Friday marked the end of my third week in Halls Creek. I am settling in at home though I still have some unpacking and putting away to do. Slowly getting into the job. Despite this not being the ideal time of year I have been around some of the communities, introducing myself and hopefully establishing my credentials. I have also made myself useful around the township on other routine environmental health matters.
The highlight so far was a trip south yesterday to the community of Mulan, also dropping by to say hello in Balgo and Bililuna. It was long day. Des, my Aboriginal Environmental Health colleague and I set off at 0630 and returned 12 hours later almost to the minute, at 1830.
We expected to get to Mulan around 1030, but were somewhat delayed due to stopping somewhere before Bililuna and helping someone out who had bogged his ute in a sandy riverbed. His name was Xavier and he had been there since the night before. He was badly dehydrated, and we gave him water. We pulled the ute out and got him on his way home to Balgo.
We passed through Bililuna and Balgo on the way to Mulan. I had thought we would stop first at Balgo then Mulan, returning direct through Bililuna on the back road, but Des did not think that was such a good idea.
Incidentally, that dotted line down the right of the map is the border with Northern Territory.
We spent a couple of hours at Mulan, talking to the CEO, the elders of he community and discussing issues of concern. We also checked out the refuse site and sewage ponds. All looking pretty good. It was very hot in Mulan. The air temperature was a scorching 52C in the shade, and the ground temperature was 72. I drank bottled water and poured bore water over myself, just as I had on the Great Ride.
Back then to Balgo, where we did a shorter introductory meeting with admin staff. Then we visited the art centre. There I saw some amazing paintings by some internationally famous aboriginal artists. One in particular impressed me very much. A large work, it was priced at $7000. IfI had such money available I would have bought it on the spot. it was so impressive. It spoke to me of the country I was in, and I almost did not need the explanation of its meaning, such was its eloquence. I have not been in such awe of a work of art since I stood before a Mondrian long ago in the Auckland Art Gallery. As it happens, this painting was not actually for sale, being earmarked for an exhibition overseas. As were some other paintings, one of which was by a very famous painter, and priced at $30,000. The administrator of the gallery, a European employed by the community, told me that these works were highly sought after by collectors. I could see why.
I found another painting that impressed me very much indeed. On being told it was by a young woman just beginning her painting career, and was priced at $450, I bought it. My Christmas present to myself. I bought it because it was beautiful, because I felt it gave me a connection with the country I was in, and because by doing so I would be helping to empower and encourage a young woman starting out in a difficult world.
This is a small print of it, on the artist’s certificate. The original is still wrapped in brown paper and bubble wrap. I had not realised when I bought it that the frame did not come with it. I need to have a 1 metre by 500 frame made.
We set out for Bililuna. About twenty minutes along the road, we came upon Xavier, steadfastly walking homewards. His car had broken down. He was dehydrated again, and drank a couple more bottles of water as we drove him back to Balgo. That diversion meant that we arrived in Bililuna just a little after four. The clinic and office were closed. So we pressed on for home.
This introduced me to the risks of being stuck out here in the outback, and of the great importance of being prepared for an emergency. Not to mention being willing to stop and help others in need. In the rear of my 4WD I carry two spare wheels, a shovel, a 4000kg snatch strap, tools, satphone, radio, EPIRB, outback first aid kit, lots of water, emergency food, and a bunch of other stuff. I also have a car fridge; an electric eski powered from the battery.
These outback roads are difficult enough in the dry. I certainly would not take my VStar on them. They become impassable for weeks at a time in the wet. There are times when one can go nowhere and must just sit and fish for barramundi while waiting for the water to subside. Sounds terrible!
My companion Des had been rather reserved and reticent when I first arrived in Halls Creek. Over the last week we became more friendly. I showed him pictures of my family and Solomon Islander in-laws, and hopefully demonstrated by my actions and words that I was not as prejudiced as most Australians sadly are. I must have succeeded, because he has gradually shared more with me. He has an excellent work history and has had some very good jobs, in the mines, and as a radio journalist, as well as in public service. He is now completing his qualification as an environmental health officer. He told me that when he needs a bank loan he has no problem borrowing 20K providing he does it over the phone or on-line. However, should he actually visit a bank to discuss in person even a 5K loan, he is denied, without explanation. This country has a very long way to go.
On the road together, Des told me stories about the landscape features we were passing, the animals that lived here and about Aboriginal folklore in general. At one point near Balgo we passed a sign that said “Womens Law Area”. Des told me I should not venture into that area. He said most men who were foolish enough to do so often did not return for a very long time, and were released only after suffering impositions that he would not elaborate on further. He told me he knew someone who had been captured and held there. He wore a strange smile as he told me, but he assured me he was deadly serious. I found mention of the place on line. There may be more than meets the eye.
As the day wore on and we were heading home, Des really opened up and told me the story of his birth, childhood and upbringing. It is his story to tell, so I will not recount it here, but I will say that by the end we were both weeping, and my respect for him had greatly increased. If I had been through half of the horrors he told me of so matter-of-factly I would not be half the decent man he is. It is small wonder that the indigenous people of this country have such social problems and so little liking or trust for Europeans.
Before you judge anyone, walk a mile in their shoes.
Apart from the scenery -which is far from boring, but actually awe inspiring in its vastness, and diversity – and the omnipresent cattle, we encountered quite a few interesting creatures; goannas, rainbow birds, cockatoos, bush pigeons, bush turkeys (Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis), and a few other birds I have to learn about, as well as about four species of kangaroo and wallaby. Most of the time when something interesting popped up I was either driving or did not have the camera ready.
No worries. I’ll be back.
As we returned, off to the East we spotted a duststorm. It was not going our way, or we were not going its way, so it was not a problem. It was also quite difficult to photograph, I found.