This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels August 5

SUNDAY 5 AUGUST     MCGOWANS

About 9.30 last night, a group of six men in three vehicles arrived and set up camp just across from us – there went M’s view of the sea! They were a bit close to us, and thus intrusive, but did not seem to be hard drinkers, unlike our Honeymoon neighbours were. They had been made aware that the guys who run the show here, strictly enforced the two fish a day rule. That was soooo good to hear.

New camp pitched where there had been a view to the sea

After breakfast, John and I went for a walk, exploring along the coast to the north. It was a pretty walk, with great coastal scenery and interesting rocks.

We were told there had been a croc on the beach here, yesterday morning.

It was very windy again. A yacht was moored in the bay, sheltering from the strong winds. The people came ashore to get water, periodically. We swapped some books with them – fresh reading material!

The large sandy area to the left was the beach in front of the campground

Late in the afternoon, John tried fishing from the beach and nearby rocks. No luck.

While we were walking, this morning, M sought out JC, who runs fishing trips from here. He thought he might be able to get her across to the old Truscott Air Base, from here. It is across the other side of the Bay, somewhere. M was on a mission for an aging relative, who was stationed there during WW2, and who asked her to do that for him. JC said he would see if he could get permission to go there from the local person whose traditional land it is on.

JC told us that we could have bought diesel here at McGowans, for about 20cents a litre cheaper than at the Mission in town!

Modern donga style amenity building….

We got chatting to a nearby camper, here on a break from his job as a FIFO worker in the Qld coal mines. Turned out he was a friend of the guy who was the chopper pilot at the Monsoon Cafe, when we were there last year. Small world, yet again.

There was another wonderful sunset.


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2007 Travels August 4

SATURDAY 4 AUGUST   HONEYMOON BAY TO MCGOWANS ISLAND  

It was a hot, sweaty, dusty pack up of camp. John’s back was sore, so he was rather tetchy. Even though we were only going a few kms, everything still really only went in Truck one way – and that was properly packed!

There was no sign of Les or Ruth by the time we left Honeymoon. I’d have liked to say farewell, but so be it.

It did not take very long to drive around to McGowans.

Taking the track to McGowans. Typical infrastructure of these parts.

A house at the entrance to the campground was the home of an extended aboriginal family – the owners of the area, and it was here that campers stopped to book in and pay. It cost us $20 a night.

We found a spot to set up camp, on grass – a luxury! M and J selected the site – for the grass and because it gave us a (small and limited) view out over the sea. It was a bit close to the amenity block, though. The tents would be in full sun for most of the day, but there were some trees nearby we could sit under for shade.

Behind our site was a framework structure. It was a bit hard to tell if it was something that had been partially built, then stopped, or a proper building partly cyclone wrecked.

McGowans camp, with its glimpses of the sea through the trees

There was actually a breeze here! Wonderful – no biteys.

We were not allowed a campfire here, so could not dispose of our rubbish by burning, and would have to take it away with us. An option was to dump it at the Kalumburu tip as we passed.

Setting up camp again was a very hot experience. It was well and truly time for lunch, when we were done.

McGowans (Zoom image)

There were two non-indigenous men at the house when we had booked in. They seemed to be in charge of the campground, developing it, improving it. I didn’t think they were just hired managers, they seemed to be somehow linked to some of the local owners. Paired up?

One of the men – JC – came by in the afternoon and we got talking. He came mainly to explain about no fires, take out own rubbish, and a strictly enforced fishing policy of only two fish per person, per day. He and his mate certainly seemed to have ambitious plans for the place.

There was no hot water in the showers – yet. But there were flush toilets that worked properly. The showers had cold water. Above all, the amenities block was CLEAN! We noticed over succeeding days that it was regularly cleaned by one of the family. But no toilet paper supplied – BYO again.

The tap water was excellent. JC said it was their best asset.

McGowans seemed to be run with interest, unlike where we had been.

We sat around, in the breeze which had become a wind, for the rest of the day – enjoying the better environment.

