Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pub crawl down the guts

Pub crawls are a great Aussie tradition. I'm sure they didn't start here but they have certainly been embraced as an intrinsic part of our culture. So with 1,150km to drive in two days from Katherine to Alice Springs and seemingly a whole lot of pubs in between, it seemed un-Australian to not give it a crack. The Stuart Highway that runs north-south down the centre of Australia is named for the explorer who in the mid-1800s found a way through this rugged terrain, leading to the building of a telegraph line connecting Adelaide and Darwin and the opening up of a major Australian stock route. In the years that followed, drovers would drive their cattle along this route, moving them great distances to seek better feeding grounds or to get them to market. Along the way, a number of pubs opened up as places for the weary drovers to rest their bodies and for them to consume a bevy or two. So unlike many of the highways that lead across the more desolate parts of Australia where the only salvation every hundred kilometres or two is a roadhouse comprising a petrol station and some dodgy food, there is actually some history to this route and some historic pubs to be explored. Another motivating factor in choosing to do a pub crawl along this route was the way that the pubs have evolved to modern day establishments. Each of them seemed to provide something worth seeing as well as an opportunity to break up the long drive.
First pub out of Katherine was at Mataranka. Home of the famous hot springs and according to some people that we met, also the home of the finest home made pies in Australia. These were made at the servo there, though you could pick one up and bring it back to the pub to wash down with a beer if you fancied. And we did fancy that. The pies were pretty good, but the pub was a bit of a hovel. We shot through from there pretty quickly and hung out at the hot springs for a while instead, searching for turtles in the warm weedy waters at Bitter Spring. Once we were back on the road, the next stop was the Larrimah Wayside Inn. Sporting a huge pink panther sitting next to an oversized stubby, this was more of an indication of things to come. Not satisfied with the local history, many of the pubs along this route had decided to tart themselves up with bizarre decorations or themes. Larrimah also fancied that they had the best pies in the region, so we scoffed down some of theirs too. Subsequent pubs were the Daly Waters pub full of bizarre paraphernalia such as hundreds of bras hanging off the bar, the Newcastle Waters which last served a beer in the 1970s but which we were counting all the same, the Renner Springs pub and the Elliott Hotel. I've never driven a pub crawl before for pretty obvious reasons. And it was on the road out of Elliott that I was greeted by the last thing a driver on a pub crawl wants to see; a random breathtest unit. The police pulled us over and offered me the little unit to blow into. I knew that I was well under the legal alcohol limit, one of the benefits of pubs being more than 100km apart. I felt that this was indeed a responsible kind of a pub crawl, mixing pubs and a long drive with some semblance of balance. And I also felt a sense of pride that I was taking my children aged eleven, nine and four months on their first ever pub crawl. Responsible parenting at its finest.
Many many years ago, I had taken younger sister Nat on her first pub crawl too. She had recently moved out of home for the first time and was living in South Yarra. She had sublet a room in a flat from a guy who was a devout vegan and made her sign a document on moving in, stating that she would not bring meat, alcohol or tobacco into the apartment as a condition of the lease. So one lunchtime I went around to celebrate her new found freedom with her. We ordered in a nice capriciossa pizza full of ham and washed it down with a nice bottle of champagne, simultaneously breaking two of the key rules of the house. After that we decided to go up to Chapel Street for a bit of a pub crawl. We started in the South Yarra Arms and had a couple of tequila slammers. Our pub crawl sort of came unstuck there and we stayed for about another five before the barman decided that it was probably time to refuse us service. It seemed a little unjust to me, but we wandered up Chapel Street to the next pub just the same. After one slammer in the new pub, we were refused service. We were clearly a little more inebriated than it seemed to me. Our pub crawl had now completely run aground but, not one to easily take a hint, I ducked in to a bottle shop to pick up a cask of wine with a view to heading over to visit some friends. That was when all that alcohol really started to kick in for Nat. One minute