Desert Feet Tour – 2010
The third year involved a slightly different touring approach due to funding availability. A smaller team set out in a single truck to remote communities.
The 2010 Desert Feet Tour managed to reach 11 of the 12 intended schools performing and running workshops with hundreds of children. Each school had different resources at their disposal, different cultures, musical knowledge and exposure to music.
2010 Tour Intro and Highlights
2010 Desert Feet Tour Workshops
Wednesday 6th October 2010 – Day 1
Hi and thanks for joining me on the 3rd annual Desert Feet Tour (DFT)
This year we have progressed from the mad to the ridiculous. Instead of 3 cars we have one huge truck, a huge tortoise carrying its own home. Slow we may be, but in it we have everything a touring convoy of musicians could want. I guess the up side is that slow is safe and safe is an understatement. Last year an unlucky roo hitting my unprotected Mitsubishi could have ended the tour abruptly. This year we would not even notice. Bulls are mere rabbits in comparison to us now.
The departure from Perth encompassed proved to be a steep learning curve. Driving the truck up the ever rising ground towards New Norcia proved one thing: handling a truck in traffic around town is one thing, but heavy loads on the open road are not things you learn in two lessons around the metro area. I had no idea how temperamental Auntie Hino (our 8 ton truck) could be – losing gears on a steep hill with a caravan of 10 cars behind you is a little stressful.
We departed Perth at 4am and headed off into the wild blue red yonder with our veteran team of Desert Feet companions Emily, Candice and Brian, plus new addition, Richard Watson.
Richard’s main role is cello player for our acoustic, folk rock band but his skills are endless with many instruments brought to life in his hands. He brought amongst his multitude of luggage an old accordion which he amazes us with. He does this not only by playing with great diligence but by pulling it apart nightly to tweak some part of its thousands of moving linkages and reeds. He has also earned the nick-name Swiss Army Knife because he has the right tool for every occasion. His bag is like a magicians hat from which he seems to be able to pull any item requested, to an almost ludicrous extreme.
Candice Lorrae is now on her third tour with me. Candice is a music teacher at Abmusic, plus a fantastic musician. Although her style is Pop she is very much the soul singer with a big voice and amazing technique. She never lets an audience down. In previous year she has traveled with me as part of here band Moana Dreaming but this year she has reinvented herself as soloist Ulla Shay.Her set is played to a backing track recorded with a full band which creates a big sound. Her stage presents is always professional and faultless and there is nothing I would like more than to see her receive the attention she deserves. I hope that the DFT proves to be a small step in the right direction for her.
Candice introduced me to her partner last year, Mr Brian Lloyd aka Bryte MC. She insisted that we bring him on tour in spite of MY insistence that budget wouldn’t allow it. He brings Hip Hop to our diverse styles of music with skills including rapping, beat boxing, b-boying and graph’ art. He is proving to be a major attraction at the concerts and gets everyone bouncing without fail. This is his second tour with us now; a welcomed addition making for an assorted performance wherever we go.
Emily Minchin is the cause without concern, if not for her tireless efforts over the last 4 months we would not be here. How she managed to coordinate this tour, study music full time and still work and find time to play in the band I would not be able to comprehend if not for the fact my life has been much the same.
All of us have a role to play on this tour but all of us also play every role. We are all the roadies, the sound guys, the cooks, the musicians and the performers. We all have to run get there, set up, performance, then pack up afterwards. Most musicians would show up for a gig and play then go home. Maybe they might carry their own equipment and maybe they might have to get there a bit early for a sound check, but on Tour we have to unload, set up, sound check, run the workshops, pack up then do it all again for the concert, then pack up again and drive to the next community. The need to be versatile is an understatement, but that is the nature of the Desert Feet Tour. If you are going to drive 20 hours into the heart of the desert, you might as well do everything while you are there. These guys need to be facilitators, teachers and musicians, working hard for the privilege, and then keep doing it day after day sometimes in hot and uncomfortable conditions.
First stop on the itinerary was Jigalong. The plan was to head straight out there from Perth, where we had the visitor centre awaiting our arrival with accommodation. However it was an anxious trip from Perth as we began to realise we had not taken into consideration we would be averaging 80kph. It took 17 hours to get to Newman. The police rang me at about 10pm and told me not to head out to Jiglaong till dawn as the clinic was shut and no one could let us into the Rabbit Proof Fence.
