Monday, September 26, 2011

Up the Duncan

We first heard about the Duncan Road from a couple we met at Tunnel Creek. “There’s an unsealed road that runs from Halls Creek through to Kununurra round the back of the Bungle Bungles”, they said. “A much more beautiful drive through the Kimberley than up the Great Northern Hwy. But we’re in a camper trailer. You’ll never get your caravan into the camping spots along the Duncan. Too rough. Too up and down”. They had sold their house and had been travelling around Australia for fourteen months with their two young daughters. They were looking for somewhere new to live and carried with them an air of superiority that they were the real deal and others were on a less significant adventure. Much like the backpackers that you meet through Asia who claim that they are “travellers” as distinct from being “tourists”. The places that they go to are inaccessible or unavailable to you and are always much more beautiful than anywhere you’ve ever been or are likely to go. Their quest is somehow far more noble and important than your own. I always find this interesting because they are also treading the path of thousands before them, with maps and guide books at their disposal. I couldn’t help but feel that these people at Tunnel Creek fitted into this mode and were perhaps giving us misleading information so as to place us lower on the traveller pecking order. I put the question out to the Bushtracker owners forum on the net and got a few replies indicating that our type of van should have no problem along the Duncan as they had previously made the same journey. Unlike others who may feel that they need to be the first to go somewhere or do something, I prefer to know that somebody else has been there before and take advice from them. I’m not really much of an explorer. So I was buoyed by this information and we set the course of Utopia for the Duncan Road.

There are small pockets of time on a big trip where everything seems to come together. The first three days on the Duncan was such a time. Travelling across the corrugations and avoiding the pot holes seemed natural now and in some way more normal than driving along the bitumen. We free camped the first night at Caroline Pool, a beautiful fresh water swimming hole and we had the place to ourselves. We moved on the next morning to Palm Springs, a naturally fed spring that used to be the water supply for the old town of Halls Creek back in the gold rush days. Fringed by banana palms planted long ago, it appears like an oasis in the middle of an already spectacular countryside. We all swam and splashed around together in the cool water or sat under the warm spring water flowing from the rocks forming a natural spa. The kids climbed the rocks and trees and launched themselves into the water. Tori sat in the water holding Kim. With a campfire blazing under the stars and again with the place to ourselves, we decided to have a bit of a family jam and made a good cacophony of guitar, blues harp, tambourine and Aboriginal clap sticks. We felt very close as a family with everybody getting along well and all of us feeling there was no place we’d rather be. It couldn’t be any better. 

The next morning I climbed to the top of the large hill behind where we were camped. It was early and I had no takers for my offer, so I ventured up solo to survey the spectacular 360 degree views over the valleys and gorges below. When living in a caravan with four other people, it is quite difficult to obtain any time alone, so I relished this small opportunity for a piece of solitude. After a morning swim we moved on to check out Sawpit Gorge, one of the places that our Tunnel Creek friends had told us that we would find inaccessible. The van cruised down comfortably into the upper camping ground, though I thought it prudent not to push it and we didn’t venture further down across the creek. We had a quick look around Sawpit Gorge, but as we’d only travelled about 50km up the Duncan and had 450km to go to get to Kununurra, we thought we’d move on.

One of the places that all of the Bushtracker folk had mentioned to stop at was Marella Gorge. This is a gorge on the Nicholson River and is contained on a large cattle station, effectively somebody’s private property. The owners are happy for people to stop and camp there but permission is required. I had tried to contact the owners prior to us heading up the Duncan but only got through to their answer machine. Now well and truly out of mobile phone range, we weren’t sure what to do, or even if we could find the place. After driving the hundred or so kilometres to where we thought it should be, we came across an unsigned dirt track turnoff. Feeling this may be it we ventured on up and came to a gate that had an unobtrusive sign indicating that we were in the right place. Through the gate and a couple of kilometres in, the red track became a little problematic. It also split off in a couple of directions. Not really sure what lay ahead, I got out with Finn to walk down and have a look. The first track led down a steep stony path but came out right next to the river. There was a rope swing hanging over the water from a branch and another piece of rope dangling into the water to assist swimmers in climbing back on to the shore. The area was shaded by large trees and it was hard to think of a place more idyllic. Finn and I walked back up to the other path which led to the top of the gorge. It was quite a spectacular view but was totally exposed with no shade whatsoever. Being so late in the dry season the water up at that end of the gorge was mostly gone and the little pools didn’t seem at all inviting for swimming. 

