May 1, 2013

This morning we returned to the information center after realizing that the gathered brochures contained nothing on Halls Creek attractions. Yesterday’s info girl confirmed that there was no museum or similar attraction but that the town boasted a single art gallery, the Yarliyil Art Center, located across the street. The gallery was being run by a tall and pretty young aboriginal woman and like yesterday’s gallery in Warmun, no prices were displayed. When pressed, she quoted ballpark numbers and stated that the pricing was set by a local committee.

Other traveller Open country quartz rocks

The road now took us through more open country with mesas in the distance, less vegetation and dry grassland predominating. In areas the grasses were near six feet tall, like the traditional domain of the Withafokawi pigmy tribe. At 120 kms. from Halls creek was a turnoff to the Yiyili aboriginal community and the Laarri Art Gallery. Annette had collected an impressive looking brochure on this establishment from previous information center stops and we were gratified to find a large sign at the entrance to the community, indicating that the gallery was open Monday through Friday. By now we have driven our bus some 15,000 kilometers, of which well over 1,000 kilometers was on unsealed roads. We now began driving 5 kilometers towards the community on the worst road of the entire trip, travelling in second gear at not much above walking pace because the road was so badly wash-boarded. When we finally arrived at the Yiyili community we were a little surprised to see all modern, new construction homes, with late model cars parked under car-ports but no children playing, no dogs, in fact no sign of life anywhere. We followed the new signage towards the gallery and were chagrined to pass a large, new, unscratched and gleaming tractor, that obviously was not used for road grading. At the gallery itself, there was clean, well marked parking and we stopped and followed the signs indicating the showroom. Locked! The place was locked up tighter than a drum. We walked over to a nearby house and knocked on the door. The house, like all of the others, had heavy security screens on the doors and windows and the multiple air conditioning units, which were running, were enclosed in a security cage. There was movement within and a young, blonde girl of European descent opened the door. This was a little unexpected and she introduced herself as a teacher at the school and further informed us that the gallery was closed during “school holidays”. She maintained that there were but two people within the community who possessed keys to the facility, one was currently in Hong Kong and the other in India.

As we left the community we passed a large sign touting that the development had been provided by Australia’s economic stimulus funding and saw two more people, both Caucasians It was then that we realized that we had not seen a single aboriginal in this remote aboriginal community and some of the two of us, cursed and grumbled as we fought our way back down their crappy road to the main drag.

The Crossing Inn Bar rules Bar rules

The road slowly descended into the valley of the Fitzroy river valley to the town of Fitzroy Crossing. Here we stayed at the “Crossing Inn” caravan park. The Crossing Inn is touted as one of the oldest bars in Western Australia and the tourist info suggested that we visit the bar and “mix with the locals”. This we did and discovered that the bar was quite crowded and that apart from the bartender, we were the only Caucasians present. The local people were very friendly and most we spoke to were very drunk at 4:30 p.m. We had heard the sound of a loud bell being rung as we approached the bar and the bartender explained that this indicated that “heavy” beer (4.5 to 6 percent alcohol) was being served. The bar opens at noon and the customers are generally waiting at the door. After a few hours, the bell is rung indicating that “mid strength” beer (3.5 percent alcohol) is being served and I noticed that the price per can increases from $5 per can to $6.20 per can. Many of the customers go home at this point as they don’t want to spend their money on the lower alcohol content beer, so that after an hour, the bell is again rung to indicated that “heavy” beer is again for sale. The bar had a large poster on the wall listing the various offenses that would cause a customer to be forcibly removed from the premises, as well as another sign detailing the penalties and rules following the suspension of drinking privileges. One prominent displayed offense was “humbugging” and Annette enquired as to what that is. The Irish bar manager explained that “humbugging” is begging for money or drinks from other customers. A very large bouncer hovered in the background to enforce the various rules but although the noise level in the bar was quite high, everyone seemed well behaved. At the time, I felt that the bar rules and pricing were exploiting the native people but later noticed from the tourist literature, the bar and associated caravan park are aboriginal owned.

May 2, 2013

The Fitroy River passes through spectacular GeiKie Gorge National Park, north of Fitzroy Crossing and we drove to the park to hike the gorge. The river has scoured a channel through a Devonian period reef and the bone white of the limestone is visible where the flooding river has abraded the rock. We walked along a sand bank into the gorge and carefully scanned the water’s edge for crocodile tracks. The Fitzroy River is home to lots of allegedly “harmless” fresh water crocs but nevertheless we saw no swimmers.

GeiKie Gorge GeiKie Gorge GeiKie Gorge Fitzroy River Removing thorns

Rest Area Boab Rest Area Boab Snake pit inside Boab Boab seed pods

We continued our travels arriving in the port of Derby that afternoon. Derby is a town with a population of around 3,000 and where we hope to restock on essentials that are cheaper than eighty two bucks a case.

May 3, 2013

Today was a slow day. We moved our bus into a shady site and then walked to the information center. Here we were given a key so we could visit the local museum. A couple of blocks from the info center was a 1930’s era prefabricated wooden building, theWharfinger Museum Wharfinger’s House. (Wharfinger being an Elizabethan era term for someone who owns a wharf or jetty). We unlocked the door and let ourselves in. This was another good museum with exhibits covering aviation history, early communications and shipping, plus a display on the loss of the steamship the SS Colac. The latter hit a mud-bank but from the detailed description of the extensive damage, it looked more like an insurance job to me. We enjoyed this visit, turned all the lights off, relocked the door and walked back to the info center to return their key, the first time we have ever been entrusted with this task.


May 4, 2013

This morning we visited the Derby wharf which claims the highest tidal difference in Australia and the second highest in the Southern hemisphere. We gazed out over the Fitzroy estuary and I decided that for a yacht, it would be better to anchor out on a sandbar, with lots of anchor chain down, than to attempt to linger at this wharf for more than an hour or so. There were lots of earnest folks fishing from the wharf, although we didn’t see much being caught.

