Archived entries for Australia

A guy called Guy…

I woke up before light had come up in the van haunted by the buzzing of mosquitoes.  My bottom lip feels a bit funny and I realize something has bitten me there and I have a fat lip.  Great.  I quickly accept that there is no more sleep in the insect infested van and get up for a shower.  I realize at that point I’ve left open one of the windows without fly wire and feel my fat lip one more time.

Today is going to be a big walking day, I’m heading to the East Alligator region on the edge of Arnhem land.

“Walking is good.  You follow track… you sleep. Wake up in morning to birds, maybe kookaburra.  You feel country.” Bill Neidjie, Bunitj Clan

My first stop is Ubirr with some aboriginal rock art sites and a towering rocky lookout.  I got there around 11 and the sun was already hot and the climb up Ubirr has me sweating and coughing (did I mention this was day 6 of not smoking – so easy I didn’t even mention it before.  Yeah right.). At the top the view is astounding, a full 360 degree view of kakadu and Arnhem land as far as the eye can see.  This was one of the locations in crocodile Dundee and made for breath taking cinema.  I know it’s a little corny to reference crocodile Dundee but the Ubirr is pretty amazing and dramatic.

After hiding out in the van air con for a little while I head off to Cahills Crossing, a ford over the East Alligator River to Arnhem Land.  I stand looking over the river, thinking it looks like this is as close as I will get to Arnhem land.

Time for some more punishment in the sun with the Bardedjilidji Walk, something the Kakadu National Park guide promises to be “One of Kakadu’s most interesting short walks” and it is.

There has been some patch work burning here, which has revealed the rocky outcrops and their textures  They remind me of much larger versions of the little stones piled on Rob Paterson’s kitchen bench. The aborigines have traditionally burned off bits off land to clean it up so more plants can grow on the fertile ash, which in turns brings more animals.  This made for more food for the aborigines as they moved from area to area.

The white guys have picked up that the aborigines have been living here for tens of thousands of years and probably know a thing or two about managing the land, so park rangers have started to follow the burning practice (admittedly for many years now).

This earth.  I never damage.  I look after.  Fire is nothing, just clean up. When you burn, new grass coming up.  That means good animal soon, might be a goanna, possum, wallaby.  Burn him off, new grass is coming up, new life all over.” – Bill Neidjjie, Bunjit Clan

Time to go back to Cooinda with a stop at the Mirrai Lookout.  Another steep rocky climb for the day (in my thongs too!).  Atop the Mirrai, I’m awed by another 360 degree view of the sandstone cliffs of Arnhem land to one side and the endless wetlands to the other.  The day has got hazy since being up at Ubirr and the view as far as the eye can see isn’t quite as far.

Once back at Cooinda, I park the van and start chatting to the guy parked next to me in the identical van.  His name is Guy from Belgium, and he asks me how much I paid for the van (he got a better deal) and tells me about vans he’s rented from the past (numerous), places he has driven in Australia (more than me), the traps that backpackers are falling into (long list here), and problems he has had with vans (everyone loves a whinge it seems).  While listening I eat my dinner of fruit, cheese and biccies.  With a nice red wine to smooth it over.

There is something about people from Belgium and Switzerland that grates a little bit with me.  They are nice people and friendly, but tend to be a bit too conservative for me and like to tell rather than listen.  I used to have a universal view that they were all boring, but have since met some exceptions.  Guy isn’t one of those, although I do find it interesting sifting through my view while listening to him and making a few subtle changes in my head.  Given where I am I’d say “I’m not racist but…” here but I’m falling well short of your average white territorian.


After a few days with Ingrid and Ben in Katherine, I’m heading back to Darwin to meet up with an old mate Paul.  I’m on a bit of deadline as optus’ coverage between Katherine and Darwin is non-existent and funnily enough I have a phone interview for the PwC CIO role, so I need to make it back to mobile range in time.

I do love the irony of life that when you commit yourself to one course of action (in my case a long trip overseas), the thing that you were trying to make happen before comes back into play.

Anyway, I pull up at the thriving town of Noonamah.  Consisting of a petrol station and pub (with drive through).  I stopped here as I’d just got into mobile range and thought this would be a better place to do the interview than parked on the roadside.  So I’m getting ready for the interview and start looking around at my surroundings.  I note the guy with ute filling his tank, spare jerry cans, and then his LPG tank.  The tray of the ute piled high with supplies and the driver looking like a refugee from a trailer park in the deep south of America (I’m thinking of the movie Deliverance here).  Another ute drives past and pulls up, this time with a cage on the back and three dogs chained up.  They’re growling and looking at me like I’m the next wild pig they’re going to take down after the big guy in the ute shoots me.  I’m picturing a gun rack in the back of the cab of the ute full of shotguns and the like.  Suddenly I’m thinking that pulling up here wasn’t a good idea and that the guy in the ute with the dogs bears a bit of a resemblance to Ivan Malat, the back packer serial killer.

The mobile rings and the interview starts and I’m trying hard to block the freak show driving past from my mind.  I’m pacing around the car park, as I like to think that walking helps me think.  PwC know I’ve started my holiday so I weigh up how much to tell them about my surroundings and settle on “parked by the road side”.

I finish the interview and am mightily relieved to get out of there.  No kidnapping stories at gun point I’m afraid, just a general sense unease and an over active imagination at fault.

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