Karijini and a tour group

Published: August 27th 2009
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Karijini jaunt

Old Man Take a Look at My Life

To continue my journey north up to Broom, I could have tried to catch a lift from Coral Bay, but I didn’t fancy my chances, so instead I did the lazy thing and hopped on the Easyriders tour bus; It's benefits meant I wasn't waiting around, I was with fellow backpackers and I got to see the remote Karijini National Park in the Pilbara Desert - 600,000 square kilometres large! I also knew that there was approximately a 50 percent chance that the group would be great or rubbish. So, how’d the gamble go?

Meet the Easyriderz crew

Twats is a bit harsh it was just a shit assortment of people - eleven in all. I found myself to be the oldest person there; and when you have never previously been the oldest at anything, it makes you feel a bit, well a bit of a fuddy-duddy. In reality, I just didn’t 'click' with anyone: there was a scarily frumpy German woman of 27, going on 47 with a scary laugh and even scarier German accent whom I think had a slight thing for me, but was a bit awkward because I’m not used to having a one woman audience to everything. There was her incongruous travel partner from South Korea, who only spoke to ask me to repeat things and who even had the temerity to say that I needed to speak clearer English! Oh and then there was backpacker clique - which included an odd looking northern couple from a famous bank-town in Yorkshire: the male species being an alright bloke but the female species had the face of a horse and the manners and speech of a monkey. The two others included a fat bird from northern Wales, and a squeaky Canadian. i gradually grew to resent the lame exclusivity of this group, whose only common interest seemed to be an immature thirst for drink and/or secret lust for the big lad in their group - fascinating to see group dynamics in a clique.

Meet gobby aussie woman

Anyway, I think most of us were all united in being slightly intimidated by the tour guide/bus driver, who within the first hour had gone written on the window screen a bunch of her 'commandments'. Most were sensible and hygienic in nature but I remember: that as you were on holiday you were required to have fun, ‘Seven O’Clock was ‘Beer O’Clock’ and there was to be no whingeing, complaining or moaning whatsoever. We were then given highly original nicknames like ‘Swissy’ - from Switzerland, or ‘Welshie’ - from Wales, ‘Canada’ for the Canadian. She also gave me a nick name. From now on I was to be known as ‘Gerry’ - Aussie vernacular for 'geriatric'. There was plenty of swearing in that speech too, which I have to say does jar a bit - but I've found it's a very Aussie trait as even on the radio people get away with saying "piss off" and "arse hole".

Lastly, she also requested that each person sit up front so she could get to know each of us as well to keep her awake during the very long driving. I boldly ventured up first and managed to put my mp3 player into the sound system as she had warned us that she was obsessed with playing Pink. We were eventually given highlights of Australian music via the tour guide’s pink MP3 player, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel and Eskimo Joe; pretty awful pub rock one and all. This country’s music is like it’s out back - a bloody desert (mate).

Karijini National Park

With our insipid passengers we journeyed the long hours from 9am to dusk (6pm) through the arid desert. We stopped off at a mining town called Tom Price - yes a town named after an actual person - in order to get some food for that night as well as water (of which wonderfully remote Karijini had none).

On the way in to Karijini we came across a huge freight train, transporting its load of iron ore (the biggest mine and deposits in the world by the way) all the way to the coast at Port Hedland, and not only that but apparently also the longest train in the world.

Natural resources are a massive export commodity in Western Australia, they've contribute massively to Australian Gross Domestic Product but also the development of the state itself. This from the state Premier Charles Court at its sesquicentennary in 1979:

"Western Australians of all generations had done a mighty job in a short time. We came to an ancient land and made it young again. We made the soil productive and unlocked

minerals for a thousand uses. We have got land, sea and air networks where once there were no charts at all. We have built nearly 500 cities, suburbs, towns and settlements where none existed.": as quoted in The View from the West by Charlie Fox in Australia's History: Themes and Debates p. 86

The last leg to Karijini was a bumpy unsealed ride into the park itself. The colour of the earth was deep red and I remember thinking that I had never seen it so dark before. Once inside the park we dumped our stuff in the eco-campsite which were dormitories in large canvas tents and immediately went for dinner at the eatery. We had some good Aussie steak and also got stuck into our boxed wine - very cheap ($10 dollars - 5 GBP for 4 litres) and universally known as ‘Goon’ by backpackers here. I’ve yet to find out what the word means.