We decided that the spot by the river was the go for us. I walked back down it just to make sure that we would be able to get the van out if we took the descent. All seemed ok and so I slowly edged the van down the steep hill and pulled in beside the river. Again we were on our own. Running off our solar charged batteries, water tanks loaded up, no facilities whatsoever for the last few days, it truly felt like “proper” camping. Need a crap? There’s the spade. Go and dig a hole. As soon as we’d set up we were into the river. Launching off the rope swing and splashing around with abandon. The climate is so hot up in the Kimberley. Even in the “cooler” dry season. We had hit a period where the temperatures were soaring every day to around 36 degrees so being camped near water was a necessity, needing the ability to jump in and cool off at regular intervals. I clambered out of the river and left the kids to continue their water play and went to join Tori who was sitting about 20 metres down the bank. “Have a look across at that bank”, she said. ”Do you think that’s a crocodile? Or is it a stick?”. Must be a stick, I replied trying to see what she was seeing. “Look it’s moving. Perhaps it’s a water monitor”. Yes it must be a water monitor, I responded. I’d seen quite a few of them over the last couple of days at our other camp sites. Nevertheless, I went to the car to retrieve the binoculars just to make sure. And there through the lenses, it was clear. There was a large crocodile on the bank. I panned across the water just out from where we were sitting and slowly counted fourteen crocodiles. They looked like freshies, but it seemed a pretty big assumption to make. I scanned around looking for the telltale long snouts and felt reassured that they were indeed freshwater crocodiles. And it seemed unlikely that the owners would have put a rope swing out into the water if there were salties around. Unless it was part of some macabre practical joke. I walked up to where the kids were, out on the bank in between launches into the river. I suggested they look through the binoculars across the bank and tell me what they could see. “A crocodile!”, exclaimed Jazzy. “We’re swimming in crocodile infested waters”, she cheerily shouted as she jumped back in to the river.

And so the perfection continued, right up until it was time to leave. I walked up the three tracks that were possible routes out of the camping spot and started to feel a little nervous. I realised that the stones on the tracks were looser than I'd first thought. One track seemed too steep to pull the van up. Another had curves that seemed too tight to negotiate the van through without toppling over the edge. And the other was up over a giant boulder that looked like it may cause damage to the underside of the van. After a lot of consternation, I finally decided that I'd try the first option and head straight up the steep path that we had come in on. So I gave myself as much of a run up as I could and with 4WD engaged and Tori and the kids looking on from a safe distance, I gave it all I had. About half way up everything came to a halt. My wheels were spinning and my head started to as well when I realised I was stuck halfway up a hill that now seemed frighteningly steep. I know that it defies logic and the laws of physics, but suspended there at that angle, it felt like the car could almost flip back over itself and the van with everything cartwheeling down the hill. I reversed back down gingerly and got out to see where I had become stuck. It was quite clear. Where my wheels had hit a rock in the path, all of the loose stones had just spun away. There seemed no way that I could get the momentum required to get past that point without any traction. I expect that a more experienced four wheel driver or van puller would have had more chance of success, but I felt it was beyond me. And the ordeal of being stuck halfway up such a steep hill didn't sit well with my anxiety of heights. The second option now seemed fraught with even more danger. If the stones were that loose, with the wide path I'd need to take to get the van around the curves, there was a strong likelihood that the van would just slide or topple sideways down the hill. Now I really started to worry. We were 150km from Halls Creek. 350km from Kununurra. Two or three kilometres off the main road; a road on which we'd seen maybe three other vehicles on the drive up. No mobile phone reception. Nobody knew we were there. And we were there without permission. I started to discuss with Tori what she would do if everything came unstuck badly and I was left lying at the bottom of the hill under a pile of car and van. To her credit, she remained calm and confident. She even laughed when I suggested that perhaps I should put on my bike helmet just in case. I decided to go for the least likely option; over an enormous boulder but with much less of an incline on the approach. It seemed touch and go as to whether the van would have the clearance and damage was a definite possibility, but at least I wouldn't topple off the edge from this angle. And second time lucky, I got over the boulder and closer to the entrance with the van appearing to be unscathed. But I was still facing the wrong way to get around on to the path, wheels still spinning on stones, seemingly stuck for a while longer.

