Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We don’t hire vegetarians

On my first morning at Mt Elizabeth, I sat at the breakfast table with
my new boss, Pat Lacy. Pat's husband Peter was the boss too, but I
reported to Pat. Everyone else had started work and while I had some
breakfast, Pat asked me how I'd slept. In her abrupt manner, pretty
well the next thing she said was, "I hear you're vegetarian," promptly
followed by "...wouldn't have hired you if known that." I was a
little worried, but assured Pat that it wouldn't be a problem, and in
truth, it never was. And not once more did I have to pick the meat
out of my dinner.

Depending on the number of staff and the number of guests dining
(sometimes up to 30), Sharran might cook for everyone or Pat or Peter
might cook for 'the house' or, in what always reminded me of mafia
movies, 'the family' – an all-encompassing term which included the
ever-changing staff. If there were vegetarian guests there would be a
vegetarian dish such as a pasta bake, vegie fritters (my all-time
fave) or a quiche. In time, Sharran expanded her repertoire into
vegie lasagne and mexican-esque bean dishes and even Pat on the odd
occasions she cooked for guests worried that there wouldn't be enough
for me to eat. I can assure you, I did not go hungry!

When I arrived there were seven staff, which along with me included
three backpacker girls from the UK, Ireland and Denmark, Johnny the
New South Welshman and man-of-few-words who was a mechanic and general
station hand, Sam the Pommy station hand and Sharran, the
aforementioned cook. In the time I worked at Mt Liz, about five other
staff passed through with only Johnny and Sharran staying through till
the end of the season in October.

The five family members who were also workers included Peter and Pat,
their niece Kymmie, their daughter-in-law Emily and their grandson
Blake (who at only 16 months didn't have too many official duties).

Kymmie was Pat's 2nd-in-Charge, who knew the answer to everything,
could solve almost every issue and was responsible for teaching me the
ropes and for holding fort if Pat was elsewhere. One of the most
competent 19-year-olds I reckon I've ever come across, Kymmie was
great to work with and work for and came to be a good friend to me
In the first days I learnt the basics of my job, which wasn't hard,
but was constant. Starting at about 6.30 or 7am each day, we girls
helped set up and serve breakfast, cleaned up afterwards and then
started on the rooms.

With 11 mostly twin rooms in the homestead, a further 7 beds in the
cottage and a well-used campground, there was plenty of bed-making,
laundry, sweeping & mopping and bathroom cleaning to be done. This
work usually carried us through to lunch time, but with a decent break
for smoko (even though nobody smoked) it wasn't too taxing as long as
we had enough staff and it wasn't too hot. In the times when there
were only two girls working and there were multiple busloads of
tourists, it got to be hectic.

After a good-sized lunch of leftovers, there was plenty more cleaning,
washing and re-stocking to be done in the afternoon as well as new
guests to meet, greet and deliver tea and bikkies, and campers to
check-in and surprisingly recognise. But we also had a two hour break
which was long enough for a walk and a dip in the creek, if you wanted
to, or a nap and laze about, or if you were John, Shaz or Kymmie a
quick horse ride. In July and some of August it was still cool enough
to do the 45min Homestead Walk, which Sharran did most days, but it
wasn't long before we had to switch to mornings due to the escalating

At around 4 or 5 in the afternoon the dining room had to be cleaned
and set up for dinner. It was a big room, with four or five tables,
which could and did seat 30 or more diners and could and did provide a
nice spot for Mt Elizabeth's dogs and tame wallabies to while away the
afternoons – the wallabies in particular not bothering to find
somewhere else to poo. Thus, cleaning this room was very good
exercise! Exercise which was often rewarded by a warm slice of Pat's
(or Kymmie's) freshly baked bread. If there was a busload of guests,
this pre-dinner time could prove pretty busy, but often there was a
nice lull of serviette folding, or some other relaxed activity.

Perhaps partly because we didn't have a liquor license, it wasn't a
rowdy place. The guests usually went off to their rooms straight
after dinner and we'd watch a bit of TV, or have a fire and a couple
of drinks. Bedtime was usually around 9 or 10pm for me. Nice n

Coming Back to the Kimberley - July 2011

Although I was excited about the job offer, I wasn't 100% sure I was
doing the right thing. So, as soon as I landed back in Melbourne I
talked to my Dad. "I really want to do it, Dad, and I just can't think
of a reason why not," I said. Dad said, "That's coz there isn't one".
And I'm glad I listened. Three weeks later, I was on a flight back
to Broome.

