This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2000 Travels August 8


Today was hot and sunny, with more smoke haze.

D and R left for Barnett Gorge.

We’d finally had enough of the lilo-interrupted sleep! John went in the river with it and found a hole – in the flat top surface, not around the valve or a seam, as we would have expected. Left it to dry while we were away.

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Finding where the lilo leaks

We drove to the art site here that we’d heard about – back  near the river crossing. This was most impressive. To me, it was on a par with the Nourlangie rock art site in Kakadu.

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Rock art site near the King Edward River crossing

It was in an area where blocks of rock outcropped from the otherwise flat ground. There were a couple of galleries of Wandjina heads – these were quite eerie: the eyes seem to “follow” you. I felt they were benign, protective images, though.

The Wandjina were creation spirits. When they found the place they would die, they painted their image on rock walls, then entered the nearby waterhole. It was thought they ensured the coming of the monsoon rains, and for that reason they were repainted every year.

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Wandjina heads

There was a deal of other art work too, of a different style of red outlines and infill lines.

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We explored fairly thoroughly amongst the clusters of outcrops. Here again, the fires had been our friend, because some of the area had been burnt a while ago and thus it was easy for us to see where we were going and to walk around.

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Recent burning at the rock art site

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A different shaped termite mound

In our explorations, we found two skulls up on what must have been a burial ledge, with some other bones. I am not sure we should have seen those!

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Burual ledge – skulls and bones in there

Looking around this area was all a rather special experience.

We picked up some firewood on the way back to camp.

The lilo had dried while we were away and John tried to repair it by putting silicone on it. He was not sure if this would work, but it seemed the best option with the materials available. He later put repair tape over the silicone.

We went for a swim in the river near our camp. The water was cool and lovely. Lazed around for a while, then went for another swim – it was good to feel cool and clean.

This campground was not as busy as I’d expected. It has a composting toilet.

There was much bird life, especially butcher birds. Four brolgas flew in and did some feeding nearby.

There was a family camped down along the river who had been here since before D and R arrived – at least a week. Their vehicle was broken down and they were waiting on a part. The guy had hitched a ride to Drysdale River Station to arrange it. I imagined that getting the part, plus the services of the mechanic from Drysdale River, were going to cost a significant amount.

There was also a camp set up by a tourist company, further along – with permanent (for the season) tents. The camp cook was there all the time.

We got chatting to another couple of campers. The man runs an equipment hire firm in Mt Isa. He invited us to look him up next time we are in Mt Isa – which will probably be next year – and he will show us around the place.

Tea was udon noodles with stir fry vegies, then tinned fruit.

The fire across the river was very bright tonight.

John was not optimistic that the lilo repair would hold, but it actually stayed up all night. It felt so good to wake in the night and not be resting on the hard ground.

At night, there was a bush curlew chorus nearby – quite close. It sounded like there were several of them, calling to each other. It is a lovely noise.

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2000 Travels August 6


For some time now, our lilo has been steadily going down through the night. John has to pump it up again in the middle of the night – he gets that job – and then it is down again by morning. Does not make for a really great night’s sleep.

We were up about 6.30am, to a hot, sunny day.

We began our walk to the Falls at about 8am, before it got too hot. John was in a hurry to leave, and worried that we seemed to be the last walkers to leave. He’d gone to the pilots’ base about 7am to book our flight.

It all became a great rush to get lunch ready and get going, and in the flurry I could not find my bathers – knew they were in the bottom of my clothes bag, somewhere.

The track was pleasant walking – single file for the most part, and needing care because of rocks and tree roots. In a few places we needed to scramble over rocks.

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Walking track to the Mitchell Falls

It did not take us long on the track to reach the Little Mertens Falls, where there were very attractive rapids, and small falls, upstream, and a long fall downstream of a plunge pool.

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Rapids on Mertens Creek

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Plunge pool at Little Mertens Falls

We admired the pool and falls for a little while, and then John found the way down the side of the small falls to their base. There was some aboriginal art work on the overhanging ledge beside and under the falls. It was interesting – using mostly colours of brown and black, like we’d seen at Kalumburu. There must be so many art sites throughout the Kimberley. I ondered to what extent they had been documented and analysed by white scholars?

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Rock art in cave behind the Little Mertens Falls

It was very cool and pretty behind the falls, with ferns growing in the moisture.

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A fernery in the micro climate behind the Falls

We continued on the walking track, past some more art work beside Mertens Creek, to the Big Mertens Falls. These were a huge, single drop down into a narrow, very deep gorge. The sides of this were vertical and there was a long view down the ravine.

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Big Mertens Falls

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Looking down the gorge of the Big Mertens Falls

We explored around the top of the falls area for a short time, then had to cross the top of the falls to continue on the walking track. The way across felt uncomfortably close to the edge of the ravine.

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The track crossed the top of the Big Mertens Falls

From there we skirted round a low hill, then it was a bit of a scramble over a slabbed rocky area and down to the Mitchell River, above the Falls.

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The Mitchell River, seen from the approach track to the Falls area

It was all absolutely spectacular.