we were walking together down the street, the next she was lying on her back looking up at the sky with a goofy look on her face. I tried to get her to her feet and she just giggled, as much chance of standing as a jellyfish. And then she just passed out. I half dragged, half carried her back to the front of her building and flagged down a random passerby to help me carry her up the stairs to her second storey apartment. He seemed a bit suspicious that something was not quite right with the picture, but he generously helped me anyway. I got Nat into her bed which is where she was when all those drinks and food decided they no longer wanted to remain in her stomach and proceeded to launch themselves out quite rapidly. I raced to the kitchen and got a large cooking pot for her to deposit the upcoming meat and alcohol into, probably not something that her landlord would really have approved of, but that was all I could find. It was all a bit late anyway as her bedding was covered in vomit, as was the floor. I needed to clean the whole mess up in the next three hours before he got home or she was certain to be evicted. So once she seemed to have settled down, I pulled the soiled sheets from her bed so that I could give them a wash. The apartment didn't have its own laundry so I made my way out to the communal one, carrying the vomit soaked bundle. Just as I stepped out of the flat the door automatically closed behind me. With a sense of impending doom, I dropped the sheets and tried the door knob unsuccessfully. Locked. I banged on the door and started screaming to Nat. No response. She was now comatose on the bed. What was I going to do? She was still covered in vomit as was the pot beside her bed and perhaps also the floor. A vision of her throwing up in her sleep and meeting a Bon Scott like demise came into my mind and I started to panic. I raced downstairs and looked for another way to get in. Her second storey bedroom window was open. If only I had a ladder. South Yarra is a particularly affluent part of Melbourne and next to her apartment building was a luxurious house hidden behind a security gate with an intercom. I felt desperate so pushed the button and waited for a response. "Hi there. My sister lives next door and is unconscious on the bed. I've locked myself out and can't get in. I know this is a strange request but do you have a ladder I could please borrow so that I can climb through her window", I pleaded optimistically. I was met by a brief silence, followed by a "wait a minute". The male voice soon appeared at the gate, sized me up and down and glanced up to the open window. I guess he must have believed me, because he appeared shortly after with a ladder. I clambered up and somehow was able to put things right. By the time my friend Brian came over to whisk me away, everything was pretty much done. I asked Brian to take Nat to the bathroom to help her into the shower while I finished up hiding the evidence in the kitchen. I wandered in to see how she was going and there under the running water of the shower was Nat. Topless from the waist up, black tights and boots on below, just standing with the streaming water pouring over her. After cleaning her off and getting her back to a clean bed, Brian and I left the scene and went out for dinner. I returned some time later, sneaking in this time with the aid of a key and crashed out on the floor in Nat's room. Around 6am she awoke and whispered a questioning "Greg"? After confirming to her that I was in fact there she questioned further, "what happened? I don't remember anything". It is only the taste of tequila that she remembers from that day. She hasn't been able to drink it since.

Our pub crawl towards Alice was more successful in the regard that we actually made it to a lot more pubs and nobody was scarred from the experience. In fact nobody was even drunk. I expect that this won't be the case when the kids get older, as being falling down drunk from a pub crawl seems to be an Australian rite of passage that most go through. This was a much more wholesome affair, even managing to take in the geographical wonder of the Devil's Marbles on the way through. Probably the most bizarre pub that we stopped at was the one at Wycliffe Well, about 120km south of Tennant Creek. This place claims to be the UFO capital of Australia with regular sightings having been made since World War II. As such, the pub is something of a museum of UFO sightings and all things extraterrestrial, having recently hosted an international UFO convention. I guess out here in the middle of nowhere must be the Aussie equivalent of small farming towns in Iowa in the US. It was at this pub that our crawl came to an end. Unfortunately, thanks to the pub's free WiFi, work reared its ugly head through my email and I felt we needed