Monday, August 12, 2013

Pilbara & Kimberley trip July 2013


Sunday 30 June

Most of the packing for this trip has been done the previously including yesterday installing the metal roof rack on top of the Pajero and filling it with the second spare tyre, three metal jerry cans, a plastic jerry can and the kangaroo jack. The trip to the Kimberley will be easy but we are also planning to drive up the Gibb River Road so extra gear is called for, including a box of emergency gear like a tyre repair kit, tow rope and tools. The weekend before, we packed the Engel fridge, an esky, a box of cooking utensils, a hot pot, a two burner gas stove but no gas bottle, a tent, two camp stretchers and a water bottle. Today we packed two suit cases, two shoe bags, two pillows, two iPads, my drawing folder and pastel pencils, a box of sample postcards, books and CDs, my camera, a video camera, our personal bags and last, but not least, my laptop. We don’t travel light!

We’re running late as we have to leave Sox, the half breed Corgi/Sheep dog cross, with Prideland Kennels at Muchea, so I ring and explain that we won’t be there by the designated latest time of 11.00 pm. We get there around 11.30 and book Sox in. The next stop is the Muchea Service Station where we fuel up and Lexie buys sandwiches that are heat sealed and come from Queensland. Don’t we make sandwiches here anymore?

Great Northern Highway north of Wubin

We turn back and reach the Great Northern Highway and turn left, headed north and hopefully into warmer weather. It’s an uneventful run to our lunch stop at Dallwallinu. By the time we reach Mt Magnet the sky is darkening and we ring ahead to the Auski Motel in Meekathara to say that we should be there by 7.30 in time to place an order for stir fry and rice as that is the latest the chef will take orders. This ensures a swift drive through the night when not getting stuck behind road trains at various intervals. We make it by a bit over 7.30 pm and the order is sent through to the kitchen. Dinner is good and we retire to our unit tired and ready to sleep. 

Monday 1 July

After breakfast I drop a copy of my new The Human Condition CD off at the Shire Office to be passed on to the community radio station which is currently in recess until they organise a new committee. I hope they get to play it. We then drive out on the road north competing with numerous road trains with oversize loads and scout vehicles. The mining boom stills seems to be still in progress if the number of prefab buildings headed for the Pilbara is any indication.

Big truck passing trucks with buildings G N Highway

We change drivers regularly until we get to Newman where our first stop is the Visitor Centre. I drop off a sample of one of my drawing reproductions from the Way Out West Series book and another one of my The Human Condition CDs for the local radio station as Tracey, the manager, knows the guy who runs it. We then drive to the Hardware store and purchase a small gas bottle and get it filled as we forgot to pack one before we left. The guy who does this reckons the waterfall will be flowing well at Hamersley Gorge which is good news.

After fuelling up we are back on the road again and, after passing the big hill called The Governor, we take the Karijini National Park turnoff on the left. Driving past the Hamersley Range is exciting as we see the mountains change colour with the sun and clouds. As the sun sets we drive into Tom Price, the epitome of a mining company town. Everything’s big. The trucks are big. The miners are big. The hills are big. The trains are big. It’s a big town.

We book in at the Tom Price Caravan Park and in the fading light set up the tent and camper stretchers. By the time we’re organised it’s dark so we go in search of dinner and find it at the Moon Palace Chinese Restaurant. Washed down with a glass of white wine it is fitting end to the day. This is our first night in the tent on the new camp stretchers so it takes a bit to get organised but we’re soon tucked up and ready for sleep, notwithstanding the noisy campers in the caravan across the way.

Tuesday 2 July

Roadworks into Hamersley Gorge

The plan for today is to drive out to Hamersley Gorge to get photos of the water fall up the back of the gorge. My previous photos weren’t much good. I’d also like to do a drawing there. We drive up to the railway crossing and have to wait for one of the big iron ore trains. It seems to run forever. We stop at the Visitor Centre to make sure the road is open to the gorge, which it is. I also drop off a sample of one of my drawing reproductions. Our next stop is Gumala Radio at the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation where I leave a copy of my new CD. On my way back to the car an Aboriginal woman catches up with me and invites me back to the stations where I have a chat with Tadum Lockyer the radio announcer. We’ve met before and he is happy to tee up an interview for the next day.

Hamersley Gorge

We take the Roebourne Road out of town and after 65 km get to Hamersley Gorge. The last part of the road is bitumen and the carpark and entrance to the gorge have been upgraded substantially since our last visit. There is a viewing platform and extra steps joining the previous steps down the side of the cliff to the gorge below. It is a beautiful setting with water cascading down to a main waterhole that flows on through a narrow series of gorge walls and out down the river’s watercourse. After taking photos there I make my way up past the waterfall though a series of pools to a place where water flows down through picturesque rock walls. It’s a dangerous climb to get to this spot but well worth it. Once I’ve taken the photos I came to take I clamber back to where Lexie has been resting next to the main waterhole.

Hamersley Gorge waterfall

It’s time for lunch so I climb back up the steep steps and swap the cameras for our lunch and make my way back down again. It’s good to have rest. We then both climb back up the steps and I leave Lexie at the car while I climb back down again, this time with my drawing gear and stool. It’s a bit of a struggle climbing back to the far waterfall with the gear but eventually I get there and set up to draw the scene. There are a couple of girls swimming at the waterfall but it‘s fine by me. It takes me an hour to sketch in the main details and then I clamber back up the gorge. At one point I slip and my stool tumbles down into the water and my drawing gear isn’t too far. I manage to retrieve my stool and take it more carefully, eventually getting back to the main pool. There our neighbors at the caravan park tell me off and that I drove off leaving my thermos of coffee behind.

Lexie waiting at Hamersley Gorge

I get back up to the carpark and we drive back to town calling in at the Visitor Centre to get a pass to go down the train line road to Roebourne. We have to watch a 20 minute Reo Tinto video about the road to get the pass, which isn’t such a bad idea. They point out the possible problems that may arise and let us know that the speed limit is 80 Km per hour. We buy some more things that we forgot to pack and then head back to our camp for dinner and sleep.

Hamersley Range

Wednesday 3 July

We wake to the sound of rain spattering on our tent and overcast skies. This calls for a change of plan. The main reason for taking the railway road to Roebourne was to take photos though the Chichester Range. With the chance of rain and cloud the chances of getting good photos is limited, so we decide to save a day and drive directly to Port Hedland via the Great Northern Highway. This involves driving back past Karijini with the opportunity to drop into the Karijini Visitor Centre.

Iron ore train Tom Price

After packing up and checking with Tadum Lockyer, who isn’t ready for an interview, we decide to have breakfast at the Karijini Café. The café is run by Chinese women and there is a steady stream of miners lining up for breakfast, not unlike what it must have been like on the goldfields all those years ago. Breakfast is good and we head out of town for Karijini. Ten kilometres out of town there is a sign pointing left to Karijini and because I want to go in at the second turn we drive on.

Mt Bruce, Karijini National Park

The scenery changes and I find it very picturesque but I have an uneasy feeling that something is wrong. I see creek names I don’t remember and when I see a sign which says PB 20 I ask Lexie to check the map. She does so and says the only place it can be is Paraburdoo.  I say it can’t be as we are on the road to the Great Northern Highway. By the time we reach Paraburdoo it is obvious that I am completely wrong. I turn around, wondering at my abject failure and we drive back to the Karijini turnoff and pass a sign that says Port Hedland. There wasn’t a sign that indicated this before the turnoff but I should have known. Eventually we get to the second Karijini turnoff and we drive to the Karijini Visitor Centre. This is a brilliant, architecturally designed building that features slabs of iron used in minimalist style. Inside, the same high level of taste is used in the interactive museum and retail shop. Included amongst the books on sale are my Way Out West Books and I leave a sample of one of my drawing reproductions for the manager to consider. We drive back out of the park and turn left on to the Tom Price/Newman Road.

Munjina Roadhouse

Turning left on to the Great Northern Highway we drive till we get to the Munjina Gorge and are treated to a spectacular drive through red rock valley. Further on we stop at the Munjina Roadhouse for fuel and lunch. On the drive through to the North West Coastal Highway we jockey for position with huge trucks with two or more dogs, passing outcrops of red rocks that stand out in the sun. If we had more time I would have loved to stop and take photos but we have to get to Port Hedland by 6.00 pm at the latest.

