I pulled out in front of him on a blind corner doing 40 km in an 80 zone, the lead singer of Nickelback sped past us, I could feel his eyes cut through tinted glass. On the back of his black ute there was an airbrushed zombie woman in chains, her green flesh falling with the words ‘Reapers Ride’, his number plate was 33EVIL. And he’s been on our tail ever since. He was there lurking on the boardwalk at the Stromatalites, feigning interest in the 350 billion year old micro-organisms. He was there at the edge of Shell Beach crunching down on the 5 metre deep cockle shells, and he was there at the Overlander Roadhouse eating a fried chicken sandwich as we pulled in for fuel. He followed us to Kalbarri National Park, didn’t pay entry and pretended to take photos of Hawks Head lookout, I’m not sure if he went right out on the ledge like we did, but I guessed so seeing as he’s not afraid of death. After two days of slow but steady pursuit the Reaper finally caught up to us. Mullet blowing in the breeze, he walked right up to us and said… “Hi.”
When I was young I wanted to be Ocean girl and swim with the dolphins, well today I got pretty damn close, I hand fed one at Monkey Mia. A cheesy commercial affair that made this teenage girls heart double dutch. The whole area of Shark Bay was stunning, so much wildlife swimming in clear waters, we spotted sharks and manta rays from a high peak at Eagles Bluff, saw dolphins, turtles and schools and schools of fish. Bodhi had an ear infection so we all had to suffer together and just watch the water from a distance, sipping cocktails in chairs shaped like eggs and avocados. But it’s lucky we didn’t go swimming because a 3m tiger shark was spotted circling the bay where all the kids were paddling. Apparently they’re into stealth, unprovoked attacks. I like my sharks with a little spontaneity, and chips.
Lately I’ve been off the booze, but couldn’t resist trying an ice-cream mojito, a big kids lime spider, not the sexiest looking drink, but something to sink in to. When I went to pay for our creamy drinks, I pulled out my wallet from my handbag and 3 yin-yang necklaces came out. Usually it would be a long time between handbag cleanouts so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a herd of guinea pigs shuffling a deck of business cards, but I’d only just pulled out all the contents of my bag when we were waiting 2 and 1/2 hours to see a doctor for the bodestar’s ear. We called some people we’d seen recently, wasn’t them. I know it wasn’t Jake, it’s not his style to surprise me with gifts. More likely Bodhi stole them, or I was having a psy trance dance flashback and went a little wild on the yin yangs than Jake cashing in the coin for some cheap memorabilia. Besides I hold the purse strings.
It hasn’t rained in Carnarvon for 2 years. The Gascoyne river now a huge dust bowl and all the farms growing bananas, zucchini, mangoes, tomatoes and grapes say ‘NO WORK’. We picked up some farm-made pickles and a banana split. I caught my first fish today off One Mile Jetty, a Tailor. We took Bodes on the train down the pier, Jake left me to fish while he entertained the boy. I went to a spot where an old guy Stan was sitting on a bucket with no lid, the flat footed sailor, eyes like Blind Fury said “Hello”, told me I had no idea what I was doing, rigged me up and taught me some tricks for catching tailor. Five minutes later I was in a brawl with a glimmering beauty, we brought our fresh catch back to the Caravan park where we were staying, so nice to have a shower after a week at Point Quobba sharing a long drop with a bi-polar ranger and Spaz Kaz from Taz (her introduction).
We lay the fish on the kitchen bench ready to cut and cook up for a family feed, when old BJ walks in with a false tooth grin. An 83 year old pantomime with more stories than years, he starts hacking up my fish which he called filleting. He sang deep baritone followed by french falsetto, read us some of his memoirs, showed us photos of his time in the Navy in the 50’s on the way to the Korean War. He was from New Zealand traveling by himself for a few weeks in a campervan with 4 cases of beer and too much food. He’s been married for 56 years and not a day goes by when they don’t have a fight. His voice boomed louder than Orson Welles reading War of the Worlds. We sat like girl scouts, heads on hands grinning at the grey matter scrambling and unfolding in front of us. Until Bodhi, hours out of the spotlight couldn’t handle it anymore and had to pots and pans rattle, steal the scene.
