The Kimberley is a hell of an area to break down. Cars passing through are scarce, and most of them are clueless backpackers who warmly smile and wave as they pass you by on the side of a desolate dirt road at 120kph, miles from nowhere. They seem to be completely unaware of Australia’s unwritten protocol of slowly pulling up beside a breakdown, winding down the window – winking, passing on a thumbs-up and rhetorically stating “you’se are right, eh?” as you comfortably glide off before receiving an answer, leaving the stranded travellers aside to slowly be consumed into the pindan below…
Yes, we had a couple of these but thankfully Benno Namnik had brought his trusty sidekick along to play the bush mechanic’s Trade Assistant and we ambled from wrecking yard to wrecking yard across the Great Red North. I can now pass a spanner like nobody’s business and can’t imagine where I would have found myself without Benno’s grease-monkey prowess. We changed out most of the leads and injectors, the coil pack and air conditioning unit plus 2 or 3 fan belts were rotated through about 16 times depending on whether or not it was cool enough to by-pass the A/C. We also lost half of our exhaust system somewhere along the corrugations and river crossings, so if someone comes by our muffler, if you could kindly return it we’d be grateful. Thanks.
The bike however, has handled the outback conditions like an absolute trooper. The worst road of all was probably the road into Jarlmadangah Burru to meet up with an old school friend, Johnny Albert. “You’ll be right – it’s not too bad” says Johnny as he runs me through the unmarked turns we have to make off the main drag. Some 2 hours later as the sun fell behind the ranges I found myself hanging onto the handlebars for dear life in pitch black. The deep, unrelenting corrugations were only interrupted by patches of quicksand-like bulldust that swallowed the front wheel and sent the bike sliding from side to side like the Warkarl serpent carving out rivers and lakes in the Dreamtime. It was one of the most uncomfortable rides of my life but was all worth it to catch up with an old friend, 11 years and 3500km’s down the track. John and his new family treated us to our first home-cooked meal in a while – corned beef from cattle he’d shot, hung and salted himself. He shared stories of his life growing up on the station, hunting and fishing for rock wallaby, bush turkey, crocodiles and turtles. It’s hard to imagine how he found his way to Perth, thrust into a European-style education of knee-high socks, ties and polished leather shoes at 14 or 15 years old. He’s the happiest man in the world living on the station and in the morning I came to understand why – the sacred ground of the ranges in which the community is nestled are some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. Wildlife and bush tucker is abundant, being nourished by the Fitzroy river that flows past a short way beyond the hills.
John had arranged with the powers that be to allow us access into grounds that are usually restricted only to men who have undergone the tribal lore. Unfortunately time ran out – we were late arriving, and John was off to a large cultural meeting some 600km’s away early in the morning. Even so, you could tell the land was special – the boabs, the rock formations, the stark desolation and sheer natural beauty. It just looked…sacred!
The next couple of days had us chasing more natural beauty – the rivers and waterfalls of the Eastern Kimberly. At some stage between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, Connie dropped from 6 cylinders to 5…or maybe 4. I guess those Jarlmadangah corrugations had to take their wrath out on something. Throughout the trip, Connie had shown to heal her own wounds so we decided to push on with the comfort of knowing if anything happened, we had 20 cartons of Young Henry’s in the boot to tie us over. Nevertheless, John Jarratt suggested that Wolf Crater probably wasn’t the best place for two campers to be stranded so we nursed our silver bullet through to Kununurra, stopping off for a night at El Questro Station. As we pulled in, the band stopped playing, a waiter dropped a glass and all eyes were on these two dickheads that had just rocked up with an old commodore and a cruiser-style road bike. “You did well to make it in” tuts the station mistress in a tone somewhere between scowling and impressed. We made three or four river crossings and sucked in our fair share of water to arrive. Pretty sure this is where we parted ways with our muffler, too…We must have looked like absolute cowboys amongst the convoy of Patrols, Landcruisers and F250’s, but Connie and Ernesto put it to ’em! A bit of duct tape and some tek screws in the morning had us racing around the gorges – and what a magnificent part of the world it is. You can find jungle throughout the Americas and South-East Asia, you can find desert throughout Africa and Central Asia but you can’t find the Kimberley anywhere else on Earth. It is truly unique. The red sands, the rock, the hot springs, waterfalls and swimming holes, the water bodies in the middle of the scorching outback. It’s Nirvana.
Now, if the Kimberley takes out top gong for natural beauty, the Northern Territory takes out the prize for “way of life”. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for people up there. If “no worries, mate” had a birth place and spiritual home, it would be Darwin. A brief example: Friday, 7:30am Lloyd says “I’d like to take you on a tour”. Okay, sounds pretty good, “but my car isn’t registered” he continues. By half past 9 we had new tyres on the car, had taken it over the pits (despite the requirement to make an online booking a minimum of 24 hours in advance, which had obviously not been done) and received new licence plates from the Department of Transport. In any other major city, 2 hours would be the time you spend on hold to the operator. A few days later I freight my bike back to Perth – no con note, no invoice, no receipt: “she’ll be right mate, I’ll flick ya the bill when she’s all done” says a man known only as Scotty. On selling Connie the Commodore to a fella called JP: “nah, no transfer papers needed up here, mate – just scribble ya John Hancock on this old envelope here”…I tell you what, I have a new slogan for the tourism department: “the NT; the way life should be.” No bullshit, no charades, no…occupational health and safety, and also no swimming. The last rule may or may not have been infringed in the wee hours of Grand Final Day in the name of charity. Thankfully the crocs understood our good nature and opted not to take up the offer of a midnight snack on our chicken legs.
Unfortunately however for the crocodiles, I did not return the favour – best meal of the trip so far was from a burger stall at the Mindl Markets. A French…or Danish, actually, I think German couple running the “Road Kill Cafe” who did a crocodile burger in a damper bun with lemon myrtle dressing. Also on offer were things like roo burgers with bush plum and buffalo with home made bush tomato chutney. Good to see foreigners stuck into Aussie native ingredients…if only we could encourage locals to do the same, too!
Darwin was good to us, very good. Special thanks to Lloyd, Jess, Jackie (and Macca) who let us over-run their house and loaded us up on mango daiquiris for a few days while we pieced ourselves together and set up for the first international crossing of the From Perth to Perth ride – Darwin to Denpasar.