Lollipop man Port Hedland bridge

As we drive in to Port Hedland we stopped by a lollipop man at a high bridge and have to wait until a bunch of trucks come over the bridge. On the other side are substantial earthworks which appear to be part of a major upgrade of the road into Port Hedland. We drive into town following the iron ore railway and substantial traffic. Port Hedland is another big town. There are big tanks, big machines, big buildings and lots more big trucks. The visitor centre closes at 4.30 pm so we are too late to see them but I check out the development around the building that they told me about and it looks good. At the Big 4 Caravan Park we move in to the bunk house where we get a bedroom and shared kitchen and ablution facilities for $142 a night. It doesn’t take long for me to rustle up dinner and we settle in for an evening of TV viewing.

Miners disembarking at Port Hedland jetty

Thursday July 4

Today is the big drive to Broome, all 600 kilometres of it. Lexie cooks dinner in the Magic Pot and we pack it along with everything else. By the time we purchase the gas we need from the shopping centre it is 10.00 am and time to fuel up. To get gas for the car we have to eventually go to South Hedland as no service station in Port Hedland sells gas.

Broome road sign

Soon we are on the open road heading north. I stop at the De Grey River, which is flowing, and take some photos. We change drivers every 100 km and by lunch reach Sandfire Roadhouse where we fuel up and eat. We watch a Japanese motor bike driver adjust the camera on his helmet and then kit up. He looks like a Samurai warrior as he mounts his bike and drives off.

Degrey River

Fueling up Sandfire Roadhouse

We call ahead for accommodation and are told by the lady at Broome Caravan park that we can’t book ahead but that there will be powered sites available. As the afternoon comes to a close we turn down Broome Road and find our way to the caravan park. Our site is under a Tamarind Tree with pindan floor. We are grateful of the site and set up camp. Lexie adds coconut milk to the dinner and we enjoy a vegetable green curry and rice. Not bad for camp cooking. We’re both tired so go to bed as soon as we can.  

Friday July 5

Downtown Broome

How has Broome changed since we were last here twenty years ago? We’re about to find out.  The big bend on the approach to town is still there but so is a big roundabout with a sign pointing to Cable Beach. We pass the Aboriginal community with a big sign on its fence saying “No grog for our mob” and “Jesus loves you” which sounds fine to me. At the next roundabout we take the left turn to Chinatown, which is not the Chinatown I used to know. It’s now shopping town. Tang’s Chinese Restaurant is now a hairdresser. No more short soup from Tang’s. Maybe you can get short back and sides. Chinatown has easily doubled in size but something of the old corrugated iron look of the past has been retained. Streeter and Males is still there selling hardware but the old Streeter’s Jetty doesn’t have room for luggers to tie up there any more. My postcard of Streeter’s Jetty has luggers tied up to it so I guess you could call it historical.

The Roey

We make the rounds of the pearl emporiums and art and photography galleries. There is an Aboriginal Art gallery selling art from Utopia, but Short Street Gallery has work from Kimberley people including works by Maryanne Downs, old David Down’s wife. We should make an effort to see Maryanne when we’re in Fitzroy. I want to buy a copy of Steve Hawk’s book on Fitzroy Crossing and Lexie points out the Kimberley Bookshop so we go and purchase the book. The owner now lives down south so I’ll have to contact him when we get back to convince him to purchase more of my The Kimberley Series books as they seem to have sold the ones he bought.  We place orders for lunch at The Roebuck Hotel, the “Roey”, as it is affectionately known. It seems to have grown as well. We take our lunch in the Seaman’s Bar and wait a long time for it to arrive. The place has filled up with tourists as well as locals. They seem to be doing a roaring trade.

There are a few places I need to visit and the first is the ABC Radio Station. Vanessa Mills greets me and I give her a copy of my new The Human Condition album. She is very friendly and graciously agrees to interview me on her radio programmer to talk about the new CD. We settle on a Wednesday morning on our way back south. The next stop is Goolari Media where I check that they have my new CD (I did send them one). The girl at the counter assures me that it is on their playlist. I ask to have a look at the Gimme Gimme Club. This is a corrugated iron building on the premises that is set up for concerts with sound system and bar. I am planning to apply for an arts grant to tour my new music through the Kimberley next year and this seems like a possible venue we could use. It fits the bill and the officer in charge agrees to send me the information that I need to book it. The next place we visit is Magabala Books to talk about a possible book publishing deal. The officer responsible for such matters is away but I leave my contact details. By this time Lexie is tired of visiting buildings and I take her back to the caravan park for a rest.

Cable Beach

I want to get some photos at Cable Beach and Gantheaum Point so I drive back into town. My first stop is Cable Beach, which hasn’t changed all that much thank goodness. It is well patronised and I get some Ken Done type photographs. Gantheaum Point is a different story. It is late afternoon and the setting sun lights up the orange and white rocks providing good photographic possibilities. It’s a pity all those other pesky tourists think the same. I stay to watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean and it is a serene scene as we all sit and watch the yellow sun disappear.

Gantheum Point
On the way back I drop in to the Cable Beach Club and leave a copy of my The Kimberly Series book and some sample postcards at the souvenir shop inside. The entrance to the Club is visually stunning with tall red logs holding up the Bali style verandah. The building is a testament to the good taste and distinctive style that Alistair McAlpine brought to Broome. It was his vision that put Broome on the map.

Sunset Gantheum Point

It is dark when I get back. I wake Lexie and prepare dinner. The wine that I bought on the way back, though Kimberley cool, is still appreciated. Another busy day calls for a good night’s rest. 

Saturday July 6

We have arranged to meet Jeremiah, my nephew, at Matso’s for breakfast at 9.00 am so we rise early and pack. We get to Matso’s just before 9.00 and take a table on the side verandah. The view is of the aqua blue water of Roebuck Bay and I sit and drink it in along with a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice. After a few minutes I call Jeremiah on the mobile and tell him where we are and that we’ll go ahead and order breakfast. We order Eggs Florentine and it is delicious. Jeremiah doesn’t turn up. He did say that he was going to a party on Friday night so that probably accounts for his no show.

Matso's Store

We go in search of a refrigeration expert in the industrial section of town to get some advice on our Engel but no one is at the place of business. I drive on out to the Port to take some photos and then we drive to Cable Beach for Lexie to have a look. We also check out the cable Beach Resort to get details on the off season charges. It would be nice to take a green season package to Broome some time, particularly as I want to do a drawing at Gantheaum Point. That done we fuel up on the way out and are soon headed for Derby some 200 Km north. We change drivers half way and I get some cream anthill photos. At Wilare Roadhouse on the Fitzroy River I get out and leave some of my merchandise to be passed on to the manager.

Wilare Bridge

We ring ahead and book a powered camping site at the Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park which is sited opposite the marsh. It’s a good location so we get the gear out and set the tent up. After lunch Lexie rings the Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures tour to see if there are any seats for tomorrow and what the cost is. She is told that the tours are booked up for the next two and a half weeks and cost $700 each. That rules us out on both counts. There is, however, the opening of the Kimberley Art Prize 2013 tonight at 6.30 pm so that is something we resolve to get to.

After showering and dressing for the art opening I go and stick our dirty clothes in the coin operated washing machines. When done I hang the clothes over the washing line, sans pegs, as we also forgot to pack pegs. It’s a still night so I see no problem. We walk across to the Civic Centre where the Kimberley Art Prize exhibition is and join the crowd looking at the artworks. It is good show with lots of variety including a good number of Aboriginal artworks. While looking around we catch up Mary and Mark Norval, both local artists, and arrange to go and visit their gallery tomorrow. We also bump into Denis Jokovich, a teacher at the state high school, who reminds me that he bought one of my CDs a long while ago. It’s nice to talk to him and he recounts how much he likes living in Derby, which is great. We stand and listen to the MC read out all the prize winners. The prizes are substantial and donated by local and international business associated with the area. The Overall Winner Prize goes to an Aboriginal woman, Jean Rangi, from Fitzroy Crossing titled, “This the Desert”. The prize is worth $10,000.00 and is an acquisitive prize donated by the Shire of Derby West Kimberley. The woman isn’t there to collect the prize and it is likely to be controversial. The judges are Lee Kinsella from the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at UWA and the local state school art teacher, Joel Wilson. I imagine there will be some comment in the local paper. It’s a good work but there are lots of other equally good works in the show. That’s the nature of judging. I would have picked the Benjamin Loaring painting, “Entrance Point-Broken Shells”. I didn’t go much on his description of the work but I liked what he did. One of the Aboriginal youth awards winners turns up in her basketball uniform having just come from a basketball competition which is in full swing down the road.