The southern stars were super bright that night, helped by the lack of any nearby towns. I even spotted the Southern Cross constellation for the first time, the same stars that famously appear on the flag of Australia. During the night I heard the eerie sounds of dingoes calling in the distance, these basically wild dogs arrived about 4,000 years ago in Australia and you can recognize them by the way that dogs bark and dingoes howl.

Trekking it

The following day we all got up early and amongst the spinifex bush and the darkest red dusty dirt we were briefed and incessantly reminded about safety in the park. Basically, there was to be no high jinks and we were to follow our guide’s instructions to the point where I felt that I was no longer a free-thinking individual. Why? If anything happened to us, this place was so remote that it would take about12 hours for any help to get to us. We were then regaled with stories of flash flooding which filled gorges within minutes which was evidence by a memorial plaque to a volunteer rescuer by the name of Jim Regan who had been caught in flash flooding while trying to save two backpackers in Hancock Gorge. "In this case, it was not the deceased who created the circumstances which resulted in his death but the unpreparedness of tourists in Karijini National Park for the realities of the activities they undertook." Gulp.

Half of me was mindful of this danger and the need for a message of warning particularly with goofy backpackers but another half of me thought it was an exercise in power. Consequently, the hikes down to gorges and pools were regimented affairs. I got chatting to the sole Aussie on the trip, Haley whose family ran a 150 year old winery in Victoria. She wanted to break free from the group and just do some hiking, particularly as we walked at the bottom of one gorge and then just turned back the exact same way. She was a little bit snooty about the group tour thing, and was only on it to get to Karijini itself, and she soon split from the group for an adventure trip in the park.

Later things got more interesting where we had to wade in pools of freezing water, and tip toe like Spiderman along near vertical walls. There was some spectacular scenery and rock formations, including circular rock pools made from millions of years of water gushing into it. Apparently these are the oldest rock formations in the world, hundreds of millions years old. This time I didn’t disagree, how can you argue over that? Most of the others jumped off the rocks and into swimming pools, the freezing water put me off slightly. Haley didn’t have a swim suit but that didn’t prevent her from jumping in with just her underwear on and giving me an eyeful. But later on I did get the courage to wade into a beautiful gorge in order to climb the waterfall at the top. The icy water literally took my breath away but it was well worth it, being on my own over that way and getting away from the herd.

The tour guide made herself useful by instructing us in how to make aboriginal paint - from different stones ground down and water being added. She then painted various patterns onto our faces, but I seem to recall her saying that she couldn’t put any traditional marks on us because aboriginal ‘elders’ who she knew had forbade her. She also told us about this ancient aboriginal tribal land and its religious significance to them, using the analogy that these gorges and pools were like our cathedrals.

Bitching at bitches

That night we had a BBQ in the outdoor kitchen, our guide doing the honours - and it was pretty darn tasty. A chilly night, the sunsets tend to slam dunk in the Winter here, a surprise when it’s been very hot and sunny all day long. However, after a few drinks the evening and the trip was put in ruins by the tour guide and two of the Northern Irish girls in the group.My sense of humour, dry and desert like as it is, was mistaken to mean that I was to be the butt of all jokes. Let me put it this way; I didn’t think it was at all professional fro a tour guide to insinuate about people’s sexuality, this petty homophobia also made me pretty cross. Moreover the incessant 'pommy bashing’ was beyond tiresome especially from such a brash and uncouth Aussie (my nickname for her was Bill). So I didn’t hang around to be abused.