Derby Wharf Derby Gaol Derby Gaol Bathroom facilities Derby Gaol

Next stop was the “Old Derby Gaol”, originally constructed around 1906. The jail consisted of two open cages and a roof. Although not explicitly stated, the detainees were solely aboriginals and although open walls would appear to be no hardship in this climate, for people used to sleeping in the open, the primitive toilet facilities and overcrowding would have made incarceration here a brutal experience. Most inmates were sentenced to two to three years hard labor for killing cattle. Hardly surprising and an inevitable conflict between pastoralists and hunter gatherers throughout thousands of years of human history. There were copies of old photographs of the aboriginal prisoners, chained at the neck and their expressions seemed to be one of bewilderment.

On the outskirts of town lies the “Boab Prison Tree” which the signage claimed historical significance with its alleged use as a “staging point for prisoners” being walked into Derby. The tree was also claimed as having religious significance and the signage requested visitors not to climb in or on it. The sign further warned that snakes often inhabited the tree, which I found particularly amusing, sinceMyall's Bore and cattle trough Annette had climbed inside an almost identical tree at a rest stop along the highway several days ago. I seriously doubt that the tree was the attractant for the marching prisoners however. A more likely scenario is due to its proximity to “Myall’s Bore” an 1890 water well lying just a hundred yards or so from the tree. A cattle trough, supplied by the bore was added in 1916 and supposedly could handle the watering of 500 bullocks at one time. The trough is still extant and although filled using a windmill today, looked like it could indeed water a large herd.

Noon was approaching and this meant that the bottle shop would open selling life sustaining beer at $38 / case rather than Halls Creek’s $82 / case.

Now restocked with essentials, we drove west to Broome passing through savannah type terrain. There were some cattle along the roadside but little road kill, no snakes or lizards. Next door to the Broome tourist information center was a large store selling pearls and reminding us that Broome was a major center of the pearling industry.

We headed across town to locate the Cable Beach Caravan park and drove past a long camel train swaying sedately along the sidewalk (the camels – not us). Annette loves camel rides and I see another in our not too distant future. After parking the rig, we then walked to beach and saw bathers, swimming in the clear blue of the Indian Ocean. When I had queried the shark risk at the information center, I was assured that the crocodiles had eaten them all.

May 5 through May 10, 2013

We have spent the past six days just chillin’ in Broome, a very pleasant little town. The first and necessary task was to ensure that Annette got her camel ride, thus we walked over to “Cable Beach”, so named for the submarine cable that came ashore here, providing an additional telegraph link from Australia to the world. Like Padre Island, Texas in many respects, the Broome Cable Beach blossoms in late afternoon, when the heat of the day has broken. Around noon the beach had been near empty but now, there were all sorts of people barbequing, sitting, ball tossing, fishing or driving along the beach, plus children playing in the sand, dogs running and digging immense holes. We rode on the lead camel “Aswan” and he strode confidently through this melee, unperturbed by dogs or thrown balls. His head was held high with an air of arrogance the Pharaohs would have been proud of. We fed Aswan several carrots at the end of the ride and these he inhaled into one of the compartments of his stomach, to be later regurgitated and chewed again at leisure. Almost like eating a chili-dog.

Beach camel Beach camel Camel kiss carrot treat

We have ridden the bus into the “Chinatown” section of Broome, where there are dozens of stores selling pearls, plus trendy beachwear for the tourists. This area is naturally where the occasional cruise ship disgorges their human cargo for the day.  After a few stores, it all looks the same to me and even Annette began to bypass gift shops, a rare happening indeed.

The first bus of the day ran a drop off at Gantheaume Point, at the southern tip of Broome’s sheltering headland and the driver warned us repeatedly, that under no account should we turn left after transiting the beach access road. To do so was very dangerous and we would be both “in extreme peril” and “entirely at our own risk”. The latter being a puzzling statement in that even in Australia, I’m pretty sure nobody else assumes your risk for a beach walk. Naturally we turned left at the beach access and spent a delightful hour wandering amongst rock pools at the water’s edge. There was an ancient igneous conglomerate, containing chunks of weathered basalt, lying on top of dipping and non-conformable mudstones and sandstones that perhaps had once been beach dunes. The ancient sandstone had several exposed, tilted faces that were rippled by wavelet action, exactly like the beach we had just walked across. You had to poke the ripples with your toe to see which were soft and modern and which were fossilized and frozen in time. The guide book mentions two sets of dinosaur footprints on this pre-historic beach but they are only visible with a neap tide and although we were making our exploration near low tide, it was not low enough to see these marvels. This was a magical place and these ancient rocks bearing the imprint of the past, reminded me of what a minuscule fraction of the earth’s history we occupy with our brief existence.

Gantheaume PointGantheaume PointGantheaume PointGantheaume Pointbeach treasureCrocodile warning

We walked the beach back towards the caravan park some 5 kilometers (3 miles) and a light onshore breeze made this a very pleasant walk. We passed only a pair of heavily garbed Asian tourists who strode grimly past us as though on a mission and without acknowledging our greeting.

Our caravan park neighbor Tania and her children Jayde (7) and Lewis (5) drove us on an outing to visit the “Willie Creek” resort for lunch. We had first walked the length of Broome pier near high tide and were impressed with the strength of the current swirling past the concrete pylons supporting the dock. With a tidal difference of 7.3 meters today (24 feet) the water passes the pier at speeds of up to 8 knots – almost too fast for trolling from a boat! We squeezed by several fisherman, fishing with hand-lines from the narrow catwalk and carefully avoided accidently kicking their bait overboard. Nobody seemed to be catching anything but one fisherman claimed that he had just hooked a large fish on his line when his catch was “stolen” by a large predator. This is not the first time that we have heard local fishermen complain that their catch was taken by a shark before they had time to reel it in. Makes you really want to take a cooling dip. Instead we searched rock-pools for shells, crabs and star-fish on a lonely beach where Tania usually surf fishes. Much safer than swimming.