An indirect flight to Broome, a lazy afternoon eating cackleberries
with Doug and a 2hr~ish bus trip to Derby was not a clever thing to do
the morning after my naughty niece's 21st birthday. I would not have
made that flight if not for my Mum, so thanks Mum.

After a night at the Boab Inn, I was hoping to be collected by someone
from Mt Elizabeth Station, but for one reason or another, they
couldn't get to town. Instead, I was collected by Pat Lacy's
sister-in-law, Ann Jane (nee Lacy), to spend a night at the lovely
house she and her husband Rick have built at Woolybutt Rise, just out
of Derby. And a very nice introduction to the extended Lacy family it

Early the next morning, Ann drove me to the turn off and I was again
collected, this time by Andrew an employee of Kimberley Recruitment on
his monthly trip out the Gibb to visit his clients in the Aboriginal

A great day was spent driving the 350+ km to Mt Elizabeth stopping off
for avocado and vegemite sandwiches (courtesy of Andrew); a coffee
with Neville at Imintji, who suggested he'd be out to see me for lunch
at Mt Elizabeth the following week; a quick walk in to Galvan's Gorge
and a look at some rock art there; a nice afternoon dip at Barnett
River Gorge, soon to become a favourite; and finally a late afternoon
arrival at the Mt Elizabeth homestead, surrounded by lush green
gardens and populated by a friendly bunch of young staff.

I spent the first couple of nights staying at the cook, Sharran's
place, with poor Sam (a ringer on the station) booted out onto his
swag to make room for me, and Sharran started to introduce me to some
of the highs and lows of working on the station straight up, telling
me about difficult guests (of which, I was to find, there weren't
many). Amidst her tales came the comment, "...and then I get a fucken

I'd already picked the beef out of my curry at dinner that night, much
to the boys' amusement and had privately wondered how I'd manage with
this aspect of station life, but figured it would come out soon
enough, so I told her nervously, "Yeah...I don't really eat meat
either", trying to kind of play it down by not using the "V" word.
"Oh, true?" was Sharran's response, an example of the new lingo I
would also have to get used to.

M&Ms Tour Part III: El Questro and...the End?

The next day we continued on to El Questro, an enormous and heavily
promoted cattle station operating as a Wilderness Park, which the Ms
were divided about visiting and where Mike flat out did not want to
stay. We didn't take to the place on arrival, not to the lawns or the
manufactured 'township' and, after checking out the campground (and
the prices!), Mick and I decided Mike would be more cheerful if we
were to visit a few of the main attractions and continue on our way.

Zebeedee Hot Springs was an easy choice, but it was very crowded and
more like lukewarm springs; Amalia Gorge was a challenging
hike/climb, which is perhaps partly why there was almost nobody there,
and well worth the effort and, after a beer at Emma Gorge Resort, the
short climb to the falls was a bit of a challenge, but highly enjoyed
by Mick and I. Mike stayed at the Resort drinking coffee.

Late afternoon came and as we drove on to Kununurra, we hoped we'd
find a spot to camp to finish off our GRR experience. We didn't, as
it turned out, and continued on to Kununurra, where we camped for
three nights, before the Ms and I had a teary good bye.

Once back in Broome and checked in at Broome's Last Resort (true to
it's name), I was cheerful, relaxed and couldn't care less about the
crappy hostel I was in, the dodgy blokes at the Roebuck Hotel, or the
fact that I would be flying home the next day. I could, however, care
less about the lack of appealing employment prospects back in
Melbourne and set about at once contacting properties on the Gibb
River Road about work.

The next day, while visiting my old mate Doug, I was offered and
accepted the job at Mt Elizabeth – agreeing to be there in three weeks
time. It wasn't the end yet, not by a long shot.

M&M’s Tour Part II: Hann River to Home Valley

By this time we were getting along very well (to be fair, we had
gotten along easily pretty much from the start). M&M wouldn't let me
camp too far away from their trailer to keep an eye on me and were
nice enough to give me one of their spare pillows and let me use one
of their camp chairs around the fire, while one of them perched on a
slab or the stoop of the trailer. We shared the cooking and shared
the drinks (none of which I'd yet paid for) and shared stories of our

That night on the Hann River, we were pretty happy with our campsite.
There was nobody else around, and when one other trailer pulled in,
they were decent enough to park a way down the river. But after dark,
when we were watching the bush TV (the campfire), a car rolled in and
stopped right in front of Mick's bumper – so close that he would have
had to reverse to get out. This did not make for a friendly pair of
Ms and when the foreigners (who would have been forgiven if they
didn't have an Aussie in their midst) asked where we got our firewood,
Mick said, "Over the river, look out for the crocs," which of course
did not exist.