Jason, my flat mate and VOW treasurer, was supposed to arrive with another driver who was bringing The Yabu Band from Perth for the concert in Newman on Friday. However the day before we left Della the lead singer called me to say they were in Kalgoorlie on Sorry Business and so would make their own way to Newman. We dropped Jason at the Whaleback Caravan Park on arrival, fueled up on our sponsor MacMahon’s fuel account but by the time we had finished and then found out we couldn’t go to Jigalong, all the hotels where closed. So poor old Jason, after spending 17 hours crammed in the truck with us had to share his one bed donger with all 5 of us for the night.
Thursday 7th October 2010 – Day 2
We rolled in to Jigalong as a cloud of dust around 11am. A dusty dog stuck its head over the back of the truck bringing a fit of laughter from the dismounting performers. I had rubbed Candice’s sun block on to Bella’s pink nose and ears and the red dust had adhered to her in the shape of a face mask.
Jigalong is a historical site, recently in the news for the famous Football Carnival that takes place every year. Some of the hardest and toughest games of footy ever are played out here in near torturous conditions; 40 degree heat and a red dirt field, with no grass. The amateurs out here make our professionals look soft and until recently it was done in near-obscurity. You won’t see too many brightly coloured footy boots, but you will see some of the most amazing ball skills out there.
Jigalong is also a point of interest thanks to Rabbit Proof Fence, a film about 3 young children who walked across the Gibson Desert to escape a Mission. Jigalong was also one of 5 communities in the successful land rights claim that started back in 1940 with Albert Namigeri’s cattle drovers strike; an incident made popular by the Paul Kelly song “From little things, big things grow.” About 136,000 acres was officially declared Native Title, (excluding mining rights and pastoral lease). However Jigalong is still just a desert town, with a small shop and a single police station.
Most of the residents are away at the moment as there is Sorry Business, an indigenous grieving tradition, at Nullagine starting on the 10th.
Still we managed to rustle up quite a charming little audience of about 50 nippers. The locals put on a big BBQ while we commenced our first set-up on the back of the truck. It ran surprisingly smoothly considering we had not done it before. We knew how most of the gear worked and had preplanned the load-out but had never actually set it all up on the back yet. We were suitably impressed with ourselves and enjoyed the compliments of the locals who appreciated the effort. It is quite a sight to behold I imagine; a dusty truck rolls into town carry a container and a dusty dog, later it is parked in middle of town, unfolding like a transformer turning into a lit up stage with booming music.
The support team there was encouraging too. The Martu Trust run a school holiday program which is contracted out to an event organisation called RMP. Although we had only planned to do a concert at Jigalong, which was a late addition to the schedule, on their reassurance the kids would participate in adequate numbers we combined our workshop with the concert, breaking down songs and getting kids involved in the performance. The photography and footage that we reviewed around the dinner table later bore witness to the success of the event. During our performance the kids called for 3 encores of the Kookaburra song, which we discovered works fantastically with Bryte MC’s beat boxing.
Fighting the exhaustion of travel and nearly 5 hours or set-up and workshop/performance, we broke the stage down packing it back into the container. The truck quickly looked like a truck again and we congratulated ourselves on the efficiency of the new set-up. Back as “base”, aka the Rabbit Proof Fence visitors centre, Candice had a huge feed of spaghetti waiting for us. We all slept with satisfaction. 1 down!
Friday 8th October 2010 – Day 3
The concert at Boomerang oval was triple the size of last year. Two of our main sponsors came to the show and were considerably impressed by the setup. A mobile stage on a truck! It was a tight squeeze for “The Yabu Band” who headlined the event. With 5 of them up there, a set of drums and all the PA equipment there was no room for parading around, but it was a site to be seen. My little old truck lit up like a Christmas tree, surrounded by enthusiastic devotees. I learned later that Newman had not had a live music performance since our last visit. Well they got 4 last night.
The only incident occurred at 9:30pm when the oval lights went out suddenly. We had booked them till midnight and were not prepared for the ensuing confusion. Ironically, it worked in our favor. Like Fat Cat singing the go to sleep song, the lights going out acted like some sort of subconscious sedative and within minutes the once heaving oval was stone cold clear. We packed up in silence under torch light, a well exhausted crew by then.
Richard and I had spent four hours setting up sounds gear and sound checking. It was our first ever total setup with all the gear and sound equipment and we fairly winged it. Unfortunately, lacking a sound guy this year, cost us some time and quality on the sound, but considering neither of us are sound techs and it was our first go, I think we passed. The drums and massive sub woofers will not be used again now until Fitzroy Crossing as all our performances will be acoustic except in Broome, where the venue will be supplying the backline and PA anyway.