Oyster buoysRock poolsstarfishJayde and LewisTide is out

May 11, 2013

Today we are “off the dock” and heading west again. We drove on an arrow straight road, shared only with road trains and caravans. Once clear of the towns, some 80% of oncoming drivers will wave enthusiastically, or at the very least, raise a finger from the steering wheel in salute. This is a charming custom and for the few who ignored us, Annette would make excuses such as, “She is planning supper for tonight”, or “He is checking the classifieds”. There was almost no road kill to avoid, just a smattering of cattle in the bush. The thick bush thinned as we cleared Broome and then became treeless prairie as we drove along. We have seen no bottle trees west of Broome and a dark line on the horizon resolved itself as a transition back to heavy bush. Is this natural? Had the brush been cleared in the prairie we had passed? By brush hogging or fire? We speculated upon these mysteries until we came upon the turn off for a 23 kms. sand road, north to “Port Smith” caravan park.

The caravan park seemed pleasant, shaded, and very sandy, Our park neighbor mentioned that sand flies were occasionally a nuisance but that the park office sells anti-histamines. Bugger! If we had known this we would have kept on truckin’. Any place that sells anti-histamines next to the bubble-gum machines does not have an “occasional” problem!

We walked down to the beach arriving a couple of hours after high tide. Walking in the fine, water-logged sand was like walking in un-baked cake mix but we only sank about 6 inches at each step. Near the water’s edge we found three fellow campers bemoaning the fate of their “tinnie”. They had waited too long to return from fishing and now their boat and motor lay aground, some three hundred yards from the boat ramp. They were going to have to wait for the next high tide to recover their gear. We walked along a streamlet next to the mangroves, believing that the wind was too strong to enable sand-fly predation. We saw crabs with blue tipped claws, threatening us not to come any closer as only a 3 inch crab can. There was a red crab that brought back memories of Christmas Island as well as large conical mollusks, perhaps 6 inches long and perhaps armed with a poison barb. These were humpin’ along in the wet sand, about as fast as a mollusk can truck. A small snake, perhaps eighteen inches long, swam past us in our streamlet but it ignored us as it passed us by. There was no sign of “salties” amongst the mangroves but as we already know, just ‘cos you don’t see a crocodile does not mean that it’s not there.

May 12, 2013

This morning we were “itching” to leave and as I disconnected the umbilicals of water and power from the bus, a kangaroo hopped behind me a few feet away, to graze upon the mowed grass. To Australians this is a total yawner but for us it remains an exciting experience. Last night Annette had returned from the shower in darkness, to find a reptile next to the bus with teeth bared. She called me to see and after grabbing the camera, we had taken several pictures. The reptile did not stir however and when poked, resolved itself as a child’s plastic toy. This morning’s kangaroo was definitely not plastic and bounded off with the sped and fluidity that makes them so fascinating to us. Annette had awoken after midnight with multiple sand fly bites and had spot treated them with very hot water and with some measure of success. I too have several bites but not to the extent that Annette was ravaged.

We headed further west across open grass prairie with no termite mounds. There was a strong and gusty cross-wind and when driving on a two lane highway with no “crash lane” and oncoming road trains, there is little margin for wobble. The traffic was heavier today with five or six vehicles together and then nothing for the next ten minutes. We made another transition from prairie to “bush” and the large red earth termite mounds seemed just feet apart. How could there possibly be enough vegetable matter to support all of these colonies?

No signalShell QueenShell heaven

Our destination was “80 mile beach” and we turned down a badly corrugated dirt road for a miserable 9 kilometers to the caravan park and beach. The beach was wonderful and although we could only see about ten miles of it from our dune top approach, we assumed that the other 70 miles is just as good. What made it so wonderful for Annette was the quantity and variety of sea shells. They lay in their millions, layer upon layer to untold depths. The beach was near empty and although other shell foragers were active, the scope of the available gathering zone was so immense, physical threats were unnecessary. Our fellow campers assured us that there were no sand flies, so we took them at their word and fired up the barbeque.

May 13, 2013

We would have liked to linger here but there is no cell or internet service and we have a couple of ongoing projects which require us to remain connected to the rest of the world. Thus we walked the marvelous beach again this morning, before revisiting the torture of the access road back to the highway. Our destination was Port Hedland and as we approached the town, we passed power lines, mine access roads and the mounting evidence of industry. We arrived in the rather seedy downtown area to find everything closed, including banks and information center. A lounger remarked that there was an extended power outage so the various businesses had simply sent their employees home and closed for the day. Thus we arrived relatively early at the Cooke Point Holiday park where we paid the record camping fee of $54 for an overnight park. The line of mangroves next to the park warned of more sand flies and Annette is still spot treating the last batch of bites with a mixture of “near” boiling water and Preparation “H”. We did not linger outside of the bus for too long and will split this particular pop stand as soon as we have completed our electronic duties.

May 14, 2013

We began the day with a trip to the information center that had been closed yesterday by the local power outage. Here we learned of the BHP Billiton iron ore tour. We love industrial tours, whether they are mines, breweries or marmite factories (yes, we did that!) and as the day promised to be cold and rainy, we signed ourselves up for the afternoon tour.

