From Mulyie Station we found our way back to the North West Coastal Highway, reaching it a little south of Pardoo Roadhouse, but stopped at a what turned out to be a grotty little roadside rest area because it had a good signal to upload our previous blog posts. I only mention it so I can have a whinge about it. The first thing we did upon our arrival was to put out some thoughtless fool’s still flaming fire. It is beyond both of us how anyone could simply leave somewhere with a fire burning like that, it puts lives & country at risk. Then there was the rubbish – the two bins provided, both with hinged mesh lids to keep out the crows, were almost empty. It appeared that the mesh lids intended for the crows work equally well on (some) humans. Bottles, cans, joints of meat (really!) nappies, toilet paper & even the contents of a can of spaghetti were strewn around on the ground. We were back on a main highway,this is supposedly civilisation! It really is no wonder that our preference is to find ourselves out in the bush, the desert & the wilderness. So often so called ‘civilisation is ugly. The ugly behaviours which cause what we found ourselves amongst belong to the selfish & unthinking users – we have real trouble understanding who they are. We don’t know anyone who behaves like that – at least as far as we know! If it’s YOU… just stop it eh?
OK , whinge over.
Passing the turn off to Pardoo Station campground we smiled. Nine years ago we pulled over here only to have the radiator in our bus boil. This time we we passed without incident. (Phew!).
Also nine years ago we stayed at the caravan park on 80 mile beach. On that occasion we were greeted by the sight of what seemed like everyone carrying huge metre plus Threadfin Salmon, the main recalled image being two young boys, perhaps eight years old struggling through the CP with one fish between them! Eighty of these giant fish had been caught that morning, so next day I’d tried my luck, albeit standing waist deep in the surf with a 7 foot rod. No-one caught a thing, myself included. I mention this little tale as it hatched my desire to own a surf rod, something MrsTea bought subsequently for me as a birthday gift & now here we were, back at 80 mile beach with an as yet unused surf rod, albeit several years old. It had to be used!
Our entry into the CP revealed no young children carrying giant fish, in fact it revealed virtually nothing, as the place was swathed in a pea souper sea mist making it difficult to see more than a car length ahead. Most unusual apparently considering it was mid afternoon. Hot moist fog. We saw it ahead of us as & then felt the humidity rise inside the car as we drove into it, & even more so when we parked & walked to the CP office. Everything was wet & the smell of the bush were similar, but different to, the petrichor we are familiar with after rain following a dry spell at home. Here the smell was even more delicious.
Next day was bright & clear & hot. We did what every other person does at Eighty Mile Beach – we went fishing & christened the rod, all unwieldy 13’ 6” of it. Fisher folk were lined up along the beach for as far as it was possible to see in both directions (a long way). Many had quad bikes to cart their gear, some took their 4wd cars along the beach. We walked over the dunes with all the gear + chairs. The sun blazed down from the clear blue sky & I fished my little heart out whilst MrsTea watched on. Three fish were caught that day, a small shark which drew blood from the chap who caught it, a small ray which was thrown back & a catfish which was mine. Disappointing, but at least I caught more than most. Not sure I’ll bother carrying a surf rod on future travels. I also caught myself a bad dose of sunburnt feet.
The following few days & nights were spent at the Barn Hill Station campground, approximately 140kms south of Broome, another ‘return visit’. Basic amenities, beautiful beach & an ‘outback’ bowling green to attract large numbers of older travellers. If anywhere is the quintessential outback ‘Grey Nomadsville’ this may well be it. Even though close to the end of the season the place was still well patronised. A stroll along the beach, & watching the sun set over the ocean was enjoyable, even if somewhat painful, but mainly our few days there were spent lazing under our awning (first time we had put it up since leaving home) in order to look after my now very sore & blistered feet. The blistering didn’t appear until two days after getting burned. Three subsequent days spent with my feet in buckets of cool water, lots of moisturiser plus TLC from the lady I love saw the situation improve slowly, & allowed me to drive wearing thin socks & Crocs sandals when it was time to leave. (Speaking of crocs it was reported that 3 crocs – the snapping handbag kind, had been observed ‘cruising’ along the beach on the day after we arrived, but we didn’t see them). Nine years ago we celebrated MrsTea’s 51st birthday here, partaking of the weekly Sunday Roast 3 course dinner, & listening to the Family Shoveller Band, including their singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. This time we celebrated my feet not falling off & listened to Frankie Shoveller – the father, now playing solo since his children have grown up The presentation had changed since Frankie went solo. Sadly he now plays little of his own compositions about life in Bidyanga (his community, 50kms away) & instead mainly sings to an eclectic mix of Karaoke tunes, not something the audience appeared to have any qualms about.