In the morning we were leaving Carnarvon, Jacob woke to find BJ and Sailor Stan (who happened to live in the caravan park) at the back of our van arguing over the configuration of the main street of Darwin in the 50’s. They were like Tom and Jerry fighting over chalk and cheese. The two had aged so differently, one with a boisterous bellow, the other bitter and willowed. After leaving the bookends, back to back, duelling in the wind, we headed off for Bush Bay, down more windy corrugated roads, Oscar feeling every tired bump, new noises started to creak from all sides so we decided to turn around and head back to Carnarvon, to the crazy characters, and see about our car. A couple of days later we were fixed and ready to run him ragged again.
Bodhi’s learning so many new words, everyday a new one to the list. Lately his favourite is ‘No’, all in a row, a chorus line of can’t can’t dancers kicking me in the face.
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Next stop Port Hedland. BHP Billington welcomed us in a thick fog of red dust, most of the cars and people wore fluro yellow. Not the prettiest town, ugly even, imagine a futuristic Armageddon on Mars, surrounded by gigantic mechanical robots with arms and claws and drills that fill metal millipedes with more metal and the scum off pond floors. White marquee mountains scraped and sold for table tops and cupboard stocks. Well at least that was what I saw driving through.
There’s definitely some money being put back into the town, trying to beautify the place by twisting iron ore into flowers. We had coffee in a disused train, spent some time in an art gallery where Bodhi threw a rock and nearly destroyed some local art. We wandered the streets and happened to see Phibs graphing an awesome piece on the visitors centre. Of all places to bump into someone famous. I was a little star struck but managed to get a tangled “Love you, I mean I love your work. Thanks for all the beauty.” Red-faced I skulked away. Didn’t need much more from a day, I was satiated, but we headed to a park on the Port so the boy could stretch his legs, he’s like a chubby whippet, needs a few runs around the park everyday. We met a lady who worked on the Port. It runs 24 hours a day, it’s a small channel, not equipped for such traffic so a captain has to be flown out to each cargo ship and navigate the way in and after unloading tug boats at each side will escort the big buggers back to sea.
Somedays we find ourselves in such different places. One night we drove a fair way down a dirt road and camped near a river with no-one in sight and the next night after circling hours around Karratha looking for water and a place to stay we end up on the side of the highway counting carriage cars and road trains. It rained for the first time in months, the sky lit up like New Year and the thunder shook us from a deep highway slumber. Strangely serene the hum and vroom of hard working engines.
We followed those sounds south to a truck stop where a young guy dressed all in green was trying to hitch a ride. Jacob and I had both finished saying to each other, “Nah, not again. Not today. Not with a sleeping baby.” When we asked him where he was headed. Armed with a ukelele and a big grin he put his bags in the back and stuck with us on a jagged detour through corrugated roads and salt mines and towns that had been wiped out by 3 cyclones, 2 bombings and a fire in July. He was from Argentina and had big plans about saving small communities in his country. He’d been on the road for 6 years and full of funny stories. He could’ve stayed for one thousand and one nights, turned out we only had him for seven.
We stayed by a riverbank our first night, then travelled to Exmouth which is meant to be some of the best fishing in Australia, but maybe they meant most fish in Australia, or the smartest fish in Australia because we certainly saw a lot of fish but none wanted a nibble. But oh how Jake tried. He swung that stick morning and night, in low tide and high, dangled his bait into the abyss and every night we’d eat beans. We stayed at Cape Range National Park, the most beautiful place I’ve been to so far. Hard to describe without sounding like a holiday brochure but absolutely pristine beaches, snow white sand and croatian clear waters, with so much coral and sea life a short flipper kick from shore with only about 10 people around to share the splendour. It was magical and perfect timing having a travel buddy so Jake and I could be swept by the drift loop current and goggle at parrot fish and turtles and translucent long toms while Luli hung out with Bodes on the sand. Time felt lost for a little while but unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our new friend, dropping him at the next big intersection so he could make his long ride to Perth and we 3 wondered what was next.