The next morning our neighbours continued to unwittingly affront us by
their mere presence, with one of their number going not very far away
to relieve herself. Mick turned around and was met with a sight,
which he infomed us was definitely an all-over tan. A site I'm not
sure he was that unhappy to see...

We continued along the GRR and turned off to drive 60km up the
Kalumburu Rd to Drysdale River Station, my first experience of an
operational cattle station. There we checked in for camping and
dinner and before we knew it, it was happy hour again. Dinner at
Drysdale was fantastic, with the chef putting in a special vegie
effort for me, and after dinner we joined the crowd around the
campfire, which turned out to be a friendly mix of staff and guests.
I chatted to some friendly foreign staff members over many a glass of
red, and started to wonder whether this could be a job for me.

The next day we hit the skies, in a scenic flight along the Prince
Regent River to St George Basin, taking in the King Cascade along the
way and flying over and around the Mitchell Falls a few times too.
Although it's possible to drive to the Mitchell Plateau and visit
these spectacular falls, the road was still closed from the big wet
and so a flight was the only way we could see this magnificent area.
And I'm so glad, as I'd have found it hard to justify the cost of the
flight otherwise and there's just no comparison for the site of this
massive almost entirely untouched area from the air.

Unfortunately, my indulgence of the night before had me reaching for
my Sic-Sac, a precaution which the packaging thoughtfully warned me
not to be embarrassed by, as 'even vetaran air travellers are subject
to occasional motion sickness'. However, I made it back to land, my
pride intact and we headed straight for famed burgers, at which the
chef again excelled with his vegetarian offering.

Our Drysdale adventure complete, we headed towards Kununurra with a
few days exploring still up our sleeves. Not far along we decided to
bush camp for a night at Russ Creek, a little spot where we met and
spent happy hour with a cheerful couple, the only others camped there.

On the way to Home Valley Station the next day, we had to cross the
Durack River. There's a practise of walking across waterways in the
Kimberley, to determine whether they're safe to cross. This is
obviously not a good idea when the waters are known to be home to
saltwater crocs, such as the Pentecost, which we'd be crossing the
following day. When we got to the Durack M&M decided they'd wait till
someone else came along to see how deep it was – even though Mick had
previously stated that the driver should really be the one to walk the
river, so that he could be sure of the depth, the sand at the bottom,
the holes, rocks etc. I thought they were just being lazy buggers so
said I'd walk it...something I've since learned is not advisable.

Anyway, walk it I did. It was a long walk, because I really was
scared and caught myself stopped in the middle staring back and
realising the quickest way out would be to keep going, but it was
barely knee-deep and perfectly safe to drive across.

Just before reaching Home Valley we stopped for a toilet stop at the
side of the road. It seemed to be a lookout of some sort, and there
weren't many places to hide for a wee. So I crouched beside a big
rock, trying to maintain some sense of decorum...believe what you
will. Upon our arrival at Home Valley, we asked about things to do in
the area. The woman who checked us in enthusiastically recommended
the 'Kissing Rock', apparently the place Nicole and Hugh had first
kissed in the inexplicably awful film Australia. Needless to say, the
Kissing Rock was quickly renamed and M&M greatly enjoyed my

Home Valley, whilst an impressive place to arrive at with three huge
Boabs marking the gateway, was a disappointing place to camp.
Although there are huge manicured lawns for camping, the operators
only allow visitors to camp in one section of lawn till it's full to
bursting, before opening up another section. We met some nice people
though, had a nice HOT gorge walk, a few beers and generally enjoyed
our stop.

Mick & Mike’s Tag-a-long Tour Part I: From Broome to Manning Gorge

So, the blokes I met in Broome caravan park turned out to be a couple
of retired blokes from the east coast. Mick (60), from Eleebana (Lake
Macquarie), NSW, had the 4WD and the camper trailer and Mike (66),
from Nambucca Heads, NSW, was along for the ride. We hit the road
pretty much straight away and, although I later wondered at my
reckless decision, at the time I didn't feel there was any reason to
hesitate, or to be concerned at the turn of events. Mum thought
otherwise. And even Mike was telling me I should have taken a picture
of their licence plate and sent it on to someone. I know he had a
point and I guess I was a bit lucky that in the end none of these
safety concerns mattered.

