Wakey Wakey Rise and Shine
It’s 5.30am. Day three of our Adventure Wild trip into the Kimberley Western Australia. We have to be up early this morning with tents and camp packed up by 7am, and ready with swimmers and walking gear, because we’re going to hike to Mannings Gorge from the campground.
Life has taken on a whole new rhythm. Get up, pack up, have breakfast, walk. I like it.
Getting out of the swag is still like a yoga move for me, but I’m getting there. This morning though I find I’ve cast off my pyjamas in the night because I was too hot, now I need to put them on before I bare myself to the camping world at large. It’s going to be tricky in this coffin like canvas.
And my bag (with my sarong in it – dammit!) is out on a tarpaulin groundsheet by the bus.
Do not ask me why!
The Mannings River is wide and deep.
We’re going to float our cameras and personal items across in some floaty Styrofoam things that look a bit like old eskies and have seen better days … and also on an old lilo.
Initially I’m none too sure about this plan and hover a little anxiously at the water’s edge as the first contingent sets forth across the river like early pioneers, pushing cameras and personal stuff wedged deep in day packs in front of them. It looks precarious, but the cameras are packed in watertight bags, so unless there’s a catastrophe not too much harm can be done.
“When it gets deep and you need to start swimming, don’t try and push the floats with both hands,” says Greg. “Just tap and inch them forward in front of you as you swim.”
We do as we’re told, but there are lots of giggles as we go.
Mannings Gorge Walk
What a glorious way to start the morning. The outdoor temperature is perfect and the river is a little below body temperature. Once on the other bank I dry off and realize that by the time everyone is across my swimsuit is already beginning to dry, and I’m glad that we’re setting off early, because by lunchtime this will be a long hot walk.
The terrain is rocky but the path is well marked with rock cairns, beer cans, painted rocks, arrows and things strung in trees. It’s a little up and down, but not difficult.
We pass a bloodwood tree, which has a red, rufus bark, and looks very much like it’s been wounded. “The sap is sometimes used by the Aboriginals and mixed with water. You can take it for colds. Although I wouldn’t advise it. I tried it once,” says Greg.
We enter the gorge at the falls which are cascading over the full width of the rock face in abundance giving us an awesome spectacle and apart from a couple of other people we have the big gorge all to ourselves. Definitely an advantage of being here early in the season.
Everyone peels off their clothes and leaps into the crystal clear, warmish water. With effort some of us swim behind the thundering falls, others sunbake closeby.
After the hot, dry walk, the falls are a magnificent sight. The depth and breadth of them so impressive after a wet season with plenty of rain.
Choccy hands out trail bars as we sit sunning ourselves like lizards on the warm rocks. It’s a place of immense calm despite the crashing water, a natural wonder like an oasis of calm in this red earth.
We have morning tea, muffins, fruit cake and Anzac biscuits under the shade of a tree on our little canvas stools in sight of a mighty Boab tree, and then it’s 11am and we are off, driving away from the sandy campsite and the cool river.
The B-M-S Game
Once on the bus we are instructed in the rules of the “Beer-Mine-Sorry” game and so the fun begins. If we dare to say any of those words we will have to do a dare. Choccy is ready to clock up points against our names with a marker on the window.
Have you ever witnessed a group of grown-ups trying not to say ‘Beer’ during the course of a long hot journey?
It’s about 150kms to Ellenbrae Station and the air-conditioner in the truck is pumping hard. Australian songs are played and we sing along. “A pub with no beer” is for starters. Greg invites us to sing along, trying to get one of us to sing the banned word while Choccy tries her best to engage us in conversation so that we shall slip up!
Spirits are high and we are looking forward to our next adventure.
The Gibb River Road
At this point The Gibb River road is long and straight and we head to the banks of the River for lunch. Greg, our Adventure Wild driver has to do push-ups – his forfeit for the BMS game and everyone watches him as he pays for his sins.
It’s shady and cool under the boughs of the iron trees by the river.
“Did you know,” Greg says, “That didgeridoos are made from the bark of iron trees?” We look. They are grey, black, iron like, not very large trees.
An Aboriginal family is fishing. A child sits photogenically on a branch that juts out over the river, gazing down into the water.
Like a stolen moment in time.
Wild Hibiscus and Bobtails
On the next leg of our journey we have many creek and river crossings to amuse us, along with puzzles that Choccy hands around to keep us awake. We stop to pick wild hibiscus which is growing abundantly in a glade by yet another lily filled creek. It’s blood red, tightly budded and waxy to the touch.
“We’ll make some jam later,” says Greg.
“And I’ll prepare some to put in our champagne when we have sunset drinks at the Bungle Bungles,” says Choccy.
All sounds good to me. This is beginning to be a bit of an epicurean trip!
A bobtail lies sleepy in the undergrowth and Greg tries to pick him up, but he’s tougher and stronger than he looks and he wriggles from Greg’s grasp, and I’m again amazed with all the new sights, smells, and sounds. It’s like a magic wonderland here in the outback.
