4 Mile Billabong: a poignant drive

7 July 2017

It’s a poignant departure from Darwin since Ram’s left. Another six months. At least. To ride from Jabiru to the Cape York and back, via Cairns is like 8000 km. That’s 114 days at 70 km per day not including any stops. Nearly four months. On asphalt I’ll do more, but most of the roads/tracks across the gulf and up the peninsular are gonna be tough and 70 km/day may be too ambitious.

I may have told Ram six months, but I’m not optimistic.

Is it a lie then? Have I lied to Ram, about the six months? You know, I don’t know. It’s a grey area, telling Ram what she wants to hear so I can do what I want to do. Perhaps it’s those white lies couples tell each other to facilitate the machinations of daily – and not so daily – existence. Better than having to grind through torrid discussion and argument over who’s perspective is more right than the other’s. Ram wants me to come home now. I want to ride the Cape York Peninsular. I have a responsibility to both our relationship and to my personal goals. After two and half years Ram has a very good point: it is enough. On the other hand, I am not sure I’ve completed my personal goals and if I have not, returning prematurely will cause problems, perhaps existential ones.

Something else troubles me too. I’ve become used to Australia. Thirty years ago I couldn’t wait to escape. I didn’t understand it back then, having buried deep and seemingly successfully childhood trauma. ‘Seemingly successful’ because had I been successful I wouldn’t have been plagued by an irresistible belief that the only way I could survive and thrive as me was to leave Australia.

Thirty years later my trauma lies exhumed, various autopsies performed on it and now sits in a crypt lined with acceptance and forgiveness, mostly for me but also for the animals who abused me, the parents who failed to protect me and the society which enabled it.

I don’t think I could ever live in Perth. Something remains creepy about it, among the pretty blue sky, the languorous golden beaches and laid-back lifestyle. Perhaps it’s that my family lives there and should I live there I’d have to pay some kind of lip service to the very family that alienated me in the first place. Regardless, Perth does not attract me. But the rest of Australia, or the ‘rest of Australia’ I’ve travelled through these last twenty-four months, I could live in.

Particularly Darwin. Always liked the snotty-nosed kid sister to all of Australia’s other cities. Something about it’s ridiculous climate, the fact that it’s stinking hot and sweaty for months on end yet you can’t go for a swim coz a crocodile may well eat you. That there’s a perpetual turn-around of transients from all corners of Australia and the world seeking either their fortune, an escape or a jumping off point for some of Australia’s iconic landscapes or one somewhere in Asia. That Darwin’s not big enough to create a unique breed of urbanites who remain ensconced within the city’s limits and who thereby create an inner-Darwin-city-thing. That it’s not too small either, and offers pretty much what one needs. That it remains a frontier town with breathtaking country within barely an hour or so drive.

Swinging onto the Arnhem Highway and the route back to Jabiru, I’ve a head full of thoughts. But one dominates: if I am to ride the Cape York Peninsular I’d better get on my bike and do some riding. The season is rapidly advancing. 3000 km to Cairns. Six weeks. Another month to get to the top of Cape York. If I left tomorrow that puts me at the Peninsular at the end of September, perilously close to the start of The Wet Season. Should I ride all the way back to Darwin, I should make it in time for Christmas. Which means I may not make it at all since the Wet Season is quite likely to have shut the Gulf country down with floods.

Large chunks of Kakadu are finally being opened as the roads and tracks finally dry out after the end of the wet, as the rivers shrink to a volume and speed which ‘normal’ vehicles (which here tend to be huge 4WDs) can cross. Safely.

Finally and perhaps a tad surprisingly the road, err … track … to both 2 Mile and 4 Mile camping areas are open. The publicity about the two campgrounds give some ideas as to why:

Kakadu_National_Park_Accommodation_Camping
It is on The Map, but it’s hardly one of the icons

Four Mile Hole Billabong is a popular fishing spot for locals. Travellers are welcome but don’t often venture out here.

The turn-off to the billabong is 2 km from the Kakadu entry station where a 30 km 4WD track through savanna woodlands will bring you to a camping area.

There are no facilities or defined camping areas. Visitors find shaded areas to set up camp.

There’s no formed boat ramp but there are boat launching opportunities.

parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/stay/camping/four-mile-hole-campground

It’s in the lots of ‘nos’: no facilities, no boat ramp and that ‘travellers … don’t often venture out here’. If it were easy to get there and if the average tourist could make it would have facilities and boat ramps and stuff like that.

The satellite image gives a hint. Look closely and you’ll notice it’s in a dark green area off which dendritic tendrils etch deep into the landscape. In other words, it’s in a wetland.

kakadunationalparkaustralia.com tells me that “the access road into Four Mile is closed for around eight months of the year due to the wet season”. Wetland and swamp make for dodgy tracks and roads.

4 Mile camping area
It’s in wetland. Wetland and wet seasons make for hard going. Unless you’re a duck or a fish

But I have The Beast and the track is open. I’m goin’ in. One reason is for me to investigate cycling routes. Riding up and down the Arnhem Highway or the Kakadu Highway or along one, a bit of the Stuart Highway and back along the other will get me fit but will also bore the living shit out of me. A bit of rough and wild back country sound a lot more interesting. However, if wetland and swamp and large river crossings can make it darned hard for large 4WDs, I doubt 50 mm human-powered tires are going make it either.

170707 4 Mile poignant drive 1
Aside of small group of fisher-people, the billabong belongs to Mamma Nature

The track is rough and bouncy with bits of soft sand and totally rideable. Less than an hour later I’m checking out camping opportunities. Near the water there are not much. Which is probably good coz there’s a large saltwater crocodile lounging on the far side of the billabong.

170707 4 Mile poignant drive 2
And Bruiser. A good 4 meters, nestling on the far side. Be Crocwise
170707 4 Mile poignant drive 3
Bruiser is straight across. If I come by bike I’ll need to take water from the billabong. Hmmm …

Camp too close to the water and crocs have been known to try their luck dragging the hapless out of their tents. The tree line begins a couple hundred meters back. Where the wet-season doesn’t inundate the land so much that trees can’t grow, I guess. If I’m gonna camp, it’s gonna be there.

170707 4 Mile poignant drive 6
It’s not small-tent friendly. 100s of meters back the treeline starts. If I come here on Dreamer I’ll be camping there

Aside of a small group of fishermen, 4 Mile campground is empty.

170707 4 Mile poignant drive 5
Perplexed fisherman?

Since it is lunch time I enjoy a picnic and decide to continue my lonely slow drive back to Jabiru, still lost in my thoughts with the question of What Should I Do? whirling around in my head on an endless loop.

A detour to Cahills Crossing to see if there’s anything to see.

Tide’s coming in hard and fast. No one’s trying to cross, and the number of spectators dwarf the number of fisher-people. Nothing to see.

I point the Beast south and head for Scott and En-Hui’s place.

 

Max

Jabiru 07 July 2017

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