It had already been three stressful hours and it seemed there were another one or two at least in front of us until I could manage to back and forward enough times to change the angle sufficiently to be able to get out. That was if I could even manage to do it at all. When all of a sudden, a vehicle emerged from above. Like an angel descending, with a winch at the front. Ash and Amy had just come to look down this way as an afterthought while looking for somewhere to camp. And thank goodness for that. After assessing the situation, Ash attached a snatch strap to the back of his car and to the front of mine. Essentially he just dragged the front of my car to point in the right direction while I drove for all I was worth to get some traction. On the third attempt, we were out. I was so relieved I felt like kissing him, but managed just to hold back. After a celebratory beer, we were out and back on the road. So so relieved. And an hour down the road we got a puncture. Perhaps a weakness caused by the tyres spinning over the stones. Perhaps hitting something sharp on the Duncan. I couldn't really tell. But the tyre was as flat as a tyre can be. So already exhausted and with the sun going down I jacked up the car and changed the tyre. That had been enough for one day, so 50km further up the road, in pitch black, we pulled off the road at the Negri River to spend the night.

The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed. After the ordeal of the day before, surely today would be better. There was only another 150km or so to Kununurra, the last 50km of which was the Victoria Highway, back on the bitumen. And it was just on reaching the Victoria that we got puncture number two. As I'd already used the car's one spare wheel, I was going to have to put the spare tyre I'd been carrying on the roof on to the rim of one of the flats. So everybody was ushered out of the car again. The car was jacked up and I was struggling in the hot sun with the tyre pliers, trying to remove the flat tyre from the rim. That was when Finn called over to me. "Dad, I feel really weird. I can't see properly. Everything's going fuzzy. I CAN'T SEE..." and with that he fell over backwards and passed out, smacking his head on the ground as he landed. When he fell, he had pulled down the handle of Kim's stroller, which he had been holding and completely upended it. Kim wasn't strapped in and so he slid head first down to the roof of the stroller which was now pointing downward. My heavy Nikon camera, at least in its case, fell from where it had been resting on the edge of the stroller and on to Kim. It all felt a little surreal. I rushed over while screaming for Tori to come and help. I picked up the stroller and could see that Kim appeared ok albeit a little stunned. I then raced to Finn who had come to after being out for only a couple of seconds. He was very dazed and so I took him over to the side of the van to have a seat and some water.

And that is when we truly entered the bizarre. Jazzy, who had been inside the van with Tori and had been seemingly ok only seconds earlier, also passed out, falling flat on her back and smashing her head into the van floor. All kids down and out in a matter of minutes is not something a parent really wants to see. I guess it was the heat and not enough water but it seemed a very strange series of events. Jaz also came round quite quickly, but was much less calm than Finn, bordering on the hysterical. And I still had a flat tyre to deal with. I decided to dispatch with the tyre pliers and instead used one of the spares from the van. Different size wheels, but I figured that it would get us away much quicker and I'd just limp the car and van into town. When we finally arrived and got set up, I couldn't get to the pub quickly enough to have an ice cold beer in celebratory relief that we'd finally made it to town.

So the trip down the Duncan had been some experience. It started amazingly and finished with a bit of a negative twist. The beginning was so great and everybody was ultimately fine in the end, so I guess I'd have to say that the trip was worth it. But if somebody had have mapped it out for me prior to it happening and offered me that sequence of events, I expect I would have declined. Kununurra now becomes a pit stop. A place to have the tyres fixed, recharge my own energy and get some work done now that I'm back in phone reception. And really just breathe another sigh of relief that that ordeal is all over.


