24 June 2017. Katherine
Emerging from Daly Waters we enter the veritable urban conglomeration of Katherine and phone every caravan park searching for a powered site. For we have a fridge. Any possibility to be stunned by exorbitant prices evaporates in the utter simplicity of “I’m sorry but we are fully booked”. Every one of them? There’s like eleven caravan and ‘holiday’ parks in and around Katherine. They can’t all be booked out can they?
The little (little?) anarchist in me goes Fuck It! let’s just find an empty spot just out of town, set the tent and be done with it. By the time They find us it’ll be morning and we’ll be moved on, which is the whole point. Unfortunately Ram is somewhat less of an anarchist than I and we are reduced to scrolling through the list of caravan parks refusing to contemplate Plan B … that there are simply no places left in any caravan park in Katherine. We find one, finally, at Knotts Crossing on Gorge Road. Relieved we make our way there, wait our turn at check-in and finally stand before The Dude who regretfully tells us “I’m sorry but we don’t have any tenting facilities. We only have caravan sites” WTFuuuuck! “What’s the difference?” “They are all have concrete pads”
Plan B? I ask Ram as we drive out wondering what to do, heading towards Katherine Gorge, the reason for the eleven caravan parks and the fact that they are all full mid June … high season. Anyone in southern Australia who’s got wheels and a wagon have come north and flooded everywhere, congesting every decent site, driving up prices, clogging the roads and otherwise simply getting in the way. I, we, of course are not part of this horde even if we too are going to the same sites, drive the same roads, shop in the same shops. For we are of course different.
This is Australia, I try to explain to Ram. It’s a vast country, largely empty with lots of open space. To camp. Sure, we are near a city (is Katherine a city? I ponder), but the principle remains the same. All we have to do is find enough space sort of out of the way of easily prying eyes, set up the tent and sleep it out. Who’ll know?
Ram’s not having a bar of it. What to do?
Shady Lane caravan park turns up. We pull in and go through the Check-in Routine. Again.
The Dude is sympathetic. At least he looks that way. He looks at us again in That Way. “What do you have” “An Oztent” He’s looking decidedly thoughtful. And he does it for us. Sandwiched between two units on a decent if small patch of lawn with a power point. We are grateful.
25 June 2017
Scott, En-Hui and Tank turn up more or less on time and we head for a Last Blast indulgence at the Coffee Club, baguettes croissants espresso cappuccino – “No cacao please?” “Excuse me? No what?” I’m still shocked that THE most universal word I know for chocolate remains largely unknown in Australia and inevitably fail to correct myself “No, y’know, chocolate powder” my hand performing short to and fro motions sprinkling cacao powder over my beautiful cappuccino, for I am even more shocked that Australians perform such desecration by default. “Ah, na chakalaat? Sure”. Pay, take the number by which The Server Of The Goodies shall identify my order with me and return to our table outside where Mr Tank can be part of the group.
The Plan is simple. Do some (some?) shopping, ensure we’ve enough beer and fuel and drive to Lorella Springs. Simple plan but Lorella Springs is nearly six hundred kilometres away along typical outback Australian roads: a mix of asphalt and gravel. Doable in a day, but unlikely if coffee and shopping are added to the mix.
“Looking forward to Lorella Spings? I ask En-Hui chirpily. ”Ah, that’s where we’re going! I don’t know. It’s a surprise for my birthday” Oh shit! I vaguely remember Scott mentioning that. Fortunately Scott’s inside and doesn’t know I’ve blown the surprise.
We buy too much. We always buy too much. It’s part of camping. Cartons of beer, vast amounts of meat, volumes of fresh fruit, veggies, nibblies and anything else we can think of. Fridges now overloaded, anything not requiring immediate refrigeration in some box wedged in the back somewhere, both fuel tanks (per vehicle) topped up and we are ready to go.
There are two ways to get to Lorella Springs. Both involve the Stuart Highway to just south of Mataranka where one route heads east on the Roper Highway until Roper Bar, then south along the infamous Nathan River Road to the turn-off to Lorella Springs. The other involves barrelling much further down the Stuart to Daly Waters where we can top up tanks one last time and indulge in some last minute iced coffees then heading east on the Carpentaria Highway before turning north on the Nathan River Road until the Lorella Springs turnoff.