The views over the sea from here were excellent. The sunsets were to die for.

McGowans sunset. Passing yacht moored in the bay


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2007 Travels August 3

FRIDAY 3 AUGUST     HONEYMOON BAY

There was no power on at all today. I was glad that we hadn’t paid the extra $5 a day for that almost non-existent service. Our Chescold fridge ran well on gas, anyway, and M had been taking the Troopy for a drive often enough to charge up her batteries that run her Engel fridge.

M and John went off in the Troopy to drive to the  ruins of the old Mission at Pago. I had seen these before, and the Troopy only took two anyway. John  thought it was a good idea for M to have someone with her in these parts.

They reported back that the track was very bad now, and the ruins hard to find.

Pago Mission remains
Once was bread oven
The well at Pago

While they were away, I talked with Les’ wife for a while. She was on her own at the old shed, the various family members having left over the last couple of days. She said that the little female pup that I so liked was going to one of the white guests currently here – so I hoped that it would have a good life, after all.

Had a session in the phone box – not particularly pleasant in the heat! Now our movements were clearer, I could try to firm up some places to stay. Phoned our caravan park in Kununurra and booked us back on site there, for three nights from 18th.

The family’s house; the phone box. The heap of rocks marks where the tank and stand was, pre-cyclone.

Knowing that accommodation could be hard to get in Broome, at this time of year, thought I should sound out what might be available at Cable Beach – our preferred place to stay, simply because we had not stayed out there on previous trips.

The first park I phoned informed me, quite abruptly, that they were full, and that I should phone closer to the time to see if there was a cancellation. I did not like the tone or attitude – I was only asking on the offchance!

The next park I called said they could take us for a week, from 24th. They only took bookings for week long blocks of time, and only from Friday to Friday! Take it or leave it. We did not really want a full week in Broome, but seemed like there wasn’t much choice about that. I guess it made their reservation system easier to work…….

I took the offered week, from 24th. Maybe we could have a few days in Derby, before going there?

The Bushtracker people came in with another large haul of red emperor for their freezers. The exploitation of the fishing here was really annoying and saddening me. I was really cross that white southerners assumed it was their right to behave like this, and presume on the inherent reticence of the aboriginals, in charge of the place to challenge their blatant over-fishing.

Late in the afternoon, Les wanted John to drive him and Ruth into Kalumburu. His car had gone with some of the family to Broome, a couple of days ago. He clearly expected John to agree to this. John said no. I think Les was quite miffed. Eventually they went off with someone else.

The shed – still used as a residence, some of the time

So, overnight, there was no one here who wasn’t a guest. No one in charge…. No power. Nothing. The dogs barked and prowled a lot through the night.

We talked about what could come after Broome. John had  originally thought that we should go home via the desert: via Telfer, Kunawarritji and the Gary Junction Track to Alice Springs. That route had been in our sights for a while now, and was one we had not previously tackled. Now, he had changed his mind, saying we would stick to the coast, then go across via Kalgoorlie. Part of me was a bit disappointed – new territory always attracts – but part of me was relieved that I wouldn’t have to hassle about, trying to get a heap of permits to travel through the aboriginal lands of two states.

At night, I trekked back up to the phone box, and by torchlight – no illumination in the phone box – phoned son and dictated a list of fruit and vegies for him to buy in Kununurra on his way through to us.

I was so sick of the heat and grubbiness here. Sometimes it is a mistake to return to a place. We had a great time here, before, but it was not the same place now….


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2007 Travels August 2

THURSDAY 2 AUGUST     HONEYMOON BAY

A fairly early start, so M and John could go out fishing with Les. I went down to see them off. Les’ old faithful dog was down there, looking forlorn and miserable, obviously not happy at being left behind by tourist groups. I persuaded him to take her too. They reported she behaved very well. I made a dog happy for the day!

John caught two bluebone, and Les gave him a small one he caught. M didn’t catch anything. Rather expensive fish! But John enjoyed the time, even though it was hot out on the sea in the open boat with no shade. They got the bare four hours promised for the trip – rather less actually out where the fish could be caught. Les was anxious to return to working on his old truck.

