Final entry this trip -Heading Home…

So this is the (much delayed) end of the story – for the moment anyway. The faster pace of travel and the discombobulation of our arrival home – with the million things that needed doing and people to say hello to – meant that it has taken a long long time to get the rest of the story told.

Mount Isa from above, surrounded by pink ranges

1st September, 2021 – The thing about travelling non-stop is that there’s no time for provisioning or washing, cleaning the windows or staring into space.  Mt Isa is a welcome break, but we can’t wait to get on the road again – after all, we’re in Queensland now, my home state and keen to see Birdsville again, so it’s off into red dirt country again.

In Dajarra below, huge ‘roos hop through the green spaces, Llamas come to the fence to say hello and every rusty ‘dozer or truck from the past is displayed in an open air museum in the Post Office yard. Over the road in the street where I walk the dog early morning, the public rubbish bin is a totally incongruous penguin, and past that is nothing but red dirt expanse to the horizon.

4th September, 2021 – Dajarra is just the kind of country town we love to stay in – population 191, one main street consisting of the Pub, the Post Office and a fuelstop/grocery store. 

5th September, 2021 – to Boulia, Bedourie It’s a day heading south into the Simpson Desert. No images can convey the immensity of the yellow desert. When we see the dust ahead we wait for a car/truck/roadtrain to appear, but it’s just a dust storm. Bedourie  (which means ‘Dust Storm’) is our overnight stop, a meal at the Royal Hotel, good morning to a camel called Priscilla, cross Eyre Creek and we’re into the hard yellow stonsy desert again. 

Priscilla is interested in Charlie, but it’s not returned!

Now there’s hardly a bush or tree, ever rarer and rarer until it’s like something we last saw in the Red Sea.

The sight of these cattle is heartbreaking, thinking of the lush life of our cattle in the Hunter

6th September, 2021to Birdsville.

Finally we’re here. I hadn’t been here for 40 years, Ted for 20. We wander the streets, amazed at the growth of the town, which used to be not much more than the pub alongside the airport.  Now there are shops and houses all around the airport, with the tiny town behind.

Back in the Birdsville Pub, at last!
Birdsville Pub has expanded into outdoor eating since we were here last time

8th September, 2021 – to Betoota, Windorah

The path is dry but we’re finally on our way home, the sooner the better!

On and on and on across the sand, no sign of life
Mirages are our daily friends, floating hills in the distance, beckoning…

Betoota boasts being the smallest town in Australia – well actually, it’s just the pub.  Their iconic Tshirts proudly shout: ‘Where’s Birdsville?…  Near Betoota!’

The serpent – appearing out of nowhere
The pub at Betoota – well, the pub IS Betoota

10th September, 2021 – Windorah to Quilpie Rest stop

Now here’s a ‘rest stop’ to pine for!

11th September, 2021 – Quilpie to Cunnamulla

On the banks of the Warrego, in the Shire of Paroo, Cunnamulla is the best of sleepy towns

Cunnamulla is a great country town, proud of its camel history

14th September, 2021 – From Cunnamulla via Dirinbandi to Mungindi

No time to stop for more than coffee at the ‘Dirran Pub’ in Dirranbandi

In Mungindi we are to cross into New South Wales and find that the only camping river spot seems to be past the checkpoint. We have our Covid declarations ready, but the police seem irritated – in the nicest possible way – about being interrupted. “No, no passes, don’t want to see them, just go through.” It’s not the same the other way though, as they are manning the road into Queensland with a burly presence.

15th September, 2021 – Mungindi to Bundarra

We’re across the border now, into New South Wales and home is in striking distance

At Mungindi we find a pleasant spot – water! So long were we in the desert!
At Bundarra we find another riverside stopping point – Charlie loves them as much as we do…

16th September, 2021 – Bundarra, Forbesdale to Dungog

Suddenly we’re in never ending green-ness – we drink greedily the familiar sights of the lush New England Tableland countryside

Now the countryside turns into green valley after green valley – they’ve had a good season.

…and, believe it or not, after six months on the road, we’re HOME!