Friday, September 23, 2011

This is Saints Footy

Back in Warrandyte we would periodically get sucked into nights of lying on the couch in front of the tele. It‘s such an easy diversion. Finish a day of work. Kids in bed. Lie on the couch. Watch tele until bedtime. Going for the second or third lap of all 5,000 Foxtel channels at the end of the evening to find that nothing decent has come on since the last flick through and you’re back once more at the end of the road. Or as it’s more commonly known, on the country music channel. For nights on end this would go on. It seems in this manner that life just passes you by. You may know plenty about what’s going on in Afghanistan, or who is the latest master chef, or who did what to whom and with what, but after 6pm, real life mostly doesn’t happen any more for you. One of the high points of van living on the road has been the diminishing role of television in all of our lives. We have a TV in the van but it generally just sits there folded up against the wall completely out of action. Superseded by the Uno cards or the Rumicub tiles. That is of course until the footy is on. There are some addictions I just can’t break no matter how hard I try. And Aussie rules football is pretty close to the top of the list. I’m addicted to footy. Or more specifically, I’m addicted to the St.Kilda football club. So somehow through the duration of this season while travelling thousands of kilometres across Australia in a van, we have always managed to find somewhere to watch St.Kilda’s games. The only game we missed for the season was the one against Melbourne, when we went out to swim with the whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef instead. And what an up and down season it was for the Saints. Off field drama. On field lows and highs and lows again. Supporting the Saints has seemed like this forever. Just sometimes with even more lows than highs.

