As I sit typing this, close to two months since I last posted, we have left the Dampier Peninsula, left the bush, & are now back in ‘civilisation’. It’s a bit of a culture shock but the transition, made just yesterday, has been as easy as it could have been. After almost 11 months living either out in the deserts or in the bush, some folk imagining themselves in our position might consider we were hanging out to once again be living in a town, in a house. Other’s might think we had been absorbed by nature & would require a painful severing process.
The reality is a mixture. We most certainly were not desperate to leave Goombaragin, far from it. It was easy for us to imagine living there permanently, probably more so than anywhere else we have been. Actually there is no ‘probably’ about it. It has been a wonderful laid back lifestyle which we could easily stretch into years & decades were it a possibility. Leaving was hard & we both had wet eyes as we drove out along the long bush track for the last time, saying & waving goodbye to everything from the underground bore which had supplied us water to the trees which gave us the ingredients for lotions & teas. The owners are incredibly lucky to have this to look forward to again, & we will always feel grateful for having had the opportunity to experience their way of life. Our thoughts are with them, hoping the health issues which took them away & made our stay possible will be resolved, letting them return to the country they love & the lifestyle we know they miss so much. Thank you Kathleen & John.
We need to spend some time back in town to get a couple of car things sorted out (air con needs fixing & tyres replacing) , & a few overdue medical checkups done. Luck shone upon us, or if you think like us, ‘karma’ looked after us. We are in no way religious, but like to think that ‘paying it forward’ brings it own rewards in unexpected ways. In this instance a brief post on the Broome Weather Group’s Facebook page enquiring about possibilities of a non caravan park spot to park up for a couple of weeks in or close to Broome brought forth a couple of offers, one of which was a 5 week house sit in Central Broome. I’m sitting in a comfy chair, under the shade of palm trees alongside the in-ground pool, connected to broadband internet with a gorgeous 12 month old Labrador competing with the laptop for my attention. The house sit was arranged several weeks ago & the thought of it, to us felt like ‘going on holiday’ …… something to look forward to. It certainly helped the leaving process. After 5 weeks here we will be headed back to the bush again, but more on that later.
First, before I get caught up in the excitement of what lays ahead for us, I’d like to in some way bring you, the reader, up to date with a little of the past 7 weeks & perhaps a reflection or two on a bit more of the everyday experience of living on country.
As you will be aware from my previous post a significant attraction of the lifestyle has been the ease of losing track of time. So what follows are references to a few events, when they occurred is irrelevant & unimportant, but they have all been since my last post.
We had another of our ‘big days’ – travelling into Broome for supplies. Early night, up shortly before the break of dawn to enable the 10 hour ‘marathon, 3 hours there 3 hours shopping, lunch & 3 hours back – before dark. A reminder for our readers in in England – mainly family – the drive is through bush, no houses, no streetlights, no shops or fuel stations, no pavements, & much of the time no sealed road, oh & virtually no other traffic – couple of cars each way would be about it. By UK standards it’s very remote. By the standards of the majority of Australians it’s remote. But for folk who live up here it’s just driving down the road, & for us much the same. Remoteness is in the mind ….. until there is a problem …. then it is very much present. Our supply trips however were on a road where you know sooner or later another vehicle will come along – which reduces ‘remoteness’ significantly. Our early night was disturbed by something new. Noises we hadn’t heard before, animal noises immediately outside our sleeping quarters. Squawks & squeaks, flapping & scraping. We had been invaded by unknown ‘beasties of the night’. Eventually dragging ourselves off the bed we went with torches to investigate. Multiple pairs of eyes were illuminated by our torches high up in the trees & then we saw what were attached to the eyes. Large bats, wingspan maybe 18” & oversized rat-like bodies. In all of the trees surrounding our bedroom. May have been fruit bats but was too dark to tell. They were gone in the morning. No mess on the ground so we assumed they were a passing flock en route to somewhere & a one off occurrence. Not so as it turned out, they became regular visitors, sometimes again surrounding our bedroom with their batty parties, other times gathering on the far side of the clearing.