I helped John and M clean, fillet and divide the fish between us. Now we had fish for tea – and enough for two or three nights.

The fishing party next door to us left this morning, after a prolonged pack up. So much gear! They left behind two full drums of rubbish, plus some more left out in cartons, which the crows and then the camp dogs proceeded to strew around. Two couples with camper trailers who had also been not far from us, also left – to go camp at Kalumburu. They were waiting for stuff to repair broken shock absorbers, to be flown in on the mail plane. They did not like it out here, they said. I could see why! They also left a lot of rubbish, which the crows also attacked.

Looking downhill from near our camp

The two Bushtracker caravan men, who had a boat, came in this afternoon with a heap of red emperor and fingermark. They must have had at least thirty red emperor. They gave Les some whole fish, plus all the fish heads, for soup, after the rest had been filleted. They both had sizeable freezers in their vans, that they were hoping to fill whilst here.

Old boab by beach; cyclone damaged trees in background

Now that the fishing party, with its freezers, had gone, Les did not run the camp generator at all at night. The caravan people had solar panels for power. The silence was lovely.


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2007 Travels August 1

WEDNESDAY 1 AUGUST     HONEYMOON BAY

Today was a day like yesterday – stiflingly hot, and lazy. However, John did not catch a trevalley, and they did not go oyster hunting.

John going fishing

We realized that Les had actually been turning off the camp generator through the daytimes, and only running it at night. This was probably to save money on fuel.

The fish camp people next to us had at least two large portable freezers, as well as camp fridges.

Camp freezer – for take home fish?

So they were having to run a couple of generators through the day, to keep all these cool. Meant the days were noisy for us, rather than peaceful.  We thought that the men were filling the freezers with fish to take away with them. They went out every day with their boat, fishing. I thought there were considerable limits on taking lots of fish away, in these parts, with significant penalties if caught. It seemed that any such rules were not being applied here, even though Les was supposed to be some sort of Ranger. There were no apparent limits on the size of people’s catches, or the number of the same species kept, or even on whether the catch was of legal length. Open slather. From the number of campers here with boats and considerable freezer capacity, it would appear that Honeymoon had developed a reputation……..

The next door camps

Les was still, if pressed, taking out fishing parties in his boat. M and John persuaded him to take them out tomorrow morning. It would cost them $125 each, for four hours in the boat.

Sausages for tea tonight, with tinned tomatoes. The pantry was running somewhat low.


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2007 Travels July 31

TUESDAY 31 JULY     HONEYMOON BAY

It was an extremely hot and wind-less day. The heat was enervating and it was an effort to do anything much at all. The flies were really plentiful and persistent all day.

Sitting area shaded but not cool….

John fished from the beach. He caught a trevalley – not all that large.

He and M went off in the afternoon, to drive around the shore a little way then gather some of the huge black lipped oysters, that abound in this area. They returned with about a dozen – enough for the two of them. Not to my taste!

I wrote up diary notes and postcards, did some sewing. For the sake of exercise, went for a walk along the beach.

The beach and the old shack

At tea time, M and John set about opening the oysters. Not very scientifically – John wielded a set of pliers and M used our small miners pick! I suspect more than one bit of shell was consumed, along with the critter.

Opening oysters

I cooked John’s trevalley for the rest of his tea. I only felt like a cup of soup – too hot to eat.


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2007 Travels July 30

MONDAY 30 JULY     HONEYMOON BAY

After breakfast and a tidy up of our camp, we drove back into Kalumburu.

Time to get up….

Kalumburu’s origins as a community lie with the setting up, in the early 1900’s, of a small Benedictine Mission – to bring the “benefits” of Catholicism and European ways – at Pago. This was moved. some twenty years later, to where there was more reliable water and soil – by the banks of the King Edward River, near its mouth – Kalumburu. As was the practice, gradually the initially belligerent aboriginal groups were quietened, and many brought within the control of the Mission. Agricultural activities and cattle grazing provided food, and the children received some education.