to race on to Alice so that I could deal with a potential work crisis. We were still 380km north of Alice Springs so we raced past the last couple of pubs and instead just gunned it down the long straight Stuart Highway and across the arid landscape of central Australia. We were even making it in good time too until the car decided that sitting on 110km/h in 40 degree temperatures while towing three and a half ton of caravan was not optimal driving conditions. About 100km short of Alice, the automatic transmission temperature light came on, the car lost power and we ground to a halt. Apart from an electrical issue back in February, the car had been comfortingly reliable. Breaking down in such a remote location however was quite far from comforting. Not only for what it potentially meant for us now here on the side of the road, but also because we were planning a trip down the Oodnadataa and Strzelecki tracks, through some of the most remote parts of the world. Top of the list of things to take on such a journey is a reliable car in top nick. A half hour sitting on the roadside allowing the car to cool down and then a more conservative drive for the last leg of the journey saw us arrive in Alice without further incident. Alice was to be the next place where I needed to set the family up before I jetted off for work, this time to Singapore for a conference. Now I needed to also fit in a service for the car to make sure the transmission was as it needed to be. We were right in the middle of Australia. Still thousands of kilometres left to drive and not a place to become complacent and take things for granted. Perhaps the car overheating was a timely reminder. I would be more conservative in my driving from hereon in. Probably a good idea to give thousand kilometre pub crawls a bit of a miss too.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hot hot heat

While people back in the hometown of Melbourne have been struggling through a bitter and wet winter, we’ve been following the sun. When it was starting to get cooler in the southern parts of Western Australia, we just moved further north. And kept going north until we arrived pretty much at the top of the country. But now the seasons have all swung around up here and the glorious blue sky days of around 32 degrees have made way for hot and humid days of 38 or 39. And just as humid nights.  And still 30 degrees around midnight. So while the Melbourne folk have had cold days and freezing nights and have been huddled inside dreaming of the warmer weather, we have been similarly huddled inside with the air conditioner on full because it’s been too hot to be outside for more than a few minutes in daylight hours. Unless there’s a swim involved.  And the air conditioner is on through the night because otherwise it’s impossible to sleep. Which means that we haven’t been able to bush camp at all since we left Kununurra as we’ve needed the electricity for the AC.  Caravan parks rather than national parks. The weather has become almost unbearable. Certainly for the kids who just seem to wilt in this heat. And Tori is not too far behind. But to somebody who has been sitting inside for months in Melbourne town, driving through the rain with the heater roaring so that their feet don’t freeze to the pedals, racing out of the car to get through the icy rain and into the heated house or pub or gig or restaurant, if they could even be bothered braving the elements at all to go out in the first place, I’m sure the heat sounds like a case of “bring it on”. But here it’s now a case of actually trying to keep everyone alive during the day while at the same time getting to see some of this part of the country. While in Katherine, we went to the famed Katherine Gorge in Nitmilik National Park. Normally I expect we would have hired canoes and gone paddling up the gorge, but it just isn’t feasible to have the kids out in this heat for that long. When we went to Edith Falls, the kids looked so despondent at the beginning of a relatively short walk to the falls and swimming hole that I just bailed out on it and we drove home to the van. We are still in an amazingly beautiful part of the world so I certainly am not expecting sympathy or any such thing. But we are past the point where it is truly possible for us to explore properly the beautiful places we are located. We drove the 520km straight from Kununurra to Katherine, bypassing the very well named Gregory National Park without even getting out of the car for a look. We abandoned the idea of going further north to Darwin altogether and along with it removed Kakadu National Park as a destination. It had been one of the key places on the itinerary before we embarked on this journey. And Litchfield. But it just didn’t seem worth it without actually being able to walk anywhere.