BHP has been operating in Port Hedland for over fifty years and the iron ore is exported to the manufacturing giants of China, Japan and South Korea. The iron ore isBus tourist transported to the port by train and then loaded onto the waiting ore ships. We could see a score of these ships anchored offshore and BHP has the facilities to load something like ten ships simultaneously. As we drove into the port area, we passed the railway locomotive maintenance shed where there were also a half dozen new locomotives about to be put into service. Our guide mentioned that the locomotives are imported from the United States. These words caused a statement of resentment from a fellow Australian tour bus passenger, to the effect that they are not made in Australia and a moment of wonder from me. I was surprised to discover that the USA still manufactures something that is not entertainment related.

We saw how the ore cars are inverted two or three at a time, to empty the ore to waiting hoppers and the ore is then moved by conveyor belt to the ship loading gantries. The newest loading cranes are completely computer controlled and monitored from Perth – in other words, there are no local operators. The work force here in Port Hedland are mostly involved with inspection and maintenance. The locomotives which make the daily trips to and from the ore mines are each operated by a single driver. Some companies have eliminated this driver and their ore-trains are unmanned. Our guide explained that BHP has chosen not to do this as certain events such as "cattle on the tracks" are not easily spotted by cameras and remote monitoring. This statement was particularly ludicrous in that if “road trains” with a human driver cannot stop a truck in time to avoid hitting cattle (and the roadsides we have driven past bear ample evidence of this), how would an ore train driver stop a train weighing thirty or forty thousands of tons?

BHP has been trying over the years to reduce the amount of iron ore dust created by both the transportation and milling or crushing of the ore. We have been amused to notice that the normally white cockatoos are orange below decks where they have picked up ore dust from the vegetation. The whole town seems to be colored a sort of orange / brown and we understand that the latest efforts will be to move the milling and crushing plants to the mine area where the dust will be dispersed in a low population environment.

May 15, 2013

Today we drove to Karijini National Park and the day was again cold and overcast with occasional rain with standing pools of water as we moved further south to the park. We began by visiting the park headquarters, where there was the usual display decrying the treatment of aborigines by the early settlers but additionally, there was a display board stating that aboriginal workers on the various cattle stations were often paid “in kind” - that is with food and clothing instead of simply cash. This in itself doesn’t sound too unusual in that remote mining towns in Europe and the Americas would often pay their workers with “scrip” that could only be redeemed at the “company store”, where Tennessee Ernie Ford and others “owed their soul” after digging “sixteen tons”. Cash isn’t much use unless there is some place to spend it. Around 1969 the Australian government made this practice illegal and simultaneously imposed a minimum wage. The display at the visitor’s center stated that most of the stations laid off their aboriginal workers rather than pay the newly imposed wages but did not say how the stations then operated without their aboriginal workers and whether this labor was replaced with non-aboriginals. I looked on the internet to see what the unemployment rate for aboriginals is today but like the USA, this is a very political number and hard to determine. The number of aboriginals of working age in the work force is about 50%, versus about 75% of the non-indigenous population, however, the government counts people in “welfare to work” training programs as “working” – thus the true number is probably less than 50%.

We booked ourselves into the Dale Gorge campground, which permits generator usage but it was dreary outside, neither too hot nor too cold so we just hunkered down with books for the balance of the day.

May 16, 2013

A fine and sunny day and we determined to hike the Dale Gorge. The hike began with an overlook from the gorge cliff-top to a quiet pool below where we could see swimmers. Since we were in long sleeved shirts and jeans, we did not bother to pack swim gear assuming correctly that the fools swimming were from northern Europe where this chilly temperature was considered “balmy”. The trail dropped steeply down the side of the gorge with one section requiring a vertical steel ladder. The walls of the gorge seemed to be made from giant rectangular clay tiles, stacked loosely upon each other. There were lots of overhangs plus lots of shattered rectangular blocks of rock where gravity had taken charge. There had been warning signs at the trailhead warning prospective hikers not to walk below the overhangs but this was nigh impossible. The hike at the gorge bottom was fabulous. The water in the pools was still and reflected the hues of the gorge walls in ochers and blues as well as the brilliant green of the vegetation. The base of the gorge was made up of rock rectangles and hiking these was like walking on a badly paved road. There were veins of blue rock mixed with the red of sandstone and Annette finally found a chunk that had been cast down by time and shattered to fragments. The blue rock was flexible and fibrous. It was raw asbestos. In fact one of the largest asbestos mines in the world was located a few kilometers north of here. It was opened in 1946 and the army wanted the asbestos for use in respirators.

Dale GorgeDale Gorgedescending trailin the gorgegorge trailasbestosasbestos seamsoff trail

Dale GorgeDale Gorgefossilsactual sizeDale GorgeDale Gorgefruit batsgorge lizardleaving gorge

We hiked the length of the gorge, passing below trees dripping with large fruit bats. We have seen no fruit however; what can they possibly live on? This was an exceptionally pretty walk and well worth repeating but we needed to be in contact with the outside world for the next couple of days thus we left the park and drove to the nearby mining town of Tom Price to spend the night.

May 17, 2013

Last night’s emails provided the intelligence that our motor home in the USA had finally sold, the deal was closed and we were able to direct the transfer of the funds. We had hoped that this would have happened four months ago as we would have used the money to pay for this Australian RV but better late than never.

We began the day by signing up for a mine tour of the Tom Price mine. Before we boarded our tour bus, we were issued helmets and safety goggles and warned not to step outside of the bus without donning them, because of the extreme risk of safety inspectors. The Tom Price mine is an open pit iron ore mine and one of largest in Western Australia. The mining method seems straightforward in that the rock overburden is first removed by blasting. The ore is then mined, crushed or milled on site, before being loaded onto trains for transport to a port with waiting ships. As we approached the plant entrance, we passed the trailer camp set up for the “fifo” workers. The acronym used in this context means, “fly in, fly out” and the men work a two weeks on, one week off schedule. Most fifo workers maintain their residence in Perth, which now explains the booth selling Perth real estate in the Port Hedland shopping mall.