We stopped briefly in Derby to shop for food and booze, but upon
discovering there weren't many other things to do in Derby, continued
another 126km (our first foray along the Gibb River Road [GRR]!) to
Windjana Gorge. We camped for two excellent nights there, visiting the
gorge itself and its many freshwater crocs (oh, I saw about 13 in half
an hour), as well as Tunnel Creek, which in my opinion is an
over-rated walk in the dark through waist-deep water surrounded by
large groups of elderly tourists wearing not much and freshwater crocs
who'd rather be left alone. As an introduction to the Kimberley
though, Windjana Gorge is perfect. Even better if you actually know
of the history of the place, an awful tale of genocide well-described
in Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance.

From Windjana, Mick n Mike's tour continued along the GRR to Lennard
River Gorge (even though it was closed!); Imintji, where we had a tyre
repaired by Neville, and at about 307km from Derby, we stopped for the
night – at Mt Barnett Roadhouse and Manning Gorge. We camped
overnight at Manning Gorge campground, which was packed and without
functional amenities (no lights, no hot water) but not entirely
unpleasant. We ended up playing cards with our neighbours, a friendly
couple and once again, getting stuck into M&Ms goodly supply of

The 4km return hike to Manning Gorge is an awesome hike and the gorge
itself is a stunning spot, with a waterfall and heaps of space for
swimming. We didn't hang around all that long, but you could, if you
had some tucker to keep you going. Instead we got back on the road
and, although I'd chatted to Peter Lacy briefly at the Roadhouse, the
sign at the Mt Elizabeth turnoff warned of a very rough road, so we
continued on and made ourselves a bush camp on the banks of the Hann
River instead.


I don't know why Doug came to talk to me, but I'm sure glad he did.
We got chatting pretty easily and I asked him where he lived before
Broome. He answered cheekily, 'My mother was a gypsy,' but went on to
tell me that he was adopted at about the age of four. He doesn't
know, but guesses that his family couldn't afford to keep him and that
his adopted parents only wanted him for labour on their farm (although
I have to wonder why they'd choose a four-year-old if this really were
the case).
He says he was well looked after, clothed and fed, but there wasn't a
lot of love in his life. He had many chores to do from the age of
four, and from school-age he was up at 5am to do his chores, before
walking some miles to get the train to school and didn't get home till
6 at night, when he had yet more chores to do.
At the age of ten Doug met a girl called June, who asked him why he
walked all that way to the train and didn't ride a bike. "I don't
have anywhere to leave my bike," he answered, to which June promptly
offered for him to leave it at her place, saying she'd ask her mum
first. Mum said yes, Doug started to do just that, and ten years
later Doug and June were married. In the 70s they came to Broome and
stayed. They had to move to Perth in the late 90s, because June had
been diagnosed with cancer and was receiving treatment. When June
passed away in 2001, Doug told his family, "If I'm going to be lonely,
I'm not going to be cold; I'm going back to Broome".

Broome and the Beginning

It was almost June. I really needed a new job. The doc kept telling
me not to worry about it, but I l felt like it would help to get back
in some kind of rhythm; to feel useful again. At the same time, I
also wanted to get away from Melbourne; to wipe the slate clean; to go
for a hike; and most of all, to curl up in my little tent in a wild
and beautiful - and peaceful - place. It was too cold and wet to
consider camping in Victoria, so I set my sights further afield and,
after recommendations from friends, decided it was high time I got to
the Kimberley - priority destination: Bungle Bungles. A couple of
weeks away'd do me good and I'd get stuck into my job search when I

I landed in Broome on a Friday afternoon and took a shuttle to the
hostel I'd booked. I'd done scant research, but knew it would be
difficult and expensive to get around the Kimberley on my own, with or
without a vehicle and I thought I'd have more chance of meeting travel
buddies in a hostel. But when I got there I took an immediate dislike
to the place and impulsively decided to walk a K down the road to the
campground. After all, I had all my own camping gear. The welcome
wasn't much better, but I set up camp and was feeling pretty pleased
when a friend of a friend came to take me out for a drink (big thanks
to Sue & Mel for the nice welcome!).

Over the next two days, I discovered that Broome is pretty hard to get
around without a car and that it's not really the place to be on a
long weekend - it's utterly devoid of any sign of life coz everyone
heads out of town! But I did manage to get to the excellent Saturday
morning market and make a soon to be great new friend, Doug Thompson
(Doug's story to come). I also gave in and hired a car. Mainly so I
could go to all the campgrounds and stick up notices, hoping to meet a
travel buddy. But while I had the car I also visited Gantheaume Point
for a stunning sunset picnic.

