This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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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.

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2000 Travels July 28


It was windy and hot again today.

Les was losing some business, as some campers were not prepared to wait around for suitable conditions for his fishing trips. They had allowed themselves two nights here and that was it! I thought they should be pleased that he was being cautious due to the conditions.

We had heard talk, virtually every day since we had been here, of travellers having problems – even damaging their vehicles – on the same rock in the creek ford where we’d gotten stuck! It seemed we may have gotten off lightly, compared to some. It was a strange kind of relief to know that we weren’t the only ones who’d been caught.

After lunch, Les decided to take John and R to Pago to see some art. Obviously men’s business only! Les also decided that I should drive into Kalumburu for him – for fuel for the generator and some “stores”. It seemed irrelevant that I was not all that keen on the idea!

I’d spent much of the morning sitting up at the “office” keeping an eye on four young guys who arrived yesterday and who were freely borrowing tools, welder and so on, from Les’ workshop, to work on their rigs. I just hoped they’d pay him something for this – felt they had some cheek to act like they were entitled to do this.

So, off I went to Kalumburu, in our Truck. I quite enjoyed the drive, after all.

I bought diesel and petrol for Les and the supplies he wanted. I’d made sure he gave me money for same, upfront. I had to drop off letters to his wife and daughter, at his house in town – his place turned out to be one of the better kept ones.

It took me three hours to do the round trip.

Meanwhile, the men had a fantastic time. They didn’t get to the art site because Les decided that he and R needed meat, and they took off after a cow. This was sparked off by sighting a small mob grazing in the scrub. So they chased a poor beast across country, in the Nissan – modern mustering!

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Really off road!

Aboriginal R was in the seat behind John, holding onto a rope that kept John’s front door shut, whilst trying to shoot a rifle out the side window at the cow. The rifle kept being knocked by branches and saplings as Les sped through the scrub after the cow.

The door rope was instigated, apparently, after Les’ wife was catapulted out of the Nissan, when the door flew open,  one day!

It took nine shots to bring the beast down! Several of these did hit it – in the backside and the neck. John said his ears were ringing for hours afterwards!

After the race the cow had through the scrub, and the terror it must have felt, I reckon that was going to be one really tough lot of beef!

Butchering had to then be done, on the spot. Some leafy branches were gathered and the work was done on a bed of them. The men said that Les butchered it well, with no waste. They brought back the hide too, because D had previously said that one day she wanted one to process for tanning. I don’t think she’d envisaged that, here, though.

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Skinned cow

So, it was after dark when the Nissan party got back. D and I were starting to get a bit concerned.

The meat was in the back seat, with the two R’s sitting on it. It was rather a gory scene. It was taken off and hung in a shed by the big one, that looked to be a camping shed as well.

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R in the back with “meat”

The men were as high as kites on the excitement. Les and R came down for a while to relive the events of the afternoon – they were hyper, too!

They’d had two flat tyres during the adventure. The tyres on the Nissan were not the greatest, but he’d earlier boasted that he didn’t get flats! He’d asked J and R how you could tell which vehicle tracks belonged to tourists, then told them tourist tracks are the ones with treads: “blackfellas tyres got no tread”!

In the cross country chase, they’d also gotten a piece of tree wedged in the transmission under the Nissan – Les told them not to worry about the noise – he’d sort it out after they got the cow!

It was all obviously a memorable experience for our guys. They had gone first to the beach at Pago, where they got some more oysters. Black R had attempted to get bait using our casting net, that John had given him. He is more skilful with it than John, but only got one tiny baitfish. They’d also looked at the remains of the Mission at Pago.

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Off to gather oysters at Mission Beach

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R using casting net to get baitfish

In the late afternoon, Les’ wife, daughter and son in law had arrived from town, so Les had more family out here now. They do not have a separate house out here, yet, but have quarters in part of the big shed. There did seem to be a bit of a rotating number of “family” coming and going, from day to day.

We had the oysters for tea, after a battle to open them with a chisel like tool, and hammer. It was easier with the proper knife the group at the fishing hut had, the other day. They are tough critters to get at. We also had some golden trevally, a gift from people camped next to us. It was not as nice as the tuskfish, but was alright.

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The hard way to open oysters!

After both our busy, but diverse, days, it was early to bed.