My learning curve has now reached exponential proportions with regards to the trucking life.
At last night’s sponsored concert in Newman someone fell against or swung off one of the leavers that locks the hydraulics off on our crane. As a result we couldn’t retract the stabilizer legs; the truck could not move an inch! Completely at a loss as to what was wrong, we assumed the hydraulics had just jammed. We shut the truck down and went through the process of retracting the legs 3 or 4 times, carefully retracing our steps in the order we extended them. Finally becoming resigned to the fact that the truck would have to sit on Boomerang oval until a heavy duty mechanic could come to us in the morning, I noticed that an innocuous looking lever was down on one side and up on the other! We switched one around and voila! up they came! What a relief!
The fun didn’t stop there however. In the excitement of our relief and being considerably tired by this time I forgot to turn of the power to the crane. Two blocks down the road I couldn’t shift a gear and was at a standstill on the side of the road scratching my head again. Luckily Auntie Hino is very forgiving and it seems no damage was done.
Saturday 9th October 2010 – Day 4
Bumping, or loading, in and out of the truck is hard work; it’s high up, everything needs to be lifted up, the container has to be packed, and it is generally hot, airless and stuffy. We left Newman late even though I was up from 6am.
I overhauled the truck and checked the gear, fueled up and met the others at the shops. Everything was ok only I couldn’t get hold of our contact in Warralong. I rang and left 3 messages before I left Newman but to no avail. I was told by a BHP worker that the road to Marble Bar was so bad the postman had stopped running mail. I had no idea how to get to Warralong from Marble Bar, the police didn’t know much about any other routes, and I couldn’t get hold of any of the Martu committee. I decided to drive for Port Hedland – I knew that I could access Marble Bar from the Broome road and it was sealed all the way. It would add 2-3 hours driving but that was better than an unknown quantity if I went on the dirt from Nullagine. I also knew that I would have no reception now till Port Headland and if I couldn’t confirm my arrival at Warralong with the residents, I didn’t want to go in. It could mean the road was closed, it could mean the community was gone for Sorry Business – it could mean no one was there!?
We pulled into Port Hedland around 4pm. The boot over the gear shaft had long since pulled away letting hot air blast in from the engine below. The A/C cannot compete and as we head north the ambient air temp increases. It was getting pretty sticky for the crew so we stopped at the local shopping centre for a rest while I tried to reach the community again. With no answer, and no messages on the phone I was using, I had to make the call; head for 80 Mile Caravan Park and dig in for the night, or push on to Warralong in the dark.
I bought a few drinks to make a fishing trip of it at the 80 Mile Beach. I had a tray of coffees for the drive, two chicken salads and a bag of ice under my arm when the phone rang. Our liaison in Warrlaong had been calling my ‘city phone’ leaving messages, but I’d had no reception on that line, opting instead for a Telstra prepaid phone since it has much better reception. I had forgotten to leave a message on my city-phone with instructions. We had been missing each other all day. The gist of it was that Warralong was ALREADY waiting for us to arrive. The concert had been much anticipated and the word had gone out far and wide. We had to go.
I got a rough mud map made up and we took to the dirt over the inland train line and south into the desert again.
The land up here is hilly in places, mountains of steel. Red and iron outcrops in a deadly sun. Parts of the roadside are fields of red gravel, stretching as far as the eye can see, quivering in the heat like an oven on high. A veritable sea of red, it’s impressive and daunting at the same time, stirring the spirit within me awake. One feels his vulnerability and instinctively respects a power far greater than one’s self. It’s the dichotomy of the north-west, harsh and cruel, yet alive and awe invoking. A man can die out here in a few hours, but if you know where to look, it is sustainable beyond comprehension. If it were not for the minerals of wealth in this earth most of this desert would never be even so much as looked at by a vast majority of today’s society, yet a living culture exists here in this heat longer than any other known to man.
We didn’t arrive in Warralong till about 6:30pm but it was a warm welcome. Kids ran alongside the truck and hoots and hollering prevailed. We just drove straight on to the basketball court, dropped the hungry boards and lifted the container off. The head elder greeted us and a teacher showed us where the power was. Kids frolicked around the truck while we set up, Richard and I, now veteran roadies, had the stage operational in 20 minutes.
Emily has become the quintessential crane operator. The truck seems to respond to her feminine touch, and her patience and calm manner make for the perfect operator. It’s a dangerous job, under full load, the Hiab is moving a few ton and a flick of the lever the wrong way could crush equipment or wreck the truck. She has mastered the lifting on and off of the container so well now that we have allocated her the title of Crane Driver.
