Balgo - episode 1

Published: May 11th 2008
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Getting to know Wirrimanu

Balgo Hills is located in the outback Kimberley region of Western Australia. It is roughly halfway along a line connecting Broome & Alice Springs; something like 850km from Alice Springs, 900km from Broome & 1300km from Darwin.

I’m here because last year, when my Melbourne school, De La Salle College, called for volunteers from amongst its staff to teach for a term, I put my hand up. The De La Salle brothers have operated the Luurnpa Catholic School, here in Balgo Hills, for over 20 years, initially, in conjunction with the St John of God Sisters.

Balgo Hills is known as Wirrimanu, to the local aboriginal people. The population here is around 500 people but fluctuates with the comings & goings of the community. The region we are within is called the Kutjungka and encompasses Wirrimanu (Balgo Hills), Mulan (Lake Gregory), Kururrungku (Billiluna) & Halls Creek.

I had a few reasons for taking on this project. The sheer difference in the nature of the teaching to any I had previously done. An opportunity to work with an Aboriginal community. An opportunity to see, first-hand, what life in the Outback is really like. A
Balgo, just down there!Balgo, just down there!Balgo, just down there!

Roads from Broome to Halls Creek were very good & very straight.
chance to shake myself up a little and get out of my ‘comfort zone’. To be challenged by the very different nature of the environment & clientele involved, especially considering the 22 consecutive teaching years I’ve spent at De La Salle Malvern. All these ‘pluses’ have got to be good, but even if the ‘minuses’ do seem significant, it’s only for the nine or ten weeks of the second teaching term.

My departure from Melbourne was a couple days ahead of my partner, Margaret, who is, coincidentally, embarking on an adventure of her own. Margaret is a social worker with Centrelink and is involved, for the next six weeks or so, in the Intervention work to NT Aboriginal communities to help them with their budgeting and other issues. Marg is based in Alice Springs most weekends & out visiting communities during the week.

It was mildly amusing that on the eve of my departure Marg was sporting a Cabcharge card & playfully gloating about the not insignificant amount of travel allowance she had been allocated. She was still smirking a little, the next morning, as I hoofed it to the train, to get me to the Skybus, to
A young boabA young boabA young boab

Lots of boab trees, fat & skinny, to be seen as we made our way from Broome to Balgo.
get me to the airport. It was quite a long day from the 8.00am train from Oakleigh until I arrived at my Broome accommodation at about 8.00pm.

The next morning, I was able to participate in Broome’s Anzac Day dawn service as it took place right opposite my accom. I had collected the School’s Landcruiser from the airport and so was able to grocery shop, visit Cable Beach (twice; at lunch time & then for sunset) and collect a colleague, Maria, from the airport that evening as well. We would drive together to Balgo Hills the next day. The shopping took a long time, and I managed to scrounge a foam vegie box, so I repackaged the meat into meal-size portions to freeze down overnight.

The next day Maria & I headed off at about 9.00am. Apparently, just down the road and only 4 right hand turns. I had been warned this drive would take 11 hours but we managed it in 14. Good quality sealed roads most of it with the last 2 or 3 hours on the unsealed Tanami Road. It was well and truly dark before we tackled this trickier stretch of driving. All went
Termite moundsTermite moundsTermite mounds

Termite mounds come as tall skinny eruptions or big globular type things. They are so numerous, in places, they looked like a planted crop!
well, though, missing several roos & a dingo, the car headlamps making upcoming dips in the road easy to spot.

I must admit that since my first expression of interest & my actual arrival here my anxiety level had steadily risen. The feedback on life & teaching in Balgo seemed to get more substantial but more dismal as my time approached. However, I guess I was fairly well prepared, as I have suffered no great surprises in the way things are here. My previous travels through third-world countries had perhaps conditioned me somewhat for the analogous situation one encounters here. Just like the towns & cities of Nepal & India, the streets are strewn with debris; shells of derelict houses & cars pepper the streetscape, numerous mangy-looking dogs, and much graffiti. The places or structures that are still intact owe this to the all-encompassing wire mesh, the hefty padlocks and conscientious security actions of their owners/users.

The accommodation provided for me was one of those prefab, drive & drop deals - a fairly typical teacher house that goes with rural teaching positions. Cuboid in shape and broken into three sections; lounge/kitchen area, bathroom/laundry and bedroom. Comfortable enough with
The little house on the prairieThe little house on the prairieThe little house on the prairie

My place for the length of the sentence!
all the crockery, cutlery, and doodahery that you’re likely to need. To raise it above prison cell status, it has some extras, like, air conditioning, TV, video player, washing machine, desk, etc & burglar alarm. All windows & doors with security mesh, enclosed wire mesh porches on either side with serious looking locks, and then you’re in the enclosed yard. My premises sit at the far end of a line of about nine teacher houses.

Balgo itself consists of the rather central football ground (no grass, just red dirt) & open-sided basketball court. Dotted around the perimeter of this space is The Luurnpa Catholic School complex, the now derelict Youth Centre, the Catholic Church, the Men’s Health Centre & the Adult Education Centre. A little further back, on the western side, are the Community Store, the Community Administration office & the Clinic. Further back are the Balgo Clinic & the Warlayirti Aboriginal Artists Corporation. More distant still are things like, the airstrip, electricity generation plant, water supply facility, wastewater treatment facility, graveyard & Police Station (two resident policeman & three residences). And, of course, the many and varied houses that adorn the unnamed streets are mostly south round to
The comforts of homeThe comforts of homeThe comforts of home

My kitchen/dining space.
west of the school.

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


The comforts of homeThe comforts of home
The comforts of home

My lounge/study area.
The comforts of homeThe comforts of home
The comforts of home

The bedroom (in case you couldn't guess).
Company car!Company car!
Company car!

This vehicle was made available for my exclusive use.
Local Power StationLocal Power Station
Local Power Station

Deisel driven generator provides electricity to the community.
The community basketball stadiumThe community basketball stadium
The community basketball stadium

Many events are held here, including late night, singing, concerts & discos.
The General StoreThe General Store
The General Store

The Wirrimanu Community Store is perhaps the busiest part of town during its opening hours. No kids allowed during school time!
Balgo streetscapesBalgo streetscapes
Balgo streetscapes

A set of well & truly stripped house!
Footy match underwayFooty match underway
Footy match underway

A sports carnival weekend saw several games played on this, there top footy arena!
Where the hell is Balgo Hills?Where the hell is Balgo Hills?
Where the hell is Balgo Hills?

It just there where that 'thumb tack' is?
There it is!There it is!
There it is!

A wee bit closer. Balgo Hills has a population of about 500.

14th November 2008

hey, im from new plymouth, new zealand. im 18 and just finished school. im going to Balgo next year. going to be there for a little over 4 months starting 23 february, and finishing up 3 july at the end of term 2. i can't wait.
7th May 2010

Hey, do I know you?
What's wrong for you????????????????? I thought so reading through this web page!!! I found you again!!! In DLS we are a great big Family!!!! How are ya??? Am back on my homeland of Bougainville now!! Great work!!!

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