Outside an Aboriginal man approaches us and asks if we would like to buy one of his carved boab nuts. We quietly decline his offer as we already have a number of carved boab nuts at home but I like his entrepreneurial approach. We ask a lady seated on the steps if she is local and can tell us where the Windmill Café is. She’s from Broome and introduces us to a local called Mark. It turns out the he has a café called the Jila Gallery Café and we follow him across to his cafe. It’s a combined gallery and café, as the name implies, and the food is great. We have lucked in. It also turns out that Mark is an artist and the art crowd from the exhibition opening are there. We enjoy our meal and as we leave the restaurant the same Aboriginal man approaches us with his carved boab nuts and again we decline his offer. It is a short walk back to our tent.

Sunday 7 July

Derby Jetty

We begin the day with a drive out to the Derby Jetty. The tide is out and the high posts that hold up the jetty are exposed. I take a few photographs to add to my collection of Derby Jetty photographs then we walk around the jetty. I stop to point out the inlet where the Orlader Lugger was brought in to tie up. There are a few derelict posts sticking out of the mud that held up the landing where we would embark on to the boat for the trips out to Sunday Island when we were kids. There was a mission at Sunday Island and, as my father was the Superintendent of the United Aborigines Mission at the time, it was part of his work to visit the mission and sometimes the whole family would go. I remember these as fascinating times. Lenny Lenard, an Aboriginal man from Sunday Island, was the captain of the Orlader. My strongest memories of Sunday Island are of the aqua blue water and the green mangroves at the Sunday Island jetty.

Warfingher House

I drive to the Derby Visitor Centre where I drop off some of my merchandise for the manager, Jenny Kloss, to look at when she comes in to work next day. We also ask questions about the Gibb River Road where we are headed next and then ask how to see inside Wharfinger House, a museum on the way to the jetty. We are given a key and spend a while looking at the various photographs and collections of memorabilia about Derby’s past. There is a painting of Sammy Lovell which takes my eye. He was a lovely Aboriginal man who was the first to run outback tours out of Derby. There is also a telephone exchange that was used to connect callers around the Kimberley to each other.

We return the key and drive back to camp to get our clothes off the line. Our next stop is Mark and Mary Norval’s Gallery on the way out of town. Mary graciously brings me a cup of coffee and we sit and talk to them and Mark’s offsider, Denis, while they are having a break from printing Mark’s etchings. Other folks start to arrive and Mary is kept busy bringing them coffees and answering questions. We take time to look around the gallery which is mostly filled with Mark’s paintings and prints but also a good number of Aboriginal works by artists Mark has worked extensively with. Mark and Mary are something of an institution In Derby and the display contains works from many years practice. It is fascinating to see such an extensive body of work. I pick out a small, delicate painting by Mark of Camden Sound and ask the price which he says is $100.00. It is an exquisite work and we agree to buy it so Mary wraps it up for us and I put it in the car. Before leaving we go and check out Mark and Denis in the print room where they are rubbing ink into metal plates. They remind me of the time when they we were both students of mine at Secondary Teacher’s College when Mark gave Denis a hand to complete his ceramics portfolio. They’re still helping each other out. Some things never change.

Mowanjum Arts Centre

Our next stop is the Mowanjum Art Gallery located on the outskirts of Mowanjum Aboriginal Community about 10 kilometres out of town. This is a large, purpose built structure designed to look like a Wandjina spirit figure from above. Wandjinas feature predominately in the paintings on display and the 10 minute video that we sit and view in the spacious viewing area. There is a merchandising section that includes Wandjina T Shirts and books associated with the area. It is a thoroughly entertaining experience but I think the paintings are way too expensive and I wonder how many of them sell on a regular basis. European Australian artists would struggle to get these prices and that is who the competition is.

Derby boab tree & Joel

We then drive back down the Gibb River Road and turn left instead of right at the Derby road in order to go and see the Boab Prison Tree. This is a hollowed out Boab tree with a split that a man can get in though which was purportedly used as a holding pen for Aboriginal prisoners being brought in to Derby in days gone by. I have been selling a postcard of this tree for many years so I am interested to see how it has fared. When we get there we find that a pine log fence has been erected around the tree so that visitors can’t get in to it. My postcard shows a pine log fence leading you in to the Boab Tree’s entrance so it has now become historic. I take a photograph for documentary purposes and also take photographs of the nearby Miles Bore windmill and long cement trough where drovers used to water their cattle when bringing them in to Derby for transport from the Derby Jetty. Another relic from a bygone time.

Miles Bore Trough

On the way back we stop and view another relic. This one is sadder. It is the derelict house of Doctor Holman which was moved out of town from near the hospital. Why it was moved out here I don’t know as it has now deteriorated into a decaying old building that was built in that distinctive Derby style of wide verandahs and shutters. It has particular poignancy for me as Doctor Holman was the doctor who delivered me when I was born in Derby Hospital on September 7 1952.

R Holman's house

Back in town we visit the new Basketball courts where a basketball competition has been running for the last day or so. This competition is part of the Derby Boab Festival, which happens to have started as we arrived in town. The teams have all come in from communities around the West Kimberley and there aren’t any European faces in the teams or amongst the spectators as far as I can see. Basketball has always been very big in Derby and this is strictly an Aboriginal affair. I wander in with my camera and take some photos of the players. The mood of the event is upbeat and everyone seems to be having a good time. I guess this event isn’t for the tourists but, if they did go, I’m sure they would find it interesting.

Derby basketball competition

We go back to camp and have a late lunch. Later on in the afternoon we venture out again for another trip to the Derby Jetty to view the sunset. There are a heck of a lot of cars and four wheels drives out there so we have difficulty finding a parking spot. We make our way to the jetty and I manage to take what I think will be some good photographs of the sun setting behind the jetty. It is a pleasant evening and we join the crowd watching the last vestiges of sunlight disappear over the muddy waters.

Derby Jetty at sunset

After parking back at camp we walk around to the new Spinifex Hotel for dinner. The old corrugated hotel that had been there for at least a hundred years has been bulldozed and it has been replace with a gleaming new building made out of grey corrugated iron. The old Spinifex Hotel is where Ian Idriess spent a summer collecting stories which became his fascinating account of frontier life, titled One Wet Season. The new building houses a TAB, a television viewing room where the footy is showing, a bar, a restaurant and an outdoor area with tables. Our meal is seafood and towards the end of it we are joined by Lee Kinsella and we talk about the previous night’s art exhibition where she says that she saw us but missed catching up. We last met her at the 2013 Churchlands Senior High School art exhibition which she opened and where I was the feature artist. We discuss the perils of judging art. She says that some have already indicated disapproval of the judging decisions that were made but that as a judge you have to make a decision and then stick with it, which is fair enough. We all agree that the standard of work was high and it was a good show. Lee is staying at the Spinny and goes to join some friends for dinner. We make our way back to our tent and take it easy for the rest of the night.

Monday 8 July

Our first task today after packing is to get the Engel sorted out. It seems it isn’t working when plugged into the cigarette lighter connection in the car. The three point power connection works. After talking to a helpful man at an electrical goods shop we discover that the fuse on the Engel has blown and we purchase new fuses from an auto electrician.  That solves the Engel problem but the additional Engel battery has stopped charging making it useless when we go to a non- powered site. This is a worry, but there’s nothing we can do about it so after speaking to Stella at the Visitor Centre about my The Kimberley Series book, the newsagent about my postcards and the local record shop proprietor about my CDs we fuel up and head out of town. On the way out we stop at the local Aboriginal Radio station, 6DBY, and I introduce myself. We arrange for a radio telephone interview for the following Monday when we should be in Halls Creek.