Tom Price mineTom Price mineTom Price mineTom Price mine

Our tour route took us past the repair shed servicing the monstrous mining vehicles. We saw the huge dump trucks that cost $4.5 m each and nearby four new Chinese made models at $3.5 m each. The Chinese made trucks were near copies and are being evaluated as to their performance and longevity. The bus arrived at a fenced off viewing area on the lip of the pit, where we disembarked, all wearing our safety helmets and goggles. I asked our tour operator if he knew what explosives were used for the shot holes and he indicated that the explosive was an ammonium nitrate (fertilizer) and diesel fuel mixture, just as we used on seismic crews in West Texas in 1973. The only innovation is that they were now trying “biodiesel” in the mixture, which must make a huge difference to the earth’s climate.

The size of the vehicles and immensity of pit were overwhelming and we watched a front end loader removing the shattered rock and loading into a dump truck. This was “overburden” and the byproduct was to be dumped “on the backside” of the mountain. Other dump trucks were backing up to the crusher from which we could see conveyor belts moving the ore to a building to be sifted - that is separated by the size of the crushed rock particles. Other plants take poorer grade ore and separate the lighter (slate) contaminants. What was being loaded onto rail cars was “export ready”.

Back at the caravan park, Annette had been feeding the galahs, white crested cockatoos and pigeons from a bag of “wild bird” seed. Some thirty or forty birds were now clustered around our feet as we sat outside the bus enjoying the evening. I noticed one bird hopping up the step into the bus and when I made to remove him, I found myself shooing out four birds from the bus interior. They had already found the seed bag and pecked open its base, scattering seed everywhere. Freeloaders!


May 18, 2013

As I left the toilet shower block at the caravan park this morning, there were a dozen or so Galahs in a circle outside of the bus door, waiting for breakfast. It is so easy to begin a culture of dependency!

Our plan for the day was to hike “Nameless mountain” (3,700 feet elevation), the mountain that dominates the town of Tom Price. The four hour hike was strenuous but well worth the fabulous views afforded both during hike and from the summit. We had a near 360 degree view of surrounding country with the ranges of distant hills and the town of Tom Price at our feet. We could clearly see the mine workings we had visited yesterday but Annette was most impressed with a Rock Wallaby on a nearby outcrop. It posed for several dozen photographs, safe across the chasm that separated photographer from subject. Yesterday’s park info center had a board claiming that local aboriginal leaders had expressed outrage that the mountain was called “Nameless” and insisted that it had an aboriginal name. Now, as we looked around this beautiful and empty land, we could see the almost total absence of open water. What water we could see was was derived from bores drilled for the mining operations.

View from summitView from summitTom Price minerock wallabyTom Price mine

It was mid-afternoon when we left Tom Price and we drove over a fifty mile stretch of unpaved road before arriving again upon the luxury of a bitumen surface. We spent the night at a rest area that not only provided a toilet, picnic tables and trash cans but even a dump site for the cassette toilet. This camp area was better than several commercial operations where we have stayed and paid. We walked the dry riverbed admiring the animal tracks in the sandy areas that clearly showed the passage of wallabies, large goannas and birds. We gathered driftwood and that evening joined two other sets of travellers at a campfire to discuss where they had been and where they were going. A very pleasant evening under the stars.

May 19, 2013

When we broke camp this morning, we were alone. The other campers had already departed and although we would have gladly stayed another day at this beautiful location, it lacked cell-phone and internet coverage and the tug of communication with far flung family was making itself felt. Our destination was the seaside resort of Exmouth on the northwest of Australia. This was a long drive but the scenery was varied with ridges, distant mesas and rock outcroppings of weathered and tumbled boulders. We stopped at one of these, parked off the road and traversed the barbed wire fence to scramble over the outcrop. There was a great view from the top of the rocks and as we saw no nearby sign of life, we felt a minimal chance for being arrested for trespass. The boulders were igneous and reminded me of “Enchanted Rock” near Austin, Texas. Between the rock crevices we could see skulls and bones and Annette postulated that these had been road-kill kangaroos, with the carcasses dragged here by dingoes for leisurely chewing. She based this upon the shattered look of some of the longer bones plus the absence of hide.

Near MissBoulder OutcropBoulder OutcropBoulder OutcropBoulder OutcropBonesjawbone

When driving long distances, Australia really sucks for “road games”. There are few if any road signs in order to play the “Alphabet game” and you might wait weeks to find a “Z”. The license plate game is also unsatisfactory in that they only have six states and there are no near impossible license plates, like “Hawaii” or “Rhode Island”. Her new game is the “Wave” game and we have been playing this for the past week. You wave in greeting to oncoming traffic and if they wave back in return greeting, the event is marked with a bottle cap counter on the dash-board. Like an abacus she has markers for “fives” and “tens”. If an oncoming vehicle fails to wave, the count is reset to zero and the occupants are thoroughly cursed as to their parentage and life expectancy. The high count today was “18” with two “14s” and a “16”, which proves how friendly Australians are and how childish we can be.

May 20, 2013

Today was a “Lazy day”, at least for me. While Annette caught up on all our laundry chores, I managed to service the tire pressures on the bus and check the engine air filter.

May 21, 2013

This morning we moved up the coast to the “Lighthouse Caravan Park”, near the tip of the North West Cape. The first thing we had noticed about this park was the family of emus stalking gracefully between the caravans. Annette hurriedly prepared carrots, sliced apples, wild bird seed and sausages. The apple slices were a big hit with the female emu that visited us but she disdained our carrots and had to be coaxed to eat the sausages. In the emu world, the male raises the chicks while momma sluts around bumming apples and although we have seen the male in the distance, he hasn’t visited us yet.

emu feedingwon't fit the BBQ

May 22, 2013

This morning the female emu was waiting outside our door for her apple breakfast, plus pears and bread. She reluctantly ate some wieners (hot dogs) only because Annette hand fed her.