Monday morning came and I was planning to call some foreign guy about
a trip he was planning from Broome to Kununurra along the highway for
which he wanted a female companion (dodgy much?). I'd met some German
girls too, and thought I might get back in touch with them, depending
what this bloke said. I'd also left my number with Conservation
Volunteers who run fantastic-sounding conservation projects, where you
camp in the Bungles for 10 days for peanuts. Well, a fair few peanuts
at about $40 a day, but still a damn sight cheaper than the $2000+
charged by the budget tour operators for the same time frame.

As I was walking to the shower block that morning I said hello to my
curious neighbour. He and his mate were packing up, so I asked where
they were headed. When he said, 'The Gibb River Road', "the shortest
and most spectacular way between Derby in the west and
Kununurra/Wyndham in the east" (The Kimberley – An Adventurer's
Guide), not many more words passed between us before I asked if he
might take a passenger...me. My life changed when he said yes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Imintji Life Update

A very dear friend of mine recently sent me a message asking for
answers to the following six questions, whilst another lamented at the
number of times she's fruitlessly checked this blog for updates. So,
here are some answers which I hope will keep you interested, dear

1) With the soaring temperatures in the Kimberley, what time is
acceptable for beer o'clock?

The answer to this question depends on many factors, including...
a) what time I wake up, which is usually between 6 and 9am due to
sunrise which is shortly followed by escalating temperatures (it's
currently 5pm and 33.3 degrees at the back of the workshop, where our
lounge room is located, and I *think* I'm on my 3rd beer).
b) whether I am employed or required to perform any kind of rational
or logical thought, which I am not at present.
c) whether I need to drive anywhere, which I usually don't; lately
when I go anywhere I go with Neville and he likes driving so much that
he does most of it.
d) availability of said beverage, which at Nev's place is plentiful.

The short answer is lunchtime, but sometimes we have a bourbon at
lunch instead. But if we go for an early morning gorge/river walk, we
might have champagne for breakfast, thereby negating my previous
answer. Five o'clock is definitely late.

2) Do you ever sleep outside?
The answer to this question depends on how you qualify 'outside'.
Given that there are no floor to ceiling walls at Imintji, you could
say that we're always outside. However, we do sleep in the caravan,
so I suppose that qualifies as inside, even though the walls are
almost entirely flyscreen. When we go camping we ALWAYS sleep outside
(of course), but depending on the mozzies, we might put up a tent but
no fly unless there are storms...is that still outside?

Short answer: frequently - and it's great!

3) Where is the bathroom? In the caravan or in the repair shop?
Hmmm...bathroom...by which you mean room with a bath in it? We
haven't got one of those. There's a bath somewhere, which Nev says
he's gonna set up outdoors for us. We do have a tin shed with a
shower in it and it's out the back of the workshop, on the way to the
caravan. But it doesn't have a toilet. The toilet at the workshop is
a work-in-progress, but there's a shop next door and they have toilets
(full of frogs), which we can use. I recently met a woman who is
married to a grader driver and she waited four years for a toilet!

Breaking News: Neville has just promised me that he won't make me wait
four years.

4) During the wet season, will you live in an actual house that has
walls? Where is said house?
Actual house...no. Um...walls, yes. We're in the process of moving
to Location 8, which is NOT a bar in Melbourne, but Nev's 10 acre
block in the Phillips Range, 50km from Imintji. On the block there
are two 'dwellings'...I suppose you'd call them. One with walls, in
which we sleep. It's basically a shed, but there's a rug on the floor
and a sliding door and the mozzie dome is on a raised platform, which
I like to call a mezzanine. But no, no house.

5) Is Nev a good cook? What is his top dish thus far?
Yes, yes and yes! Nev is an excellent host and a very good cook. His
favourite thing to make is pizzas and roasts, but he also makes a mean
veggie curry and has shown rapid advances in his vegetarian cooking
skills, given that he only started out on this venture approximately
three months ago. He has also made impressive feasts as veggie
burgers (on a camp fire, no less!), veggie nachos, delicious egg
cookups for brekkie and inspired spontaneous creations that as yet
remain unnamed. In short, I'm always well-fed...possibly a little too

How long will you be in Melbourne?
I have just this very day booked our flights and we'll be in Melbourne
from 27 December till 9 January. We're both really looking forward to
it and hope to spend time with everyone who's in town.

Any further questions?! Email me! Look forward to seeing you Xx