First Rain

Hi, we have had an ‘unplanned outage’ with the blog, the result of our laptop having a brief & as it turned out, terminal illness. My attempts to revive it only prolonged the agony & the repair shop down in Broome were unable to do better than to offer a heart transplant, but didn’t recommend it as a financially viable option on an ageing machine. Subsequently a new laptop has been acquired & the wallet stretched …. but we are back with you now & wish to say a belated Happy new year to you all. MrsTea went all out to help share that message with you & I don’t know about you but I think she did a marvellous job. She certainly had fun doing it even though she ached all over for several days afterwards.

The computer stuff has been a saga in it’s own right, but the use of the postal system over the Christmas & new period to obtain firstly repair parts then a new computer & finally a variety of necessary accessories has been a rollercoaster ride of hope, frustration & mystery. For most folk postal deliveries are normal everyday events. Here up on the Dampier Peninsula they are rarely certain. Australia Post services do not extend north of Broome. Even Broome does not have a postal delivery service, the townsfolk there have to collect their mail either from the post office or their PO.Box. Mail for the Peninsula is brought up Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays by a ‘private postie’ & dropped off at the community offices and/or the general store. We have experimented with a variety of addresses all of which have worked sometimes. However parcels have inexplicably returned to Broome, apparently without anyone’s knowledge…….but we now have a personal phone number for the supervisor in the Broome parcels office, a miracle worker it seems. With the exception of two parcels still at an unknown (to anyone it seems) location somewhere between Sydney & Broome, we have managed to get all of our orders.

Whilst walking across to the office at Beagle Bay a few days ago from our parked car (to see if a new external hard drive had turned up yet) was good to hear a loud voice yelling from across the street “Oi, I gotta parcel up the shop for ya”. Turned out to be the hard drive I was hoping for, but what left a warm glow was being recognised & treated as a local. Turns out that if there is no-one at the office when the postie arrives, he drops the mail off at the shop …. unless of course he takes it back to Broome with him!

We’ve been in & out of Beagle Bay on average weekly, as much to become familiar faces to the town’s residents as anything. We do minor shops at the general store, have visited the medical clinic, have collected mail, have found where some of the office staff live in order to seek them out if there is no-one at the office, had conversations with folk at all locations & have distributed large quantities of fresh chillies from the abundantly producing plants in our veggie garden.

Back road to Beagle Bay

Initially we would use the old Toyota from the property to travel in & out in of ’town’. We even managed to obtain a needed spare wheel off a wreck in someone’s front yard after a search at the tip had proved fruitless. However since then we have suffered a tyre blowout. The spare (with split sidewalls) got us home, but we no longer feel taking the Toyota off the property to be wise, so for the time being at least it is only used for bore & tip runs in the knowledge that another blowout will see it abandoned & just a couple of kilometres walk back. The journey to Beagle Bay has become ’shorter’ with familiarity, a 50km round trip on sandy tracks via the local access only ‘back’ road. We know that once the rains come it will become impassable. Fresh water forms a creek which cuts across the sandy flats just outside of Beagle Bay township. Local knowledge might allow some to get through for longer than we could, but it’s not a gamble we’ll take. Instead our distance into town will be doubled. 100km round trip makes you think twice about a trip just to get eggs or a letter!

Crossing these sand flats just outside Beagle Bay will become impossible once it gets too wet.
Beagle Bay, once a ‘Mission’ has this incongruous church built by Trappist monks & the labour of the today’s settlement’s ancestors in the early 1900’s.
Inside there is a unique pearl shell encrusted altar, but each time we have been to look the doors have been locked. Instead a photo of ‘reaching to the heavens’

Daily life here at ‘home’ (Goombaragin”) remains a fairly lazy affair, not at all arduous. We are coping pretty well with the humidity & enjoying consistent temperatures in the low 30’s, unlike large swathes of Australia who have been enduring mid 40’s. Only a couple of hundred kilometres east from here in Derby they have had mid 40’s. Some places closer to 50 degrees. The narrow coastal strip of weather that we enjoy has seen us remark several times that we think we might just be in one of Australia’s top weather locations. Even Broome has felt much hotter & steamier when we’ve been down there. There is a bit of work to be done now & again, which may increase as we move into the wet season. Grass needs occasional whipper snippering, trees & branches sometimes need clearing off tracks, daily watering will decrease with rain & then there is the occasional repair needed. Yesterday it was a leaking reinforced hose between the water pump & pressure tank, threatening to empty our water supply. Shortening the hose & moving the pressure tank closer to the pump fixed that.