And at home, the dams are full, the house almost smothered in trees these days
After six months travelling, there’s a lot to explore for Charlie

So I wonder what it next? Was that enough? Well, we haven’t been to Tasmania or crossed the Strzelecki Desert, or travelled the Birdsville Track. Maybe next year…

So that’s it for 2021 – here is a photo of the much used map we used all through our journey, showing where we went – all 18,347 km of it:


Abandoning Savannah

27th August, 2021: Between new tyres, a lock-down, sudden necessary repairs to the van and Covid tests after sharing Woolworths with an infected traveller, it’s been 15 unplanned, 35/36 degree days in Katherine – a town we’d never intended to visit – when we are finally on the road again.  The Savannah Way will remain a dream, as it’s getting too late in the season, too hot to go north now (for us softies).  Why not visit Birdsville instead?  Neither of us have been there for over 30 years, so it’s time!

We are lured to Mataranka Springs on the way, enjoy a couple of glorious days of morning dips in the clear, moving water, straight from the depths of the earth.

Rainbow Spring is where Mataranka’s Spring water emanates from the ground – look closely at the photo and you’ll see the swelling of the water from below.

29th August, 2021 and it’s time to sample Bitter Springs – we’re getting to be aficionados!

Bitter Springs is a long, 200 metre stretch of water – we can’t stay long as Charlie has to stay in the van!
Happy Nancy after a Hot Spring bath – they say every dip takes a year from your age – I wish!

Then it’s on to Daly Waters, where an inseparable goat and dog sleep across the entrance, and which is our pick of the zaniest, quirkiest, consciously crazy place we have visited.   The food is even excellent!

To pay for fuel, one must take a photo of the bowser after you’ve filled your car and present it at the hotel bar -now that’s trust!

30th August, 2021: Now we’re headed east towards the Queensland Border, making one-night-stand stopovers at roadhouses along the way, first Heartbreak Hotel.

Why the name? First theory is that the roadhouse was so remote and so hard to build it broke the heart of the dreamer who built it – the second theory is that it caused his divorce – much the same really…

Again along the way we find vast tracts of Buffel grass, that killer of native plants and bush tucker, but in some parts, where there has been no cattle industry, the native plants are still king. We also meet a few of the locals along the way

31st August, 2021: I love these remote roadhouses – each with a story, rich with history, populated by truckies, road workers and grey nomads (us) and staffed by itinerant backpackers (even now) from every corner of the world. Barkly Homestead is no exception

We’ve already given the prize for the consciously quirky town, now this is our first prize for the most consciously quirky grey nomad.

1st September, 2021: The tension rises on the first day of Spring as we upload our online entry permits to Queensland, wondering whether our stop in locked-down Katherine will cause an issue, even though the written material says not.  In the event, we don’t even need the pass – no guard on the border at all in our direction, but the Northern Territory officials are stopping all cars entering their territory.

The border – no-one stops us at all!

Hooray, we’re on a roll!  We stop for fuel in Camooweal, but hey there’s a few hours left in the day – let’s push on to Mount Isa!

Lucking-in, Lucking-out.

7th August, 2021: Zipping north from Alice Springs on pure bitumen seems svelte, slippery and, well, just plain too sophisticated after the crossing of the Tanami.  Where’s the adventure in this? Now in our sixth month ‘on the road’, I want more than just bitumen and tourist highlights. Mostly I find I want interaction with local people, the characters, the quixotics, the philosophers. I also love the wonder of the ever-changing native landscape, more than the tourist gem.

Barrow Creek Hotel’s original Furphy, a broken legged one – that First World War water wagon which gave its name to the modern expression ‘A Furphy’, or rumour.
Mesas pop up without seeming rhyme or reason

We must go to Katherine to replace our tyres – the only place which has the ones Ted wants – but then the big drawcard is the Savannah Way.  We have decided to take that to Normanton and Karumba. It’s through some of the remotest communities in Australia, it’s dirt, or gravel or sand or stone and it crosses many rivers – through land where the rivers all run north into the Gulf of Carpentaria.  It’s with this little dream we start our new journey northwards.

A new vista every half hour – pity about the Buffel Grass

The land we pass through varies greatly, between salt lakes, rich wattle forests, scraggy burnt twigs – and where the Buffel Grass hasn’t penetrated, we occasionally see native bushland with our beloved mounds of spinifex. We stop at Aileron, 170 km north, named after the grazing property where one Norman and Maggie Milligan lived for 60 years, before having their ashes mixed and placed under the 17metre sculpture Anmatjere Man by artist Mark Egan.  This was followed later by the evocative Anmatjere Woman and Child.

17 metres tall!