World War 2 saw an influx of military activity based on airfields at Kalumburu and then the newly established Truscott Base, across Napier Broome Bay. The Japanese bombed Kalumburu and most of the non-military people were evacuated – some further inland, some to Wyndham. I remember Les being quite indignant to us, in 2000, about this – as a child, he was sent to Wyndham – “why they bomb us, we done nothin’ to them”.

Les in his boat

It was the mid-50’s before a road track gave land access to Kalumburu. Before that, all contact with the outside world was by sea or air.

As happened to other Missions, in more recent times, control of the community passed to the local people and governments. But the Mission did not close down and go away, and a rather unusual side-by-side system operated. Schooling by the nuns ceased. A community store was built and existed along side that run by the Mission. A police station was set up and staffed. The community’s affairs were run by a council of locals.

Again, as happened elsewhere, the standard of education achieved by the community’s children declined, as did the agricultural activities that had made the community more self sustaining. Law and order issues became more evident, and social cohesion declined. (Postscript: in later 2007-09, a number of men from the community, including council leaders, were charged with child sex abuse offences).

We noticed the community had quite a number of new houses and fences – replacements due to cyclone damage, I presumed. There was a new under cover sports area – a full sized basketball court size. It was roofed and open sided, as is the norm in these parts.

We studied the community notices, posted outside the Store and Office area – always informative! One stated that the community was not receiving the government’s hand out of white goods, because too many houses were being vandalized. Notice was given that parents who were not looking after their children, would be punished by being made to pick up rubbish around the community – rather reminiscent of the old emu-hunt discipline meted out to naughty school children! Another notice forbade children from playing card games during school hours – this hinted at two problems within the community: not attending school, and the prevalence of gambling on cards – poker in particular.

John had our gas bottles refilled at the Community Workshop. The guy manning that said his wife worked at the school. He said they were short of teachers and tried to convince us to come and teach there! But the things he was saying about the school and the community made it sound very reminiscent of Doomadgee school. No thanks – been there, done that. Never again!

Northern Rosella

Refuelled Truck at the Mission – the only source of fuel (we thought). The diesel was $2.288cpl. The priest who served us was quite belligerent when John commented on the price. Privately, we wondered what taxes – if any – as a church, they paid on the profits from their enterprise? The Mission was also running a campground, and a Store, in competition with the community one. I got the impression that any co-operative spirit that used to exist between Mission and community, had dissipated.

At the community store, there was no fresh produce. A barge was due “soon” we were told. I was running low on potatoes. Bought some frozen sausages. We would not be coming in every day to check whether the barge had arrived, so unless we heard somehow that it had, would just manage meals with what we had.

On the return trip, drove in and looked at the Marra Garra barge landing. Also thought we’d have a look at the set up at McGowans Island – another campground, in competition with Honeymoon. Back in 2000, this was supposed to have water problems and be almost non-functional. But now, after seeing it, M and John decided we’d move there on Saturday, when our week at Honeymoon was over, rather than stay on there. McGowans looked more interesting for M to explore, the rock fishing appeared better for John, and the campground appeared much nicer. There had obviously been big changes there to bring it up to a much better standard than it used to be. I was not as enthusiastic about moving as the other two – saw lots of mangroves there and thought the sandflies would be even worse.

At McGowans – looking up the bay towards the King Edward River mouth and the barge landing

I served John fish and fries for tea; to conserve potatoes, I had some pasta with sauce from a packet.


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2007 Travels July 29

SATURDAY 29 JULY     HONEYMOON BAY

It was a hot day.

After breakfast, I did some washing – by hand, in our plastic bowl, was the only option through most of the Kimberley, of course. Pegged it out on the tent guy ropes.

Not much shade to be had….

John got his fishing gear set up, then wandered down to try some fishing from the beach – no luck to be had.

Honeymoon Bay

M went for a long exploratory walk, then joined John down at the beach.

Old shack by the beach – let out for accommodation

I nursed sandfly and mozzie-caused itches.