As for my working days, I’ve been mostly bundled up in the van in airconditioned relative comfort. Working outside in this heat is unthinkable now. I seem to have hit a particularly busy work period, so to some degree I could almost have been anywhere really during the days. When you are staring at a laptop for hours on end, it doesn’t really make that much difference if you are just down the road from a place of incredible natural beauty or not. I did manage to take a morning off so we could cruise in a boat up Katherine Gorge, which is obviously a truly great thing to be able to do, but then worked until around midnight when I got back. I guess last week involved a 55 to 60 hour working week. Something I don’t really like to make a habit of. But when it needs to be done, it needs to be done I guess. I hardly saw Tori or the kids at all in Katherine really, which is quite odd when you all live together in a caravan. They went off to museums and the movies and other varied excursions, while I stayed back and worked. At night, I sat outside being munched by the mozzies and continued my work while they played games on the inside. I’d come in for dinner and then head back out to my laptop afterwards. When I’d finish up for the night, they’d all be in bed asleep. It’s been a demanding couple of weeks but a small price to pay for the ability to do what we’re doing. And I love what we are doing. The kids have had periods of homesickness. As has Tori to some extent. Mostly in regards to people they miss, but also for elements of comfort and familiar things. I still haven’t felt homesick at all through this voyage. I do miss some people, but mostly that has been sated by a phone call, or an email or some Facebook banter.  Not totally. I do wish I could beam some particular people in from time to time. But the things I love to do in Melbourne, of which there are many, have been totally superseded for the time being at least with what we are doing now.

When we left England in 2003 to return to Australia, Tori and I discussed where we would live. I had managed to convince British Telecom to keep me employed as a contractor on the project I’d been involved in for the previous few years. Even though I was moving thousands of miles away. Being that far away from work anyway, the only thing I required of a residence was fast internet access and proximity to an international airport, so that I could fly back to England several times a year. We looked at the various possibilities and seriously discussed for a time that we would go and live in far north Queensland in the picturesque rainforest surrounded village of Kuranda. It was an exciting time. But as our return to Australia got closer, I began to feel less excited about the thought of Kuranda and started to feel disappointed that I wouldn’t be returning to Melbourne. There was such a strong pull from inside for me to return to the place where I’d grown up and to a city that I truly love. The live music scene. The footy. Cricket at the MCG. St.Kilda. Brunswick Street. Lygon Street.  So many places with such great food. So many cool bars. And the amazing evolution of the city centre into a residential area that had given Melbourne a whole new dimension. But I don’t feel that at all now. I’m not sure how it will be when we return. If it were only up to me and I didn’t have to consider the rest of the crew, I’d keep on going. We’re nine months into our trip now, with only three to go. The end seems all too soon. I’ve loved being in the small towns of Australia and being able to move on when the whim has taken us. The thought of being set down in a big city fills me with no desire at all right now. Especially one that does get as cold and rainy as Melbourne. I’m not sure how I’m going to cope when we return. I’ve always had a strong dose of wanderlust and it hasn’t been sated at all by this trip. If anything, it has been fueled more. With kids schooling and a new baby and all that, it’s going to be tricky, but somehow I have to manoeuver my life so that it will incorporate plenty more travel for all of us. In Australia or overseas. Hopefully both. I must find a way.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Farewell to the Kimberley

Having spent around four months in the Kimberley region, it's time to move on. The weather has changed and we're now into the next season; the build up to the wet. The temperature has increased to around 38 degrees every day and more relevantly the humidity has kicked in. It's now stifling during the day and so stuffy at night that sleep is a difficult and sweaty affair. Being outdoors in daylight hours means permanently dripping with sweat, even if not doing anything of any physicality. The only possible respite is to jump into a refreshing water hole or caravan park swimming pool. The idea of walking to any gorges or through other areas of natural beauty in this heat is now unthinkable. I guess in hindsight Finn and Jazzy's passing out on the Duncan was probably attributable to their first exposure to this change in climatic conditions. It is much more oppressive. Since being in Kununurra I've worked pretty much nonstop. Catching up on work that had been building up while I'd been doing far more interesting things like swimming with crocodiles or clambering through rocky gorges.  The view from my office here has mostly consisted of the inside of the air-conditioned van as being outside for too long makes concentration difficult. Tori has spent these days working out ways to keep the kids cool, which has involved days by the pool or a trip to the Kununurra Leisure Centre to play on the water slides, or even a trip to the super air-conditioned supermarket. We went on a quick getaway down to the acclaimed El Questro Wilderness Park for a couple of days, spending the night in one of their pricey bungalows at the Station. We'd heard so many mixed stories about El Questro from "must go" to "don't bother" that we needed to just see for ourselves. One thing is certain about the place and that is that the owners have really got their act together. They bought a run down cattle station of one million acres with no habitable buildings and unmusterable cattle in 1991. In the last twenty years they have gone from sleeping in tents and swags on their property to building the equivalent of a privately owned national park, complete with camping and caravan park through to luxury accommodation.  At the top end, a stay in the El Questro homestead comes in at around $1,000 per night for a two night minimum stay. They have helicopter tours, boat tours, fishing charters, tagalong 4WD trips, guided walks all charged at a premium with seemingly no shortage of takers, along with a quality restaurant and a bar. And on the other side of the Gibb River Road they have a working cattle station. With the incredible Cockburn Ranges running through the property and including the majestic Emma Gorge and luxurious Zebedee natural hot springs, they have sussed it out incredibly well and have milked it for all they can, albeit in a tasteful way. It certainly doesn't feel like the other places we've been and you sense that you could never really be alone at any of the prime spots in there. I suspect it is always relatively crowded. Notwithstanding, it is certainly a beautiful place.

