This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2007 Travels July 28


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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2000 Travels July 23


The water went on again, early in the morning. That was good news! The owner is apparently having problems with water pipes leaking during the night.

It was a sunny, hot day.

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The beach at Honeymoon

In the morning, Les took a fishing group out in his tinny boat. I wandered down to watch the boat going out and got talking to one woman of the two couples who are occupying the campers’ shed, down by the beach. They came from NE Victoria.

John got on the radphone to his daughter R, and also left a message as to our location, for K. I got through to V and had a good talk with her.

The fishing party got back, in the afternoon, with some big, brightly coloured fish identified as a bluebone, or tuskfish, a type of groper. They are nice eating, apparently. The group seemed to have done well for itself with fish caught.

In the afternoon, the tide rose too high for us to go and gather oysters, as we’d thought to do, so we drove the short distance – about 2kms – to Tamarinda, on the other side of the nearby point, to the west. We followed a rough track to an area of rock ledges that faced east. right out on the point.

John tried to fish there, but lost his lure. From a different spot, we walked across the little peninsula to try to reach the end of the Honeymoon beach, where the oyster rocks were, but found our way blocked by mangroves, so gave up.

It was interesting exploring anyway, and we spotted a new bird – a wood sandpiper.

Les seems to try to keep track of where people are going – he asked our intentions as we drove out. This is probably more to make sure that campers do not stray where they shouldn’t, as much as concern for our safety. But it seems like easy country to get a bit lost in, with tracks all over the place, and no decent maps, so maybe he is avoiding hassles like that.

Some cloud built up in the afternoon, and we went for a walk along the beach and took some photos of big boabs against the cloud.

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Big old boab by the beach

Tea was tinned herrings and potato.

Les came to our camp, after tea, and convinced John to go out fishing with him. John agreed, but was nervous about it.

We did not stay up very late.

Although the nights are cooler, they are not as cold as we encountered at our other camps. That would be the influence of being by the sea.

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2000 Travels July 22


It was a cold night again.

We were up at 6.30am, and packed and away by 9.30. No speed records there!

Our little freshie friend watched proceedings with great curiosity from the far side of the pool, for a couple of hours. He didn’t disappear until the tent was down.

Turned north again, on the Kalumburu road. North of Theda, the road was very variable. It was quite reasonable in parts, in others just wheel tracks on stony rubble.

There were regular water crossings, most shallow and not very wide at all. Some just a muddy patch on the road.

We drove into one such water crossing, following the tracks of a much larger vehicle that had entered the water on our side of the road. There was a car load of aboriginals approaching the crossing from the other side, so John kept to the one side. The water was very muddy.

We ground to a halt in the middle of what was basically a very large puddle! Even engaging the diff lock didn’t budge us. Eventually John worked out that we were hung up on a large rock. The tracks we’d followed must have gone each side of it, but he’d had a higher clearance!

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Not going anywhere…..

The aboriginal vehicle rocked and scraped, crossing beside us, but got through.

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They stopped to watch but not to help……

We had to winch out, but – as usual – there is never a good big tree around when you need one! However, there was a very large rock that we used.

It was not easy to set up for winching, with truck mired in knee deep water and mud. John hurt the soles of his feet, wading around getting out the needed gear and setting it up. Another tourist vehicle approached from the Kalumburu side, and he helped John with the winch. His wife complained to me about how expensive it had been at the beach camps there. They had gone and camped in the bush instead, and then been told off for being where they shouldn’t be.

The winching out produced a loud scraping noise from under Truck. We hoped it wasn’t a vital area! Our tourist helpers scraped their rear and exhaust, crossing where it was “good”. We wondered what this crossing would be like by the time we came back this way.

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Winching out, using large boulder as anchor

Obviously a big vehicle had churned up the crossing, recently, despite the supposed road closure to vehicles over 7 tonnes.That might have been the truck noise we thought we’d heard a couple of days ago. We were pretty annoyed.

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It looks so innocuous…..

Further on, we encountered some locals in a conventional car, stuck in another crossing. He was a white man, with an aboriginal lady and young child on board. We winched them out. We thought they would have more trouble where we were stuck, and warned them about it.

The lady said there had been a BP fuel road train into Kalumburu, because the town had run out of diesel. He’d been and gone, so our theory seemed confirmed. Pity they couldn’t have barged some fuel in, like they do in the Wet!

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Helping out some locals….

We travelled on, through some picturesque country, with hills, stony rises, creek gorges, and the black rock faces of the Carson Escarpment. The crossing of the larger Carson River was no problem.

