minutes) it miraculously & slowly slid between the floorboards to the open ground below. I took a deep breath, yanked open the door, ran a few steps back into the bedroom & slammed the door, safe in the knowledge that the same floorboards with gaps in the bedroom have mesh underneath them. Phew! It took me ages to get back to sleep & I reckon I’ll be weeing outside at night in the future!”
[Later] – Googling suggested that the snake was most likely a venomous Olive Whip Snake, not quite as unwelcome however as the other possibility , a young King Brown.
We may have snakes, but in comparison to Chile Creek we have far less buzzy bitey things. No sandflies & very few mozzies. The first couple of nights we used mozzie spray but haven’t since. The difference is that we are no longer in close proximity to mangroves. March Fly season is just beginning however. We’ve only had a few so far but apparently they can develop into cloud-like proportions when seasonal conditions suit. They are faster & harder to kill than their southern counterparts & if not squashed will recover from a swipe & come back for a further attempt to bite. They have an unpleasant characteristic smell when squashed.
Being on the cliff tops we get regular breezes for most of the day. We have been told that come January or February the breezes may stop, this was described to us as ‘I just want to die weather”. We are hoping we will have acclimatised enough to survive by then. I (Cuppa) have already succumbed to bouts of heat/sweat rash. I’m not usually a sweaty tpe of person, but that’s all changed up here. My shirts get just as wet as dunking them in a tub of water some days, & my back was covered in a rash. I’ve learned a variety of behaviours to help keep my back drier, recognising when I need to air dry it. Johnson’s Baby powder has been a life saver!
We expect humidity to become increasingly onerous. Relative humidity given on forecasts is meaningless without including the temperature.As temperatures rise the air can hold greater amounts of water & the humidity thus become less bearable. Recently we have had 90+% humidity, but at temperatures in the low 30’s. 70% @ 40 degrees C will be much worse. 100% @ 40+ is as yet unimaginable.
We have learned that humidity varies with the moon & the tides. For the past week we have experienced neap tides (only 3 metres difference between high & low tides) & humidity has been low, but now the tide heights are increasing again with changes up to 9 metres & the humidity has increased dramatically. This morning the outside decks, the ground, plants, cars – everything was soaking wet. Even clothing indoors where windows were open is damp. We’ve experienced it several times now, but only recently have made the connection between dew points & tidal movements & full moon.
We have no air conditioning, but plenty of ceiling fans to help keep the air moving indoors, they run 24/7. Breezes come off the ocean most days & are cooling. Being a Peninsula ocean breezes can come from the east as well as the west, but west are best. South easterlies are the worst…. they are hot, from the western deserts.
So here we are out in the wilderness, with our ‘own’ beach – in a location which could not be more private. It feels very like we are living on our own little desert island, but we have comfort, shade, power, running water & relatively insect proof living spaces – enough to tame the wilderness ever so slightly, enough to be in it, but largely in relative comfort. Compared to what we have been accustomed to whilst travelling it is ‘easy’.
The ‘caretaking’ is far from onerous. Our primary role is just to be here, our presence providing security for the property. We water a few plants, keep the vegie garden ticking along , check the bore pump’s operation & ensure the place is kept clean & tidy, (as far as that’s possible in this country – the red pindan dirt gets into everything & stains everything). So far fishing has been my usual dismal failure, but I remain optimistic that may change if/when we get permission from some traditional owners to go to their spots. Pender Bay is renowned for it’s good fishing, I’m hoping that doesn’t just mean from boats.