This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2007 Travels August 8


About 9.30am, M and John left with JC on his boat, to go across to the other side of the Bay, to find Truscott. They got back about 2pm, after quite a little adventure.

The WW2 Truscott Air Base was built and used in the last couple of years of the war. It housed about 1500 personnel. It was a top secret base at the time – kept that way to try to prevent Japanese attacks. It was used by Australian and American airforce planes, mostly big bombers but also Catalina flying boats.

There were a number of plane crashes there.

Truscott actually played a really significant role in the war against the Japanese, but this was not acknowledged at the time, because if its secret status. Very few people have ever even heard of it.

An oil company was using the old place now, as a base for the transfer of staff to its offshore rigs by helicopter. They are flown in by plane to the old airfield, then transferred to helicopters to go out to the offshore rigs.

It took JC a couple of tries to actually find the barge landing for Truscott. There is a little promontory that he had to go round first, and then a large part of the bay opens up beyond that. The promontory hides the Truscott shore area from direct line of sight or travel from McGowans. It was a fair distance – at night one can’t even see the glow of any lights from the base area.

This looks like it might be the remains of some sort of landing craft, rather than a plane

I think M had originally assumed that the old base would be right by where the boat would land, but it was actually 11kms away. JC thought he had an arrangement for someone to come meet them, and drive them to the base. However, no one met them. It seemed that either someone had forgotten, or they were all too busy.

Having gotten this far, M was determined, so they set out to walk the 11kms! Then, an oil company worker who was fishing near the landing, gave them a ride. He then showed them around the old base.

M got to have a good look around the place, and was also given some printed information about it. She took a lot of photos to show the old relative.

The solemn and the irreverent….

Another worker drove them back to the landing.

By the barge landing. Beaches on low promontory in background

They had a fast, rough, ride back in the boat!

After a late lunch and much talk about their adventure, we did some preliminary packing up.

The neighbouring campers – who had been taking their boat out fishing, every day, gave us a red emperor. Very nice of them.

One last dusk spent admiring the sunset, yet again…….

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2007 Travels August 7


This morning, M and John went fishing, off the beach and rocks. John caught a whiting.

Interesting rock patterns on the headland

A second yacht came into the bay, anchored, and the guy came ashore. He obviously was interested in talking to campers, so we obliged. He was an advisor to the Qld Premier, he said.

He asked if anyone was driving into Kalumburu, who could give him a ride in, for some supplies. We had heard a barge was due around now, and M wanted to take her truck for a drive to charge up the batteries for her fridge, so she decided to give him a ride in and check out the store. She came back with some fruit and vegies. We hadn’t seen it go by out in the Bay, but the barge must have snuck in and out, at some stage recently.

There was no bread, though. We’d long been reduced to having lunches of dried biscuits with cheese and vegemite – or sometimes pikelets or flatbreads, if I could stir myself in the heat to make these.

Early morning – organizing the day ahead…

JC came by. He said he could take M to Truscott tomorrow. John decided he would go too. It was going to cost $100 each. Despite the charge, I think JC really wanted to go check the place out, himself, too. Maybe he was seeing it as a potential tour offering, to add to the fishing trips he already took out. M was really pleased that the Truscott visit was going to happen.

Truscott location in relation to McGowans (Zoom)

McGowans Island – which was not on an island – was named for a little rocky islet just off the shore, nearby. A Father McGowan, from the Mission at some time way back in the past, used to go fishing from it.

Campground amongst the trees. McGowans Island is the low,rocky outcrop in distance, to right.

There were no night time dews here, like there had been at Honeymoon – maybe because this place received more breezes in the night. The Honeymoon dews were a pest because the place was so dusty that, in the mornings, dust would stick to the still damp tents. Our tent had darkened several shades at Honeymoon, and I doubted that would ever come out.

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2007 Travels August 6


After breakfast, I did washing. No machine here – done by hand in our plastic basin.

John went for a walk – the other way along the beach. He was gone for about two hours. M went exploring the way we went yesterday; she was back at camp before John.

When we arrived two days ago, there was a Trakmaster caravan here. I had noticed it parked in a little clearing beside the track in, just before the house. I had been hoping to get to have a chat with the people, but they left today, before I had a chance to.

After the morning’s activities, for the rest of the day we just sat about, because it felt too hot to do much else. Today was not as windy, though. Being in the Kimberley from August onwards often has the issue that the heat makes it hard to be motivated to do all that much.

Place for large groups and big caravans

It was very pleasant, just sitting in the shade, looking out to the view over the sea.

It is worth staying at McGowans just for the sunsets!

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2007 Travels August 4


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 July 30


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.