Almost at Broome our phone picked up a signal , alerting us to a received message. We pulled over & listened to it, a message from the owners of Goombaragin, the place we will be to caretaking/house-sitting for the wet season. It transpired that the current caretakers had decided that they wanted to stay on until the end of October, & more, they want to have the place just to themselves. We had expected to take over from them at the end of September & to be there from mid September onward to ‘learn the ropes’ about how everything works. So now 6 weeks of ‘What shall we do, where shall we go? Discussions were held & the owners got back to us to ask if we might be happy to move into a neighbouring property with all facilities and closer to the beach until we take over from the current caretakers toward the end of October. Nothing to do, just live there. The description of the place sounds very pleasant & the arrangement of “get up there when it suits you” easy for us to live with. It was made clear to us that we were the priority, & if not happy with the alternative that we could go to Goombaragin as originally planned, but we have been happy to accept the alternative.
And so into Broome. A place to visit on many people’s bucket list.
Somewhere, not exactly sure where, we left the Pilbara & entered the Kimberley. The maps we have, & have seen, don’t show a border between the two regions & we discussed as we drove where we might cross into the Kimberley. We knew, without doubt, that Broome was in the Kimberley – it ‘feels’ different to other places just to drive through it, but where did we enter the Kimberley? Well it is probably fair to say that Broome is the Kimberley’s western ‘gateway’ but we observed that somewhere along the North Coastal Highway the vegetation changed ………. from low scrub/spinifex to greener & higher vegetation – trees with increasingly thicker understorey with what seemed (to us) exotic fragrances permeating the vehicles air vents. Not sure exactly where, but it felt different & we knew instinctively we had entered the Kimberley…. it was quite exciting. Finally after nine years we were back, & this time for a lot longer.
Broome has it’s lovers & it’s detractors, at least on the grey nomad social media sites. Both have valid viewpoints. For some it is an expensive rip-off joint where budget travellers are merely tolerated, & short term fly in fly out holidaymakers are preferred, short stayers being more profitable.. For those not utilising the resorts & hotels, caravan parks in Broome are $60 per night, $55 unpowered. Others, as we had managed to in the past, sidestep Broome’s ‘tourist scene’ & consequently found the town to be a rather unique place as Australian towns go, situated on the doorstep of some stunning & vivid country. Not for us are the tourist drawcards of Cable Beach with it’s camel parades, stripey sun lounges & happy hours at sunset. For us it is the country north of Broome which holds interest – the Dampier Peninsula. Broome is is busy town with all the services a town needs, & is thus a useful stopping off place rather than a destination for us. That said, as towns go, we like it. The layout & architecture convey ‘laid back’ & tropical’ to us. People talk of ‘Broome Time’. Nevetheless it seems far busier this time around, the offshore Browse basin where undersea gas is extracted & increasing industrialisation of the Kimberley wilderness generally is responsible for that I guess. It will be interesting to see how much the place slows down during the ‘off season’.
Our first couple of nights were in a caravan park, the Broome Gateway CP, 30 minutes outside of town for $30 per night unpowered – cheap compared to in town! Cleared scrub on the red pindan soil & set up really quite thoughtfully it seemed. The best & most spacious ablutions facilities we have ever come across in a CP, huge drive through sites, & several large communal firepits made us feel we had stumbled upon a comparative bargain. We were even offered a wet season job there upon arrival! It’s a pet friendly park too, so we had the opportunity to befriend a few four legged travellers, a bonus for us dogless dog lovers. It provided a good base whilst we sorted a few things out in town & re-stocked.
