April 2008

  • Cover Page
  • Map of Trip-2006.
  • Map of Trip-2008.
  • Map of Trip-2009.
  • Map of Trip-2010.

  • A Young Local

    So welcome the end of yet another month. It seems that once Easter is over, the year flies by, and this year I am sure will be no exception. We have now been in Wadeye for 10 weeks and it is going really well. We are not sure exactly what  we do, but we seem to be on the go all the time, with what seems to be very little down time. We are still without the car but that will change in the next few days as the dry season is well and truly upon us, with the Daly River now able to be crossed (around 0.5 metre). We are catching a lift into Darwin with one of the Clinic staff on the first weekend in May to collect the mighty Patrol. We will drive out on the Friday and have Saturday to do some serious shopping (Bunnings, KMart, coffee shops, markets!!) before heading back on Sunday with the camper trailer in tow. The trip back should take about 5-6 hours depending on the state of the road. I recently had to drive from Wadeye to Peppimenarti for work, which is about 1/2 way to Daly River. The road was in pretty good condition with only a few tricky bits and a few water crossings to navigate and only took us 1 1/2 hours. This section of the road  has only been open for the past couple of weeks and they are currently busy grading and fixing the approaches to all the river crossings that have been severely damaged by the flood waters. If the road from Peppi to the Daly is roughly in the same condition, the trip should be fine, although I hear it is markedly worse. I think that psychologically having a car will make a difference and will give us the feeling of freedom. To be able to get to the beach for a late afternoon walk whenever we choose will be great. Up to now we have had to rely on going with others, which is OK but not very spontaneous. I think the greatest advantage is that we will be able to get the boat to the ramp without having to humbug everyone for a car to get it there. In saying that we have not really missed the car that much, and certainly have not missed the expense of refueling.

    Living in such isolation for an extended period is a very interesting experience, and one that you have to experience to really understand. The isolated lifestyle is certainly not for everyone and I am not sure I could do it forever, but in saying that we have really enjoyed getting off the 'treadmill of life' yet again and getting back to the real basics. You very quickly learn to do without, to improvise and to make do with what you have, which at times is not a lot. It certainly has reinforced to us as a family that balance between needs and wants. Not having access to BCF and Bunnings might sound like the end of the world, but it actually is OK. If you can't borrow it or make it or get it from the dump, you probably don't really need it. We can all see the attraction of isolated living and we certainly now have an understanding of why some people find the thought of going back to city living very unnerving. Even now I start to twitch at the mere thought of going back to life in the city, to what most of you would call 'normality'. I would be happy to debate that issue with you sometime.
    I think that to survive long term in isolation you would need a few toys like a boat and perhaps a few motor bikes, as well as a car to really get the most out of the experience, to give you the freedom to explore, to hunt and to gather. Given a few toys, the right attitude and a love of life, isolated living really is a very attractive option. We were a little surprised to discover the number of isolated places that have very good schools, secondary included, that deliver a high standard of education. In some of the mining towns, like in Arnhem Land, the schools are very well equipped with the majority of the students being white fellas. Ah, options, options, options.

    The first exciting news for April was that our football team (The Bombers) won the Grand final. It was a great day and the atmosphere was amazing. This is a big deal for the locals as football is taken very seriously out here. Most of  the town turned out all dressed in their team colours. The local indigenous band were set up on the back of a semi trailer and played before the game, at 1/2 time and after the game and into the evening. The place was electric and such a great experience. The school painted up the huge team banners that the teams ran through at the beginning of the game with all the hype and fanfare of a real ALF grand final. We were not the only white people at the game (like we usually are) with a few others making the effort and turning up. Professional umpires were flown out from Darwin for the game and extra cops also flown in. I am not sure why, but just in case we were told. As expected there was no trouble and everyone seemed to have fun. The new season has already started so you know where to find us Sunday afternoons should you be dropping by, unannounced. Ha! Ha!