My father is to blame. After coming over from America as a 14 year old, he grew up in Elwood and was told at school there were those who barracked for St.Kila and those who would fail English. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of going to the footy with my father, my uncle, my cousins and various others. Somehow about 10 of us would squeeze in to 6 reserved seats up in the Member’s stand at Moorabbin. In those days nobody ever asked for tickets. I would often bring a friend or two along and we’d all just squash up a bit more to accommodate the extra people. We had the same people sitting around us every week for years so nobody was ever really bothered. Perhaps except for the redheaded lady in front of us who we all united against in derision of the fact that she seemed to have it in for Allan Davis. At half time the thermos would come out full of either tomato soup or hot chocolate. And the Chocolate Royal biscuits would be passed up the aisle. And while St.Kilda have never achieved the ultimate success of a premiership win in my more than 40 years of following the club, I have still experienced so much joy in watching them play. So many champions. So many great moments. A breakthrough win against a team we hadn’t beaten for years. The grace of Trevor Barker as he rose above all around to pluck the ball from the heavens while perched high on somebody’s shoulders. The invincibility of Tony Lockett as he overwhelmed his opponents with skill and brute force to regularly kick big bags of goals, even when we would get smashed over the rest of the ground. The air of fear that Carl Ditterich visibly instilled in opposing players as they looked over their shoulders wondering if Big Carl was going to knock them out today. The excitement of Nicky Winmar as he raced through the centre of the ground looking to spear the ball forward to a target. Or the day at Victoria Park where he lifted his jumper and pointed to his black skin after receiving continued racial taunts from the feral Collingwood fans. A rare victory for us at that ground.  Then of course there are the clowns. Those that provide so much frustration that it borders on the humourous. Jason Daniels, a footballer who seemed less adept at kicking a football than an average ten year old. Spider Everitt who would just stand lazily in the middle of the ground and watch his opponent drift forward to kick a goal. Raph Clarke, who just when he seems to have turned the corner with some great courage and desperation gives the ball over to the opposition in the most elementary and comical fashion. Rod Owen who was blessed with so much ability but who mostly just preferred to drink in the bar and try to shag any girl who came in. And of course the bigger clowns off the field. The ones that have been responsible for the running of the club over various periods. One wonders if some of them could have run a children’s birthday party, which I guess at times the club has resembled. There has always been so much controversy off the field. Having your best player in a bar room punch-up with the club president is not particularly ideal.
Supporters of other clubs seem at a loss to understand how St.Kilda fans can be so passionate and so loyal. Only one premiership in 114 seasons is as dismal a return of any club. And finishing on the bottom of the ladder more than any other team in the competition by quite some way. Yet St.Kilda fans are defiantly loyal. Fanatical to the extreme. It’s as if a challenge was passed down. How much torment can you take and still remain loyal? Fortius quo fidelius is the clubs motto. Strength through loyalty. And that loyalty is continually tested. It’s easy to support a team that has regular success. It takes more character to stay committed to a team that never sees any. It also creates for a very strong camaraderie between the fans and with that, a great deal of humour. After two seasons of coming so close to the elusive premiership, only to fail in the end due to the random bounce of the oval ball in the dying stages of each Grand Final, this season was always going to be difficult. Especially with the embarrassing scandal of naked photographs of the captain in a strangely compromising pose with another player appearing on the net prior to the season and an even more incriminating photo of a less endowed star, who seemed to be taking matters into his own hands. Along with the rape trial of a celebrated recruit and an “under age” girl who claimed she had had sex with half the footy team. And the media love to go along for the ride. The myth is continually pushed and perpetuated by the media. They love for St.Kilda to be the club of dubious culture. The girl portrayed as the “St.Kilda school girl” who actually went out with Dane Beams of Collingwood for as long as she was with any “saint”. Andrew Lovett who was regularly referred to as a St.Kilda player during his rape case, even though he never actually played a game for St.Kilda. The scandals of players drinking and doing drugs pre-season being symptomatic of St.Kilda’s culture, yet player drinking and drug taking at other clubs is seen more as an aberration, even though it occurs with the same frequency. It’s all just part of the pantomime of AFL footy. Each club has its stereotypical identity, however close or far from the truth it may currently be. And so another season has now come to end for the Saints. After a dismal start, they miraculously made the finals against all odds. And then were bundled out in the first final without really giving a whimper. More disappointment of another season unfulfilled. Yet, it will end similarly for the fans of fifteen of the other clubs also. Despite claims of “improvement” and “we did well given the circumstances of our injuries”, every season inevitably ends in disappointment for all fans except for those of the premiership team. But it doesn’t stop everybody from rocking up again the following year for another hopeful season. And with the Saints there is always hope. Even when it appears without foundation. Even with the bombshell now of the coach unexpectedly quitting the club and seeking riches in another state. Even with the exodus of other key off field staff. Even with the club seemingly in turmoil with no coach and an aging list. Even with rumours of star players having signed on to the new Sydney team for season 2013. Even with a stadium deal that somehow results in us having to pay money for using the ground rather than making money from attendances. We, the supporters of the club, will still be there to spur on our team, to argue with each other about who should be cut from the list and who should be given a run, to shake our heads when the courageous but flawed captain misses another crucial shot at goal, to marvel when one of our guns does something miraculous, and to celebrate when we triumph against the odds and the expectations of the rest of the football public. This truly is Saints footy. 


Off the beaten track

After playing it conservatively with a pregnant Tori and tending to stay on the bitumen and in proximity of towns with phone reception, we decided to be far more adventurous with a nine week old baby and headed off along the Gibb River Road and into the heart of the Kimberley. It felt great to be back on the road again and travelling to new destinations even though I was slightly nervous to be doing so with a large van behind. Apart from a few rough tracks and the occasional sand road, I'd done all of my previous off road driving without the van attached. Hundreds of kilometres of unsealed roads in questionable shape is a completely new proposition. And to places that are far more remote than we had been. “Will you be taking a gun with you?” was a frighteningly regular question put to me before we left Melbourne on our trip. Having never owned a gun in my life, it had never ever occurred to me that I may need a gun. Why would I take I gun? I didn’t even know you could buy a gun in Australia these days. “Well… if some crazy out there in the outback comes to give you some grief, you’ll have something with which to defend yourself”. Having so far managed to escape most situations in life without having to resort to physical violence or firearms, it never even dawned on me. Neither had the situation where one might come in handy. That was until a vodka and spliff enhanced night around the campfire with Steve and Heather, a couple who like us had taken their son out of school for a period to go travelling around Australia. “I saw this bloke in Derby the other day”, said Steve, “who looked like the Peter Falconio guy”. That is, the bloke who ruthlessly murdered the English tourist in the combi van somewhere in central Australia, while his girlfriend Joanna Lees somehow managed to escape into the desert night. “He had that hardened leathery face that was full of menace from underneath his big cowboy hat. He glared at me in a way that sent chills through me. I was just happy that my car kept on going and I didn’t break down somewhere in the vicinity of this guy. But you know… he’s out there. Somewhere around here”. It was our second night off the Gibb River Road, in the idyllically named Silent Grove campground near the beautiful Bell Gorge But I didn’t sleep easy that night. I kept waking with thoughts of meeting a  homicidal maniac somewhere on a remote dusty track. So far on the journey we’d spent most of our time on the coasts. Across the bottom of South Australia and then up the west coast for thousands of miles of beautiful white sand beaches.  And we’d stayed largely in caravan parks, which come with a sense of civilization and order along with the toilet and shower blocks. But now we were entering the interior of Australia and were camping in random locations on the side of the road or in national park campgrounds in the heart of the Kimberley and a long way from any town. A beautiful beautiful part of the country, but much more wild than the coast in every respect. And while this wildness and sense of adventure is what we and everybody else comes to this part of the country for, it is undoubtedly very isolated and if you start to consider the isolation it can become daunting.