Our plan had been to drive into Broome prior to forecast rain in a couple of days time which had the potential to see the road closed. We were about 45 kms from home on our late afternoon return when the storm hit us half way between Beagle Bay & the Middle Lagoon turn off. Very exciting – & a tad scary at the same time. Lightning bolts surrounded us before the rain came down, many feeling a little too close for comfort. MrsTea spoke of us being inside a faraday cage, trying to reassure both me & herself. I kept my thoughts to myself as I pondered upon what would occur if we suffered a direct strike. Should we keep moving or should we stop. If we stop we are likely to be at greater risk, by virtue of being in the midst of the electrical action for longer. If we keep moving we may not be killed directly by electrocution (provided we are touching nothing metal when it happens) but more likely when the car runs off the road into a tree! I determined the safest option was to keep moving, but slowly enough to allow me to retain control of the car if the worst happened. Driving with window open (it still wasn’t raining yet) we heard a very loud ‘Pop’ close by on the drivers side. We reckoned it must have been a lightning strike. but there was no time to look for evidence of the strike, probably the closest we’ve ever been to one. The first large drops of rain hit the windscreen & within seconds we were land based submariners without a periscope. With wipers on at full speed our already slow speed quickly dropped to walking pace as we struggled to see the road ahead, but ongoing strikes convinced me that continuing to move was wise. 10 minutes later we reached our turn off onto the Middle Lagoon track & as we turned off onto the red dirt, wondering how we’d go in sloppy red mud the rain all but stopped, now just a light drizzle. So nice when everything cooled down so rapidly, we reckoned the day had been the hottest we had to date since commencing our travels. A few puddles on the tracks made things a bit interesting, and stained the car red, but nothing the Patrol couldn’t handle with ease. The lightning display continued throughout the rest of the way back, but at a slightly more respectful distance. We tried to film some pretty spectacular lighting bolts, including doubles & doubles with horizontal ‘tails’, but the footage from the phone was very disappointing, seemingly unable to cope with the sudden & extreme contrast changes. It really had been a ‘big day’, we slumped into chairs, had a beer, & left the task of unpacking & re-stocking the five fridges & freezers until later.
The next day the Thunderflies arrived, tiny little things with black bodies & white wings. I think we used to get similar in the UK when I was young, except I don’t recall them biting. These ones did! Mostly we just felt them crawling on skin, but occasional pricking sensation followed by itch, & a swelling like a mini Mount Vesuvius. It turned out that the little biters were not Thunderflies at all, but were sandflies, driven up to the clifftops by high tides, or so we thought. However they remained for the rest of our time there, & not just when tides were high, a daily occurrence. We were told of a traditional bush medicine – a lotion prepared using the sap & bark of the bloodwood tree which is applied to the bites. We found what was needed & made some. The resulting dark red lotion has a mild unique smell hard to describe & a slightly soapy texture. Applied to itchy bites it was quite effective, needing to be reapplied several times a day. It is absorbed by the skin, but leaves a thin clear ‘plastic like’ water soluble coating on the skin’s surface. (It’s slippery texture also makes it a pleasant alternative to oils for massage). Over time our sensitivity to the bites reduced, still an occasional itch, but no more Mt Vesuvius’, the sandflies remained, but the need for bloodwood lotion reduced, & getting a few bites was preferable to covering ourselves in anything (lotions, potions & clothing) to prevent them.
We did get a few more showers of light rain & a final heavier one, but nothing on the monsoonal scale. Probably the biggest wet season ‘non event’ in living memory. Occasionally we see one or a pair of frigate birds flying by above the bay, once we watched as a pair do what frigate birds are renowned for – bullying & harrassing other birds to drop their catch – giving the frigate birds a feed. They are birds with quite a distinctive sihouette against the sky. After a light shower one day we had nine of them circling , not above the water, but directly above the forest clearing in which we lived. Mesmerising stuff. Not sure why they were doing it, but John, who’s home we were in later told us it is not uncommon to see this after rain.
We also had two more Cyclones. Cyclone Veronica affectionately labelled, (as Aussies love doing) ‘Ronnie’, & Cyclone Wallace (‘Wally). We prepared for both & kept watch on weather reports, forecasts & warnings, but in the end both turned out to be ‘fizzers’ for us, passing far enough offshore to offer us nothing more than a few extra breezes. Localised storm cells provided far more ‘excitement’ (& subsequent tree clearing work). We didn’t of course want a direct hit, but a bit closer to bring rain would have been welcome.
On the 10th of April we had what most were suggesting would be the last storm of the (not so) wet season. It was a great night time storm, almost equal to our first storm there with stroboscopic lightning & thunder which repeatedly shook our dwelling for an hour or two. …… and rain! We were again cut off from the rest of Australia, the road to Broome was closed highlighting our sense of the top end of the peninsula feeling like a separate island to ‘mainland’ Australia …….. we were among the last of the lucky visitors to experience this. Soon the bitumen will change everything. We know it will bring greater prosperity to some but our sense is one of sadness about what we feel is about to be lost.
There was another final, final storm about a week ago, a daytime one – rumbling clouds & steady rain for a couple of hours, no lightning. Very welcome. Since then the easterly winds have arrived, dropping humidity significantly & bringing night temperatures down to around 22 or 23 degrees.C, which to our acclimatised bodies feels chilly enough to add a light blanket to the sheet that has been our only night covering throughout. The easterlies are the harbinger of the dry season, confirmed we are told by the arrival of dragonflies in large numbers. We await their arrival with interest.