But we’re headed for Devil’s Marbles and find the cute eponymous pub, plastered with murals.  We’ve already noticed that Alice and the NT in general seem more than enthusiastic about mural painting and sure enough, there’s another one in the making right beside the van.

The artist has all she needs – a car, a swag and a pile of paints, so from early morning until sun sets, she’s there, casually creating and always ready for a compliment or a chat.

They also have a cute way of creating a museum – here’s a car museum, Territory style.

Devil’s Marbles themselves were formed many millions of years ago from an upsurge of molten granite that cooled and became solid beneath a layer of sandstone. The cooling caused vertical and horizontal fractures creating rectangular blocks. Over time, water infiltrated the cracks and wore away the sandstone as well as the edges of the granite.

But it’s north we go, next stop Tennant Creek, again a spread-out, clean town, like all these outback towns – plenty of space to swing a cat, no matter what your income! The weather, though, is getting warmer and the bougainvillea is in flower, as is the frangipani and many crotons and palms – it is really starting to feel like the tropics, not the Red Centre.

The trees are growing tall and green, with thick trunks and we even see the occasional Boab. An occasional brilliant building among the rudimentary fascinates Ted and makes me wonder if they’re spending money wisely

We meet our Trakka Buddies, Anna and Chris Snell for lunch in Daly Waters, then finally Katherine.

Sometimes in life, you just ‘luck in’!  The caravan park we head for is situated on the bank of the Katherine River and a 350 metre walk from Katherine Hot Springs.  So with a hot spring bath every morning before breakfast and the 35 degree middle of the afternoon spent in the (freezing cold) park swimming pool, we might just never leave.

And the tyres? Well that all goes to plan, so now we have super-strong new tyres to begin our crossing of the Savannah Way. All we need to do now is shop for provisions for a lengthy remote drive and we’ll be off. Life’s good. We keep smiling at each other for no reason.

Sunday 15th August, 2021: Unravelling No. 1: At 1.30pm our little dream begins falling apart. I emerge from Woolworths to a swearing Ted as he helps lift the mountain of groceries into the van, ready for the remote country we’re headed for.

‘There’s a warning light which says we should consult a Mercedes consultant immediately. Something about the Adblue.’

Mercedes Roadside Assist contacted, we wait half the hot afternoon in the carpark until a much tattooed bloke turns up in his obligatory singlet, shorts and thongs with a baby on his hip.

‘Not much I can do until we put it on the computer. It’ll either be a computer glitch or we’ll have to tow it to Darwin. Bring it in tomorrow morning.’

‘We can drive it?’

‘Sure – it’s not speed limited, is it?’

Everything now on hold…

Monday 16th August, 2021:  I make camp with table and chairs and the dog while Ted takes the van to our new tattooed friend.

Unravelling No. 2:  Half way through the morning – the morning we had had such high hopes of leaving – Listening to the radio, I ring Ted just as he is about to ring me.

Darwin and Katherine are to go into lockdown for three days, with one confirmed case of Covid 19!

We’ve missed our chance to follow the Savannah Way, at least for three days.

Unravelling No.3: I now turn to the news to read the detail, only to find that the precise time that I visited Katherine Woolworths, is the same time that the ‘confirmed case’ was there.

I start laughing. I am a casual contact, which means immediate testing and isolation until I get a clear result, which they quote as 3 days, but who knows!? I have heard of their taking five days at times.

So we’re not going anywhere – the pool and the Hot Springs are both closed and we’re confined to our van – can’t even have the van problem diagnosed, as the Mercedes specialist is under lock-down as well.

I can’t help chuckling as I write: Just when we were on the point of leaving, Katherine is locked-down and generally f….d for three days; I’m a casual contact and potentially f….d for 14 days, and the van is broken and f….d who knows for how long.

Sure, we’re on an adventure – this is just not the sort of adventure I had in mind!

The Namatjira palette

The McDonnell Ranges of Central Australia have long been promoted by marketers, lauded by writers, photographed incessantly and adored by visitors.

We’re heading north, but we can’t help taking a day or two first to drive the famous crescent route through Namatjira Country.

We head out through Heavitree Gap for the West McDonnell Ranges

Hermannsburg is a delight, not because of its paternalistic history, but because of how magnificently it has now been restored by its traditional owners, the Arrernte people (with a little help from the government). It is now an historic precinct, having been handed back in 1982 .  The brilliance, joys and sadnesses of Namatjira‘s life are in our minds as we transit his territory, recognising his purples and reds and oranges and pinks in every direction.

