Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the road again

It's amazing how quickly human beings can put down roots. We've been in Broome for almost three months and in that time have become a part of the Broome community. Jazzy and Finn have been going to Roebuck Primary School, making friends, having "play dates", going on school camps and winning awards presented in front of the school assembly. Finn has played a half season of footy with the Saints, fit into the side well and become their first ruckman. We've become regulars at the Dragonfly Cafe to such an extent that when Tori told them yesterday that we were leaving, they gave her free coffee and cake as a farewell. And of course we've had a baby who was born here and will be forever linked with Broome. But now we are off. Miraculously the van is packed and everything seems to fit. We arrived here with four of us and are leaving with five. The extra person may be the smallest, but with him comes a bassinet, a stroller, a baby bath and multiple packages of nappies, baby wipes, nappy disposal bags, baby formula and bottles. We've picked up significant extra baggage here. At the moment Kim is sleeping with the bassinet located on the van table. He is only just over eight weeks old but is growing so quickly that he is almost as long as the white wicker basket in which he resides. I'm not sure where he will sleep when he has outgrown that. That's a thought for another time. And with him there is also less room in the car. His baby seat takes up one side of the car so Jaz and Finn are now a little more crammed in the back. Being in Broome has provided opportunity for significant preparations for the road ahead. The car has had a large roof rack fitted along with an awning that comes out from the side, allowing for a shady spot to be created anywhere. We've also fitted new suspension so that the car is ready for some more serious off road adventures. The Gibb River Road is notoriously treacherous with many areas of severe corrugations and also sharp rocks waiting to claim a tyre. With this in mind we are now also equipped with an extra spare tyre up on the roof and a set of tyre pliers in the boot to fit it to an existing rim should the need arise. That goes with our other recovery gear of snatch straps, bow shackles, maxtrax planks for placing under tyres in case we get bogged somewhere and a good old fashioned spade. I'm hoping that we don't need any of this stuff. It seems that the greatest enemy of the driver on the Gibb is complacency. I have to try and maintain my discipline and not travel any faster than 50km/h with my tyres down around 28psi. I'll be attempting to successfully negotiate this road while pulling three and a half tonnes of caravan behind. We've ummed and aahed about our itinerary from here. In the end we have decided that we will not drive the full length of the Gibb but will just drive in a couple of hundred kilometres, visit some select locations such as Bell Gorge and Mornington Wilderness Camp before doubling back to Windjana Gorge and then down to Fitzroy Crossing and along the Great Northern Highway to Kununurra via the Bungles. That means that we won't be going on to the famed Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls. It just seems like a major commitment in off road driving along with significant hiking in 32 degree plus days to get to the falls. It doesn't sound that much fun while carrying a small baby. This location will have to wait for another time before we visit. Hopefully the plateau will still be in the same pristine state as it is today. Large deposits of bauxite have been found there which makes its future problematic. But it looks like it will be granted a world heritage listing which should save it. In fact large chunks of the Kimberley currently seem under threat of being destroyed to make way for industrialisation.
During our time in Broome the biggest local issue has been the plan to establish a gas processing plant at James Price Point just up the coast. The large Woodside Corporation have been placed firmly as the villain of the piece, along with the Western Australian government for allowing such a development to go ahead. Enormous reserves of liquefied natural gas have been found off the coast at Browse Basin and it seems that billions, perhaps trillions of dollars are there to be made. The Japanese have apparently signed a deal with Woodside to use their gas to replace all of the nuclear power plants in Japan with gas based electricity plants. That means huge huge dollars. Only certain sectors of the local indigenous communities have been involved in the sign off for using "their" land for this development. This has created major disharmony between the communities. The state government put pressure on them to sign an agreement saying that if they couldn't find a way forward, they would just compulsorily acquire the land. The opposition to the development, which is slowly spreading throughout the country, is based on keeping one of the last true wilderness areas in Australia and respecting traditional aboriginal country. There is certain to be ecological damage of some sort or another if it goes ahead, the question is just how much. The opposition groups are not against the harvesting of the gas but would rather that an alternative to the Kimberley be found for the processing plant, specifically down at one of the already industrialised towns of the Pilbara such as Karatha or Port Hedland. The fear is that if the plant goes ahead at James Price Point, there will then be a port located in the Kimberley making further mining viable in the region. It seems to me that the protestors are likely fighting a losing battle. There is just too much money at stake for the powers that be.
If it all goes ahead the Kimberley will be irreversibly changed. If Jaz and Finn come back with their kids in the future, in all likelihood the Gibb River Road will be sealed all the way to Kununurra. The whale and turtle breeding grounds will probably be gone from the Dampier Peninsula and the numbers of other animals inhabiting the area will have significantly diminished. The gas reserve will likely be running out by then so it will be important to find further industry to replace it. We seem to be currently poised right at the thin end of the wedge. It will take some political miracle for this to be turned around.

The potential future of the Kimberley is all a bit too bleak to think about if things go the wrong way. Right now it is still crisp and clean and I'm looking forward excitedly to exploring this great part of the country. There are still gorges to visit, water holes to swim in, wildlife to see and areas that are difficult to access meaning they are not over touristed. I've finally worked out my satellite internet system so will be able to work in these beautiful surrounds while making the most of them when I'm finished up for the day and on the weekends. Home schooling will be starting up again, though I'm not sure how that is going to work. Tori will need to balance her lessons between Kim's feeding sessions.
There are some days where he constantly demands her attention so I'm guessing that school will be out during those times. Mostly I'm just looking forward to the five of us being back on our own again and experiencing some new places together. With our life in Broome, we all spread out into various activities away from each other. To be once more on the road means that it will again be just us. With our new member of us. Farewell Broome. See you again some day.

1 comment:

Gregg said...

Wow guys you'll have 'home' all over Oz when you've finished. And nice to see someone who know is villain of the 'piece' and not 'peace'.