I wanna do the first route since it’s the same way I’ll go on my next Epic, riding from Darwin to Cairns before taking on the Cape York Peninsular. Nothing better than first hand intelligence concerning road conditions and water sources.
Scott on the other hand favours the Daly Waters route, claiming transiting the Limmen National Park with a dog is a no-no. Seems a bit too anal even for Australian standards, but what to do?
The Monster, which Scott drives differs significantly in power and capacity than the Beast, which I drive. Something to do with four more cylinders in a V-shape. It’s engine has over twice the capacity and thus power than the Beast’s. It is of no surprise as Scott tries to be nice and polite and kinda keep to a speed limit which allows us line of sight, but bit by bit pulls away.
Re-group at Daly Waters Roadhouse, top up the tanks, buy the last iced coffee and a few snacks, then head off.
It may be called a ‘Highway’ but if an intrepid traveller stumbled across the thin single vehicle width of asphalt without someone telling them it is the Carpentaria Highway they would possess seriously advanced higher-brain functions to conclude “Oh, this must be a highway”. I suppose though, given where this thin strip of asphalt, with its wide gravel shoulders, actually is the intrepid would already have a fairly good idea that the fine road transport network engineers simply wouldn’t put even a thin strip of asphalt out here, unless it is a ‘highway’.
Standard rules of travel on thin strips of asphalts, whether highway or not, when meeting oncoming traffic between 200 and 4500 kg +/- trailer/caravan/boat/etc is two wheels on the asphalt, two on the gravel. Slow down during this manoeuvre. For vehicles greater than 4500 kg and assuming you are the smaller of the vehicles, get right off the asphalt and enjoy a bit of gravel driving. In the ‘greater than 4500 kg’ bracket are of course Large Metal Objects more fondly known as Road Trains. Do not fuck with a Road Train.
Traffic is light, perhaps even less than ‘light’. One 4WD with caravan does not get off the road forcing both Scott and myself to take to the gravel. “He didn’t seem keen to get off the asphalt” I complain to Scott on Channel 40. “No, he didn’t” agrees Scott. “Sorry for that” comes a third voice “I’m a bit worried for me van’s suspension”. Now we know.
Unlike Scott, I am not a keen driver. By now we’re into hour four or more of driving and the day’s maturing quickly and I’m getting a bit fed up of it all. Scott, in contrast, seems to be able to drive mindbogglingly long hours without any trace of discomfort or tiredness or boredom. “It is time, I say to Ramona, for you to drive”. I am sure there was a brief, brief twitch of excitement before shear terror overtakes her features. We’ve spoken about this, that at some point she’ll need to drive otherwise we’re not going to make the kilometres. This point is now.
Tell Scott what we’re doing, pull over deep into the shoulder and Ram gingerly clambers into the driver’s seat. Brief rundown over gears – “Yes the clutch-brake-accelerator are the same as in Europe”, indicators (different side), and The Protocol of dealing with oncoming traffic “Just make sure you keep to the left of them”. Sure enough a vehicle approaches. Sure enough, Ram deftly deals with it. The wide grin perhaps even suggests she’s enjoying this. I take a few snaps, selfies, even a short movie. I have to keep it pretty low key, Ram’s not keen on too many distractions.
Hundreds of kilometres separate us from Lorella Springs and the day has advanced into the realm where instinctively I start thinking Camp Site. A legacy of cycling. I like a good dose of daylight to set up camp, cook, eat, clean up and prepare for the next day. Not quite as imperative when supported by what an enormous Beast provides, but still I like a bit of chill out as the sun goes down.