    The Grand Final The Grand Final The Grand Final The Grand Final The Grand Final The Grand Final

    So back to the subject of isolation. There are a number of significant differences in living in a community like this one. One of those differences relates to how we do our shopping. There is a butcher that is open whenever, so getting meat is a little hit and miss. When you do find it open the meat is actually very good and much cheaper than Darwin. The reason it is not always open is that if they have no cattle to kill, they have nothing to sell. On the subject of meat we have a resident cow that lives in our street. Her name is Moo Moo (yes I know that's original) and if you leave your gate open in she comes, rips your trees apart and then to say thanks, craps all over your yard. A true woman!!!There is also a fruit and vegetable shop that carries all the basics. Prices here are pretty good too - you just have to get there soon after the barge comes in as they sell out pretty quick. Freshness can also be an issue depending on how long it takes to transport - it is not uncommon for a week or more to go by between the food being packed and actually stocked in the shop.
    Moo Moo the Cow
    Then there is the store. Now going into the store is an adventure in itself. They obviously carry lines that the locals like with the range being very basic. The cost is outrageous and we rarely use it at all. As the roads are blocked for at least 6 months each year all supplies come via the ocean on a very large barge each fortnight. A week prior to the barge arriving Chris writes out a shopping list and we fax it off to Coles in Darwin.You have to be very exact stating brands and product size. Somebody at Coles then runs around and does your shopping for you, for no charge. It is a great service that is provided. Of course the downside is that you don't get the specials and you still get things even when they are very expensive, the things you simply wouldn't buy until they got a little cheaper. A great example of that was our first barge order not long after we arrived here when Chris ordered 2 kg of grapes. (A week before in Darwin they were plentiful and cheap). When it arrived we had 4x 500gm packets that cost us $32.00. They were so expensive we were too scared to eat them. The other minor problem is that the chiller products like yoghurt, sour cream etc. are often nearly out of date by the time they arrive, due to the time it takes to get here. Occasionally not being able to visualize what you want can also be a bit tricky. We are able to buy alcohol through Coles (as we have an alcohol permit) that is also packaged up and sent out with our groceries (disguised in other types of boxes so the locals can't see it).
    So once Coles has collected and packed the food into dry foods, chiller and frozen foods they are sent to the barge company by private courier that costs us $22.00. The barge then takes a few days and up to a week depending on the weather and tides to arrive in Wadeye. Although the barge is due in every Monday fortnight, it very rarely arrives on time, so it does pay to stock up. Now we are talking a very large barge that brings out all food, medical supplies, school supplies, building materials, cars, boats and trucks. It is an amazing operation watching it being unloaded and watching all the gear being distributed around town. The locals buy all their food at the local shop and get nothing barged in.
    All the food is then trucked up to the store and is put outside under a big carport, the frozen in a big walk in freezer and the chiller food in a large cold room. Just after lunch you go down and search through a thousand boxes looking for yours. There is no-one keeping an eye on things and there is nothing stopping you from pinching anything you want. Luckily the white fellas seem pretty honest and I have never heard of anything being pinched. Anything left uncollected overnight will almost definitely go missing!! There is the occasional stuff-up with frozen boxes put with the dry and grog not arriving, but on the whole it a pretty efficient service.

    The Barge The Barge The Shed

    So barge day is a big day in Wadeye. It is like Christmas every fortnight as all the boxes arrive and you open them in anticipation of what's inside. As there are very few males working at the clinic it has become my job to go down and collect all the Clinic gear and all the personal foods. It is hot hard work but I enjoy it. It's a boy thing! As you are never absolutely sure that the barge will actually arrive, that Coles actually got your order or that your order didn't accidentally get sent to another destination you always need a surplus of food on hand to see you through. Our first few orders cost nearly $800.00 a fortnight as we needed all those 'only buy once a year' things. Thankfully we are now down to about $300.00 a fortnight. So the food thing is all good. We eat well, have had no barge disasters and have enough food on hand to see a bear through a thousand winters.

    Another Afternoon Storm
    So what else do we do to amuse ourselves. The wet season creates a whole different world out here. The afternoon storms are very predictable (not to mention spectacular) and so is the rain. As I have said earlier Wadeye is like an island totally surrounded by water during the wet. There are a number of creeks and swimming holes very close to town, and we even have a few nice waterfalls. When the wet is in full swing there is a significant amount of water flowing over these falls. Now of course the problem with waterholes and rivers is crocs. We do in fact  swim at  a couple of these, but we do so very nervously. While it is said that they are safe there really is only one safe waterhole, and that is the town pool. Many afternoons a week after work and on weekends you will find us at the waterholes enjoying having a dip, before the waterholes start to dry up, which is already starting to happen. Within the next few weeks there will be very little inflow and the water holes will become stagnant, slimy ponds. Luckily it will be getting a bit cooler by then, so swimming will be less appealing. So as the dry season descends upon us, the rain has been replaced by smoke, which will continue now for the next few months. The tall spear grass that is now starting to die back, is burnt by the locals. This results in a constant smoke haze, that must play havoc with the asthmatics. So while they only have two seasons up this way, they are anything but boring. The change is dramatic, and very spectacular.