The afternoon we arrived we lazed by the swimming hole for a couple of hours and then went for a drive up to Saddleback Ridge Lookout to check out the 360 degree view we'd been told about. One of El Questro's attractions is its many 4WD tracks and the signs as we were entering the track to Saddleback Ridge indicated that this was indeed a 4WD only track. A little way further along after driving across the Pentacost River, we were greeted with a sign that I found somewhat more disturbing. "Warning! The track ahead is extremely steep and narrow. Only experienced 4WD drivers should proceed past this point". It is true that I am now quite an experienced 4WD driver, but my most recent experience had resulted in me being towed out of a gorge after some moments on a steep incline where I shat myself. The words "extremely steep" immediately triggered the churning in my stomach and shakiness in my legs that I get when standing on the edge of a cliff. I wasn't really sure whether I should go on. "Come on. You're an experienced driver. She'll be right", Tori chimed in on seeing my nervousness. So with that we started our climb up to Saddleback Ridge. And they weren't lying. It was extremely steep. There's something about the design of a Landcruiser that when it's going up a steep hill it seems to be facing almost vertically up. You get the sense that you could almost be driving straight up on the perpendicular. As we turned the tight corners up the incline, the car responded well, as it has really through our entire journey. I somehow was able to overcome my anxieties and was filled with relief when we made it to the top of the hill. And what a breathtaking view it was. Removing whatever breathe I had left over after the drive.

The next morning we made our way to Zebedee Springs. The springs close to the general public at 12pm so that the rich people from the homestead and those on pricey tours can come down to enjoy them without being accosted by the riff raff such as ourselves. They are one of the major attractions of El Questro and with beautifully warm 32 degree water rushing over the rocks and into the various pools surrounded by lush vegetation, it is easy to see why. Such a beautiful place. We stayed until the ranger politely made it clear that 12pm had arrived and it was time to move on. After lunch we walked down El Questro gorge, our aim being to get to the half way pool for a swim and then turn back. The aforementioned heat of the day was well and truly upon us, so when we arrived at a swimming spot on the creek we decided to stop there for a dip to cool down. Everyone was a bit hot and bothered and indeed looking a bit shaky, so we decided to head back. That pretty much sealed it for me as far as gorge walking in this heat goes. We'll just have to come back this way again to get to the many places we didn't make it to on this trip.