“How about a campsite” I suggest to the ether via Channel 40. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that too”. The county passing the vehicles is flat, low trees and bushes and unlikely to change. It means that we can pretty much stop anywhere suitable. Suitable preferably starts with a track. One whizzes past and Scott pulls over. We wait whilst he turns around to check it out. Once we’re given the go ahead, it’s now up to Ram to turn us around. The land maybe flat but the fine road engineers have dug deep trenches parallel to the road to deal with the vast volumes of water a good wet season brings. If one wants to turn the beast in one smooth process one’s gonna have to go up on the slope of the trench then swing around. Ram starts but quickly stresses out as the Beast tilts at an alarming angle and we swap. Alarming the angle may be but it’s not too alarming. Follow the little track until we come across a cleared area away from the road, next to the ubiquitous fence. And here we camp enjoying great food, chilled beer, stunning sunset all complemented by fire.
25 June 2017
Gravel roads undoubtedly define ‘wild’ Australia. Not only do they cut out the Harley Davidson crowd and the Hyundai i10 driver, and I’ve yet to see a Prius anywhere away from the sanctum of the most inner of the inner-CBDs of Australia’s capitals, they occupy a haloed pedestal in hardened travellers’ campfire conversations. The intensity and shear length of corrugations, the frequency and depth of potholes obscured by the almost mystical ‘bulldust’, the washouts, violent rock-beds, long sinuous stretches of sand. One of the key techniques open to the gravel road traveller to deal with all this is to let down the tires. I know, works wonders on a bike too.
Sooo … after regrouping at the start of the Nathan River Road, then letting Scott and En-Hui barrel ahead to avoid travelling in an endless red-brown cloud, we hammer along. And we’re getting it all: corrugations in abundance, tricky pools of bulldust – finer than the finest talc powder, long stretches of sand. It’s a vibration overkill. Rule of thumb, so I’ve picked up, states that for a trip of 50 km and/or an hour’s duration, no point in letting down the tires. Above that and the driver has to balance the hassle of letting down and later reinflating tires against the comfort, safety and damage mitigation of soft tires versus maintaining hard tires. We’ve got days of travel on gravel roads ahead of us. Why, I wonder, does Scott not stop and let down his tires? He’s out of range of UHF so am at a loss. Should I stop and let mine down? After all I’ve got one of those rapid tire deflators and could go it alone. But … Scott immediately let his tires down when we turned onto the Purnululu Road. Why not this time?
Instead Ram and I hammer along, grateful at least for the cushy coil springs of The Beast.
Why are we here? From Lorella Springs’ homepage:
Lorella Springs Wilderness Park is a huge 4,000-square kilometres (one-million acre) Outback Australia cattle station surrounded by the Limmen National Park, Aboriginal land, and many kilometres of pristine Northern Territory Gulf of Carpentaria coastline, rivers and waterways.
From diverse, open savannah, to coastal floodplains, salt flats and mangroves, or escarpment and dense forest, Lorella is abundant with bird and animal wildlife. Historical sites, Aboriginal culture, caves, chasms, gorges and the spectacular, famous Lost City rock formations are just some of the features to make Lorella a destination in itself.
It’s meant to be a bit of an adventure wonderland. Remote and pretty wild despite being a working station.
The homestead doubles, perhaps triples, as a bar, restaurant and check-in area. In a glass-enclosed pond at least three young freshwater crocodiles keep a cautious eye on entranced spectators. Along with a family of terrapins. I’ve no doubt they are locals.
We wait our turn and get the usual professional and friendly service Australians are sublime at. She’s mulling us over. Two couples, two vehicles, no kids nor trailers, not shy for a drive and probably quite capable too (that’s coz she’s talking to Scott. I don’t inspire the same effortless 4WD competence as Scott does).
Scott works shifts. Twelve hours a day for seven days. Twenty-four hours a day free, for seven days. Do the math. Two days to get here. Two to get back. Four days in travel alone. That leaves … 7 – 4 = 3. Three days to check out 4000 km2. Scott’s a bit of a Mad Hatter but he’s not totally gormless. There’s no point in camping at one of the far flung campsites no matter the perceived glories and beauties to be found. We would spend so much time grinding our way out there we’d not have much time to see anything. Better some place closer.