    Water Hole Water Hole Water Hole Water Hole Water Hole Water Hole

    While on the subject of swimming it would be remiss of me not to mention the recent school
    Swimming Carnival. This inter school competition covered all year levels with both Alex and Harry participating. The competition was strong with the local kids swimming much better than I expected. Considering they most likely would never have had a formal swimming lesson quite a few had a very good technique. Harry managed 2 x firsts and a second and Alex 2nd in his individual and 3rd in his year level final, as well as 3rd in the relay. The pool is just across the road from work so I managed to get away and see all the boys races which was great. My work place out here is very well managed and staff are encouraged to take time out from work to attend activities like this. The old 'Give and Take'. It's a beautiful thing when it works. It is a shame so many organisations like to take, but are not so fussed on giving. It is amazing that such a small thing can create so much contentment in the workplace.

    We all go up to the pool every Saturday and the boys have swimming lessons (all free). As there is only a few kids that go (all whities) the lessons are almost 1 on 1. During the lessons Chris swims her 60 laps and then we hit the shops to pick up the Saturday paper that is flown in arriving mid morning. All we need is a Coffee Shop!!! But as we do not have such a thing, we walk home and have a coffee there instead. Chris has put in a Mother's Day request for a cappuccino machine so we might even start our own little Saturday morning coffee shop!!

    Alex Harry Alex Harry

    Already in under 3 months in Wadeye we seem to have collected an array of bits and pieces, that we somehow need eventually to fit back in the camper trailer. So far we have two didgeridoos, a woomera and soon we hope a couple of paintings. There is an amazing amount of local talent in these communities, and ours is no exception. Living across the road from us is a local fella whose paintings are sold world wide. In America and parts of Europe his art work fetches up to $30,000 a piece. He is a lovely guy who sits outside amongst the dust and flies and using only four basic colours, creates the most amazing paintings. He is just about to start one for us and I think that will become our prized possession from our time in Wadeye.
    Alex and I have just started being taught how to play the didgeridoo. I think the cyclic breathing will take months to master, as we sit there blowing through a straw into a glass of water. Alex can actually play it OK and makes a sound like you would expect from a didgeridoo, while I make a sound similar to a bear farting in a cave. One of my many goals is to actually be able to play it before we head back to the east coast at the end of the year. I will keep you posted on my progress. I must say I am a little concerned as the local guy at work who is teaching me just spends the whole time laughing at my attempts. I am not sure he is overly confident that I will become his star pupil. Alex continues to have guitar lessons even out here. A white fella a few houses up the road from us (I work with his wife) is a well known muso and music teacher in the NT, and has actually had a number of books published on playing the guitar. His daughter, also an amazing muso teaches Alex. He loves going to Sara and thinks she is the best teacher ever. He is really coming ahead in leaps and bounds.

    As I mentioned earlier, we also have unlimited use of a 14 ft tinnie. Only 500 metres from home is the boat ramp and at our fingertips we have endless kilometres of protected (except for the crocs)  waterways to explore, but not to swim. From the boat ramp to the open sea would be well over 10 kms of wide rivers, creeks and millions of mangroves. It really is very spectacular. Within the space of a km you can pass long stretches of pristine white sandy beaches and then in the next breath be confronted with huge red cliffs making their way down to the water. The fishing is good, with the crabbing being so good it is hard to imagine. If you throw the pots out and come back 1/2 hour later, you would be guaranteed at least a few good sized keepers. Leave them out overnight and you would be needing a crane to pull them in. We have only been out once so far, mainly due to the fact that the dry has only really just kicked in, but also because of the issue of getting the boat to the ramp and back. Once again humbugging for a car is a bit painful. As we will have our car in next week, that shall no longer be an issue, and out the boat will go, much more regularly. I am really looking forward to pulling in that first big 900mm Barra.

    Out boating Out boating Out boating Out boating Out boating Out boating

    There is plenty more to talk about, the beach, Airforce Hill, Chris going out with the local ladies to collect leaves to make Dilly bags and much more, but you will have to wait until next month. We are heading off to Darwin this coming weekend (3rd May) which will be great. The smell of civilisation (or is that pollution) is only days away. May will be busy for us as we are having a few visitors coming to stay, as well as a couple of small trips away planned. Should be fun.
    Talk to you again next month.

    Life's an Ocean, Get out there and Sail It.