A major feature of the Kimberley that I've touched on but haven't really gone into in detail so far has been the fact that this is a largely Aboriginal region of Australia. Both Broome and Kununurra are mixed towns containing a large number of white fellas who are there to support the local industries such as pearling in the former, diamonds in the latter and high volume tourism in both. But there is also a very large black fella population in these main centres. And in the more than one thousand kilometres in between these two towns, the whole region is dotted with Aboriginal communities in all sorts of remote locations. And the other three towns in the region, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek are predominantly Aboriginal. I left Melbourne looking forward to exploring some of the rich indigenous culture that exists in the more remote parts of Australia. The art. The music. The dancing. The stories of the dreamtime. It was one of my main aims for the journey. But it has not really come to fruition. Instead I have had my eyes opened to the extent of the problem that exists in Australia with our black brothers. Even writing this now, I'm not really sure where to start. It's a very delicate subject. But I guess it seems to start with alcohol. Something that I love and certainly have had my fair share of. And if I were to calculate how much of my money that I've effectively pissed up against the wall over the years, then I would probably be quite shocked. And many of the conversations that I've had with people about the drinking problem within the indigenous communities around here, have been with people in a pub while we've been sucking back on a beer or three. So it's difficult to take too high a moral line on the evils of the demon alcohol. But it is clearly a problem. The licensing laws have been changed in the last couple of years in both Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek so that it is now not possible to buy alcoholic beverages to take away. You can drink in the pub, which is open from 10:30am until 7:30pm, but no takeaways. That is other than low alcohol mid strength beer in Halls Creek, making it somewhat like the outer of the MCG during the Boxing Day test. Everybody wants a proper drink but they can only buy mid strength. At the G it means that everybody piles out of the ground during the lunch break to race down to the Corner or the Royal for a "real" drink, and then as soon as the day's play is over the pubs are full with people hanging out for a proper drink. In Fitzroy Crossing it means that when the pub shuts, young guys jump into their car, often pissed, and drive up to Derby 250km away to stock up on as much alcohol as they can bring back. They then either share it with their friends or sell it on the black market at over inflated prices. Most members of indigenous communities are receiving government benefits, because there are no jobs available in the communities and when you're given money for free, getting a job in town probably doesn't seem like such a high priority either.  And if you don't have a job to get up for in the morning and you have a steady income stream from the government, why not get pissed every night? The problem comes when all of a sudden there isn't enough money for food for the family because it's all been spent on grog and cigarettes. And everybody is so pissed up that domestic violence is common. As is sexual abuse within family or community groups. And an extraordinary number of teenage suicides. I have heard so many stories from so many different people while travelling this area. People whose opinions I trust as well as the inevitable racist "hate the coons" type of folk that I've also met. Shane, the manager of the Crossing Inn at Fitzroy, is fully aware of the problem. He decided that he would try a proactive approach to reducing the amount of alcoholism within Fitzroy Crossing and decided that everybody who enters the pub in the morning would be breathalysed. Anybody who measures over 0.04% alcohol in their bloodstream is politely refused entry. If they kick up a fuss, they are barred for a week. He told me that on the previous Saturday when they were testing people at 10:30am, 150 people were refused entry to the pub for being more than .04. With the pub having closed at 7:30pm the night before and no takeaways available, people were obviously still getting their grog from somewhere. On the positive side, there are obviously those indigenous folk who are getting it together. I spent many mornings watching Finn playing footy alongside the Aboriginal Mums and Dads of Finn's team mates who clearly were just the same as anybody else who was there. And we have seen small pockets of community life that is focused on respect; for yourselves, for your family and for your community. The Mowanjum festival was one such beautiful example as was the remote Laarri Gallery at the Yiyili Community. And I have no doubt that there are those getting it together within the communities, hidden away from the world of the white fella. But to deny the enormity of the problem is a complete denial of the truth. It seems that much of the political power of this country comes from Melbourne and Sydney, huge cities that are as good as a million miles from here. It really might as well be another country. Down there, over our many varieties of coffee, we discuss issues such as "bridging the gap", which refers to the difference in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous folk in this country which is quite significant. We talk about the poor state of Aboriginal health with many people dying of preventable disease. And we  put pressure on