This trip is a Teaser. For Scott and En-Hui to see if it’s somewhere they’d like to come back, perhaps many times. And for Ram to get more off the beaten track than Litchfield and Kakadu. Reception finally come up with Nudies Hot Springs. No nude people apparently, but the spring is well and truly hot. “Keep to the lower pool” we are advised “It’s like a hot bath. At the spring itself it’s too hot. There should be no other people there, you should have the campsite to yourselves” Sounds good.
It takes an hour or so to crawl our way along Rosie’s Track to Nudie Hot Springs, and a small voice begins to whisper to me, trying to be heard above the rattle and hum of the Beast dealing with the tracks “Y’know, the real reason They like it here is not coz of the fishing, or the hot springs, or the swimming holes. It’s the drive to get there, the drive”. Hmmm … it slowly begins to make sense, as we turn onto what I assume/hope is the last track to the camp site. Out here, in the Outback, most, the vast majority enjoy the struggle the conflict the challenge the drama the battle of Man and Machine against Track and Topography. I find it just hurts my kidneys and stresses me about what’s gonna break. Not Scott. The Mo Fo loves this kindashit. And he’s good at it.
Indeed Nudie Hot Springs’ campsite is empty. Just us. Late afternoon, the chances of someone else turning up is pretty small. Scott and En-Hui, with their roof-top tent over there. Ram and I with our Oztent buried deep under the low trees over here. A large fire, communal cooking, damper, drinks, Tank running around, great company … love this. Honour to be here Mr Murray & Ms En-Hui. Thanks for this.
“You told En-Hui in Katherine?” Ah, yes, that. “Err, it kinda slipped out” Laughter “Should have known you’d not be able to keep it secret” Yeah, sorry for that.
26 June 2017
The whole The-Drive-Is-The-Experience philosophy is driven home to me by today’s Plan. We aim for Teardrop Falls, at the end of Little Rosie’s Track, past the rather intriguingly named Snapping Handbag Billabong, Gateway Gorge where we can avail ourselves of the canoe to explore it. Before taking on the low-range 4X4 track heading towards Mountain on the Edge of the Clouds, Hidden Pool and finally Teardrop Falls. The ’low range’ bit was emphasised by reception when we discussed options for but a day’s exploration. Problem is, there’s a certain hassle factor with a roof-top tent. Scott and En-Hui have yet to master the art of setting theirs’ up and down, fast. The Beast on the other hand is not encumbered by anything, has four comfortable seats and space for Mr Tank. It is I who shall drive to Teardrop Falls, low-range bit and all. In the 80s I was pretty good at the whole off-road technical low-range 4WD experience. Kinda essential is you wanna be a reconnaissance exploration geologist. That was thirty years ago. Let’s see how I go this time.
First of all though, tire pressure. Turns out Scott was simply too lazy yesterday to bother with letting the tires down. Although, he does admit “It probably would have been better to have done so”. Today, however, we’re letting down tires to 20 psi, somewhat less than 1.4 bar.
It’s all fairly straightforward as we make are way back to Rosies’ Track, then onto Little Rosies until Gateway Gorge, with a short stop at Snapping Handbag Billabong. Lovely billabong. Full of freshwater crocodiles come the end of the dry season when Rosie Creek dries out. A few snaps as we muse about our lack of fishing gear. No crocs. At least that we can see.
Little Rosies doesn’t even need hi-4WD, at least until Gateway Gorge where the crossing is nicely bouldery (I may have made that word up: of having many boulders of various sizes). I opt for stability and put it in LR 4WD, letting the Beast wobble it’s way over the crossing. Abandoning Beast on the other side, we decide it really is in our interest to use the only canoe for a paddle up the gorge.
First Scott and En-Hui, whilst we take care of Mr Tank, who is seriously not into getting wet.
Before it’s Ram and I’s turn. Five hundred meters, perhaps more, maybe less, passed the low cliffs on one side until the sand at the end where we get out for a quick look around. Back at the Beast it’s now time for the low-range bit.
I’m grateful for Scott in the passenger’s seat coz he feeds me useful tips and above all confidence at The Tricky Bits. Which, I must say, are not as tricky as I and the others thought they’d be, after what we were told back at reception.