Indian OceanNorthwest CapeOld ReefBeach Plunder

We took a long beach walk, loaded down with Annette’s shell collecting bucket, sunscreen and beer. By the time we returned, momma emu was back and by now Annette also had moistened cat food to offer, another big hit. Of course we had been warned not to feed the emus because of the “risk” involved and although the apples, pears and carrots were part of our food inventory, Annette has been carrying wieners, cat food and wild bird seed for just such an occasion as this.

May 23, 2013

Today we hiked the “goat trail” to the lighthouse. The view from the crest of the ridge was really fine and we were able to see that the distant masts we had spotted from yesterday’s beach walk, are actually oil storage ships anchored next to offshore oil wells. There had been a WW II radar installation here, protected by anti-aircraft guns. Of course by the time it had been installed, the war had long moved to the north and this must have been a lonely and boring assignment for the men servicing the radar and artillery. We walked the road down hill from the lighthouse and saw a strange snake like creature crossing the road. Upon close examination, it was comprised of six caterpillars of the “Bag Shelter Moth” and they are “processionary caterpillars”. They were each about 2 1/2 inches long, very wooly and walked “in procession”, nose to tail, such that it looked like a single creature crossing the road. One caterpillar had become detached, so Annette carried it across the road on a stick and attached it to the rear of the procession. The lead bug waited until the newcomer had turned itself around and was in line and then they all marched forwards together in unison. Amazing.

Annette feeding chicksProcessionary caterpillarsProcessionary caterpillarsemu hazard

We continued our hike to the shore and then again walked a long section of the beach. This is a great area for beach combing with all sorts of shells, rocks, dead sea creatures and flotsam. When we got back to the bus, dad emu had shown up with three chicks. The chicks were about nine months old and were chest height. Dad hovered protectively in the background while I fed the chicks wieners. Unlike momma emu they were not sure what was food and I received several hard pecks on my fingers before I managed to steer the wiener into their beaks. This morning we learned that these emus are not caravan park “pets” as we had assumed but are simply wild emus that have learned that the caravan park is a risk free source of food and water.

May 24, 2013

This morning we drove south along the west side of the Cape to the Cape Range National Park. The park has numerous campsites, most of which were already full but we were directed to the Pilgramunna site, about 30 kms. inside the park. This was a small area with but 19 caravan sites and the volunteer managing the facility warned me that the access would flood with the morning high tide. If we wanted to leave on the morrow, we would need to be rolling around 0730 hours. We backed our bus into the white sand site and then set off to walk the beach. The caravans were arranged on either side of a drainage and protected by rocks at its mouth. Beyond we could see the clear, turquoise water of the inner reef and the swells breaking on the active reef, some hundreds of yards from the beach. As we clambered over the entrance rocks, we saw a long, clear and beautiful beach with nary a human foot-print, stretching as far as we could see. This was another great beach combing place with all of the shells and brightly colored, surf tumbled rocks you could ever want. The sand was soft and unpolluted and we watched an 8 foot sting ray, easing along the shallows parallel to the beach and less than thirty feet from us. We saw an explosion of small fish and then the culprit, a four foot tuna darting amongst them and almost on the beach itself. There were needle fish, crabs, shrimp like fish called “skippers” and sea birds hunting. What was missing was any human in the water swimming. Just down the coast from us had been a tragic accident a few days ago, where a husband and wife had died while snorkeling. The cause of the deaths at the time of writing remains uncertain but has been blamed upon Irukanji jelly fish. The jelly fish has a bell, less than 1 inch in diameter but may have tentacles up to three feet in length. The toxin it injects in its victim is quoted a 300 times more toxic than cobra venom. The campsite volunteer stated firmly that they hadn’t seen any Irukanji in this lagoon, which is not surprising since they are translucent and therefore near invisible. The beaches to the south of us have been closed as a precaution and we did not need much discouragement to cancel our snorkeling plans.

Dune flowersbeach parrotsbeach flowersbeach eagleIndian Ocean sunset

The full moon hung clear in the sky signaling a spring tide was imminent and the the park guide had indicated that the local area was near swarming with echidnas. Thus Annette and I set off into the darkness after sunset, armed with flashlights and beer. On our hike, we saw scores of kangaroos grazing on the roadsides but no echidnas. The kangaroos did not respond to our green laser flash light but just continued with their eating. We were echidna hunting however and no matter how cute their antics, we were not to be diverted.

May 25, 2013

During the night, the sky clouded over and we received spatters of rain. There is more rain in the forecast and since we will not be enjoying the fantastic snorkeling just south of us, this morning marks the western extremity of this seasons’ walkabout. We are heading back north where it is warmer. We had prepared the bus for a rapid departure this morning and while shooting the breeze with our neighbors and with Annette busy photographing a near perfect “morning bow” type of rainbow, we were startled to see a small wall of water flood one of the two exits to the park. I had assumed there would be a gradual creeping of water as the tide rose but this miniature tsunami was not what I expected. Within minutes, we had bade our neighbors farewell and headed up the sand road from the beach towards the paved highway. We drove carefully, at around thirty miles per hour and yet had three near misses with kangaroos. The roadside was littered with fresh corpses and last night’s echidna hunt had demonstrated to us that there is zero night time traffic on this road. What we noticed is that the kangaroos like to graze on the roads' edge where the weeds have been mowed. They also graze in groups of two to four animals and their defense mechanism is to freeze when a threat, such as a vehicle, approaches, hoping that they won’t be seen. When the threat is within just feet of them, they switch to defense mechanism number two, which is an explosive sprint. Unfortunately their locomotive method of hopping, while very fast, also means that they can neither go backwards, nor turn efficiently. Our observation is that they always take off in the direction they are pointing and swerve gradually while “running”. Since there may be four kangaroos grazing in a group, their orientation is random and my postulation is that there is about a one in four chance that any given kangaroo will run towards the approaching vehicle, hence the seemingly suicidal behaviors and high kill rate.

