Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kimberley time

Kimberley time is the phrase used up in this part of Australia to describe the laid back and slow paced way in which things tend to happen around here. But for me the time seems to be raging past at warp speed. In the last week and a bit, mum has come for a visit and then gone again, I've had my first foray down the Gibb River Road to Windjana Gorge to see a play performed, the kids have gone back to school, I attended a mass protest against the planned gas processing plant at James Price Point, have caught up a couple of times with a colleague from the old Tandem days, Kim has raced to the end of his fourth week in the outside world, work has continued on its relentless way and all this while operating at around forty percent efficiency thanks to sleep deprivation brought on by the aforementioned young human insisting on screaming through large sections of night. On the Friday morning I snapped and took out out the screen of my laptop with a right cross that had me channeling Mike Tyson. It had been a day of such frustration that I even considered biting the ear off it as well if only I could have found one. The laptop had been provoking me for some time. Randomly changing the window I was on. Moving the cursor to different and unexpected parts of the screen. And my all time favorite, just hanging there, unresponsive to the press of any key. No matter how hard the key was pressed. Or pounded. Now if I was in another part of the country, I could have taken the laptop back to where I bought it. It was after all only three months old and still under warranty. But this is Broome and the closest branch of the shop I purchased the computer from is more than 2,000 kilometres away. Fueled on a night of only several hours broken sleep, when the machine froze for the third time in ten minutes I could take it no more and my fist crashed into the 15.6" screen driven by a NVIDIA NVS 5100 graphics card with 1 GB GDDR3 dedicated video memory with all the might that I could muster. It didn't have a chance and was laid out flat in a portrait mode that I didn't even realise this model laptop was capable of. It resembled more a tablet model really. As I stared at the mangled HP display, which now displayed a permanent but attractive blue abstract pattern in a 3D mode that other manufacturers would be jealous of, I realised that my working week was over. And so with that my weekend was ushered in slightly early and my spirits immediately began to lift.

The Gibb River Road holds a kind of mystical quality for travellers. It is an unsealed road that travels more than 750km through the heart of the Kimberley, one of the last great wildernesses of Australia. During the wet season, which recently was from November through May, the road is more or less closed. The rivers run high and flow fast, creeks flood to become lakes and waterways spring up where previously was dry land. The road becomes impassable and takes a battering from the elements. It needs to be graded to become traversible again even for the sturdiest four wheel drive vehicle. Even in the dry the road has its challenges. Potholes disguised with bulldust, pointy stones and rocks waiting to puncture a tyre, violent dips in the road that appear without warning. We've been planning to take the van down the Gibb River Road for some time and have been met with the full gamut of stories ranging from those saying we'd have no trouble to those who believe we should seek psychiatric help for even thinking of taking a van down there. Let alone with a relatively new born baby. So to have reason to drive at least a section of the road prior to taking the van down was an excellent opportunity to see for myself. Our initial destination was Windjana Gorge to see a production of the play Jandamarra.This is based on the true story of an aboriginal boy who came to lead a somewhat successful revolt against the white settlers and who is held in spiritual regard within the indigenous communities. The events in this historical account all took part in the Kimberley around Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. So to see the play set against the backdrop of the gorge was a spectacular and unique experience. Being a couple of hundred kilometres from the nearest town made the staging of the play here even more impressive. It also meant that we would all spend a night camping in the gorge. Tori had felt that crowding six of us (including mum) into a small tent was not an ideal way to spend a weekend and so she had decided that her and Kim would stay back in Broome. Bridget likewise stayed home due to the continuous staffing issues that they are facing in their shop. So mum, Jaz, Finn and I made the journey with Marty, Oskar, Rav and Amy (who is up from southern WA and is now also staying in the house). The play was followed by a campfire drinking session with Shane (who organised the tickets) and a group of his friends. People retiring to their tents for the night as tiredness or the alcohol finally set in. At 72 years old, it was the first time mum had been camping and spent a night in a tent. The next day we had a proper exploration of the gorge and the Lennard River with its multitude of fresh water crocodiles. The kids swam through the water to a giant boulder, which they proceeded to climb and ultimately decided to use as a diving platform in which to launch themselves into the crocodiled water some 20 feet below. Finn conquered any fear of the crocs (they may be generally passive, but if you swam into one a freshie would still give you a nasty bite) but came undone on my old favourite. The fear of heights. He did better than I would have and made it to the top of the boulder, but when it came time to jump, he just froze. I recognised the situation well. I remember freezing myself halfway up a steep cliff when I was about his age. All of my friends clambered up as easy as anything. But I was stuck. I couldn't see how to go either up or down and was certain that my jelly legs wouldn't support me and I'd fall. Eventually a good friend managed to talk me down by showing me exactly where to put my feet. And in the end, that is exactly the course that Finn took. Rav showed him the path down step by step and he slowly made his way back to the water below. It's bad enough having a serious phobia of your own but seeing it replicated in your son is equally bad. I felt for him. Jazzy had spent a few anguished moments peering over the edge before she could bring herself to leap off. But having conquered the fear and receiving the inevitable adrenaline rush that follows, she was back up the top to go again in no time. After the ordeal on the rock we left Windjana and continued on down the particularly dodgy road for a wander through Tunnel Creek and ultimately on to Fitzroy Crossing, where we stayed the night at The Crossing Inn which Shane manages. This "road" made the section of Gibb River Road we'd driven down seem like a regular highway. The road alternated between serious corrugations, deep sand and a number of water crossings. It was the first time that I've really put the car through anything major. With the newly acquired off road suspension, the Landcruiser did it easy. And I believe that if I take it slow and adjust my tyre pressure accordingly that the van would also have no problems. It seems in essence that it's a concentration thing really and the ability to not panic if you happen to meet a road train coming the other way on a section of narrow road. One slip of the mind and you could be lying in a ditch. And in a location far from mobile phone reception and not traversed by a lot of vehicles. That is where the danger lies. Nevertheless, this foray has given me confidence and an excitement to explore some of this amazing countryside in the far north of Western Australia. I'm looking forward now to when we depart Broome and kick back more fully in Kimberley time.

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