Queen Victoria's Head

Our destination is Silent Grove where there is a Department of Environment and Conservation camping spot that gives easy access to Bells Gorge. The turn off is 200 kilometres out of Derby on the Gibb River road and then there is a drive in of 20 kilometres. There is bitumen for the first 100 km with intermittent sections of gravel, then it's gravel all the way from there. After the Windjina Gorge turnoff we stop to take a photo of what the roadside sign says is Queen Victoria’s head. This is a cliff feature where the road passes through the Napier Range that has a striking resemblance to a human profile. Why it should be Queen Victoria’s profile I am at a loss to know. We stop at the Lennard River crossing for lunch and sit by the river. It’s a pleasant stop. Further along we make further stops for photographs as we drive through the King Leopold Ranges. There is a sign indicating the turn off to the Lennard River Gorge but we figure it will have to wait for another trip as we need get to our camp in time to set up before night falls. The road runs through valleys with red rock walls on either side and pandanus palms start appearing. It is a pretty drive. We stop for a break at March Fly Creek where some people have set up camp. Don’t they know about march flies?

King Leopold Range

We take the turn to Silent Grove and although the track is bumpy we make it in good time. We pay our entrance fee to the volunteer couple who are running the place and find a spot under a tree to pitch our tent. The place is crowded and more people arrive as we set up. Darkness falls by 6.00 pm as we eat dinner with not much option but to clean up and go to bed as the insects are out and crowd the light that we have.

Silent Grove campsite

Tuesday 9 July

Bell Gorge is our destination and one of the main reasons for coming on this trip. I have never been to Bell Gorge but have heard lots of good reports about it. Before leaving for the gorge the volunteer manager brings me my camera battery and charger, which he has been kindly charging all night for me. We ask where the old Silent Grove homestead was located but he isn’t sure except that it was somewhere nearby but was pulled down in the 1970s. I’m interested to know as my father told us about the couple who lived there in the early 1960s when he visited as part of his travelling padre role with the U.A.M. According to him things were fairly primitive then. For example they didn’t have a shower room but simply washed in the nearby creek each night so Dad had to do the same.

Bell Gorge upper river

The 10 kilometre drive into Bells Gorge is stony but safe if you drive slowly. At the carpark area number of four wheel drive vehicles, some with caravans. We shoulder our cameras and water bottles and take the 1 Kilometre walk into the gorge across boulders and along the side of a creek. Pandanus palms line the side of the creek and as we emerge into the main part of the gorge we view of a wide body of water that is flowing over a rocky ledge to the left. We follow the path right around the large pool and climb over the top of the gorge where we are treated to the stunning view of the water flowing over smooth rocks and cascading down into a deep pool below. People are swimming in the pool and we figure we should be doing the same. It is a steep climb down to the large pool below where the river flows on through the gorge. I endeavor to take some photo while trying to exclude people from the shot. Hopefully there will be some good shots there.

Bell Gorge Falls

Lexie has already jumped into the water fully clothed and I take of my shirt and sneakers and do the same. The water is cold to begin with but very refreshing. We swim over to where the water is tumbling down and feel it fall on our heads. The water is great and we spend a good amount of time swimming around the pool. Eventually we get out and after drying off make the long climb back up around the top of the gorge.

Bell Gorge Falls

I want to do some drawing so I take the cameras back to the car and collect our drawing gear and lunch and return to the gorge. We eat lunch enjoying the view across the top pool. I then select a spot to draw from looking across the top pool with the water falling to my left. It takes me about two hours to draft in the view by which time I am fairly whacked. In the meantime Lexie has been doing some drawing of her own from the top of the gorge looking into the main pool.  After resting awhile we pack and take the long walk back up to the carpark passing many people making their way down to the gorge in the late afternoon. I wonder do they know how long it takes to get to the main pool.

Back at camp we both avail ourselves of the solar powered showers that have been put there by the Department of Environment and Conservation. The men’s showers are still warm but unluckily not so for Lexie. Seems a lot more ladies are using the showers than the men. We get dinner cooked but eat it in the fading dark to avoid having flying insects join us for dinner. It is the end of a very active day and we retire to our tent.

Silent Grove Pool

Wednesday 10 July

Before leaving Silent Grove we pack and then go looking for the pool that Dad mentioned. We follow a track at the end of the campground that runs along the side of the creek and into a small gorge. Part way along the track we find a small pool with water running over a rock into it. We figure that this must have been the pool that Dad bathed in all those years ago.

Gibb River Road

Soon we are back on the Gibb River Road as it winds its way along the side of the King Leopold Ranges until we reach the Imintji Roadhouse and Store which services the nearby Imintji Aboriginal Community as well as tourists. This shop sells my postcards but I stop anyway to leave some of my merchandise. There are queue of people waiting to be served so I drop my gear off at the counter and we head off.

As we drive through open savanna country we come to the Adcock Gorge turnoff and take the track in. We come to a fork in the road with stones across it and figure we shouldn’t go any further and turn around. The tour guide says that we should contact the Mt House Station if we want to visit this gorge so we leave it to another time.

Galvans Gorge

The next stop is Galvan’s Gorge, which is a much better prospect. We park in the designated parking lot by the side of the road and walk the 1 kilometre in following a track that winds its way along the creek that leads to the gorge. There are some folk already there swimming in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. It is a beautiful pool of water with orange white cliff walls surrounding it and pandanus palms around the edge of the water. At the top of the waterfall is a boab tree, which looks like it is standing guard over the scene. We both jump into the water, me in my jocks, and swim to the waterfall. The water is cool but refreshing. When the swimmers get out of the pool I swim back and take some photographs of the gorge minus people, then get back in the water for another swim. We have to get going so reluctantly clamber out of the pool and walk back to the car, drying out as we go.

Barnett River Roadhouse

We stop for lunch at Barnett River Roadhouse and fuel up. I leave some sample postcards with the manager and we're soon on our way. Further along we come to the turn off to Barnett River Gorge where the sign says 3 kilometres. The track is rough and Lexie finds it difficult. We decide to turn around and I take over driving again. It will have to wait for another time. Eventually we get to the Kalumburu turnoff and head north. Our destination is Drysdale River Station where we plan to camp for two nights. We stop for a photo at the Gibb River crossing and then drive the 60 kilometres along a well graded road to the station. My plan is to spend the next day driving up to Mitchell Falls for the day but the man at the shop tells us that it is 4 hour drive there and a 4 hour drive back, after the 2 hour walk in to the gorge. We do have the option of catching a helicopter ride back from the gorge to the car park. His suggestion is that we take the fixed wing flight that goes from Drysdale River Station to Mitchell Falls and then around the Prince Regent and Mount Trafalgar area. He says that the Mitchel Falls drive is something you shouldn’t do in a day but rather camp there and do it properly. I have driven in to the Mitchell Falls carpark before so I know how rough the road can be. We only got to the Merten Falls on that trip so I am keen to get in to the main falls this time. Lexie favors the fixed wing flight.

Gibb River Crossing

We set up camp and while Lexie is cooking I go to the bar and buy some beers. The shop is closed so I go back to the bar and meet the chef who is dressed smartly in cowboy clothes and I ask his advice. He says that the trip to Mitchell Falls shouldn’t be attempted in one day and calls the barmaid over to enquire about seats on the fixed wing flight for the next day. There are two seats available so I book them. The flight leaves at 10.00 am and she says to check in at the shop before 9.00 am. That settled I go back and tell Lexie the good news. The drive to the Mitchell Falls will have to wait until another trip.

Thursday 11 July

Drysdale River Station

Having made the decision to take the Drysdale River Station Air Safari we pay our fee of $399.00 per person and get out to the station airstrip by 9.40 pm where I show Lexie how to use the video camera. The pilot arrives followed by the other two couples who are joining us on the flight. After Tom, the pilot, gives us the lowdown on flying with Slingair, we board the flight in a process that is based on weight. I get the back two seats which is great as I will be able to shoot out both sides with my camera. I fit my 55 to 210 zoom lens as we taxi down the gravel runway. We are soon in the air with the station disappearing below us.