Overall the Wet season was not about rain as we thought, it’s about having constantly wet body. Instead of the ‘Big Wet’, The ‘Big Sweat’ might be more apt! Ha ha!
Being in an ‘unfamiliar’ environment for a while results in it becoming more familiar.
Obviously. It’s a process which happens ‘in the background’ without thought, & then something happens to bring it to the foreground.
An example were the numerous Goannas we had living around us & the fact that we have seen increasing numbers since our arrival. They seem to blend in to their background so well most of the time when they stop moving. Even when only a metre away. We think we adapted & become more adept at spotting them – ‘getting our eye in‘ – we learned, subconsciously, to have a better sense of what we are looking for, & wonder if the ‘increased number’ of goanna’s we were now seeing had been there all along. We talked about this & both felt that famliarity has added to the experience. There were plenty of Wow! moments – seeing something new always has an added ’shine’ of excitement, but getting to ‘know’ adds to the pleasure immeasurably. One afternoon I made a handwritten note – it read “Our recognition that we can pick out a goanna against the undergrowth more readily than 6 months ago feels good, but even better, it tells us that we are achieving what we aspired to when dreaming of doing what we are now doing, being able to connect with country in ways previously not possible because of travelling too ‘fast’
Not so long back I was thinking about leaving & penned the following handwritten note. Months have passed since we first followed the now familiar narrow sandy track into Goombaragin, feeling very adventurous like we were heading deep into remote unknown country far from ‘civilisation’. Soon we will be leaving by what has become as familiar as our driveway at home. Leaving ‘home’ where the two of us have been privileged to have this special place to ourselves. Beach, pindan cliffs, stars (no light pollution), ‘jungle’, plentiful wildlife, sun, warmth clear blue skies, exciting storms,discovery & the freedom that being alone brings. Wearing clothes will take a bit of getting used to again! And all with the basics which help to make living in such an environment not only possible, but comfortable. Good fresh water, constant electricity, flushing toilet, showers shelter & shade, comfy bed (with great views) , a decent kitchen/dining area, internet access & satellite tv. All things taken for granted by most folk, but having all this out here where there are none of the utility services found in towns is pretty special. Leaving will be hard – the things I will miss most is laying in bed, awake, eyes not yet open listening to the ever changing dawn chorus of the birds combined with the sound of waves breaking on the beach ………. but the whole ‘package of being here has been truly a privilege – what lays ahead is exciting though.
And so what does lay ahead? For now we will make the most of house living & town life for a while. We know of the best beaches which the locals keep to themselves along which to take Nyx, our canine charge for walks. We have time to explore the town, visit the markets & go to the worlds oldest surviving outdoor cinema to see a new release movie we like the sound of. At the beginning of June we are once again heading off into remote bush, into the north Kimberley, country where only limited access by land is possible, hoping to swim in idyllic gorges & discover ancient rock art by the people of that country, reach shorelines of one of the worlds last relatively untouched wilderness areas. It feels like another adventure coming on, & we’ll be using some of our town time to prepare & plan. We are expecting to be largely ‘off grid’, beyond the reach of mobile phones & internet for around a couple of months. Those of you who have written asking when this post might appear, may need to be patient for our report, but I do hope to write another post before we disappear into Wanjina country.
Slightly longer term, following our north Kimberley adventure we’ll be looping down through the southern Kimberley from Kununurra to Halls Creek via the Duncan Road & back to Kununurra via Purnululu (the amazing Bungle Bungles). This area of stunning beehive rock formations is one of the few places we are choosing to re-visit. 10 years ago we rode our off road motorcycles the length of the 4wd only track in , stayed a couple of nights , sleeping on the hard ground. This time we hope to tow our queen size bed in & stay a bit longer. Then eastward across the northern Territory where we will take side trips into the Keep River & Gregory National Parks before reaching Katherine, the only major town (ie.with more than a single general store) before continuing east across the Gulf of Carpentaria via the Savannah Way, a mainly dirt road all the way to Cairns on the East Coast in FNQ (Far North Queensland). About 90 minutes drive north of Cairns, we have a 4 month house sit on a 40 ha privately owned nature refuge in the Daintree Rainforest, complete with visiting Cassowary & a resident croc. We are still hoping to secure a further house sit for February, March & April over that way, which of course will be during another wet season. We may have had no wet season here this year, but over in the Daintree they got the lot, weekly rainfall totals measured in metres! If no house sit, we’ll hightail it south to drier weather before returning to spend dry season 2020 exploring the Cape York wilderness which stretches north above Cairns, almost to Papua New Guinea all being well. So much to look forward to & to share with you as we do so. 🙂