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Looking down the Mitchell River Gorge

We had a look around the top of the falls, before taking off our boots to cross over, through some small rapids.

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Crossing above the Mitchell Falls

We had a swim in the pool back a little from the top of the falls. John had his bathers; I swum in my clothes – it was too tempting to pass up. It was beautiful and cool and it was lovely to feel clean again. It took me a while to drip dry though!

We ate lunch sitting on the rocks by the pool.

A guide brought two women near us, and we talked. He had tentatively arranged for them to go back on the same helicopter flight as us, but they now said they’d walk back. Him doing that meant that there was no other chance for the remaining two seats on our flight to be sold, so we ended up having to pay the full $100 each. I felt this was a bit unfair to us.

After lunch we went walking and scrambling around the top of the falls and downstream a little, to see what perspective of the falls we could get from there. Did some rock hopping. Managed to get down a little gully that gave us good falls views.

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Mitchell Falls – the top three tiers seen from the side of the gorge

We got some excellent views back upstream, of three, then four, drops of the five drop falls.

These have to be the BEST falls we have seen in Australia.

There was a lot of water coming over, too – they would be immense in a big wet season. Of course, the only way to see them then would be from the air.

We filled in time around there, taking photos and just admiring the whole place, until it was time to make our way back to the little plateau by the top of the falls, that the helicopters used, for our 2pm flight.

The pilot actually came about 2.20pm. He was a very taciturn young man, with an attitude that we were just a chore to be managed, rather than welcome customers. John went into the back seat behind the pilot, and I was put in the front seat. There was no front door on the helicopter – to enable a better view.

The pilot did not give any assistance with getting set up for the flight. I was left to work out how to do up my harness myself. He did not help, or check it, just shoved some headphones across at me. He was focussed on some girls who were sunbaking topless further across on the rocks. Because I was trying to put those on, and do up the harness, I finished up with the mouthpiece digging uncomfortably into my neck. I still was not sure about the harness when we suddenly took off and dropped straight out into space above the falls. I was petrified that I’d fall out, so hung onto the door frame – very tightly!

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The valley of the Mitchell River

I did not feel secure or at ease during the entire flight, much of which was on a sideways slant, to give us views, but which put me on the “downhill” side.

I managed a few – one-handed – photos – but it was a pity I could not do it properly.

We flew over the falls for a bit, then went up high enough to get a good perspective right back over the river, the falls, the plateau, and where the gorge of Big Mertens Creek meets the Mitchell River, downstream from the falls.

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Mitchell Falls seen from the helicopter

Then we flew downstream, over the lowest falls, to where the tidal influence meets the fresh water.

The plateau nature of the area was more evident from the air, as was mile after mile of dissected sandstone block country. It looked so vast, with just the slash of the river course through it.

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Mitchell Falls, Plateau and River. A helicopter is on flat area in photo centre

There would be so many scenic places that we do not get to see, because they are only accessible from the air,  if at all.

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A vast area of wilderness

The pilot gave almost no commentary. He did much fiddling with his radio and there was a lot of static noise from that. He talked at length on the radio with someone about bring back a forgotten towel. So we did not feel that we got any value in the way of informed commentary. We had been expecting something like a mini aerial tour, but what we got was just an aerial taxi service!

Coming in over the campground to land was interesting. The camp area was much larger than was evident on the ground. We could see Truck and our tent.

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The campground at the Mitchell Plateau. Our red and green tent is in photo centre

Even though we had to pay the full amount, seeing the area from the air was worth it. That was a great anniversary present.

I felt quite exhilarated after the flight. Maybe it was just relief at surviving! My first helicopter flight. Pity about the attitude of the pilot, though.

We relaxed at camp for the remainder of the afternoon, reliving the experiences of the day.

Tea was potato rosti, egg and bacon.

The moon was beginning to be evident again at night, after some dark ones.

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2000 Travels August 3


It was a hot day that was windy in the morning, but by night there was a bit of a breeze.

Les came down and told us he would take us to see art. We were to meet him in Kalumburu, as he had some phoning to do – to try to get the phone put on to Honeymoon, for starters.

We drove in, and went to the Mission to get our gas bottles filled. That took half an hour. The young Irish guy that looks after the fuel centre was so slow, and rather strange. Gas for our two bottles cost $31.50.

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Sports court at Kalumburu, with the Mission behind

I bought some oddments at the store, and then we sat in Truck for an hour, waiting for Les. It was interesting, watching the passing parade of people, here. Eventually, John went in to ask Les how much longer he’d be, and he appeared.

Then we drove around the settlement, looking for R.

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In Kalumburu

Our first stop was out at Marra Garra – the barge landing. We were surprised to see a great deal of mining equipment here – a company called Striker is setting up to explore for diamonds. A track has been pushed through Carson River Station to the back of Ellenbrae Station, to get the gear up there. There was one white man relaxing and fishing there – it was his job to mind the equipment.