We found our old friends, Richard & Frans, both from the Goolarabooloo mob, they had been our ‘interpreters’ when we walked the Lurijarri Trail in 2009, a 10 day walk along the that country’s songlines, stretching for around 100kms north from Broome. The Goolarrabooloo formed back in the 1930’s with the culture, stories, & responsibilities for the country passed on from the elders of the now long gone Djugun people to a man legendary in Kimberley culture & unique in Australian culture … Paddy Roe, known fondly as Lulu. He was an intelligent man with a charismatic personality, a forward thinking man ahead of his time & revered by all who knew him. Unique in that back then he believed that for country to stay healthy & for the culture of millenia to survive that it would need to be shared with both black & white. What makes him unique is that interviews with him, recorded verbatim have been published & remain available today. The dreaming stories (Bugarregarre) are thus written down in whitefella books together with the account of the ‘handover’ of responsibility. It was not unusual for this ‘mantle of responsibilty’ to be passed on by elders to the person deemed most capable to take on the task, even if from a different ‘clan’. This was the responsibility passed on to Lulu from the last of the Djugun elders & this responsibility has been passed down, as is the custom, to those who are now Goolarabooloo elders. These are the folk who fought against the huge (on a world scale) gas processing hub at Walmadan (James Price Point) which would have destroyed songlines & sacred sites forever. The combination of the West Australian Government & a number of multinational corporations were defeated & the Gas Hub thankfully did not proceed. As part of that fight application was made via whitefella law for Native Title to that country to be granted. In whitefella law it’s all about ownership, not responsibility & the legal processes take years. Eventually, earlier this year, a white judge denied the Goolarabooloo Native Title because they could not show uninterupted connection to country going back beyond 1930(ish), completely ignoring all the evidence of the valid cultural process which had occurred, & in doing so has caused great distress. We can only hope that a legal appeal scheduled for October is successful.
In the meantime we have been camped at Walmadan, firstly at the the Goolarabooloo’s trail camp behind the dunes, & not far from many ancient middens, burial sites & jila (fresh water source), & now in a beautiful shaded spot on top of the pindan cliffs of James Price point, just a short walk along the beach from our first camp (a bit further by car).
This country is alive.
By night we hear the sound of whales ‘tail slapping’ off shore. The sound carries up & over the dunes. By day we have watched the whales tail slapping & breaching from the top of the dunes, from the shore & now from the top of the pindan cliffs. Richard has camped with us, & we have fished off the reef together, getting good feeds of Bluebone, Spangled emperor, Red Emperor & Rock Cod. Other fish like Mullet can be caught off the beach in the sandy areas, but Richard (& us) prefer the firm white & tasty flesh of the reef fish. Cooked straight onto the coals of the fire. No messing with oil, foil or pans. No need for gutting the fish if being eaten soon after caught. (High tide is the best time). “The scales & skin act like natural Alfoil” Richard said, “Just peel it off once you can poke a small twig through the flesh with ease”. For those being kept a bit longer, we gutted them & cooked them in the same way. Gut contents were examined before discarding & the bright orange fat (or white depending upon species) was retained & cooked inside the fish. Bait off the beach is readily available, crabs – either burrowed into the sand (we learned how to differentiate between holes worth excavating & those not) or hermit crabs either collected at the right time of day when they are active or found in shadowy resting spots. Sitting in one spot & watching tuned our eyes. At first nothing, but soon we were seeing them everywhere. If we collected more than we used they were released to live another day. Fishing can be frustrating on the jagged reef rocks, with many ’snags’, but like with many things patience is a virtue. Either the wave action or the fish on the hook will release the snag sooner or later much of the time if the operator can resist pulling, & instead giving the line some slack.
Camped nestled behind the large dunes, in the remnant vine thicket forest we were surrounded by a large variety of birds, mostly as yet unphotographed & unidentified. (Must try harder!) On the shoreline & flying across the water a variety of seabirds. They are not the only things flying however. We were treated to the sight of a large Manta Ray which launched itself a good 3 metres out of the water early one morning! That was a real unexpected event which had us pinching ourselves! Sea turtles are commonly seen in the surf & in the large rockpools left when the tide goes out. The tides go out a long way. Today the tides reach a height of just over 10 metres – low tide is 0.5 metres. When out this far huge sections of rock are exposed, leaving networks of pools containing a variety of hard & soft corals & other marine life.
We know from our past experience of walking this coastline that it changes frequently along it’s length, everthing from huge sun bleached salt pans, ephemeral fresh water lakes behind dunes, paperbark swamps, pink dunes, white dunes, rock formations that embody the first spirit people & so forth. Yesterday we moved from our camp behind the dunes to the clifftops of James Price Point. A distance of less than a couple of kilometres but so different again. We have shade & shelter but more breeze ….. and importantly for us, we can see the ocean from our clifftop vantage point without the energy sapping walk up the dunes first.
We are beginning to learn about managing our energy, the days are becoming increasingly hotter which if not well managed can be exceptionally draining. Best time of the day are the precious 2 or 3 hours following the first bird call of the day. Middle of the day siestas or non physical activity, preferably positioned somewhere with a breeze & shade – this of course depends upon the direction of the breeze that day. Evenings are still cooler, but that we expect to change as we get toward the end of the year. I (Cuppa) have quite a few mozzie bites from the dusk periods, but seem to be somehow suffering less with them now. Maybe the daily antihistamines & repellants are helping. Based upon last night the biggest help has been the move to the clifftops. Hopefully I am not speaking ’too soon’, but last night was a gloriously mozzie free evening!