Kathleen Buzzacott, talented indigenous artist and delightful conversationalist, who now operates in a studio just west of Alice, spent her childhood at Hermannsburg, and remembers it as her ‘happy place.’ She’s sad when we discuss how buffel grass not only replaced the indigenous plants, but also killed much of the ‘bush tucker’ they gathered. She happily produces some of her gathered ‘bush onions’, which we munch like nuts.

Kathleen Buzzacott in her studio

It’s a joyous couple of days. Even though we had seen the McDonnell Ranges before, we still couldn’t help being overwhelmed by the scenery, especially where it is not polluted by buffel grass (pretty, but deadly) and we can’t help taking thousands of photos. The Lookouts, where we stay for lunch or overnight, give the most astonishing of views – Point Howard Lookout, Neil Hargreave Lookout, where we sleep overnight. We watch the sun set over the Namatjira-coloured sleeping mountains to the west, and then watch it rise in the east, spreading the sunshine over the curved hills and creating opposite and ever-changing shades.

But it’s time to go north now, off to Katherine to find some new tyres.

Alice – An Eccentric Old Lady

Alice Springs, ‘The Alice’, ‘The Red Centre’, movie set extraordinaire, (A Town Like Alice, Last Cab to Darwin, Pine Gap, Queen of the Desert… dozens of others, some brilliant, some ghastly, no, that’s too gentle – appalling!) Certainly, an Australian icon and not just on Australian shores. So what is the old lady of the desert like today? What has so much fame done to her? I thought perhaps she’d be like Broome – done to death, ripe with cliches, a caricature of herself.

Certainly ‘The Red Centre’ -Heading for the Alice through that native plant killer, buffel-grass plains – McDonnell Ranges on the right
What will she be like after all these years?

However, we find she’s aged gracefully, the wild desert crags of hills towering over her flat streets on all sides – maybe they watch to see she does not get too big for her boots.

These days she’s often called Mparntwe – at least on all the signs around town, and the Todd River is still the way it was when I first visited around 1983, natural, graceful, dry as toast. 

The Todd Mall is still a relaxed place, with artists lolling on the lawns selling their wares, or just lolling (no we don’t take photos of the people lolling…).

Nature seems still in control… the Gaps dominate – Emily, Heavitree, Jessie, Simpsons – ageless, breathtaking, the red rocky hills will outlive anything.

Now she seems to see herself as an aboriginal art town – galleries galore, some humble, private, run by the artists, others grand and spacious, spread among the desert trees, run by the NT Government. When Ted is not arranging new tyres, new wheels, new dust cover for one rear disk brake after our small adventure on the Tanami, we wander the streets on foot or on our bikes, haunt the art centres – never time enough.

Here, half way through our planned trip, we totally change our future itinerary, because (only a few months earlier than planned) Ted has decided to upgrade ALL the tyres instead of just the new spare, and have it done in the only place which has the supply right now, and it’s – wait for it – Katherine, a cool 1200km north of here.

So, instead of west onto the Plenty Road, once in Katherine, why not take the Savannah Way across to Normanton and Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria, – both roads are dirt, both remote, but north is good for another reason – it will take longer to reach the Covid-crusted areas of more southerly climes.

(Secretly, too, I want to stave off winter as long as possible, maybe miss the rest of it altogether! – but please don’t tell Ted)

So Katherine, here we come!

“You’ve been warned”

It’s the 18th July, 2021 now and we’re heading east – you could say we’ve turned for home, but it’s a long long way, toughest to come. We’re warned about Halls Creek – too dangerous, even if you lock everything. We’re warned about the Tanami Desert Crossing – too rough, even if you’re careful.  We’re warned about Charlie – too much 1080 poison, too many snakes, camp dogs, dingoes, ticks, even with his extra tick collar.  The warnings go on – Hey – let’s just do it!

Charlie’s ready for anything, insists on a permanent viewing seat

We pass through the buffel grasslands (that South African import that destroyed the indigenous landscape and food) planted by the pastoralists of the cattle stations that first fed the port of Derby. Now we turn onto the Great Northern Highway towards Fitzroy Crossing.

Give way to the right!
Buffel Grass wherever you find cattle stations, no natural landscape, except the millions of termites mounds
Fitzroy Crossing – walls and barbed wire everywhere…

We have no incident, but every shop and building is grill-barred and boarded. Fitzroy River, unlike most of the creeks we pass, is still running, after a fashion.