We pull into Ellenbrae Station at 4pm, chucking a left off the Gibb River Road as the sun is sinking. We drive through a fairly deep and rocky river crossing and wonder what it must be like in the wet season to live somewhere like this and be completely cut off from the world for several months.
“Now we’ve been driving through some fairly harsh, rocky and arid scenery today, but we’ve been told to expect a green oasis at the homestead,” says Greg.
The station is 60kms x 60kms. “It’s not actually a proper working station but we have cows. We mustered about a thousand shorthorn cattle last year. They’re vicious – kill you rather than look at you,” says Jason, the station manager.
Dingoes and Jack Russells
In the lush garden there’s a huge 1000 year old Boab tree and a beautiful wild Bohemia tree. In the homestead there are David Bulyard paintings for sale. We are all enjoying having a look around when one of our party is set upon by the rather ferocious little Jack Russel.
There’s a sign on the old stove. “The dog’s name is Ned. Please don’t feed him.”
He wasn’t feeding him.
“Ned’s all fired up,” says Karen as the dog charges around. “Mostly because there was a dingo here last night. We have a white dingo that comes around too. He’s like a ghost dingo. Ned doesn’t like him either.”
After that we don’t try to pet Ned!
History of the Station
In the early 1980’s Ellenbrae captured the imagination of two young brothers from Queensland. Thomas Henry Byrne Terry and Edward Francis Terry. They moved and spent 17 years turning the run down property into an environmental showcase. Both died young. Thomas, at 41, flying a light aircraft and Edward, 34, in a motorbike accident travelling to Lake Argyle.
It made me think about the tough, adventurous pioneers who come to live and make their lives in The Kimberley.
Jason and Karen have been managing Ellenbrae for 12 months.
“Dingoes are causing a bit of grief at the moment … eating the chooks. ‘Bout time they had a bit of lead poison,” Jason tells us.
The lonely wet season
I ask him about the wet season.
“3 months of the year is the wet and we’re cut off. Have to have all the supplies we need, the rest has to be hellicopter’ed in. We have a full on Flying Dr medical kit. I went through my leg with a chainsaw not so long ago, but managed to fix myself up with the Dr on the other end of the phone telling me what to do.”
I look at the scar and the stitches, and shudder.
God, it must be a lonely existence.
“Depends on what you mean by lonely. In the dry season we have all you’s mob coming through and in the wet we get by. We like it alright,” Jason tells me.
I admire Jason and Karen. Although it’s certainly a pretty spot here at this time of year – you could almost call it idyllic – there’s no discounting the fact that it’s a tough kind of life to lead, and you’ve either got it in you or you haven’t.
I look around at the garden. There are tall palms, ferns, a Hong Kong Orchid tree, bougainvillea, frangipanis and strelitzias. It’s shady and there are water sprinklers going which disguises the fact of being far away from anywhere.
Deep down though I realize just how far from civilization (whatever that is) we really are. Have I missed my mobile phone or computer – NO. Not for one minute.
Camp and curry
We set up camp in a glade of trees and the mosquitos come out in clouds. I lift the seat of the long-drop loo and a flock of mossies rise from the murky depths – yuk!
I push thoughts of being bitten on the bum to the back of my mind and do what I’ve got to do before braving the shower, which is hot and relaxing.
Swags and tents are up, curry and rice is on the stove, it’s time to relax with a cold beer from the esky and sit around the camp fire. Jokes are told, tales of the day recounted and new allegiances are made as bit by bit we discover new things about each other. By day 12, I surmise that new friendships will be sealed which cross any age or nationality obstacles.
For dessert Choccy bakes pears studded with raisins, wrapped in tin foil and cooked on the fire, which we then eat smothered with custard. Mmmm. Like I said … epicurean.
Tired, we are early to bed tonight but a mosquito comes and brazenly takes up residence in my swag. I can’t sleep because his high pitched buzzing and wailing is omnipresent in this still, dark night. There’s no breeze and it’s very hot. I try to open my swag zip to let him out, but he refuses to vacate, or perhaps another has opportunistically flown in. I’m not amused and I’m being chomped alive.
I’m also very awake.
In my swag of heat and dust and seeming cloud of mossies I hear rustling and snuffling close to the canvas. I stiffen with fear.
Friend or foe?
“Dave is that you breathing heavily? Are you snoring?” I ask in a stage whisper directing it towards Dave’s swag.
There’s no reply. Just a bit of a snort.
Suddenly Dave shouts.
I jump up, thinking that’s a bit harsh. I only asked a question!
And then he says … “There was a dingo right by my tent.”
“I know, I know. I think he was by mine too.” I’m sitting up now ready for action.
Jeepers! I remember the Lindy Chamberlain and Azaria story.
“Could a dingo be capable of ripping into the swag?”
“Don’t be stupid. Go to sleep!”
I pull my sleeping bag up around my neck and sweat. I watch the moon rise in the star filled sky and eventually, exhausted, listening to a lullaby of mossies and a howling dingo in the distance, I fall asleep. Just as I drift off, I hear myself mutter.
“Tonight will be my last night in a swag. I swear.”
Before you go … What memories do you have of the Kimberley Western Australia?