M had gotten chatting with some of the men from the next camp. She must have made a favourable impression, because I came back from a little wander around, to find a large jewfish laid carefully on her little foot step.

An offering from the neighbours…

As M and John were at the beach, I started the fish cleaning task. Took it over to the “table” that was set up for same – a board laid between two 44 gallon drums. Some of the guys from the next camp came to help – apparently they had arranged with M to go halves. They brought across a small cod too.

According to them, big jewfish and sharks out in the bay have made the more desirable red emperor hard to find in the past few days. They said this was very unusual.

High trees gone…..

Later in the afternoon – mindful of the time zone difference – I phoned son, eventually figuring out how to use the public phone! His move of house went alright. He was booked to arrive in Darwin early on the 11th, and was happy to meet up with us at Home Valley.

I cooked some of our share of the fish for tea, with potato fries. Just dipped the fish in flour, then pan fried it – very nice.

I had already noticed that – now a number of the family members seemed  to be living out here, in the house and the big shed, instead of “in town” – Kalumburu – there were a number of camp dogs wandering around too. They roamed all over the campground and filched whatever they could find. I suspected there were fleas about too. Between the dogs and marauding crows getting into the rubbish drums spread around for campers to use, there was a fair scattering of litter all about. It all felt quite grotty really, in a way it hadn’t seven years ago.

The old shed camp, with new house at back; birds scavenging rubbish


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2007 Travels July 28

SATURDAY 28 JULY   MITCHELL PLATEAU TO HONEYMOON BEACH   220kms

We were up at 6am and away at 7.45.

Came across the mangled vehicle, still beside the track. He’d made a fair old mess of it. Judging by the big skid marks on the track, it had been on its way into the campground and Falls. It had been pushed to the side of the road, awaiting collection.

We stopped at the aboriginal art site by the King Edward River.

The grass around these had been burnt, so the various rocks and outcrops where the paintings occurred, were more obvious. It made wandering around the area really pleasant. The galleries now had board walks constructed around them, to protect the sites.

I thought that the “paint” had deteriorated since we first saw these, in 2000.

The Wandjina figures here are so powerful. They really do seem to be watching you.

As we approached the crossing of the King Edward River, a recovery tilt try truck was coming from the other side – presumably on the way to collect the accident vehicle. He mangled the crossing quite badly and had to reverse out to change direction. Definitely harder than it looks!

Recovery truck crossing the King Edward River

I think the river here had gotten deeper! We got water in the back of Truck, and on the back seat floor. I took photos of M doing the crossing.

Passenger’s view of the crossing
Truck fording the King Edward River

The road north to Kalumburu was rough – corrugated, still with some erosion channels, rocky in places. The Carson River Crossing, about 20kms before Kalumburu, had water in, but was straightforward.

We went straight through Kalumburu, noting that there seemed to be a number of new houses there. Continued on out past the airstrip, on the road to the barge landing, McGowans beach, Honeymoon Beach and the Pago Mission ruins. Whilst it was still rough, the track to Honeymoon did not have the deep sandy sections of before. It was usually somewhat re-routed every season, and they seemed to have found some firmer ground. There were none of the direction signs John had made on old tyres, in 2000, but the way was now better sign posted, with proper painted signs. However, we noted they had retained John’s star rating system – only now up to  seven stars! Ha!

Kalumburu localities

There did not seem to have been too much change at Honeymoon, and little for the better. The family now had a proper, high-set house, near the entrance, but all the old sheds were still there. They had survived the 2006 Category 5 cyclone, but it was noticeable that there was a lot less vegetation. Whole trees were gone, and the tops were out of most others. So the view was more open – and the camp area less shaded. The tank had gone off its stand – and was way down by the beach. The campground water was now very discoloured – a dark brown –  and was not drinkable – presumably the rather shallow bore had bottomed out. Campers had to have their own water with them – and replenish same if needed, in Kalumburu.

Les had not added any more to the partly built ablutions block to be, since 2000!