Mt Hann

We head due west and pass the first major landmark of Mt Hann. Soon we are flying over the Prince Regent River looking down on rugged hills and tributaries flowing into the river. We pass over King Cascades and the pilot circles so that we can get good photos. The cascades are where a major waterfall drops into a pool below that then flows into the Prince Regent River. The pilot recounts the tragic story of how Ginger Meadows was taken by a crocodile and we see the ledge that she could have got to safely if she hadn’t panicked.  We cross the St George Basin and then fly around Mt Waterloo and Mt Trafalgar, both obviously named after famous British battles with the French. All the while I am taking lots of photographs and it will be interesting how many of them turn out level.

Kings Cascades, Prince Regent River

Prince Frederick Harbour

We next fly north-east across the Prince Frederick Harbor, with islands popping out and grey mudflats and mangroves along the edges. The pilot circles around the Hunter River and the Donkin Hills Falls, reportedly the highest falls in the North West, and we take more photos. Continuing our north-east flight we come to the Mitchell River and follow it to the spectacular Merten and Mitchell Falls. By circling the falls a few times we are able to get the photos we want and see the location of the camping area in relation to the falls. I did previously get to the parking area on a run through to Kalumburu in the mid 1980s but the other advisory teacher and I were only able to walk to the Little Merten Falls. From there the track petered out and we were concerned about getting lost so we turned back and continued on our way to Kalumburu. There were no guide books then on where to go. The next time we attempt to get to Mitchel falls we’ll allow a day to get there and camp, a full day to walk into the falls, and another day to drive back out.

Mitchell Falls

The flight back is uneventful as we fly south east the vast flat terrain that makes up the cattle country of Drysdale River Station. The flight has taken around 2 hours and has been quite draining so we thank the pilot and head back to camp for lunch and a rest.

Miners Pool

Later in the afternoon we drive the 5 kilometres to Miners Pool, a body of water on the Drysdale River. There is camping allowed here for a reduced fee but the only facilities offered are pit toilets. However, a hardy number of campers have set up camp. We take a track down to the water’s edge where there is a large pool of clear water lined with Pandanus Palms. The water is so inviting that I go back to the car, put my swimming togs on and go swimming. Lexie sits by the side of the pool and waits.

The track back is corrugated to the main road, which thankfully has been recently graded. Back at camp we cook and eat dinner and then walk to the outdoor bar for a quiet ale. The night is pleasant. It is the sort of winter temperature that we like. By 8.00 pm we’re asleep.

Friday 12 July

Cockburn Ranges

Today sees us on the final leg of the Gibb River Road run. The road is rough and corrugated and we are tired of being bounced around. It’s 60 kilometres back to Gibb River Road and then we turn left. The first place of interest is Ellenbrae homestead, which has tourist accommodation. A sign at the turnoff indicates that they offer fresh scones and teas as well but we are not tempted and keep driving. The Durack River which can be raging torrent in the wet season has only pools either side of the crossing. We come to a lookout that faces the Cockburn Range and we stop to take photos. We also get a mobile phone call from my brother John to say that Dad has been taken to hospital as a result of  a fall but is OK. I send him a “selfie” message of thanks with the Cockburn range in the background for keeping us informed.

The Home Valley Station turnoff comes up and we take the 2 kilometre drive in. We buy drinks and iceceam and eat lunch in the pleasant gardens outside the bar and restaurant. There is a stage and PA gear setup ina corner of the outdoor bar so I leave a copy of my new CD and associated material and say that we plan to come back again next year and I would be up for a gig if they were interested. The girl at the counter sounds interested and indicates that she will pass the material on to the bar manager. It would be a nice place to perform. The main service area is surrounded by palms and lawn, there is a swimming pool and the camping area is grassed and looks good. It will be a pleasant place to camp should we make the trip again.

Pentecost River Crossing

Back on the road again and we come to the Pentecost River crossing, which is stony, but only has a minimum amount of water to drive through. I take the crossing photo that has been taken countless time before and we drive on to a spot that has a great view of the Cockburn Range glowing in the afternoon sun. This calls for more photos of course. As we drive on we come to a large road crew who are working on upgrading the road. By the time we get to the El Questro turnoff the bitumen begins and continues all the way to the Wyndham/ Kununurra Road.

Road to Wyndham

We decide to drive in to Wyndham to see what if anything has changed since we were last there over 20 years ago. The main part of town, known as the three mile, looks pleasant enough but a number of the shops are closed and derelict. There are a number of Aboriginal people who seem to be just hanging around. One Aboriginal man walks off from Vaggs Liquor store with a slab of beer on his shoulder and, it appears, willing friends to accompany him. We drive on to the port where I take a photo of the Bastion with the afternoon sun lighting up the west side. At the port we stop again and I take a photo of the jetty. A woman pulls up in a four wheel drive and tells us we are trespassing and liable for a $2,000 fine so we quickly leave the scene of the crime. We stop to buy drinks at an old corrugated iron shop which advertises postcards and art. I show the lady my postcards of Wyndham but she declines them because they can’t fit in her postcard rack. A number of the old shops in this part of town are closed and the place looks like some old wild west town gone to seed. Back at the three mile things don’t look much better. To top it off big Hapmton Mining Trucks with three dogs each rumble through town on the way to  the port to offload their cargo of ore. It almost seems like a Mad Max movie set. I manage to leave some postcard samples at a couple of shops and then we drive out on the Great Northern Highway. Wyndham is definitely the end of the road.

Wyndham Mudflats

The drive to Kununurra is picturesque and I’d like to stop to take photos but we are running out of time. As we approach Kununurra we see what features along the road we can remember and, as we drive over the Diversion Dam Bridge, it is a bit like coming home. We find the turnoff to the Discovery Caravan Park (known by us as Kona Caravan Park) and drive up to the gate. We can’t get in as we have arrived after the 5.00 pm closing time so I wander around until I find the grounds man who gets our keys from a letter box outside the office and shows us to our camping spot. It is great site that looks on to Lake Kununurra. After setting up our tent in the dark, we shower and then drive in to town to find somewhere to eat. The place has grown of course but we find our way to the Kununurra Hotel and have a tasty vegetarian meal in what was known to us as the Cama Pesci Bar. It will be interesting tomorrow to see how much the town has changed.

Saturday 13 July

This is the day where we catch up on our memories. Lexie was in Kununurra for 10 years and I was here for 9 years so there is a lot of catching up to do. Firstly we drive down river from our campsite to The Pumphouse Restaurant where a sophisticated restaurant has been set up at the pumphouse that pumps water up the irrigation channel. Lexie has a cold drink and I have a coffee and we’re ready to face the day.

Water skiing, Lake Argyle

Our first stop is the Kununurra Visitors Centre where I have chat with Cam Smithers, the Purchasing Officer, who agrees to take some of my The Kimberley Series books for their shop. I also leave sample postcards, which I hope he will order. We load up with brochures for the myriad activities that are available to us and then go for walk around town. We drop in at the Kimberley Fine Diamonds shop and have a chat with Frauke Bolton Boshamer the owner. The display is sophisticated and includes diamond jewellery, of course, fine art and high end kitchen ware. It's nice to see Frauke again and we tell her how the rest of our family are going.

We walk on to the building with the big sign that says Aboriginal Art. This building was the Regional Office where Lexie and I worked as Advisory teachers in the mid 1980s. We go inside and wander around looking at the wide range of Aboriginal art on display. Aside from some local works there are paintings in regional groups including Tiwi Island works, Arnhem Land works, Central Australian works and Warmun Community works. All are of a high standard. We meet the proprietor, Kirstie Linklater who tells us something of how she came to be running the art gallery. She says that they come from Melbourne and her mother, who is now deceased, started the gallery. It is a family affair and she has now been running it for seven years. It is a passion for her and they run it in a businesslike manner. I give her some background information on my involvement with Waringarri Aboriginal Arts and we talk for some time. She has work to do so before leaving I mention my The Kimberley Series book and the reference I make to the Warmun artists in the book. The outcome is that she places an order for 20 books which is great.