“I’m the only one to have a lot of confidence in your driving” Scott tells me as we bounce and wobble along. “That’s nice” I say, daring a quick glance at him “how so?” “I’m the only one not wearing a seatbelt”. We all laugh.
Teardrop Falls turns up, we are all in good spirits and Beast’s in one bit.
Even this early in the dry season there’s no water coming over the falls. It’s not the most swim-friendly plunge-pool, with large mats of deep green algae and plenty of boulders. The dried algae on one boulder makes it look like some wild drummer’s hairstyle, resplendent with bright red dragonfly as an accessory.
Scott, being irrepressible with a solid dose of OCD and not an insignificant amount of ADHD goads us all into doing the climb to the alleged pools above the falls. All we have to do is scramble up a scree slope for a couple of hundred meters. With beers in hand, of course.
It is a scramble. We get to the top of the cliffs only to find we have more scramble down into a gorge to access the pools. There’s quite a bit of resistance to this endeavour. Ram’s not sure-footed and we only have our thongs on (flipflops to the non Aussies). It’s a bit dodgy underfoot. Scott blazes on and we hear vague distant shouts which we assume are encouragement since we can’t understand a word he’s saying. We follow.
He’s right. There’s a lovely small plunge pool into which some water still trickles. A swim, chilling out on the stony beach, before heading down the gorge to see what’s at the top of Teardrop Falls.
A spectacular V-gorge holding back a delightful plunge pool, isolated from human enjoyment by shear cliffs. Getting down would be simple: jump. Getting up? Hmmm … More snaps, then we take on the path back to Beast, with a stop for yet more snaps of the impressive view across the ranges.
Scott drives back, and positively hammers it incomparison to my cautious approach. It’s his car and he’s done countless thousands of kilometres in it.
Mountain on the Edge of the Clouds offers stunning views of a creek hundreds of meters below us, with ranges peeling away towards the horizon.
Now, Scott has this incredible and dare I say unique skill. I tell him what creepy-crawling I’m just dying to get re-acquainted with, and he delivers! I really want a black headed python. An old favourite since I was a kid. Its range is thousands of kilometres north from where I grew up east of Perth. The only way I can ever meet this spectacular snake is if I travel through northern Australia. Well, after thousands of kilometres of travel over the last two years through its range I’ve yet to stumble across one. And my chances have to be pretty good coz for the most part I’m on a bike which means those thousands are done s l o w l y. I’ve not got much longer in Oz and I’m getting desperate. So, I put the order to Scott and just shy of our campsite at Nudies one slides into view on the track right smack in front of us! Onya Scott! Thanks buddy.
Harmless they may be, black headed pythons are notably more aggressive than other pythons, and can give a decent nip. It does not think much of my efforts, but after a short game of dodge-the-bite I manage to enjoy my first black headed in like thirty-five years. Or more.
27 June 2017
Scott and En-Hui head-off shortly after breakfast. They have a long drive ahead of them and want a full day in Jabiru before Scott returns to work. That’s over a thousand kilometres with at least half of that on some pretty tough gravel roads. En-Hui is not confident enough to drive the Monster, meaning Scott’s got a lot of driving ahead of him. Since we’re in tourist mode, we don’t have such constraints and elect to hang around a day longer.
Ram and I take to Nudies hot springs. Indeed it is hot, and this is in the ‘cool pool’ where the intrepid can swim. We wander up the creek until we find where the hot water pours out from its source. It’s too hot to keep fingers in.
Being a geologist I miss the additional information of exactly how and from where, what depth and what processes produce such hot waters here in a part of the world where the geology is decidedly stable incomparison to many other areas. El Questro’s Zebra Hot Springs come via thousands of kilometres of fault line from the epithermal world of Papua New Guinea where volcanoes and volcanic activity are rife. But what about here in Lorella Springs? There hasn’t been a volcano in these parts for hundreds of millions of years. Seems there aren’t enough people asking this question for Lorella’s management to provide this information.