After crossing the Mueller Ranges, in Halls Creek the caravan park receptionist tells us to keep our van away from the barbed-wire-topped double-walls which surround the park. We don’t ask questions. The town is clean, however, the locals either welcoming or too shy to connect.

Tanami Day 1, 20th July, 2021: We’re fuelled up as we turn onto the Tanami Track (now Road), direct to Alice Springs, a cool 1033km away – and there are contradictory indications of fuel any closer.

The corrugations, whether trying to avoid them or taking them at a correct speed, takes a lot of concentration, so we change drivers every hour or so, much like swapping watches at sea. This also allows the passenger to take in the scenery – and it’s worth taking in. Charlie, of course, gets the permanent best view.

Corrugations in the early morning sun – pretty now, horrible later

Lunch at Sturt Creek, site of one of the horrific massacres in the area and also home of the eponymous cattle station, is nevertheless a great lunch stop.

The Kidman Stations seem to go on forever, only the signs (and the buffel grass) signifying their presence. Because of Covid, all the aboriginal stations are closed as well, their signs a little more charismatic than those of the Kidmans.

but The Lookout campsite we’ve identified for overnight on the Wikicamps and Google Maps doesn’t appear to exist, even though we are at the correct lat. and long.! Instead we’re comfortable in a small turnoff. No traffic, except a couple of road trains, disturb the night. There’s also no internet or phone. World War III could break out tonight and we wouldn’t know. There’s a certain bliss in that thought.

Day 2, 21st July, 2021: Soon this morning we’re across the Border into Northern Territory, but there’s no-one to greet or inspect our passes.

It’s a long day of sliding from one side to the other searching for a smooth track, or rattatting across the never-ending corrugations. The Sprinter takes it well, better than Charlie, who is frequently dissatisfied with the crashing noise of our progress.

Our next campsite, Renehan’s Bore at Chilla Well is where the map says and we’re all pleased for quietude to reign again. We haven’t seen a single other recreational vehicle – just a couple of trucks and a few road trains, which trundle along at varying speeds, up to 100 clicks. For us, 60-80 km seems about right, depending on the size of the corrugations. We’ve lost a little faith in Wikicamps and Google Maps, but the next stop, Renehan’s Bore Rest Area, turns out to be there!

It’s so silent here. Renehan’s Bore itself, just a short walk away, once driven by a windmill, now just a memory. The night is full of the Milky Way and we’re the only people on Earth.

However everyone we do meet, next morning, drivers of road trains or tough trucks, are ready for a chat. We hear of their romances (“I’m driving over to pick up my girlfriend up in Alice”) or their life on the road, or they give advice about security and road conditions.

Tanami Day 3, 22nd July, 2021, we’re well past the midpoint and should arrive Tilmouth Well today.

Now the cattle country seems to have disappeared, as the natural landscape is back – red dirt sown with a garden of exotic plants. First we notice this on the hills where cattle don’t tend to roam, then across the landscape, every time we stop. It’ll be odd to be on bitumen again – we’re getting used to the roar of the corrugations, even as we get the speed right, zipping over their tips.

No buffel grass – just the green mounds of spinifex, flowering bushes, soft red dirt., but only on the hills
Later when we stop, we are greeted by the native and very fragile ‘Pilbura Spinifex’ and no grass to overrun it.
Spinifex in the early morning light

All we have to do now is pass the indigenous settlement of Yuendumu, then find the bitumen and we’ll be in Tilmouth Well tonight!

I’m riding the edges of the road where at least one wheel off the corrugations gives a calmer ride. We’re doing around 60km when there’s a screeching, crunching noise. The thoughts are instant. Something serious has collapsed in the van (after all, the television made a horrible crunch/bang/crunch when it fell off its perch last year), or, horror of horrors, it’s outside the vehicle. As I come to a halt I steer to the side of the road out of the way of the 100km road trains and we three get out to look.

Ted peers in past the tyre, stands up sombre-faced. “It’s not just the tyre or the wheel. There is crunched metal on the axle and wires loose.”

“So you mean it’s impossible to change the wheel?”

“Looks like it. The spare wouldn’t even fit on.”

Ted gets out the satphone, meant just for this purpose, starts to look up numbers. I think how long we can last with food and water – I count up an easy 10 days – no problem, surely we can get a tow in that time.