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Mining equipment at Marra Garra barge landing

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The coast at Marra Garra, looking across to the King Edward River mouth

We then followed Les up a defined track, but he stopped at a creek and decided we were going the wrong way. Further back along the Marra Garra road, he took to the bush and blazed his own track with the Nissan, for over a km. We followed, through the high, dry grass, hoping we wouldn’t rearrange something vital on a hidden rock or ant hill. It was rough.

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Going bush!

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Rock outcrops where art work found

We came into sandstone pillar type/Lost City formations and then walked a few hundred metres. Under a couple of overhangs in cave-like formations in the sandstone, there was much art work. It seemed to my very inexpert eye to have elements of both Bradshaw and Wandjina styles.

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Les was uncertain of the origins of it, and asked if we could figure out the meanings of it all! It is sad that loss of culture resulted from the Mission years – they did much that was beneficial, and much that is now seen as regrettable.

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Rock shelter and more art

We had to scramble up into the rocks to get to a second lot of art.

Les said it was alright to take photos.

Then we backtracked through the bush to the road. Les went off to town to make some more phone calls, and we went back to camp.

We’d gotten some bites from green ants, out in the bush, and they were stinging a bit.

Les said that he was going to take us out to the King George Falls, to the east of here, some 75kms away. He said there were tracks through their lands to the river. It was a really tempting offer – Europeans can usually only see the Falls from the sea, as part of a Kimberley cruise, or by private boat. But we were certain that the going would be slow and rough, and thus more than a day trip – and Les does really have a business to run! Even if he is rather casual about it, at times. We told him that we were grateful, but we did not think it was good to take him away from the campground for too long.

After lunch, we went for a walk out to the bore, for exercise.

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The bore and genset

We had a final drink with D and R, who leave tomorrow to go camp at the King Edward River.

Young M, the crane driver from the Argyle Mine, brought John back some oysters, so John had those as an entree to tea, which was fries and bluebone, followed by tinned apricots. M said he was coming back here for his next three week off spell. That would be great for Les, because M would do quite a bit of helping about the place.

Les confirmed that the big snake, last night, would have been a king brown. He said they are attracted to music! The shed inhabitants certainly play that loudly!

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2000 Travels June 25


It was another beautiful blue sky day, about 30 degrees. The nights had been just cool enough to need the doona, which was pleasant because it did allow one to cool down after the day.

We were woken at 7.30am – which was just after daybreak here – by the nearby van group starting their bloody generator – again! Absolute morons! I thought very nasty wishes for them until they left, and glared hard whenever I saw them, just in case they didn’t realise what other campers thought of them. Fortunately, they packed up and left.

After a slow start, we eventually got moving and drove to the Keep River Gorge. This was again to the north of where we were camped, but not as far as yesterday, and the side track went off to the east. The Keep River makes a big curve around from where we went yesterday.

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John with boab near the parking area for the Keep River Gorge walk

Left Truck in the parking area wand walked the marked track down its length through part of a little gorge, to a rock overhang area that was an aboriginal shelter. This was some way above the river level.

There was much flood debris showing that a huge depth of water had been through the gorge.

We saw lots of interesting boabs. They have such individuality that I never get sick of gazing at them.

At the shelter, there were some well defined and interesting paintings.

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Rock art in overhang, Keep River Gorge. Figures with no mouths – Wandjina like?

The gorge itself was quite rugged. There was lots of bird life.

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In the Keep River Gorge

When we got back to Truck, decided that this 3 or 4 km walk had been quite enough exercise in the heat, so we went back to the van for lunch and a lazy afternoon. The drive there and back was 25kms.

I sewed. John replaced the heat generator on the lamp with a spare we’d bought in Cairns in ’98. He got bitten on the toe – not too hard – by a little centipede. His attempts to rest on the banana lounge were plagued by ants! He listened to footballs on the little radio – turned right down so as not to disturb me or anyone else. There were bitey midges about again.

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Our camp set up at Keep River National Park

Tea was carrot soup, a udon noodle stir fry I made up using veal and a commercial stir fry sauce. It was ok, bit nothing special. John had some watermelon given to him by one of the two lots of Qld caravanners neighbours. They had a Golf and a Bushtracker – a big, heavy van with many mod cons. It weighs 2.3 tonnes, empty. I was glad we were not towing it! It was very nice watermelon. They had come out here from Kununurra are were going back there, so could not take any fruit or veg back across the border. I was trying hard to use up all our stocks, too.

The lamp worked!

I started reading “Going Inland” again – really enjoyed it the first time, but it was the sort of book that would give even more the second time.

Suddenly, a huge horde of mosquitoes descended on the lamp and we were driven inside. We could hear them banging on the van sides and vinyl of the poptop. It was almost scary! A couple of campers with a small tent, set up nearby, were cooking their tea outside when this happened and they too were driven to take refuge in their tent. Without tea! We have never encountered anything quite like this before.

Read in the van, by the lamp light, until 10.30pm – a late night for us!

John went out to take a leak in the nearby bush, under a low tree, heard a noise above him, looked up and right into the face of a huge bat feeding in the leaves! John got the biggest fright!