For the most part, none of this has really entered the picture. This region is one that I was looking forward to spending a lot of time in and finally it has come. While Tori was pregnant, there seemed more need to be cautious as she was physically limited and carrying a fragile cargo around inside her. Now the little person is out and while we still have to carry him, it’s quite apparent when he’s uncomfortable or not enjoying himself and he essentially seems reasonably hardy. I have enjoyed the amazing countryside that has unfolded before us driving down the corrugated tracks and then walking out to places of majestic beauty. Kim has been transported along in a “hugabub” which is a type of fabric sling that has him held close and firmly to the chests of either Tori or me depending on who is doing the carrying. A day of swimming and lounging around at Bell Gorge with Steve, Heather and their son Kelly surrounded by a red rock cliff face with teeming waterfall was a major highlight. The Mornington Wilderness Camp, 100km south of the Gibb River Road was another beautifully peaceful place to spend a few days. To me the areas that we’ve been haven’t actually seemed that remote. Even though they are hundreds of kilometres from any town, way off the beaten track and Google Maps doesn't seem to have much clue about them. In these days of modern communications, the national parks such as Windjana, Bell Gorge and so on all have a public pay phone thanks to Telstra. And an airstrip. I guess if something went wrong and you had to wait an extended period for assistance in a crisis it would feel very far away. But it doesn’t seem anywhere near as isolated as it must have twenty years ago, before any of these facilities were in place and before so many people were making the journey. Tori became somewhat concerned when we got to Tunnel Creek, questioning the sense of carrying a new born baby while wading through waste high water across slippery rocks, in a pitch black tunnel lit only by the torches that we carried. I’ve tended not to want to dwell on whether we should or shouldn't be taking a baby to these places and instead enjoy the adventure in one of Australia’s last great wildernesses.

The four wheel driving aspect of the journey has been exciting. Without really having had much experience in conditions like this, I initially started very cautiously. Now that I have warmed into it, I’ve become more confident and feel pretty capable of dealing with most of the road conditions we are likely to meet. Driving through the creek crossings. Hopping up boulders. Cruising through sand. Crossing creeks and waterways. The Toyota Landcruiser (dubbed Sainter due to its number plate) has performed fantastically well. The new tyres and suspension as well as a roof rack have proved to be excellent purchases. I feel that we have been well prepared for the journey. The van too has performed well, sitting nicely behind the car and so far having no trouble whatsoever with the terrain. I need to ensure that my confidence doesn’t become cockiness. It is clear that respect of the terrain is tantamount to successful driving in these conditions.