Wet back.

We have had a number of further snake encounters since MrsTea’s midnight unidentified ensuite encounter early in our time here, & the bird eating visit by Mr P the Olive Python. Sad to say Mr P died. We had sent photos of him to Kathy & John, Goombaragin’s owners, for identification. Although able to confirm it was Mr P, John expressed concern that he looked a lot thinner than he used to be, & suggested perhaps he was getting old & frail. Just a few days later we found Mr P dead near the kitchen, the hermit crabs having already stripped much of his flesh. We buried him & built a small rock cairn over him. Within a week there was a new fatter, longer & healthier Olive Python hanging around. We called him ‘Ollie’.

‘Ollie’ resting in the shade of a low shelf next to the kitchen door.

He remained for about a week before leaving, but we think it likely he is not far away & that we’ll see him again.
One morning MrsTea came walking across the compound wearing gloves, & holding a smaller snake in a pair of kitchen tongs. About 400mm long with ‘giraffe-like’ markings along the length of it’s body. I wondered at her sanity but quickly came to understand that this was a dead snake. She had been doing some washing in the top loader machine, & when removing the washing at the end of it’s spin cycle had seen what she thought to be a length of rubber seal she assumed had broken off from somewhere in the depths of the machine, and picked it up before realising that it was a well washed & spun snake! I can imagine the look of horror she must have had on her face right then! We identified it as another type of python, a Stimsons Python – apparently noted for their docility & kept as pets by snake lovers. We think it must have already been in the machine when she put the washing in, as she believes she would have seen it when separating clothing etc to put into the machine had it been in our laundry basket. That’s the ‘washing machine snake’.

The ‘Washing Machine Snake’

We also have had multiple night time visits from another Stimsons Python – the ‘toilet snake’, looking for froggie snacks in our ensuite. He (or she) took to coiling itself up on the toilet seat to survey all the froggie activity around it. Somewhat disconcerting when wanting to sit on the dunny in the dark. After nightly visits (by both snake & myself) over a number of consecutive nights measures were taken in the hope of blocking snaky access. So far so good, it’s been over a week since we last had a visit. We did however see another ( presumably younger as it was much smaller) Stimsons by the steps to our bedroom one evening. Maybe there’s a family close by? 🙂

The Toilet Snake’ observing a potential snack on the floor.
A couple more potential snake snacks & a main meal.

Christmas day was a little different to what I had expected. With just the two of us we had agreed to do nothing special, just another day. However on Christmas morning MrsTea informed me that I was banned from the kitchen & should restrict myself to our bedroom on the opposite side of the compound. Clearly she had plans, but for what I had no idea. At lunchtime I was summoned to the kitchen where I was handed a turkey dinner with all the trimmings & told ‘Follow me’. I followed her through the bush down to the cliff top lookout wondering how we might sit to eat without burning under the clear blue sky & midday sun. I knew there was no shade where were headed, but bless her, she had set up a table draped with a Christmas table cloth, decorated the adjacent bushes with a little tinsel & found a sunshade umbrella for us to sit under, an esky bag of cold drinks next to it. So we sat & ate Christmas dinner in a spot with a view like no other Christmas dinner view! Who knows, perhaps we are the only people to have ever celebrated Christmas in this way at this spot. It was wonderful & yet another thing to love her for.

Unique Christmas lunch location.

There is no doubt that the wet season is approaching fast. For several weeks cloud covered skies have been the norm for much of each day. We are wet and sticky from when we wake until we sleep again. It’s often hard to know if the tickle you feel is a fly landing or beads of sweat running down your body, and there is no part of your body not affected. The flies aren’t too bad really, just the occasional overly persistent one which takes a liking to one’s accessible orifices. We have discovered Yellow flies too. New to us, they are small like the tiny bush flies, but are …. yellow. Males act like bush-flies but the females can bite, much like March flies. They seem to favour late afternoon, & thankfully bites are rare, presumably the males are far more common.