Oh yeah, and somewhere along the way there was a stowaway, a mouse.
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If I was starting to get a bit anti there, Broome soon sorted me out. It was 2 weeks of pulling out the sunchairs and staring at the ocean, watching the giant tides expose sea urchins, colourful cucumbers, stripey snakes and plane wrecks. I walked to the wreck one sunrise, it was about 1km from shore, on my way back I helped a lady rescue a sea turtle from the mud. It was the most beautiful creature I’ve seen close up. Big gentle eyes. It’s flippers were as strong as angry arms slapping against me. I helped her take it to her home where she was going to put it in the bath and wait until the tide was high to put it back. I thought it a little strange but was too amazed with the fact I was carrying this turtle that I didn’t question the direction we were going. Only after I waved them both goodbye did I realize she was probably going to eat it.
Jacob caught his first Barramundi on a full moon from the beach in front of our camp. The ghost fish that haunts so many a mad fisherman, including Jake who had been talking about this phantom since we left the Sunshine Coast. This fateful night the fish finally surrendered to a quick left and right hook. It was massive, 74cm, big, beautiful shimmering silver scales. We shared the fish with our neighbours, 3 other families that Bodhi played with everyday. We had a great little community there. The kids would roam from one camp to the next, eating fresh watermelon at one and playing pots and pans at another. Together they’d search for shells and hermit crabs in the cool part of the day, that’s when the parents would salute another glorious day and recall stories of the one that got away. We got to experience a tasting palette of the sea, ate like ocean kings and queens, our neighbours also sharing their spoils. We tasted Red Emperor, Mullet, Shark, Garfish and Barramundi. We pan fried, battered, bbq’d and bubbled in broth. (Sorry to all my vego and vegan friends out there).
We could have stayed there a lot longer but the cyclone season was brewing and the Irakanji were moving in and I didn’t want to get too comfortable in a place, not yet anyway. Wanted to get back to the feeling of not knowing what’s next. So back to the road. We spent a lot of cash in Broome on concerts, accommodation and beer, so we’re free camping for awhile and having to look for work. We pulled up to a rest stop, I went to collect some firewood, swatting flies and getting scratched up by speargrass. I said “Hello” to a countryman named Johnson and he came to help me get some logs for the fire. He told me which trees would burn through the night and helped me carry them. We gave him beer and chatted about his community. He lived not far down the road, in but weren’t allowed grog, a law imposed by the elders and if you got caught you got fined. He and some family were “hiding” out at the rest stop, waiting for the cops to leave the community and then they would head back, pack their swags and take to the beach for a few days on the drink. We saw a lot of families in Broome hanging out in the park drinking till they couldn’t stand, quite a lot of fights, but mostly just family and friends in big groups having a laugh. I guess it’s just confronting for white fellas to see it so blatantly not hidden in dark bars and backyards. Johnson showed us a scar on his leg where he’d been speared by an elder for something he did wrong, He didn’t say what, but he’s lucky he bent back otherwise the spear would’ve gone right through his skull. It’s still law, depending on the crime, a person or people gather a certain distance away and you can’t move, you’ve just gotta hope to hell they’re a really bad shot.
We watched a bushfire in the distance get closer to our camp. Jake stayed awake, a naked midnight vigil. Next morning we moved further down the long stretch of coast, hardly anyone on the roads now. Tourist season is over. We stopped for lunch at 80 Mile beach, a million fan shells scattered its length. We stayed the night at Cape Keraudren. A gorgeous spot with white sand and huge conch shells and kangaroos and foxes and an open field for sea dreaming and sky gazing and a single tree for seven finches and a man named Rob with twisted limbs who lived in a lime green van with a capsicum tree who offered us weed and conspiracy.