The Kalumburu township did not look too bad, but it was all closed up, of course. It looked fairly well kept. There was some litter, but we had seen worse.

Kalumburu began about 1905, when Benedictine monks from New Norcia, near Perth, set up a mission for the aboriginals of the remote Drysdale River area – at the Pago Creek, some 30kms north of the present location. In 1930, the monks were joined by Benedictine nuns.

In 1932, the mission was moved to a site by a pool in the King Edward River, not far from its mouth, where there was permanent water. The mission was reliant on sea transport for goods it could not produce itself, although as air transport began, an airfield was built.

In WW2 the Drysdale air base became a significant part of the war against the Japanese, and Kalumburu was attacked and bombed. Many of the mission people were evacuated to Wyndham for the war. In 1944, the Truscott airfield was built on a peninsula on the other side of the bay, and the Drysdale base became less important.

Until 1951, the settlement was called Drysdale River Mission, then the name changed to Kalumburu. Cattle grazing and some cropping were successful activities, with the place being largely self sufficient. There was an emphasis on education – albeit for limited roles – and improving health.

The 1970’s saw the construction of a road south to meet the Gibb River Road, so land transport to the mission was established, in the Dry season.

In 1981, despite much resistance from the Mission, who did not regard them as capable of running their own affairs, the aboriginals obtained independence from the Mission and after that, Kalumburu was administered as an independent settlement, which now has about 500 people. It has the usual, store, Town Office, school, medical centre. The Mission remained, though, in its own premises, staffed by a few priests and nuns. It runs a church, store, museum, camping ground, and has the only fuel outlet in town.

Those religious staff who remained at the Mission must have been so disappointed to see the decline of the place under self-determination, and the descent of the people into welfare dependency, with increasing alcohol and drug issues, decreasing school attendance and literacy rates.

We had thought to stay in the Mission’s camp ground, but there was not anyone in it, so we decided to go and see what else was on offer. Our Kimberley guide wrote of two camp areas on the coast, run by local indigenous families. We aimed for Honeymoon Beach, the further of the two, but written up as the better one. It was about 26kms north of Kalumburu.

The road went out past the airstrip. Having the Moon’s guidebook was a godsend here, as signposts were non existent. The gravel road soon became more of a track. It was sandy in places and in others rather hard to follow. It was a matter of going the way that looked the most used, and hoping. There was a rudimentary sign at a fork in the track – left went to McGowans Island, straight ahead to Honeymoon – we hoped.

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We hoped we were following the right track….

That last section of the track was quite tricky. New tracks had been formed, there were detours. There were a couple of signs at crucial points, thankfully.

We came to the end of the track, at Honeymoon Beach, and thought it looked quite good.

The Les French family lived is a large tin/steel shed structure, with a large open air veranda section. There were a lot of young children around. An old lady sitting under the veranda structure took our camp fees – $10 per head, per night. We paid cash – the only option – for two nights, and were sent off to find our own place to set up camp, down a slight slope from the shed.

We set up camp in some shade. There were 6 or 8 other lots of campers around, in quite a big area. We were able to connect into a power box – electricity was an unexpected luxury, out here. There were water taps, at intervals, around the camp area. There were two toilets – flushing – and two showers – all unisex – in a partly constructed block. The rest of the block featured a toilet sitting on a cement slab – not walled in yet, and presumably not plumbed or in use! There was a wood heater for the showers.

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The partly built ablutions block

Our set up seemed to take ages. We were tired and hot. John had to change the plug on our electrical lead for it to fit the power point here, which is 10amp not 15.

We could just see the turquoise sea, down the hill. The sound of it was very strong.

I had a very welcome shower and washed my hair which felt full of Kimberley dust!

Just on dusk, we went for a walk along the beach – really pretty. There was a track down from our campground level to the beach, and down there was a large tin building, with campers staying in it.

There were people gathering oysters from rocks, further around from the beach – big ones!

We talked briefly with some of the other campers staying here. There were mixed comments from them about beach fishing here. John may go out on one of the fishing trips that Les French offers, at $40 a trip, which seems a reasonable rate – but John does not really like small boats.

We decided that, overall, this is quite a nice spot, and we would probably stay longer than the two nights we’d paid for, at this stage.

Tea was cold leftover patties from last night. John had baked beans with his.

After dark, the water went off. This did not auger well for the condition of the toilets, by morning!

It was very pleasant to drift off to sleep, lulled by the sound of the sea.

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