Waringarri Aboriginal arts

Our next major stop is the Waringarri Aboriginal Art Centre. I was involved in setting up this art centre in the 1980s and spent six years of my life on the project. It has increased in size and sophistication since then. I ask Lexie to take a photo of me outside the gallery for old times’ sake. The building that we built in the 1980s is still the gallery and office, though enlarged and redesigned. There is also the workshop that we built, which is now the kitchen. There is a new two-story building that houses the art workshop on the ground floor and an interpretative gallery on the top floor with paintings that are part of their permanent collection. We are shown over this building by Kathy Cummins, the current Manager of the art centre. She tells us that there are seven Aboriginal people employed by the art centre and two of the men make the pine stretchers and stretch the canvases as well as packing the paintings. I consider this a major achievement and am proud to have been associated with this project. Kathy has been the manager for quite a number of years and has done a magnificent job of taking the art centre to the successful stage that it is now. One of the things that we have noted on this trip has been the absence of Aboriginal people involved in the tourism and hospitality industry so it is great to see Waringarri bucking the trend.

We leave the art centre just before 2.00 pm and drive out to the Hoochery distillery to have lunch and a drink of Spike Desert’s rum. The restaurant building is a large corrugated iron structure which has a distinctive outback flavor to the style and decoration of the place. We are in time to order Barramundi and chips, which we wash down with rum, ice and soda water; a very refreshing drink. I’d recommend the Hoochery to anyone. It’s a drive out of town along Weber Plains Road, past Jim OKenny’s place, but well worth the effort.

Kununurra from Kellys Knob

We want to check out the Zebra Rock Galley out on Packsaddle Road and stop to bring our clothes in off the line on the way. The gallery has been bought from the original people who set it up, the Hackett’s, and is now run by an English couple. They have come up with a multitude of ways to make jewellery and nick-nacks from Zebra rock, which is fair enough. The works are beautifully presented in a small neat gallery. Why they need a Zebra as their logo I don’t know. The gallery and house is located on the banks of the Ord River and the view across to Elephant Rock is splendid.

Although it isn’t 5.00 pm yet, the light is fading as we drive out along River Farm Road to see if we can find Dan Read’s farm. Eventually we find it and motor up the drive, past the other Zebra Rock Gallery and the mango plantation to his place up the back. Euros (a kind of wallaroo, which is a kind of kangaroo) jump out in front of us and I have to be careful not to hit them. I wander around the workshop but no one is home. As we are about to leave, John and Nancy, Dan’s parents arrive. We weren’t expecting them but we should have known as they had told us that they were driving up north to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the start of the school at Yilili Aboriginal Community, located between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek. Dan turns up soon after and Nancy makes a cup of tea for us all. It is good to chat and catch up on the latest news from around Kununurra.

On the way back into town we stop of at the Asian Cuisine Restaurant, next to the Visitor Centre, that Dan has recommended to us and enjoy an excellent vegetarian meal. The place is run by Chinese people who are friendly and take the time too chat. One of the waitresses tells us that she is from Taiwan and is on a two year working Visa. She seems to like what she is doing. It’s been a very social day so we head back to camp. There are fireworks going on at the Agricultural Show being held on the town oval but we leave it for another time.

Sunday 14 July

Diversion Dam Crossing

Today begins the journey back south. We’re only going as far as Halls Creek but I do want to catch up with a special friend at Warmun Community, Rusty Peters. He was the man I employed to stretch up and pack the canvases at the Waringarri Arts Centre. He has since become a well recognized artist in his own right. Before leaving we go have a look at the Leisure Centre as I am interested in getting a quote on hiring the venue for a concert performance. The officer in charge, Frederike, a newly arrived Frenchman, kindly opens up and shows us around. The multi-function area has now become a gym, the café has gone but other than that nothing much has changed since we used it for exhibitions and concerts in the 1980s. On the way out of town we have a closer look at the Artopia Gallery which unfortunately is closed on a Sunday. It’s an excellent building and just the sort of place that I’d like to have as a gallery. Of such are dreams made.

The drive through the Carr Boyd Ranges is magnificent with red rock walls on either side of the road. We pass further mountain ranges in what is a visually interesting drive. We stop at Doon Doon Roadhouse and buy some drinks. The roadhouse is the main store for the Doon Doon Aboriginal Community and is a well designed, airy building that has an extensive range of consumer goods, souvenirs and books, so I leave copies of my postcards and order forms for the manager to look at later on. The Turkey Creek Roadhouse at Warmun is much older and hasn’t had the benefit of being architecturally designed. It was built in the late 1970s by the Wainright family and grew like the house that Jack built. The workers inside are going flat out keeping up with demand, but the manager graciously takes my sample postcards and says that he will have a look at them in the evening. I buy a drink and we sit and eat lunch at a park bench. A couple of young hitchhikers are sitting in the sun trying to flag a ride. They don’t have hats. One of them comes over to the bin to look for food. A bit of a worry. On the way out we give them an apple each but have no room to give them a lift.

Warmun Art

We go to have a look at the Warmun Aboriginal Art Gallery but it is closed on weekends. It is a large well designed building clad in red corrugated iron. Hopefully we’ll pass again during the week. We go in search of Rusty Peters and find him sitting on the verandah of a friend’s house. We walk up to him and he says 'Joel,' which is nice. It is good to sit and talk with him for a while. I get Lexie to take a photo of us sitting on the verandah. I am pleased that we got to meet. 

Rusty Peters, Joel Smoker and friend, Warmun Community

Back on the road and I stop to take some photos of the red anthills and gum trees. There are photos all the way along but we don’t have time to stop any more. Finally at Halls Creek we drive around town and book in at the Halls Creek Hotel. The main building is larger than we remember but the room that we get hasn’t changed. We are appreciative of a bed and bathroom.

Old Town, Halls Creek

We drive out to the old town site of Halls Creek, some 20 kilometres east of the current town. The creek is dry except for a small stagnant pond. The old antbed post office now has a metal roof over it and it is fenced off. There are some cairns around indicating where buildings were and up on a rise is a homestead and caravan park with about five campers set up. Out the back is the old cemetery with a stone fence around it. We stop and read the tombstones for a bit.

Caroline Pool

Heading back into town we turn left and drive down to Caroline Pool, a spot that we used to visit often when we were kids. There are about seven groups of campers set up in the river bed. I climb up around the side of the pool and take photos as the sun lights up the rock walls above it.

Children's activities, People's Church

As we drive back into town I divert into the Garden area and find the People Church and house where we used to live. There are a number of Aboriginal people camped here. We want to catch up with Jonathon Bates, the mission worker who lives there, so ask where he is. In the process we meet some women that I know and they tell us that the annual Christian Convention is on, which accounts for all the people. We find Jonathon and he invites us back to the evening service. After showering and having dinner at the hotel we return and join the people sitting around and outdoor meting area. A New Guinean pastor is preaching and he covers topics as wide ranging as hell and heaven, gay marriage and kangaroo marriage. After his long address various groups from communities around the Kimberley get up and present musical items in a slow moving, somewhat shambolic, but endearing fashion. I stand up to take a photo and Nita, my foster sister, sees me and calls out my name. We move our chairs over to her and she introduces us to people who I recognise but whose names I have forgotten.  It is great to catch up with so many people from the past. I walk around the back of the makeshift stage and catch up with two of the backing musicians that I know, Peter Brandy and Kevin Gunn, which is nice. As the night wears on it gets cold and we decide to pack up our chairs and leave. It takes a while to leave as I meet more people who know me but eventually we say goodbye to Jonathon and drive back to our room and bed. It’s been a big day.

Kimberley Christian Convention singers

Monday 15 July

Before leaving town there are a number of things to do. First up I have a radio interview to do with Keith Hudson, the manager of the Derby Aboriginal Radio station, which I do on my mobile phone, sitting outside our hotel room. Then we visit the local Aboriginal radio station and get to meet Daniel, a tall African man who is the manager of the station. He is a gentle man and indicates that he can arrange a radio interview about my new CD for tomorrow at 9.25 am. I agree to phone them at this time from Fitzroy Crossing. The next stop is Taylors Store where I would like to sell my CDs. The shop has changed hands since I sold my cassettes there and the current owner is Stephen Barnes. Stephen mentions that he saw us at the meeting last night and fills me in on a lot of stuff about Halls Creek. We talk for a while and then I go and let Lexie know what’s happening. She wants to buy some skirts so she comes in and becomes a part of the continuing conversation. Stephen agrees to purchase some of my CDs and writes out a cheque for them. He isn’t interested in waiting for an invoice. Stephen gives me some of his business cards and I agree to follow up with a journalist at the West Australian on the things he has been telling us about Halls Creek. It’s been an exhausting discussion and we have to get going.