The predominant feature of the Kimberley is the pindan; the red dirt that the Australian outback is famous for. It is the finest of fine red sand that coats everything and seems to sit in a perpetual state of suspension in the air. It has a sweetness to its smell and is a predominant scent of the Kimberley as it finds its way continually up your nose. It gets into everything. You wake up in the morning and it’s all you can smell. On travelling down to Windjana Gorge, I discovered that the back window had not been properly closed. Thanks to the layer of pindan wedged in the top, it had not sealed and was effectively left open creating a nice little vent through which the van could be filled with dust. And filled it was. Particularly Jazzy’s bed which was completely coated. Her doona, pillow, bunny and assortment of various clothes and junk that seem to share her bed had all turned orangy red. And on the outside of the van the pindan had mixed with the grease on the van hitch to form a gloopy red and black mass of gunk that doesn’t seem conducive to the best functioning of critical machinery. The van suspension has taken on a squeaky sound at times as the pindan has lodged between the wide metal leaves. Not much chance for a quiet shag when the kids are asleep as with every movement of the van, a loud groaning sound emanates from the springs and across the campground regardless of any other groaning sounds that may be coming from the occupants. And everything is completely dried out. Nostrils. Lips. Eyes. Hands. When another vehicle comes to pass along the road, it is followed by a cloud of dust so severe that it is impossible to see more than a few feet. Not what you want on a road that could present you with a jagged boulder or deep pothole at any turn. We have our routine pretty well worked out now on getting the vents closed if being approached by another vehicle. Usually you will see the large billows of dust approaching before you see the vehicle. Windows up, air conditioning off, vents closed. A few moments of stifling heat before the relief of fresh air and a layer of pindan can once more be let in when the vehicle and dust cloud have passed. Some dust will still always get in. On occasions, such as when a particularly long and ladened road train thunders by, it is impossible to see at all and necessary to come to a complete stop for a couple of minutes until the air has cleared sufficiently enough to see. 

The abundance of wildlife has been one of the other major features of the Kimberley. Snakes, large monitor lizards, kangaroos, wallabies, bats, crocodiles, stray cattle of all sorts of weird varieties, frogs and a huge assortment of birds have all been prevalent. Driving at night is hazardous as much of the larger wildlife seems more active then. It is standard to come around a bend and have a wild herd of brahman cows standing in the middle of the road. And of course there are the corrugations. We have all got used to them now. Even Kim. He just sleeps through the bouncing and rocking of the car.  Every now and then they set up a rhythmic pattern through the car that seems to perpetuate itself onwards and increase the intensity of the shaking with every corrugation until your teeth and everything else in the car is rattling uncontrollably. The only course of action then is to stop completely, let everything and everyone settle and then start off again. The van must be extremely well built to survive these corrugations. Occasionally we will find a light bulb has unscrewed itself from a socket or something similar, but on the whole it has remained unscathed. The only casualty was the microwave some months back, which was fine for us anyway as it was only being used as a defrosting cupboard. It was never even turned on, just essentially a well insulated cupboard that we could throw some frozen meat into and know that it would defrost and not start cooking in the heat of the van while we were off for the day. The gap where the microwave used to be is now taken up by a box with Kim's clothes, so it has been a useful customisation. We have needed the extra space. All of Kim's stuff takes up so much room. We still haven't really worked out where to store everything to best effect. It's ok when we're travelling and it's ok when we're fully set up somewhere. The trouble is during our transitory stops for a night here or there. The tiny toilet room has been unused for months. It now usually has a load of dirty washing, a baby bath and a box of shoes blocking the way. As well as the upended shoe rack, optimistically purchased at one stage to try and create order out of the chaos of everybody's shoes which seemed to occupy all corners of the van. Brushing teeth involves squeezing past these items to try and get to the sink. It's not ideal but I guess we'll eventually work it out. 

All in all our home has been very comfortable. And the ability to relocate it from one beautiful location to the next is truly amazing. And of course it's also my mobile office. On this journey up the Gibb my satellite dish truly came into its own. There is no phone or wireless internet reception for hundreds of kilometres, but I was still able to work. Writing emails to large corporations in Singapore or Japan or other parts of Australia while looking through the trees to the enormous cliff wall of a gorge is quite amazing. The ever changing view from my office has been a major highlight as has been the ability to work in the great outdoors, even though I essentially have an office job. And apart from some minor readjustments in once more getting used to living on the road in such close proximity with three other people and a baby, it's pretty much my ideal existence.