After packing camp, a hot bath we make our way back to the homestead for a night. The camping area is quite extensive but good shade is hard to come by and decent green grass restricted to areas near the main homestead, where most people are camped. We’re more interested in privacy and some sense of being In The Wild than the benefits of being near the main infrastructure.
Magic Pool is the thermal pool nearest to the homestead. Created by a small dam and dug-out until a safe suitable depth. Ram is having non of it. There’s no end of nasty critters that could lie hidden in the waters. Matters it not that Little Old Ladies supervise grandkiddies playing without inhibition. Surely if LoLs are content to enjoy bobbing around neck deep whilst the grandkiddies frolic around them at one end whilst a group of Gronads (Grey Nomads) swap travel stories at the other end, it’s godda be safe. Ram’s not convinced. I jump in, in a bid to demonstrate its harmlessness. She figures I’m too much of a wild adventurer to be reliable as an assessor of risk. One way or another she performs whatever risk assessment she needs and finally enters. After that, it’s pretty hard to get her out. Various other travellers come and go and we enjoy endless rounds of half hour travel-friendships and commonality.
Back to camp, back to camp dinner a few beers and another wonderful Australian night.
28 June 2017
Lorella Springs has a rather unique way of dealing with customers. Unlike most, it does not demand payment up front for the number of nights they claim they’ll stay. Instead, they note the vehicle registration number, where the party will camp and what they’ll do +/- a contingency, then expect them to emerge on a chosen date to either change their itinerary or pay up and leave. It’s a way to keep abreast of who’s doing what where, as much as minimise risk of people doing a runner and not paying or paying for staying less time than they state they intend to.
Anyway, we sign-off, field a question about Scott and En-Hui – “They left yesterday” a quick check of records “Ah yes, they did” – snap a few photos of the homestead and bugger off.
The ride is distinctly better with low pressure tires. Not good. Just better. Thirty kilometres later we turn right on the Nathan River Road and head north.
Back to lots of corrugations, endless dust billowing out behind, long sand sections and tricky potholes hidden by pools of ultra-fine bulldust. And I wonder, as I drive along, about riding down here within a month. Is this road ridable. Or not. I take this a bit further … would I have ridden the Munda Biddi, the Mawson, the Oodnadatta, the Mereenie, the Tanami or any of the other outback tracks had I any idea beforehand just how hard they were going to be? There’s a lot to be said about being happy in ignorance.
Of course it’s rideable. The sandy bits are not that long or arduous. The corrugations no more ferocious than any of the others I ridden on. The dust the same joyous dust found on any outback track. It’s just not going to be an easy ride. Like any of the others.
It becomes clear that there is a cloud of dust ahead of us. Another traveller, going slower. In a way I’m kinda hoping it’s not true, because overtaking is a nightmare – impossible to see what’s coming – and staying behind another vehicle means being perpetually encased in a dust cloud. Unfortunately it is unmistakable: a dust cloud obscures the road ahead and one way or another we’ve got to deal with it.
Then … bolt ouddadda blu … the UHF. Of course. Pretty much everyone now has a UHF radio, Mostly tuned into channel 40, what the roadtrains use, for the obvious reason to facilitate, say, overtaking. “Copy northbound Roper Bar. Northbound Roper Bar, you there?” “Hello, Jen and Dave here” “We’re looking for an overtake, that possible?” “I reckon I can pull over quite nicely on this stretch of asphalt here. And let you pass”. And sure enough, in the middle of fucking nowhere, there’s a stretch of asphalt. Some mine’s transport infrastructure. Jen and Dave have indeed pulled over. We stop, share a chuckle or two, chat about the road and other traveller intros, before moving off.
Limmen National Park, second largest in Australia, doesn’t rate much on the ‘godda see’ lists. Lacks the stunning attractions of Kakadu and the ease of access of Litchfield. It’s more river-wetland than billabong-landscape. Exposure along the Gulf of Carpentaria drives home that the main reason people come here is fishing.