our politicians to spend money on these situations so as to remove this embarrassing blight on our consciences. And the money is spent by the millions, regardless of which government is in power. With Kim having been born in Broome, I've seen the health care on offer in this region at close range and it is second to none. In fact the standard is significantly higher in many regards than in Melbourne and Sydney. I'd certainly rather sit waiting for a doctor at the Fitzroy Crossing or Broome Hospitals than at Box Hill Hospital. Or that dodgy one up in Ringwood. And for the local population here, the health care is free. Prescription medicines are free for the indigenous population. Education programs exist to try and inform people about the effects of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy, or what foods you should and shouldn't be eating for good health, or that it's not ok for your partner to beat you. But if the problem is in any way diminishing, it seems to be happening at a very slow pace. And there is no doubt that there are different laws here depending on whether you are black or white. A lot of guilt exists from the years of the stolen generation. And rightly so. But the backlash to the other side is that in situations where community services would probably take a child out of a white home and place him or her into custodial care, a black child will most likely be left to tough it out. The shopping centres of Broome and Derby are regularly filled during the day by young Aboriginal kids who clearly should be at school. The problem is so rife that shops have signs indicating that children will not be served during school hours unless accompanied by a parent. We got into a conversation of this nature in Fitzroy Crossing with a couple from Melbourne. After a few minutes she revealled that she actually worked for an Aboriginal government department in Victoria. I raised the stories that I'd heard and she was quite defensive, suggesting that I only saw a part of the picture and that all the good stuff was happening in areas that weren't accessible to me. (Yes, they had a camper trailer). I think she thought I was a racist bloke who was just looking to slag off the Aboriginal population, as has been done in this country for many years. It seemed to me that she had no idea of the scope of this problem, which I found somewhat disturbing for someone working in the area of indigenous welfare. There seems to be some sort of politically correct approach to sweeping this under the carpet, insisting that it is pure racism to suggest that many Aboriginal people and their communities have a severe alcohol and drug problem. Especially from the cities down south. That it is just some kind of racial stereotyping on behalf of those making the claim. I would suggest contrary to that, in that if we can't acknowledge there is a serious problem here that needs addressing, then it isn't going to get any better. And the problem is endemic and runs deep. We saw a couple of great examples where this is trying to be addressed.  On our path up the Duncan Road, on our first day at Caroline Pool, I met TJ. A huge man. Black fella who had grown up in Halls Creek. He and a dutch guy who was working with him, ran a youth group for the young indigenous guys of Halls Creek. They would  take them out every Wednesday to teach them about something of their culture and the bush and try to get them away from the path of alcohol and drugs. Swimming in water holes. Fishing. Digging in trees with an axe for wichety grubs. Cooking up kangaroo tail over an open fire. And further up at Palm Springs a few days later we met an older indigenous couple who ran a program for Aboriginal kids in the area who had just been released from prison. They grabbed the kids as soon as they got bail and got out, to try and get them out of the typically troubled alcohol and drug fuelled family lives they had come from and teach them a trade. Give them some skills. Teach them some self respect. "It's not their fault", said Jane. "They are just young kids who don't know any better. They are mostly good boys who made some bad decisions". It was truly heartening to see this, but there is no doubt that much more is needed. I'm still not really sure what to make of the whole situation with the indigenous communities up here. Ultimately I guess I feel despair and disappointment. Much greater minds than mine have tried and failed to really address this situation. I don't see any easy or fast solution myself, which I guess is where the despair comes from. It will be interesting to get into the Northern Territory and see what effect the "intervention" has had on this same problem over there. I'm hoping it's on the right track.

Well I sort of digressed there on a rant that has been building up for a while. It has been a common theme of our time in the Kimberley, but there have been many other themes also. Those of beautiful swimming holes surrounded by majestic gorges, abundant bird and animal life of many exotic varieties, crocodiles, four wheel driving across corrugated roads and stony water crossings, the horizon emblazened pink as the sun sets behind the boab trees, the red dust of the pindan that seems to find its way in everywhere and that I'm sure I'll still be finding in things a year from now when I've long been back in Melbourne. I've loved my travels through the Kimberley and look forward to coming back here. It is a diverse, beautiful and at times challenging part of the world. And indeed it is also farewell to Western Australia as a whole, where we have spent most of our journey so far. Because tomorrow we head eastward and into the Northern Territory.