We stocked up with groceries and breakfast in the town of Exmouth before setting off again. Within twenty minutes of our departure, the brake light, timing-belt light, battery charge light and low-oil warning light, lit up across the instrument panel. Rats! We pulled off the road and I checked the engine oil level and obvious things like the alternator belts. I then checked the alternator output and confirmed that this warning light was telling the truth. The charging system is inoperative. We returned to Exmouth as the closest source of mechanical assistance, internet and phone coverage and picked up a site at the caravan park. The internet confirmed that the additional warning lights we were seeing are associated with a “crock” alternator. Australia works five to five and a half days per week, depending upon the industry and Saturday afternoon through Sunday are not included in this work period. We will have to wait until Monday to see if we can make repairs.

May 26, 2013

Last night it bucketed with rain and although the heaviest rain had passed, it was still sprinkling occasionally and overcast. Annette decided to catch up with some laundry and found all of the park’s drying areas full of sleeping bags and soaked bedding. Our tent based neighbors had experienced a difficult night. The weather service showed a low pressure trough sitting over us with rain and clouds, a condition we had already discovered by looking out of the window. We spent the day hunkered down with rented movies and books.

May 27, 2013

Monday morning and I called the auto electrical shop before they even opened for the day and received a 1:00 p.m. appointment. We rented more movies including “The Dish”, an Australian movie about Australia’s participation in the Apollo 11 moon landing, when an Australian radio telescope was used to pick up the TV signals from the moon. This was a light comedy by the producers of “The Castle” and well worth finding and watching.

We made our appointment at the electrical shop and after a little pounding on frozen bolts, the alternator was removed. The problem was soon diagnosed as worn out brushes and the now repaired alternator reinstalled. We are ready to roll again and will begin heading north tomorrow morning.

May 28, 2013

We made it out of Exmouth and began driving towards Karratha, a mining town on the north coast. The drive was pleasant with blue skies and sunshine until the early afternoon, when we had just passed the highway turn off to the town of Onslow. Suddenly there was a high pitched flapping sound from something on the exterior of the bus. We pulled over and immediately, I noticed metal threads, bulging between the tire treads on the right front tire. We turned the bus around and returned about 1 km back down the highway to park in a rest area, that boasted a clear, flat and sealed surface. I then noticed that the left front tire was in even worse condition, with tread separation and this was the source of noise we had heard. Two bad tires, one spare tire and no cell coverage! The nearest town with a tire store was probably Karratha, some 250 kms ahead. We decided to tackle the worst tire that was in process of disintegration. The first step was to see if I could turn the wheel nuts with the tools we had. I managed to move three out of five wheel nuts but the brace “bar” was bending. I asked a fellow caravaner at the rest stop if they had a “cheater bar” we could borrow. They didn’t but used their radio to query a passing trucker, who actually turned his truck and trailer around to return to the rest stop to help. He loaned us his “cheater” ( a five foot length of pipe) and this worked on one of the two recalcitrant nuts but not the other. The trucker produced a second pipe and with him working one side and me the other, two cheater bars did the trick. We thanked the trucker and he left after making me a gift of the shorter of the two “cheater” pipes. Our fellow caravaner stayed with us throughout, just to make sure we were OK. Australians are so nice!

Changing tireplacing the jackChanging tireheavy trafficthe old tirethe "other" tire

Once the nuts were loosened, I jacked up the wheel and carefully switched the spare and left front tire. I say carefully because the jack is old, battered, leaking oil and did not seat properly under the front suspension since the latter slopes. Fortunately, the bus did not fall off the jack and we soon had the tools and ruined tire re-stowed. Now what? The front right tire was in the process of disintegration and if it failed during the trip forward, we had no usable spare, we would lose steering and once stopped, would probably be without the wonderful smooth work surface we currently enjoyed. We decided it would be better to return 50 kms to the Nanutarra Roadhouse, where I had earlier noticed tires for sale and presumably there was a tire mounting machine. The roadhouse also boasted a caravan park plus telephones. It was very unlikely that they would have tires to fit our bus but they could call their supplier and send a couple of tires down the highway by bus. We drove slowly back to the roadhouse and without incident.

At Nanutarra, I explained our predicament to the counter clerk and asked what they could do to help. The clerk stated that they had no tire equipment or workshop. When I asked about the rack of new mounted and unmounted tires fifteen feet away from where we stood, he admitted that he hadn’t noticed them before and left to query “the boss”. Several minutes later he returned with the intelligence that the boss said he could sell us the mounted tires at $250 each. Since these were automobile tires on a 14 inch rim and we needed light truck tires on a 16 inch rim, we declined the offer. The only assistance he could offer was the use of the telephone coin booth near the store. At the store we borrowed the phone book and discovered that the closest tire store was indeed Karratha, now 300 kms away and I wrote down the phone numbers of three suppliers. We were then told that the land line was down, following yesterday’s rain. We booked ourselves into the caravan park for the night and as we drove to the site, we formulated the following plan. We would swap the disintegrating front tire for the outside rear tire on the same side. We would lower the pressure on the bad tire to match it's partners on the axle and if it did fail, the inner tire would bear the load. In this manner we would could drive slowly to Karratha and tire salvation.

By now, we were tired and willing to eat whatever the roadhouse café had to offer, when our campsite neighbors, Brian and Margaret kindly invited us to join them for “tea” (USA Eng. = “dinner”). Brian then cooked and served delicious lamb chops together with a smorgasbord of vegetables. What a great end to a challenging day!