Iridescent Cuckoo Wasps have made an appearance now & then, but are not aggressive & we are happy enough to co-exist with them, a fact which astonished me given MrsTea’s morbid fear of wasps. Apparently black & yellow is far scarier than iridescent metallic blue/green!

A few times heavy dark clouds have passed over us accompanied by far off rumbles of thunder & distant lightning flashes. Once we even had a slight sprinkle of rain, but it was a fizzer, not enough to even show up on the ground.

Folk talk of Broome’s unique & ‘interesting’ weather. We wonder if this is a positive way of framing the BOM’s (Bureau of Meteorology’s) seeming inability to accurately forecast the weather up this piece of coastline! Frequently storms are forecast but don’t happen. There is even a Broome Weather Group on Facebook which I have joined. If anyone knows what is going on they will. Today someone reckoned rain was on the way because ants were coming up the stilts his house is built on! They are familiar with different patterns & it is both interesting & potentially useful to tap into a body of folk who are keeping a local lookout. That said neither they nor the Bom predicted our first rain & when it came it was a doozy!

Thunder had rumbled in the distance for several hours through the evening. not unusual.

I woke a little after midnight – the thunder was louder, but it was the lightning which woke me. Even with my eyes shut it was like a thousand camera flashes pointed in my face several times a minute. Eyes open & it was like a geographical strobe, daylight/dark/daylight/dark. Except the daylight was whiter & more intense than daylight. For brief periods I could see the entire bay lit up from my bed, ultra white waves breaking down on the beach.

Then the rain started, sound on the corrugated iron roof getting ever louder until it was competing with the thunder which was now almost overhead. First rain of the season. Both wide awake we lay in bed mesmerised. This was different. The open louvre windows let the air in, cool moist air, heaven.

Petrichor, the fresh smell of rain on dry ground – not as expected. Instead the smell was more like that of fresh compost.

At some point MrsTea wondered aloud whether there might yet be puddles forming outside, this after 10 or 15 minutes of rain, long enough we thought, for the ground to have absorbed the initial flush. With torches to light our view between lightning flashes we headed outside to our front veranda, but didn’t make it out of the door, the driving rain threatening to enter our dry retreat. The rear veranda however was dry. We were astounded at the ‘puddles’ – there were no puddles, what we were looking at was a ‘lake’ , a body of fast flowing water six inches deep covering as far as our torches allowed us to see, right across our central compound. Highlighted by our torches were frogs leaping through the water, one moment there in the air,  next moment gone below the rushing waters only to reappear in a further leap toward wherever they were headed. The more we watched the more we saw.

Rain continued to noisily compete with the thunder for close to an hour, the thunder slowly moving past us & away into the distance. Lightning continued its super illumination for longer. No lightning bolts we could see, just sudden total stroboscopic illumination of all. Really quite eerie looking through the trees.

As the ‘onslaught’ lessened a new one began, the sound of the frogs. The daily frog chorus is something we have become accustomed to, but this was not the daily frog chorus. Oh no sirree, this was far more widespread. It seemed like an aural reminder that we are in the wilderness, the sound of frogs coming from miles around. Probably an exaggeration, but every frog within hearing distance was speaking, perhaps celebrating or possibly whinging about the deluge, presumably many for the first time in their lives? With the sound of rain & thunder having diminished, the frogs took over, almost, but not quite drowning out the sound of the surf breaking on the beach below. Almost as suddenly as the frogs had started, they stopped, apart from the odd one here & there close by.

Awaking in the morning things felt different somehow, even whilst just laying in bed. We laid there trying to work out what was different.
There was the usual morning light breeze rustling through the trees, but somehow there was a definite air of stillness. It was past 6am, more than an hour past our usual waking time. Heavy cloud prevented any of the golden dawn sun streaming in through our windows and the dawn chorus of birds & frogs was muted. An occasional individual & brief birdsong was heard, but even that seemed half hearted. Compared to usual there was silence & stillness.

Having left our bed we examined our surroundings we found the evidence of running water across the pindan, but by now it had all soaked in or run off. Our veranda boards looked clean & fresh, whereas the pindan looked dirty with the many months of dry season detritus spread around on its surface. Creatures, most likely the flying ants which have plastered themselves around lights at night & who’s wingless carcases we find stuck to the walls in the mornings are our guess, had created little dark mounds everywhere in the damp pindan. Brown on red.

