17 June 2012
We are camped far away from anywhere and it feels it. We are actually at a place with a shower (with hot water!) so it’s feeling pretty posh. The best shower ever. Hot water from a tap is a winner! We are staying at what was at one time a telegraph station and is now a stop with camping on the Cape York Peninsula where we have been for about the past week or so.
To go back and bit and get caught up- After our magic day on the reef we were up and off early the next morning to get some bits and pieces done before we headed much further north so we filled water, made sure the sat phone was charged etc and then left to enjoy our drive up to Cape Tribulation. A few years ago when Ashley was visiting us we had almost a week up here so we only really spent the day making our way up and found a little camp spot a stones throw from a beautiful beach. The coast is so beautiful around there with the trees coming right down onto the sea.
The next day we were off onto the Bloomfield Track, the coastal way to get to Cooktown. We both really felt butterflies in our stomach and were excited and a little nervous. Excited because we knew we would be in some pretty remote places over the coming weeks and Cape York is somewhere we have both been looking forward to, a little nervous as we want things to go well with landy as she is tested more and more the further north we go.
We enjoyed the drive up to Cooktown and made a few stops on the way; in Wajul Wajul, a small indigenous community as well as at the Lions Den pub. The Lion’s Den is something else. There are some real characters and the place itself is pretty interesting- it is literally covered on every available space with messages people have written over the years. Anyway by afternoon we were in Cooktown. On the map Cooktown looks fairly good-sized and it’s by far the biggest town on/near Cape York Peninsula but really it’s just over a thousand people. It’s a beautiful location, set on the turquoise blue sea.
Before we arrived we had booked on a tour given by a local Aboriginal man, Willie so the next morning we were up early to meet Willie about an hour out of Cooktown near the small Aboriginal community of Hopevale. Willie is a lovely man with a big smile and ready laugh. He asked where we are from (a question we have now decided is more complicated than most people prob want to hear! We both usually stutter and stammer a bit) He he told us with a laugh he used to be a yuppy in Balmain (Sydney) but had moved back up to ‘his country’ where both his father and grandfather are from. We spent half the day with him, walking around, hearing about the area, seeing some paintings on caves walls and hearing the stories that go with them. We have seen a fair but of Aboriginal art and carvings in various places and both really enjoy it, wondering about the people who sat in that very spot and created what we have looked at but having the stories that went with them made all the difference. It really brought them to life. Willie is a natural story teller so it was a brilliant day. He loved that Olly is a geologist so he kept stopping and asking Olly to explain something or confirm if something he thought to be true was. A couple on the tour told us about Elim beach which was not far away so we decided to stay local and made our way out there to a gem of a spot for the afternoon and evening. When we drove in we stopped to see Eddie, the caretaker. Eddie is an 86 year old Aboriginal man who lives in a ‘house’ that only has half its walls. When you walk up to check out camping its not a regular pay the fee and get your spot, nope, he tells you to sit and you have to sit and chat for about 45 min or so and then after saying we will see him later off we went to our perfect little spot with our own little beach. The same process happens later when you go pay and then again when you leave. What a life he has had and we only heard a bit. I can only imagine an Aboriginal man of that age has seen some changes!
Anyway when we left Elim the road has been an almost unbelievable red and dusty road since. There is the odd bit of paved section, randomly for a few km at a time. The red has covered landy both inside and out. It occurred to me the other day that some peoples vehicles probably actually seal so they would not have the small sand dunes that we have in the back.
As we carried on we stopped at the old mission town of Laura and then made our way to Split Rock, an aboriginal art site. We found out later this site is one of the top ‘rock art’ sites in the world. It is amazing place with paintings and carvings of people and animals at three different sites, all done on massive overhanging cliff edges. Far from a place with big signs and bus tours there was not even a sign from the road and we had the place to ourselves. There is an honesty box with a small sign requesting you pay $5.
In most places we go I have taken to reading the local papers, which I almost always do when I travel. Local papers give you so much insight into a place- both in what is going on and what is advertised. What makes the papers says a lot about a place. Anyway the most recent one, which is for the whole of northern Cape York the headline is about a family dog being taken by a croc and the results of a fishing comp. I still have it and am enjoying the classified section now! It’s really interesting!
We are such a big big country with such vast differences in the climate, landscape and way people live. Reading the Sydney Morning Herald online just feels so out of place where we are now. This area really feels like a different culture at times, certainly in the Aboriginal Communities it is. I wonder if they feel they have nothing whatsoever in common with ‘the south’ where many decisions that so affect them are made- in Brisbane or Canberra. They call Cairns ‘down south’ which for most Australians is far north! It really highlights that some of the measures introduced here must feel so paternalistic still- the way people access their government benefits (by a card they can only buy basics with) and the alcohol restrictions. Each community has different alcohol restrictions ranging from you cant bring any in (with very hefty penalties including a $37,000 fine and confiscation of the vehicle) to you can only bring in a certain amount of wine or mid strength beer. Although I would be very interested to hear what the locals think about these things and how much consultation has occurred its really not something you can just walk up and ask someone out of the blue about, we are passing through and this is their home. Over the past few days English is not even the first language for many people in the small communities. It’s a different life up here. Willie did tell us some of what he thought though about a number of things and local politics which was very interesting.
We have been staying in some great places and have been loving the driving. The colours are centre stage for me- almost unreal rusty red roads, big blue skies and green bush. Having so much beautiful and enticing water around but not being able to swim because of crocs has been a tease. When you get so many warnings and there is a sign saying a recent sighting you take note. We set up our ‘bush shower’ the other day and we had just run into someone who reckons they had seen a 5 metre croc so every sound becomes a croc. Paranoia!! We probably wont even see one!
Tomorrow we start the Telegraph Track, which is a challenging 4×4 track that we will spend a few days driving up. It’s the main thing Olly has been looking forward to up here and I’m sure he will write about it soon.
I feel so lucky to be able to do this trip. I had a real moment of wow we are doing this today.
Rambling on, I know. Lots to say. V exciting to be up here. Love it.