May 29, 2013

At the first glimmerings of dawn I scouted the roadhouse for junk and found a pair of two by four sections of scrap lumber stacked next to the barbeque. These I rescued and placed in front of the inner, right rear tire. By driving forwards onto the planks, the outer rear would be clear of the ground and could then be removed, obviating the use of a jack. I also “cracked” the nuts holding the rear wheel on by using my recently acquired “cheater” pipe. Unfortunately I could only move one of the five front wheel nuts. As I struggled with the front wheel, Annette approached four workmen and asked if they had a second “cheater”. These men were just coming off the shift at a granite quarry and although they didn’t have a suitable tool, they took off scouting the environs, returning with a sledgehammer plus a six foot length of pipe. It took me, plus two very large quarrymen, working with both cheater pipes to break free the remaining nuts. The bar that was supposed to do the job now looked like a piece of spaghetti and it took work from one of the quarryman using the sledgehammer before it could even be inserted into the pipe “cheater”. Finally all wheel nuts could be turned and we bade our saviors, thanks and goodbye. The rest was just the mechanics of swapping the two wheels, resetting the tire pressures and stowing the gear. Our campground neighbors Brian and Margaret had monitored our progress and now insisted that they would follow us to Karratha in case we broke down again. Everyone’s kindness and concern was almost overwhelming.

"cracking" wheel nutsthe next "nut"straighten the barswitching tiresthe "good" tireadding to dual wheel

We drove at 65 kms per hour (just over 30 mph) during the five hour drive to Karratha. If the tire at the rear failed, the inner tire would bear the load but both would be compressed by the weight being supported by a single tire and the sidewalls might contact each other. If this happened, the resulting friction could set the tires alight and this is a common cause of highway truck fires. Thus we stopped every 50 kms or so to inspect the condition of the problem tire and its inflation level. Finally we reached the outskirts of Karratha and bade Brian and Margaret farewell who had faithfully followed us. On our second attempt we found a supplier who had two appropriately sized tires in stock and headed over to their store. They were very impressed with the condition of the tire we had just used to limp in, as it was in the final stages of dissolution. Forty five minutes later we were “re-tired” and heading over to the local caravan park for the night. Another long day, which also happens to be Annette and Ed’s 42nd wedding anniversary. 42 years is "rubber", isn't it?

May 30, 2013

Our bus is feeling happy again and we continued our journey east along the coast road, in the direction of Port Hedland. We stopped in the town of Roebourne where the information center is located in the “Old Gaol Museum”. The building was the former prison and had been used for holding both whites and aborigines and the bars, chains and stone construction gave a sense that this was not a pleasant place to be incarcerated. One of the displays mentioned that many aborigines had run away from their employment stations, been tracked, caught and then sentenced to hard labor under the “Master and Servant” Act. Wikipedia indicates that around 1840 in the Melbourne area, some 20% of inmates were held under this act. What the display did not say was that the Act was originally passed in England in 1823 and that there were Canadian, New Zealand, South African as well as Australian versions. The UK version was used to suppress trade-unions.

Roebourne Old Gaol Museum Roebourne Old Gaol Museum Roebourne Old Gaol Museum Pioneer artifacts

Another set of exhibits referenced the hardship of early home-makers. One statement caught my eye in that it was customary to have all beds, food larders, tables and the like standing in pots of water to prevent the invasion of ants, scorpions, centipedes and similar creepy-crawlies. I could just imagine the effort it took to maintain a constant water level in the pots added to all of the other chores of pioneer life.

We next visited the Yinjaa-Barni Art center where several talented aboriginal artists show their work. The gallery was preparing for a major show and this was perhaps the most active art center we have visited.

We rolled onwards and stopped for the night at a rest area next to the Yule River. This was a very pleasant spot with shade, picnic tables and seemingly dozens of trash cans, all adjacent to the sandy river bottom. Annette and I walked over to the river, marveling at all of the birdlife. We saw three black swans plus a quartet of pelicans amongst the larger birds and just down from our campsite was a tree hosting several hundred white cockatoos. The cockatoos have a call that sounds like you have inflated a balloon and are now dragging your fingers across the surface, just to piss off your female sibling. When they simultaneously launch into flight, the noise is deafening. The river mud banks had dozens of cormorants and if it hadn’t begun to get dark, we could have stood there for hours, either bird-watching or collecting the colorful river pebbles.

Yule RiverYule RiverYule River

By the time we returned to our bus, two other rigs had pulled in and we all visited for a “happy hour” that extended way past dusk. When everyone had retired, Annette and I set off again in the darkness to see what nocturnal creatures were about. Although we waved flashlights around for the next hour, we saw nothing other than the diamond-like gleam of spider’s eyes. Even the crocodiles must have been asleep.

May 31, 2013

This morning we ran our gasoline generator for the second time ever to recharge the house batteries, since the combination of parking in the shade plus overcast skies had taken their toll on the output of the two roof mounted solar panels. Our newly met friends from last night, Dez and Donna were also running their generator and Annette was duly envious of Donna’s washing machine providing her with “bush” laundry capability. Thus we boiled out of the Yule River campsite at the crack of 12.30 p.m. to continue our journey east.

termite mounds with hard hatsalbino peacock

Actually we would have stayed here another day but the weather has changed and it continued overcast and drizzling. The next few days promise more of the same so we decided to head for Broome, where it might be both drier and warmer. The overcast conditions were obviously depressing the oncoming drivers as Annette couldn’t get past a score of “8” on her “wave” game. I wish I could have recorded the curses and invective she hurled at the poor souls who failed to return her greeting but I was too busy hanging on to the steering in the buffeting cross-wind we were enjoying. We stopped for the night at the Sandfire roadhouse about 320 kms. from Broome. In the caravan park there was an albino peacock that Annette began feeding bird-seed within minutes of our arrival and it remained hovering outside of the bus door, waiting for more handouts.