Australia 3

Further north, hotter, wilder.. more dangerous animals.

We left the last cabin and drove through Roebourne, once a mining colonial community and now an indigenous town with an art group, a gallery, a post office and a ‘Supply Store’.  Being the day after Easter and Anzac Day all of them were closed except the supply store, where I could have bought paints, canvases, giant enamel coffee mugs, food, a luminous green dustbin or a flat-screen TV.  I bought none as we have no room in Troopy.  It was a dusty ‘wildwest’ kind of town, one street and a few figures wandering through.

On and on up the road to ’80 mile Beach’ where we camped.  They advertise shady sites, but the latest cyclone had put paid to half of it.  The beach may well have been actually 80 miles of pure, white, soft sand.  Lots of people fishing, no-one swimming.  We are now in Saltwater croc country and leisure activities change accordingly.  I walked along the beach the next morning and could have kept going till I dropped.  With no landmarks – the dunes and the sea unchanging on either side – there is no marker to tell you to turn back.

I did, though, and we carried on, stopping at the Sandfire Roadhouse, on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert ( I love Australia’s slightly obvious way of naming things) which seems to burn down regularly but springs up again with a tropical garden and peacocks.. on to Roebuck Roadhouse – mostly a bar serving testosterone – and finally into Broome.  I mention the roadhouses (petrol stations) as they really are the ONLY places on the road.  Dusty forecourts, sometimes airconditioned inside, selling chips, icecream and engine oil, people stop just for something to do on the hundreds of miles of road.

Broome: tiny town with big aspirations.  Founded on pearls and still trading in giant, rather tacky-looking farmed pearls, it sells mango smoothies, imported T-shirts and seemingly little else.  There are two tiny universities and a lot of Kimberley tourist ventures, but it remains a bit of a frontier town.  The latest idea, probably already being voted for as I write, is to exploit natural gas on the peninsular just north, Cape Leveque, thereby turning the area into another Burrup Peninsular (or Bu-gge-r-ed-up Peninsular as I call it, excuse my French).  There is strong feeling on both sides – the area is Indigenous-owned and sacred land… on and on with the constant Australian dilemma..

We stayed up on Cape Leveque – Troopy’s first real unsealed road adventure for a while.  Pretty sandy, corrugated, signs of recent rain still visible and vehicles careering towards us or overtaking occasionally, but the reward is incredible.  More white sand beaches, aquamarine seas, red, red rocks and blue skies.  They have set up small trails with information boards about the aboriginal use of the plants, and I managed to spot a great bower-bird but couldn’t see his bower.  Maybe that’s what he was hopping around and squawking about…

The colours all around are incredible – vivid, bright greens, blue-grey greens, strange lilac-blues of dusk skies, red-brown soil, yellow crabs, scarlet flamboyant blossoms…I have paints and colour pencils and I’m still finding it hard to render the colours as I see them.

We hope to travel inland next week – the Gibb River Road is slowly opening, but whole communities have been washed away in the long rains and big floods, so we are having to change plans every day.  There is more than enough to see, and several indigenous-owned art centres and tours, so I feel I am getting to see both sides of Australia finally.

Much love to you all.  If you are jealous, just remember the mosquitoes, flies, ants, spiders, crocs and sharks, all of which bite.

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