A road train goes past slowly, waves. I wave back, smiling happily to show we’re okay. The monstrous vehicle stops anyway, and down clambers Scott Lowrie, 53, truck driver since he was 14, based in Brisbane.

‘You okay?”

“Sure,” says Ted, “but there’s a bit of a mess in there – we probably need a tow.”

“Lemme have a look.”

He’s down on the dirt in an instant. “Ahhhrr, yup, let’s get this tyre off. Ya got a few damaged bits in there, but look, you can go without them.”

With the tyre off, he starts tearing and snipping at the metal, while I stand shocked. I can’t tell what Ted’s thinking.

“Actually, the brake is broken too,” I admit, confessing to the flashing red warnings which had appeared on the dashboard as I stopped.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll just rig up these wires here – see Ted – it’ll last you to Alice no problem.”

The work seems to come second nature, so we chat while he labours. By the time he finishes, I probably know more about his work and life than many of his pub mates.

Spare tyre on, broken bits of metal discarded, our superhero is gone like a will-o-the-wisp, leaving us wondering if he was real.

… but now we have no spare, so it’s going to be a slow trip on the dirt – 20-40km per hour, wandering all over the road to drive on the thick soft patches, rather than our speedy progress before. Another night in the wilderness, this time at the Tanami Pipeline Rest Area…how wonderful I think.

Tanami Day 4, 23rd July, 2021. The bitumen makes an unexpected appearance at Yuendumu (Yooundumoo), where we stop for an hour to make telephone calls about ordering new tyres and repairs, as we’re also back in telephone communication. Yuendumu, an indigenous town with some of both good and tragic history, is a spread-out settlement typical of the outback, with brightly coloured buildings and a tempting art gallery, closed to us because of Covid.

Then on, finally, to Tilmouth Well, where Charlie is delighted to find green green grass for the first time in a few weeks – fed by sprinklers from the bore of course.

There’s a count to be made, however. Crossing the Tanami, we have seen:

Cattle: 3

Horses: 4

Abandoned car wrecks: 16

Road trains: 21

Wedge-tailed eagles: 3

4×4 Trucks: 7

Kangaroos: 0

Birds: thousands

Varieties of wildflowers: countless

Caravans: 0

Motorhomes: 0

Is there a message in these numbers?

Next, Alice Springs, and back to the repair shop!

Into Boab-land

We’re aiming for the Tanami Desert but Derby is close, so we’re tempted to visit as neither of us have been there.

The countryside moving north is changing. Flowering wattle forests change to wide yellow grasslands populated by termite mounds, literally thousands of them, all producing methane, just as cattle do.

Now the earth changes from rust red to ochre yellow, and back again.  Soon, in patches, there’s evidence of cool burning for many kilometres, but no sign of the burners.  The waterways are called pools, not rivers – which fill and empty with the seasons. Then, more and more frequently as we drive, there are the boabs – those lovely fat citizens who live, some say, for thousands of years.  Like other Aussies, some are fat, some slim, some tall, some very small. I fall in love with their king-like audacity, and Derby is just full of them.

Derby proves to be everything that Broome used to be – a sprawling town of simple dwellings on large blocks, a long main street scattered with shops, better on a bicycle than on foot.  We take in the sunset down at the long wharf with new friends Rod and Donna whom we met back at Gnylmarung.

New on-the-road friend Rod.
Sunset at Derby Pier, every bit as naturally dramatic as Broome’s, without the theatrics.
Little girl fishing – serious stuff!

Then we head back to the market, selling a wide variety of local goods, including Boab Tea, and a band plays endless music.

Derby knows how to enjoy themselves – and entertain us! We dine at Neaps Bistro, which boasts a French Chef and the best food we’ve had since Sydney.

Another night we attend a free musical evening by the wonderful Terry Bennett, where he enlists the help of local storytellers and bush poets. One 88 year-old indigenous elder tells the early history of Derby, as well as how he planted all the boabs in the main street.

Terry Bennett on guitar as our 88-year-old elder tells his (mostly true) stories.

Yes, we have loved Derby, but now we’re heading back inland, towards the desert…

From Broome’s glitz back to a little dose of heaven

7th July, 2021: There’s always someone to give you “good advice” as you travel – and sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. So, after leaving Broome, we turn off our intended destination near the tip of Cape Leveque, to check out a campsite on the way – Gnylmarung, run by an indigenous family – or community, we never do quite find out.