Exhibit 1: the guide

This native of Broome had spent five years working at a remote mine in north western Western Australia - the only female in her job - and as a result was bullied and ignored for the entire five years. She'd clearly been affected by it because I found her very hard.Her general manners and attitude were very masculine and domineering, she had an absolute certitude of her own opinions. And low behold if you disagreed with them. I definitely didn't want to cross our guide and driver but I ultimately came to regard her as a mouthy Aussie woman - a chick with a dick. And no one wants one of those on your bus. I never really understood her either: I felt there was a deliberate vagueness surrounding her past - firstly, she mentioned that some sort of family tragedy had happened in her life and that it had changed her. Also, despite being undoubtedly blonde and white she also talked about being brought up by her aboriginal family (and be able to speak four aboriginal languages) - in addition to having an aboriginal name. She never really got my dry sense of humour: if I said something witty or sardonic without smiling or laughing she would just look at me.

Anyway, the following day we did another trek into a gorge and it was a definite highlight because it actually took about 3 hours and so exposed the amazing geology of this place. Plus we got to see some wildlife like flying foxes (with their wailing just like babies) and crane birds. I was offered an apology for the previous night’s imbroglio by the Northern Irish girls, but I refused, I didn’t want anything to do with these idiots and was incensed when they said I was only getting what I was giving out, a bizarre interpretation of people I barely spoke to.

Leaving the splendour of Karijini

We left Karijini National Park and commenced a big old bus journey to Broome, stopping off at Port Hedland to get some shopping and supplies. We got to see the first Aboriginals in this part of the world. The young lads, black as spades and dressed like the black youths of America - baggy jeans, basketball jerseys, reverse baseball caps. I thought it strange and then utterly natural for poor black youths to replicate the fashion tastes of the black ghettoised youths in the States.

That night we camped at a remote cattle station, the smell of which was everywhere. It was well visited with other visitors and Easyriderz going the other way. The latter some of which I got talking to over my home-made Spaghetti Bolognese, including two coppers in The Met; and what a contrast to the annoying folk I’d been stuck with up to now.

Not having much of a choice I bunked with the German and South Korean in a tiny room converted from a freight box. But I had a good old sleep at least comforted by the distance from the beery clique.
The final leg onwards to Broome was a test of endurance. The on- board clique, added to their number with the Northern Irish twits, who now emboldened by alcohol, and encouraged by the tour guide, were drinking by Midday. The music was loud, ear splitting in fact and I just sat there thinking there wasn’t any way of escape - tell the guide to lower the music and be seen as the fun killer by the bus and the guide.

The horse from Yorkshire tried to get me to join in with a ‘’Coom on John, you’re English!’ the presumption of which I had to smile about. By this time I’d just had enough of the immature oiks, acting around us as if they’d just discovered beer and as if no one else was in the bus or was indeed on a holiday. For the journey into Broome I also had to avoid the disgruntled gazes of the frumpy German woman, who was desperate to find someone to share her disapproval. But I didn’t want to encourage her.

When we got to Broome, we were dropped off at the Kimberly Klub - a popular hostel, but only briefly. The tour guide had the plan to check-in, get some booze at the Bottle Shop and then go straight to the beach for sunset. No one was asked if this was what they wanted to do, I know I wanted a shower and just to settle in after so many hours on the road and in the bush. However, we drove to and onto the beach, along with many other vehicles, and dicked about by the sea and waited for sunset. It was a nice spot alright, but the tour guide insisted this was Cable Beach - claimed to be one of the best in the world - it wasn’t either. Then we were subjected to Aussie rock music again.

Looking back Karijini was a pretty powerful place, with spectacular unending scenery. It would have been impossible to get there without a four wheel drive and so I’m glad I got there despite surrendering to the easy option of a tour bus.

Broome was a sultry, becalming town, a perfect temperature and right by the sea. I stayed one night in the KK to escape the Easyriderz group and moved to another hostel - the suitably named Last Resort.

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