There were a lot more people here than we had expected. It was hard to find a spot to set up camp! In the end we had to opt for a place in full sun, but we did have a small view to the bay.

There were two large Bushtracker vans parked where we had camped in 2000, where there was still a little shade. On the other side of us was a camp of six men, here for the fishing. They were rather noisy – mostly just through sheer numbers.

There were sandflies in evidence now – and mosquitoes. Hadn’t had those here last time.

The showers – the same old two – were cold ones; what else could we have expected? There was no toilet paper provided – BYO! We found out soon enough that the campers from the Bushtrackers were cleaning the amenities each day, and emptying the rubbish bins. Relying on the paying guests to keep the place usable had not changed since 2000, it seemed.

Rather unwisely as it turned out, we’d already decided to stay a week here, before we had a good look round. We were charged $12 per person, per night, to stay here. Theoretically, we could pay $5 a night more for power, which we opted not to do. Good thing too, because the camp genset turned out to be off for most of each day – they were having problems with it.

Les’ wife Ruth was at the main shed, where they used to live, when we arrived. There were 13 puppies there too, including a kelpie-looking female pup that was absolutely gorgeous, and that I’d loved to have “rescued” and taken home with me. Unfortunately, not feasible.

It was very hot here.

Les remembered John, from 2000, when we had spent about three weeks here. We hoped he didn’t think John was going to do lots of free maintenance work around the place, like last time.

There was a community phone box here now – a steel box, 12 keys, no slots, no lights; it worked on punching in pre-paid card numbers only. I guessed it was about as vandal proof as they could make it.

We set up camp, then wandered about, looking.

The old camping shed was still down by the beach – it had survived, somehow.

The bay – Napier Broome Bay – was as beautiful as ever.

Napier Broome Bay from Honeymoon Beach

There was an area in front of our tents where there had previously been campfires, so we tidied that up, with a decent rock circle to contain it. Had loaded up some firewood onto the roof rack on the way here, so unloaded that. Here, it would be easy to go out into the bush and get more, as needed. In these parts, given the paucity and cost of gas refills, we tried, whenever possible to use a campfire for at least heating water, if not for cooking too. Even when it was hot, sitting round the embers of a campfire, into the evening, was pleasurable.

In this place, there was another practical reason for a fire – to burn as much rubbish as possible, given that the only collection of same from the campground, was done by fellow campers.

I think we both felt  sense of let down. We’d been prepared for this place to be pretty much like it was before, but to find it actually somewhat worse was a disappointment. Clearly, Les’ plans of 2000 had not really materialized; neither it seemed, had his hopes that some of his family would join him in the venture. There seemed to be a number of them living or spending time out here, but we did not see any of them contributing to the running of the place at all – apart from collecting the fees from the visitors.


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2007 Travels July 27

FRIDAY 27 JULY     MITCHELL PLATEAU CAMPGROUND

John and I both needed a rest day, today. John from walking and driving, and me from exercise in general.

M drove off to go to Surveyors Pool, which was a little further north from here. After yesterday’s strange ennui, I was not confident enough to offer to go walking with her – and in any case, John and I had walked into Surveyors Pool in 2000.

M actually decided to try to reach Port Warrender, on Admiralty Gulf, but found the track extremely rough, and then washed away, so could not continue. She back tracked and drove to the start of the Surveyors Pool walk. That had been changed, from 2000. It was now only a 1km walk – the driving track in had been extended. When we did it, there was a 4km walk, with almost no guide markings, through very tall grass and country where it was easy to get lost. Apparently, a 60 year old had done just that, when she went off the track to avoid a bull that was blocking the way. She was found, but that near disaster caused access, and the walk, to be made easier.

Typical Mitchell Plateau track – a good stretch!

M thought the outing to Surveyors Pool was worth the effort – especially since there were very few other people there.

We did some preliminary camp packing up. A generator going in the next camp to ours was really loud and annoying. John eventually went and asked them if they could move it to the other side of their set up, away from us. They did so – grudgingly – but kept it going well into the night.

Campground toilet

The nights here had been warmer.