25km of teeth chattering corrugations – just on spec…

After driving 25km over teeth chattering corrugations we decide we should at least stay two nights. We have found Charlie’s heaven and nothing can wipe the smile off Ted’s face. 

Come on Dad! Don’t be so slow. This is FUN!
The camping area is buried in trees – yes, that’s us on the left…
The tide drops so quickly the sand ripples in response – twice a day…

Dogs are off-leash (“I’ve never had a dog fight in this camp” says an elder as we arrive), the beach is wide, with a ten metre tide and the water is clear as champagne.

Not even quite Low tide yet
High tide – and never a rock in sight

We’re camped among lush vegetation the beach is only metres away and everyone around us are as relaxed as we soon are!  How different from Cable Beach, with all its artifices, traffic and tensions, and the sunsets are just as good!

The water is irresistable – who can wait for swimmers?

We’ve booked for two nights, but we extend to four and then to six – maybe we’ll never leave. We swim every day (at high tide – otherwise you have to walk for a kilometre), make instant camp friends and learn each others’ life stories into the night.

From here we’re heading, after a couple of stops, across the Tanami Desert (about 1,000 km of corrugations we hear), so we might as well enjoy the luxury while we can.

We’ll be really sad to leave Gnylmarung.

Coastal craziness – and changing our mode of travel

Leaving the Exmouth Gulf area, we’re now headed north to the series of ports which carry the output of the mines to their overseas destinations.

We head east a little, back through Nanutarra Roadhouse, with its peacocks both albino and traditional…

… before turning left for Dampier and Karratha.  The countryside is different again, with so many different profiles and bright rusty termites nests.

I am keen to see Dampier again, having been fascinated, many years ago, by the sheer impossibility of building a portside town on the vast uneven piles of red rocks which make up the coastline – impossible unless you completely fill the area to the tops of the highest rocks. 

Impossible terrain to build on – those grassed gullies are VERY deep

They couldn’t persist, of course, so Karratha came into being, just 20 km away on flatter land. Dampier, I am glad to see, hasn’t changed much…

On to Port Hedland.  These are serious towns, built for purpose, welcoming nevertheless.

five minutes later…

Now we zoom inland, quirky roadhouse after quirky roadhouse, bland bush on either side, occasional stations, an emu or two, nary a kangaroo. I can’t help wondering – are they a casualty of the dreaded 1080 poison? – that ubiquitous bait spread across many parts of WA to rid the country of dingoes – and a few pet dogs along the way we hear.

Now, it seems suddenly, we’re in Broome. Drenched in purple Bougainvillea, fragrant white Frangipani, crotons galore with fat and happy Boabs lining the streets. The Indian Ocean is flat, kind, aqua to deep blue at the horizon. The traffic is crazy, the roads are dug up, Chinatown is abuzz with coffee drinkers, but still undergoing a major upgrade because cruise ships are planned – blocked streets everywhere while they dig up the pavement. 

Instead of a haphazard, sandy and charismatic wench , where they have completed the upgrade, the town is a groomed slick chick, but I can’t help regretting the loss of the old girl.

Chinatown, slick chick of a town these days

To join the general craziness, we change our mode of travel.

Changing the mode of travel

The sunshine seems there just for the holiday makers,  because the caravan park workers are frazzled, the local workers have nowhere to rent, those who have rental accommodation are being evicted – why? Two reasons – people have returned from overseas because of Covid and want to live in their homes and Airbnb is so popular landlords don’t want normal tenants. 

The council has responded by allowing people with a job to camp in the public carparks – sometimes just in their car with a spread of chairs, tables and barbecues, sometimes with their own campervans.  No new houses are being built because the builders have nowhere to house their workers while they build.

After a long fine-dining drought, we are delighted to sample a string of good restaurants, haunt the local markets on our bicycles, watch sunset with thousands of others – and gape at the hundreds of RV’s which drive down the beach to view the evening sunset, competing with line after line of gaudily dressed camels. 

Amazing array of 4X4 vehicles arrive daily for sunset!

The town, I had forgotten, is quite schizophrenic, there being three km of highway between Broome/Chinatown itself and Cable Beach. We happily ride our push-bikes between them.

We stay longer than intended, catch up with dear circumnavigating sailing friends Elaine and Terry also in their van, celebrate my birthday, have our second Astra Zeneca Jabs.

Now we are ready to go – Cape Leveque coming up!