We join the queue at the Shell Service Station waiting to fill up with unleaded fuel. It isn’t available anywhere else at present. After fueling up we drive over to the Halls Creek Visitor Centre and have a chat with Chris Tennant, the Manager, who has been kindly purchasing some of my products for a while. I show him a sample of my drawing reproductions and he indicates that he will want to purchase some of the Kimberley drawings which is great. His advice is to concentrate on producing drawings and suggests I do a drawing of China Wall. To that end we drive the couple of kilometres out of town to the China Wall, a wall of white basalt rock, and I take some photographs which may become the basis of a drawing. I generally do the sketches out on location and then work from photographs at home, but today there isn’t the time to do a sketch. We do have to get to Fitzroy Crossing by the end of the day.

Eventually we get out on the road and about 40 kilometres out of town we get a call from Siena Buckle at the Derby radio station saying she is still keen to do the interview that she had arranged. We pull over to the side of the road and, after waiting for her to finish a segment, we conduct the interview by mobile phone. She plays two of the songs from my new CD whilst I remain connected and then interviews me about them. The call is bound to be very expensive, but, as the program goes nationwide to Aboriginal radio stations, I figure it’s worth the cost.

Mary River Crossing

Back on the road again and we get to the Mary River crossing for lunch. We count around 30 caravans with cars parked on the banks of the river. The Department of Environment and Conservation or the Shire have provided bins, flushing toilets but no showers. However, this hasn’t seemed to diminish the demand. The number of caravaners visiting this part of the country is enormous.

Joel with Norman Cox

Over half way to Fitzroy Crossing we take the right turn to Yiyili Community in order to visit the art gallery that was signposted on the road. It is only 5 kilometres in so won’t take too long. We find the art gallery but no one is in attendance. We look in the windows and recognise some of Norman Cox’s work. I acted as an agent for Norman for half a dozen years so it is good to see that he is still working. We want to catch up with him so I stop at a house and ask his whereabouts. A European women in her sixties gives me directions to Norman’s house. Her name is Margaret and she and her husband work for the community. She says she is currently working on an art project with the women. We find our way to Norman’s house and find him sitting out the front with his daughter, Marjorie, and Marjorie’s daughter Lisa. They are pleased to see us and we talk about what they have been doing with their art. I show them a copy of my Way Out West book of drawings and they slowly look through the book. Lisa reminds us of the weekend visit that she had with us when she was down in Perth for high school. It is good to rekindle these memories. We do have to get to our destination before nightfall so we say goodbye and drive back to the highway.

Numbun Cliffs

At Numbun Cliffs we pull into a camp ground where new shelters and toilets have been erected. There are a number of cars and caravans there and they have a good view overlooking Numbun Cliffs. It is all very civilised. Back on the road I find myself heading directly into the sun for the remainder of the drive. We pull into the Kimberley Lodge camp grounds, just before the Fitzroy River crossing, as the light fades. We have booked a dongar for $140 for the night and that is what we get. There are at least 30 dongars with bedroom and shower/toilet facilities in a small dongar city around the side of the campground. There are a range of accommodation options at the Lodge including safari tents, unpowered camp sites, powered caravan sites and the luxury rooms at the homestead. After showering we have dinner in the Lounge Bar. Afterwards I phone Jeff Davies, a friend who lives here, to see if we can catch up. We arrange a time for the tomorrow morning and then retire to our cramped dongar luxury.

Tuesday 16 July

People's Church, Junjuwa, FX

Before leaving for Broome we decide to have a look around Fitzroy Crossing to see what has changed. The main part of the town is now located around the roadhouse and main highway. We take the drive out to the old mission site where I spent the first six years of my life. The Superintendent’s house (our house) is gone but the tank and cement base of the old store is still there. So is what was the girl’s dormitory and the boy’s dormitory. We stop a driver to ask where Jimmy Andrews might be. He introduces himself as Isaac Hale and tells us where we might find him. On the way out we stop and talk to Joe Ross and June Oscar who are both standing outside their office. Joe explains some of the issues he is dealing with as one of the main spokesman for the Bunuba people and we meet a lawyer from Darwin they have contracted. On the way back in to town we stop at the Junjuwa Village and meet and talk with Nancy Brown who I know from mission days.

Old Crossing, Fitzroy River

We take the Geikie Gorge Road and try to drive over the old crossing but it is crowded with a number of big trucks for some reason. We drive back out and take the road down to the Crossing Inn. The place has changed significantly. It is still a hotel but it doesn’t have a multitude of cans outside it like it used to. The grounds are clean and the garden is well kept. I take a seat at one of the outside tables and phone the Halls Creek Radio Station. Daniel tells me that the announcer who was going to interview me hasn’t turned up so the interview will need to be postponed until he arrives.

We drive back past the Kimberley Lodge and take the road that follows the river bank down to the old crossing and find Jeff Davies’ place. The house is up on stilts to be out of flood reach and there are a number of trees and banana plants around it offering shade. Jeff offers us a cup of tea and we meet his partner Mammaji, their son and Mammaji’s father, Scotty. We enjoy talking for half an hour or so and catch up on all the news at Fitzroy Crossing.

Mangkaja Art Gallery & Studio

After fuelling up, where we are served by Chinese people, and buying lunch from the new shopping center, we stop in at Mungkatja Art Gallery. Essentially the gallery is a workshop where people paint and paintings are hanging on the walls of the studio. The building is air conditioned and three European staff are in attendance. An Aboriginal woman is sitting on the floor painting and I introduce myself. It turns out that she is one of Alec Roger’s daughters and remembers me, which is nice. Outside one of Hughie and Jinny Bent’s daughters introduces herself and we chat for a while. I acted as an artist’s agent for Hughie and Jinny for ten years after going back to Perth in 1991. I curated a number of exhibitions of their work, the last being Hughie’s show in Melbourne in 2010.

Our last stop is the tourist bureau. We are pleased to see that there is an Aboriginal woman serving at the counter. I introduce myself as I purchase a Fitzroy Crossing polo shirt and she says her name is Raelene Pindan and that she is Jinny Pindan’s daughter. Her father was old Limmerick, a blind man who worked closely with my father in the mission days. Raelene tells us that she recently visited my father at the aged care facility where he lives and although he didn’t recognise them because of his Alzheimer’s condition, he was able to sing along with them when they sang the Walmatjari hymns to him. I ask to speak to the manager and Raelene brings her out from a meeting to take my merchandise samples.

Erskine Range

The visit done, we drive out on to the Great Northern Highway for our trip to Broome. At the halfway spot where the road passes through the Erskine Range we change drivers and then drive on to the Boabs near the Derby turnoff where we stop for lunch. The drive into Broome is uneventful except for the two waits where they are working on widening the road. We turn down the Cape Leveque Road and then further on take the road into Coconut Wells where our accommodation for the night, Coco Eco, is located. There are three units situated in a beautiful garden and after unpacking we go down to the pool and sit with our feet in the water while we look out on the aqua blue water of the sea in the near distance.

EcoRetreat, Broome

I make mobile phone contact with my nephew, Jeremiah, and we arrange to meet him for dinner in town. Jeremiah has selected Aarli Restaurant which, although crowded, is a nice choice as the food is really good. It’s great to catch up with Jeremiah and hear how his job at the Kimberley Land Council is going. Of the lawyers employed there he is the only indigenous lawyer. He finds the work interesting and, at times, taxing.  We say goodnight to Jeremiah and drive back out the 20 kilometres to our unit near the sea and go to bed with the sound of the waves in our ears.

Wednesday 17 July

We have to get to Port Hedland by 6.00 pm so we can’t spend too much time leaving Broome, however there are some things I must do.  The first is an interview with Vanessa Mills at Broome ABC Radio, which goes well. Vanessa interviewed me in 1996 when I released my Outback CD and she goes back over that before asking questions about the new CD. She says she will put the interview to air on the following Monday. I appreciate the opportunity she has given me to promote the new CD. In the interview one of the songs I choose is Hannah and Daniel, a song about Jeremiah’s sister and brother in law, which I dedicate to Jeremiah. I hope he hears the interview.