Richard has become the sound engineer by default. It really makes sense to only have one person operating the desk or no one knows what is going where. His scientific mind and love of electronics makes the perfect combination. Unfortunately he is not yet the perfect sound guy and we have had a few fun moments getting sound right. Keeping it simple is the rule but nothing beats having a sound guy like we did last year. It is such a huge relief not having to be concerned about sound while you are being a performer, however I ended up being a roadie to the sound guy last year as he had back complaints for a majority of the trip. It’s just too expensive to pay for another body, wages, accommodation, and food for the sake of mixing 2 hours of sound a day, unless they can really get in and do the other stuff too. We decided not to take the risk this year so we have had to all chip in and make it work.
The concert a Warralong was the highlight of the trip so far. It felt like a scene out of Midnight Oil’s “Black Fella, White Fella” movie. We were welcomed warmly attended by all, who danced and enjoyed the show with obvious delight. A real highlight was the break dance session I had with George one of the Elders of the Community, who was impressed with the young rappers and decided to give it a go too, much to the delight of the kids and all. The night culminated with a performance by young local man, Samson, a left handed guitarist that got up Jimmy Hendrix style and played a desert reggae style ballade in his native language on a right handed guitar. His face was so full of passion and his voice so emotional that I felt like I could understand Martu that night. We were so impressed with his skill that Richard set up the electric and played lead, Brian keep up a beat with his beat boxing skills, while I offered up some average harmonica riffs to Candice’s lovely blues freestyle. The act brought the house down and when at around 10pm we called an end to the show after 3 hours of solid music, we were embraced by all. Emily made some real fans and was asked to dance, sign shirt sleeves and have photos with several of the older guys.
Even though we had accommodation available, the idea of making a run for it to 80 Mile Beach and getting a sleep in with a good day off and not having to bump out again in the morning was too tempting. The local teacher brewed us strong coffee and in spite of the requests to stay, we pushed on into the night.
A week before we left, he showed up with a load of stuff to bring, some of which we made him take home again, including a bike, and two old car batteries. Along with an old trunk half full of hay, I found a set of Christmas tree lights which I hid in the spare room with other stuff from his assorted offering of touring equipment, but the night before we left he sleep in there and must have gone through it all again, because at Newman on the Friday night, I went to the toilet for a minute and came back to find the stage lit up like a Christmas tree with his lights hanging off the awnings; I had to laugh.
What is really funny is the first night we stayed in Jigalong, he unpacked his bags in his room which we then spent an hour looking through, sort of like going to garage sale only better. He had gooseneck microphones and 3 hand held video cameras of various ages, and an accordion. I Broome when we were having a blues jam in the room he produced a harmonica in the key of A that belonged to his Grandfather.
I must admit I was a little peeved when after spending 3 days packing the sea container to make it fit perfectly and make sure we had everything we needed, Richard showed up at 1am, 2 hours before we were leaving, with another 3 bags of stuff and about 7 Coles bags of loose items. However, it soon became apparent that there was nothing Richard could not fix, produce on demand, or find in his massive entourage of luggage, including super glue out in the desert to fix a camera stand, spare power cords and amp meter to fix an electrical fault in the stage lighting at Jigalong that would have been otherwise disastrous, and then a soldering iron to fix the stereo system in the truck. At one stage while packing the container I picked up a Coles bag that disintegrated, and out fell 5 small electrical fans! The type you find in a computer. To this day I still have no idea what he was thinking when he packed those.
At Jigalong he set up an inverter from the batteries and ran a power lead into the cab of the truck to run a power board so he could use his computer. This meant we could all charge our phones and cameras while on the road. At one stage I found white wire running the length of the cab across my dash and out the window. When I enquired as to what that might be for he informed me with indifference it was running the thermometer that he had set up so he could see what the temperature was. I think at this point you start to get the idea.
Spirits in the truck where high from our success, and a little road trip with a congratulatory beer or two was in order. Richard had found a ukulele in a store in Port Hedland and, in accordance with people of his musical caliber, despite never having played one before, within 10 minutes had turned a $30 twangy little kid’s ukulele into a sing along of epic proportions. The road to 80 Mile Beach was passed with classic tunes of John Foggerty and moon light dance.
Sunday 10th October 2010 – Day 5
At Sandfire Roadhouse I signed a cheque and dated it 10/10/10. An unique date, it struck me as iconic of our technological age, the naughts and strokes of computer language imprinted as our date.