In fact we feel that whilst very different, our clifftop camp here rivals our previous favourite at Running Waters. For me it is the first place we have camped where I feel I could happily remain for a couple of weeks or longer. We’ve now been here for a week & the self imposed pressure to move on has dissipated. We are approximately 60kms north of Broome, but it could just as easily be 600kms. No phone reception, no services, & access only via a rough & often very corrugated sandy track.
Driving back into Broome only takes around 90 minutes but has been made unpleasant by the fact that something, as yet undetermined, is making an horrendous clattering noise underneath the car. I’ve had several attempts searching for the cause, laying on a tarp to prevent me turning red in the staining pindan dirt, but have found nothing loose or broken. We resorted to taking it to a mechanic in town, worried that we may be doing damage by driving. He found a bolt which holds a control arm bush in place to be loose & tightened it. It was good of him to fit us in whilst we waited. Half an hour labour charge ($66) & I was optimistic, but the drive back to camp quickly put paid to that. On smooth road, & even on mild corrugations – no noise, but on the worse corrugations it returned with a vengeance. It is booked in at the mechanic again tomorrow. Fingers crossed the cause will be found & sorted. It’s the sort of thing which really takes the edge off driving & we want it sorted before going further up the peninsula. It’s possible the bushes may be worn after all the corrugations we’ve been over on the way up here, & thankfully, according to the mechanic, they are the same as those used in the ubiquitous Toyota Landcruisers, so they have some in stock. Fingers crossed……….
A couple of days later we clattered & banged our way back into Broome. It turned out that a nut, washer & two part bush used to secure the leading arm (control arm) to the chassis were completely missing, presumably now sitting on some dusty corrugated road somewhere. This was allowing the complete front axle to move, hence the clattering noise. The mechanic seemed surprised that the Patrol had still driven & steered normally & told us we had been very lucky that the entire axle/diff assembly had not moved forward & dropped off the chassis. I’d missed it when looking because the the parts are inside part of the chassis & not easily seen. Several hours later after new bushes had been obtained from elsewhere in Broome, & the missing nut & washer replaced with items removed from car wrecks in the mechanics front yard the job was done & the drive back up to James Price Point this time was a lot quieter & reassuring. We know from past experience that finding a mechanic who is both good at what he/she does, & at a fair price (for the area) can be one of the hardest things for a traveller to manage. In the past we experienced spending limited funds hand over fist, only to have the problem unresolved, & being charged horrendous hourly rates & unreasonable times. That experience has made taking our car to a mechanic stressful for me. “The car has been up on the hoist for 4 hours, but worked on for a lot less. Will they charge me for the full 4 hours @ $132 an hour plus parts”. I don’t enjoy being in that position – ‘over a barrel’. As it turned Wayne (Broome Mechanical – Blue Haze just outside of town) is an old fashioned mechanic with a good way with people. Many little interactions we observed between him & other customers who came & went whilst we were there told us he cared about people, & so when our final bill was for 1.5 hours plus parts ($260), we left feeling that we had been treated very fairly & if need arises for mechanical service again whilst up here we’ll go back to Wayne again. Just out of interest for others intending to travel up this way, Wayne also utilises a workshop further north, up in the aboriginal community of Ardyloon (One Arm Point). If a job is required up there he or one of his staff have a ‘day out’ to drive up there, do the job & return home. I enquired about costs, expecting hourly rates to be the same, but with the addition of a days worth of driving time. Not so, the hourly rate is $34 an hour less, & no extra charged for the travel time! At least this is the deal for residents up there, & we were assured we would be treated as residents! “It’s a service to the communities up there” Wayne said. I also enquired about the cost of replacement tyres, which we’ll need next year before leaving Broome. In these parts of the country freight charges generally add significant amounts to large bulky purchases, but here the cost for the Bridgestone tyres we use, fitted, was identical to what we have paid ‘down south. Wayne has a deal where he pays no freight on tyres & they can generally be obtained within a few days. I don’t plug businesses generally but am happy on the basis of our experience to recommend Broome Mechanical…….. just so long as you are not the sort of customer who like to see a pristine “eat your lunch off the floor’ type workshop!
Added sometime later. …. We have just returned to Broome after 2 weeks up at James Price Point & surrounding area. It really has felt great to just stay in one place & kick back. Bodes well for the next stage – caretaking at Goombaragin.