Town Beach, Broome

We drive down to town beach to see how it may have changed. There are pleasant garden areas, a café and a children’s playground but the beach is the same as it has always been. The tide is out and people are walking out to where the receding tide starts. I remember as a kid camping at Town beach with my parents on a holiday that we took from Halls Creek in the early 1960s. China Town was a proper Chinese town in those days. Now it is a conglomerate of shops.

I stop off at the Visitor Centre and leave a sample postcard and Postcard order form with the manager. She is receptive to my point that my postcards which were produced in the 1980s showing images of Broome that you can’t get now, such as luggers tied up to Streeter’s Jetty. I hope they place an order. I then call in at Boab Souvenirs and the lady behind the counter recognises me. She used to run Macs Art Shoppe, which has now closed, so is receptive to purchasing my merchandise. I promise to send her a sample copy of my The Kimberley Series book.

It is time to leave Broome, so we fuel up, purchase some lunch and head out on the road. We are sad to be leaving the Kimberley but figure we’ll come back again next year and allow more time to get to places we missed. The road is pretty straight across flat desert country and we get to Sandfire Roadhouse for lunch by 2.00 pm. Driving on we cross the De Grey River where a multitude of car and caravans are camped. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we saw 100 caravans there. The number of people making the trek north at this time of the year is phenomenal.

Driving into the sun is a pain and as we get to Port Hedland we encounter more roadworks which makes the going even harder. We manage to get to the Cook Point Holiday Park by 5.30 pm and check in. We don’t have any fresh vegetables left except for one lone capsicum so we go in search of dinner and find a restaurant at the Ibis Hotel. We have to wait in queue for what seems like half an hour before our order is taken and we can take our seats. The Pilbara has a way to go to it can match the efficiency of the hospitality industry in the Kimberley.

Thursday 18 July

Iron ore boats, Port Hedland

We have a long drive to Carnarvon today, close to 900 Kilometres, but I want to check out the Port Hedland Visitor Centre before we leave. It has had a makeover by Form since I was last there and I am interested to see what it looks like. Before dropping in we stop at the park that looks over the port and I take photos of the large ore ships that are in the harbor. I hope one of these may become a postcard image that represents the town. The Visitor Centre is indeed different. The décor is very smart and upmarket. There are no souvenir T Shirts or standard souvenir products. Instead there are a lot of books; in fact it is more of a bookshop than a visitor centre. There are products for sale but again these are very different: things such as smart scrubbing brushes, up market hats and metal Tonka toys of mining machinery and bulldozers. You have to wonder what grey nomads would want with Tonka toys. There is a new set of postcards of Port Hedland images which seem to have been commissioned by the visitor centre. I show the woman behind the counter one of my sample drawings and after this one of the visitors in the centre expresses a strong interest in the drawing. It is of Chinderwariner Pool at Millstream and she says that they visited the place on their trip. The manager is away on leave so I leave some order forms and say I will make further contact when I get home.

We stop by the IGA shopping centre on our way out and buy lunch and drinks. I also get to speak to the proprietor of the record shop and he says he will discuss purchasing my new CD with his wife. They have sold my CDs before over the years. It is nice to make personal contact.

Whim Creek Hotel

We fuel up at the Caltex service Station and are on our way out of town. The going is slow because of roadworks and a very long train of iron ore trailers but eventually we are on the open road. We stop at the Whim Creek Pub to change drivers but unfortunately it is closed and access to the building is blocked by a mound of sand. This is a pity as the Whim Creek Pub was something of an icon in these parts.

Roebourne Prison Visitor Centre

The next stop is Roebourne where I have a chat with the manager of the Roebourne Visitor Centre and leave a sample of one of my drawings. They have been selling my Way out West book so it is nice to make face to face contact. I wander around the old Roebourne Goal which is where the visitor centre is located and take photos from various angles. Maybe one of these shots will become a postcard.

We call into the visitor centre at Karratha and I leave a copy of my Way Out West book and sample drawing of Dampier for the manager to consider. He is currently away from the centre. Karratha now has five story buildings and looks like the on the go city that it is reported to be. We don’t have time to look around and are soon on the open road. We stop at the Travel Stop about 10 Kilometres down the road and, whilst filling up, get a call from Scotty. He has been looking after our house and mentions that it is very cold in Perth right now.

Fortesque River Roadhouse

It’s a long run to Carnarvon but the road is fairly straight and the landscape flat. Night falls at 6.00 pm and we still have two hours of driving to go. There are cows and kangaroos on the side of the road so I have to drive carefully to avoid knocking one of them over. It’s all a bit taxing and by the time we get to Carnarvon my eyes feel like they’re popping out of my head. We pull into the Big 4 Plantation Caravan Park where we have booked a chalet as a replacement for a camping site and find we have two envelopes with keys, one for the chalet and one for the tenting site, in the keys box. I knock on the door of the manager and he says we can sort it out in the morning. We are thankful of a good bed to sleep in and a kitchen in which to cook dinner.

Friday 19 July

After breakfast we pack and drop in to the park office to sort out the bill. The woman behind the counter says that they will be charging us for both sites, as she believes she wasn’t told that we wanted to exchange the chalet for the camping site. Lexie disputes this assertion but all she will offer us is a credit for the camping site which must be used in the next six months. It’s a pretty poor way to do business. I doubt if we will use the caravan park again ever.

We drop in to the Carnarvon Visitor Centre and I leave some of my Way Out West drawings order forms as the manager away from the office. As we drive slowly down the main street, we look out for a newsagent and see one on the other side of the road. I park and walk over to the shop where I leave a sample and some of my postcard order forms. On the way out the door hear someone call my name. Turning I see that it is my Uncle Len and we go over to where Aunty Barb is sitting on a bench. I call Lexie over and we chat for a while. It’s great to see them. They are in Carnarvon visiting my cousin, Graham. They have brought Graham’s kids up for a school holiday visit from Kalbarri, where they live with their mother. I am able to explain Dad’s current condition to Len and Barb.

The road to Geraldton is also fairly straight and the country flat. Before we pass the Overlander Roadhouse we see the 26th parallel sign, which tells us we are leaving the northwest, a fact which makes both of us fairly glum. We stop at Billabong Roadhouse for lunch and have to eat outside at benches where the wind blows cold as I have made my own cheese and salad roll, which they won’t let me eat indoors. I find this fairly unfriendly as I have bought a coffee from them and Lexie has bought a salad plate. It isn’t until we get near to Northampton that we see undulating hills and patchworks of green wheat and yellow canola, making for a more interesting view out the windscreen. Driving into Geraldton is like driving into any city; lots of commercial buildings along the highway and lots of traffic. We drive over the large interchange bridge, turn right and pull into the Best Western Motel where we are staying the night. It’s good to be in a nice room where we can rest. There is a cold wind blowing and we know we are back in the south. Later we go to the Thai Restaurant for dinner where we drink a toast to our big long trip.

Saturday 20 July

This is the last leg of the trip and we’re both very tired. We sleep in to 7.30 am and get to breakfast by 8.00 am. We go in to town before leaving to withdraw money to pay for Sox’s lodgings. I also drop off some info about my Way Out West book at the Lattitude Gallery. It would be a fine place to show my Way Out West drawings if they were interested. They sell very expensive pearl jewellery and local visual art. I also drop of some info about my new CD to the Geraldton CD shop. They have sold my CDs in the past so maybe they will do so again.

On the road again and we stop at Dongara for a coffee at the Coffee Tree Café. I have done a drawing of the large Morton Bay Fig tree outside the café so it’s good to go and sit in one of my drawings. We fuel up at the Caltex garage and purchase some sandwiches for lunch. “We’ve only got white bread,” says the woman who makes the sandwiches, so that’s what we get.  We eventually eat our sandwiches at a park in Gin Gin, a little town 5 kilometres off the road. It is cold and the wind blows straight through us. Yes it’s winter in the south and we better get used to it.

At Muchea will pull into Prideland Kennels and pick up Sox. He appears to be pleased to see us and happily lets me lift him in to the front of the car. We get in to Stoneville around 4.00 pm and unpack. Scotty has gone down to his farm near Mt Barker and won’t be back until tomorrow. It’s good to be home but it is mighty cold. I chop up some wood and light the wood heater in order to warm up the house.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great blog that fills in details of Fitzroy Crossing and Derby area where my parents Preston and Kath Walker worked with your parents in UAM in 1950s. Thanks.