In keeping with Australia’s nomenclature for funny outcrops the only two notable landscape sites are both called Lost City. There are no less than two here: Western Lost City and Southern Lost City. We think about it. But whilst one is pretty close to the road, the Western one requires we visit the Ranger Station which is north of us, get a code to unlock the gate and drive thirty kilometres one way with no camping allowed. We skip them.
We do not skip a short visit to Butterfly Gorge, the only spot in the second largest national park in Australia where it is officially safe to swim. And it’s pretty. We think about camping here, but Ram’s getting a bit anxious to make tracks north. Time’s running out and since we’re neither fisher-people nor ardent 4WDers we’re not really in the right place.
The day’s end’s coming pretty fast and we need a campsite. There are three official ones to choose from and we tick ‘em off one by one. The first two, Mountain Creek and Didi Baba are smack on the Roper River. That doesn’t mean they are attractive. The river is almost inaccessible down steep backs several metres high and hidden behind pandanus palms. The camp areas themselves are full of people with large caravans. They are long termers, here for the fishing. There are places for us to put out Oztent but they are hardly inspiring. Despite the afternoon racing along we gamble on better further on.
Yurrlmundji is completely empty. Not a van vehicle or tent. Intrigued we check it out. Simple: no access to the water means of no interest to the fisher-people and long termers. We find a semi-shady spot set up the Oztent, rig up a basic shower and enjoy the warm evening, along with a large huntsman spider.
29 June 2017
On the way to Roper Bar we check out Munbililla Camp Ground, complete with green grass, caretaker, info-centre, showers. And water. Water’s going to be my main concern riding towards Cairns. Ram and I have been dutifully GPSing every stream with water in it, noting whether there’s good water or ‘if (I’m) desperate’. Each one of these streams has the added element of croc-risk. As the dry season advances the water courses shrink, concentrating ever more crocodiles into ever smaller water holes. If I can avoid needing to take from a stream, it would be to my benefit. Good to know then that Munbililla offers endless safe water-source.
Shortly after we are back on the bitumen. Left leads us to the Stuart Highway, but right goes to Roper Bar, where rumour has it, there is a shop. I may well need a shop, so we go check it out.
It’s pretty good actually. Some fresh stuff, the usual packets of carbs and flavour, like pasta-sauce, small tins of fish. My usual travel diet.
We enjoy an icecream in the shade of a large tree before heading to the Stuart.
It’s a long drive. We take a beer. At 3.5% is more lolly-water than beer. Still, as we pull into Mataranka to refuel and get some lunch, I’m not sure what the local police’s random-breath-testing service will think of my beer. The Mataranka Store and Service Station is just before their blockade. Refuelled and with some lunch, we cross over the road into the park. There we eat lunch watching hapless travellers getting pulled over and tested (non over the limit) whilst listening to an old Indigenous Australian man hurtling invective at the police. There’s always a heavy police presence in Mataranka and there’s always a number of Indigenous Australians milling around. The old man is pointing out that the police “stole our lands” telling them many times to “fuck off”.
The policeman ceases random-breath-testing, drives over and dutifully books the old man. It’s hard not to think it’s a bit OTT. Sure, there’s gonna be some rule somewhere saying you can’t tell a cop to fuck-off. This guy’s 70 or more. More likely he’s got some kind of mental health issues, or perhaps living more the than half his life as a non-citizen in his own country before they recognised Indigenous Australians as people affects him still. What good for society is booking him going to achieve.
After the cop leaves the old man comes and asks if he can join us. He’s polite, squats down and tells bits of his story, concerning loss of his culture and lifestyle. Hard not to be sympathetic. Ms Cop, in a car, pulls up and shouts out of the window “Is he giving you any trouble?”. Where does harassment start, I think? If a white guy joined us, would she have turned up? And the way she framed her question I find quite provocative. “No, it’s fine” I tell her, “No trouble”. He’s used to it, hardly bothering to turn to look at her. She leaves and five minutes later so to do we. The RBT blockade no longer a threat.
Tonight we’re aiming for one of the sites in Kakadu: Gunlom or Jim Jim Falls.
Max & Ram
Mataranka, 27 June 2017