The smell which last night had been like fresh compost, was now almost reminiscent of antiseptic. Not strongly so, but noticeable. Perhaps it was trees or other plants breathing?  Down on the beach was a phenomena we had been looking forward to seeing. The morning after the storm we  found sand with a topping of bright red mud, & freshly carved sand channels between the rocks. More evidence that we are living in a a very dynamic environment. Always something new to see.

[For comparison]
Same location the day before the storm.
Mini cliffs
MrsTea poses in one of the new channels

‘Traditionally’ the wet season here on the Kimberley’s west coast starts sometime between Christmas & early January. At this time we had no idea whether this was the beginning of the wet season proper, but the timing, if so, was spot on. It is likely that this experience will seem ‘small’ if the rains to come are anything like last years wet, but the excitement & sense of difference that the sudden change from the Dry to the Wet has provided will remain regardless.

I do wonder if some readers might wonder why it is that a bit of rain is much to get excited about. Well it’s not like we, like farmers or folk in drought stricken parts of the country need it. The country here waits for it every year, & our water supply is from an underground aquifer. What really is so different though is the sense that being out here in the wilderness, combined with the size of the event that big skies conveys a sense that we are not only so much closer to nature, we are part of it. That possibly sounds a little twee, or corny, but if you were here you would feel it & know it too.

Historically the average January rainfall in Broome is 200mm. January 2018 saw 900mm recorded! Conjecture is that this year may be lower than average, but we hope not, but if so, we still expect rain events to be sudden & intense.

Since that first midnight storm we have seen the start of the fabled greening of the country, reputed to be an almost instant response to the rain, it has not disappointed. Within days what was bare red earth is becoming a lawn in places!

Compare this to the photo above showing the same area. The previous one the day after the storm, this one 3 days later.

Driving in to Beagle Bay we are aware of more vegetation brushing the side of our vehicle & it just looks like there is more green. It is the beginning of what we came to see. The Spear grass, as tall as a person was presumably green at some point before becoming the straw colour we have seen up to now. When new green speargrass grows the transformation will be incredible.

We have now had a second storm. Yesterday whilst I was repairing the pump hose. It came across the bay so fast. A huge ‘shelf’ cloud looked like it meant business. Looking out across the bay we could see it was windy ahead of and below the cloud. Water was being picked up from the surface of the ocean & driven horizontally above the surface as white foam & spray, moving faster than any speedboat could go. When the wind hit us a few minutes later it did so with a suddenness & ferocity we hadn’t expected despite what we had just observed. We barricaded ourselves inside & watched. Within minutes we were once again an island in the midst of rushing waters. Not quite as much as the midnight storm, but this time we could see it all unfolding before us.

Looking ominous.
Shelf cloud coming in fast!
Minutes later.
Red sea shortly after the skies cleared

We now have a better understanding of how the weather can change extremely rapidly & virtually unexpectedly. We have to ensure we are always ready as waiting until it happens to secure things to keep dry or from being blown away is leaving it too late. And these are just normal wet season storms.
Cyclones are a whole different ballgame again, something that we are yet to experience. That said if some folk are to be believed we may only be a week or so away from one. The following screenshot is from an app available for folk with iOS devices (possibly other systems too – I don’t know). Its a freebie called Windy.com, download it from the app store. It shows worldwide wind computer modelling. Type in Broome WA as the location & watch the development of this cyclone from the 14th January onward! I have marked our location on the screenshot below. Gotta say it’s looks a tad daunting. We will be paying attention to the government cyclone forecasting services that’s for sure!

Computer cyclone prediction for 16th January.

More gratuitous rock photos because we like them. Hope you do too.

And to finish off a few more ‘critter’ shots.

Chilli Hermit crab. One of the larger we see (& hear) daily. This one has a shell 4″ to 5″ long. Smallest can be as tiny as 1/8″ shell … & of course all sizes & shell shapes in between.

 

We often see these Sand Goannas (Goulds Goanna). Their fierce expression belies their indifferent attitude to our prescence. This in our pumpkin patch.
Often seen at ground level, they are also good climbers. We have a smaller resident one in the rafters of our bedroom. Another lives in an old car wreck.
It is not uncommon for them to stand upright ‘meerkat style’ to better survey their surroundings. Can get quite close to them & now & then they will engage in a staring contest with us.
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