I had time for a quick coffee with Ken, the institutional owner of Sandfire for over 40 years. I was disappointed they had taken Lambs Fry off the menu so I stuffed a huge cooked breakfast down my gob instead.
I made a judgment call last night which didn’t end too well and unfortunately none of us got much sleep as a result. We had a window of opportunity in the itinerary to have a day of down time at the 80 Mile Caravan Park when we left Warralong Community last night. It doesn’t seem like much but the idea of not having to bump in and out of the container for the day sounded like a sweet reprieve. It meant we could have a whole day off and sleep in and then not have to load out till the following (tomorrow) morning. I booked a chalet over the phone and after the concert, the guys voted we head straight for the camp site, thinking of air-con, clean shelter and some Salmon fishing if the tide was high!!
Instead, we arrived at 3am dog tired, rolled out the swags after a much needed shower and some supper with the sun rising, and no sooner had we crawled into the swags, it was too hot to be in them. Out of exhaustion we slept till about 6am when it became unbearably hot. I pulled my swag cover back, and noticed Candice was sitting on her swag like an Indian Snake charmer, swaying from side to side: not awake, not asleep. Brian was leaning against the back of the truck, the only shade available, with his head in his arms, literally asleep on his feet.
Richard had gone for a walk to the beach to take photos. The tide was out and it can be deceiving as to just how far the fore shore is on the massive tides of the 80 Mile; it was nearly an hour’s walk and on the way back in the heat and with the tide coming in behind him he started to wonder if he would fall asleep while walking. When he got back to the camp at around 6am he looked like a zombie. He promptly fell asleep on the back seat of the truck and woke 20 minutes later covered in sweat. At this point we met around the table, everyone was keen to get into the air conditioned donger only to discover that as we had a dog with us we had to leave?!
There was nothing else for it, we had to move on. The guys could sleep in the cab with the air-con on but someone had to stay awake. Emily made me a thermos of hot coffee, I pinched myself hard, stuck some ear phones in with fast music and we headed for Broome, our only reprieve. A good 6 hours away and with a car load of zombie musicians, my dreams of a relaxing day of rest, repair and salmon fishing evaporated in the hot sun of reality.
One thing I have learnt that is always the same in the Kimberley’s it that nothing is ever the same. Change, chance and adventure are always the numbers on the dice touring in this climate. I just hope my friends are wrong about the wet season starting early, if it rained now, it could make hard work of it all.
Monday 11th October 2010 – Day 6
I am not sure how I managed to drive to Broome without stopping. When we arrived I had slept all of 2 hours in the previous 24. I didn’t feel tired at all and really enjoyed the trip. One thing was obvious during the journry: was no one else was going to be driving. I wish I could have gotten a photo inside that cab at about 9am yesterday. It looked like road kill, mouths hanging open, a chorus of snores, heads banging against the windows and head rests like a symphony of drunken soldiers. Anyone would have thought I drugged them all with valium. No one stirred for 3 hours straight after we left Sandfire Roadhouse.
Broome was really quiet and we got two hotel rooms side by side at the Roey. It was much needed and I was in town no longer than an hour when I got a call from Patrick in Fitzroy. A well respected elder has passed away in Nookanbah. The community was on Sorry Business and he felt that the concert would not be wanted as it is disrespectful to the deceased to play music. They still wanted the workshop and we decided to check in for an extra night at the Roey. This meant we could have a whole day off without bumping in and out of the tuck and so we were rewarded after all, after not getting the opportunity at the 80 Mile.
I had a massive back log of emails and phone messages as my city-phone reception only works in Broome. I got the opportunity to change the message on my voice mail and add the other number to it, but I fell asleep about 4 in the afternoon and besides waking for a bit of food, slept right thought till the next day.
Tuesday 12th October 2010 – Day 7
Heading out of Broome for Nookanbah, the first of the Kimberly communities, I got a call from Patrick our liaison in Fitzroy and the Spiritual Health officer for the Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services. There had been 42mm of rain last night. The road out to Nookanbah is dirt from the main highway and the communities in the Valley flood quickly. It’s unusual for rain this early but it is not unusual to be stuck out country for weeks after big rains come. I called the school and they told me they thought it would be safe, but when I called Yakanarra the CEO told me that more rain was coming!
It’s a tough call as we don’t have time in our schedule to delay or postpone the communities. If we don’t get there they just miss out, and if we are out there and the roads close there is no coming back till it dries. The Fitzroy River Valley is an ancient flood plain, and unlike the salt lakes or red gravel tracks of the Pilbara, once the land becomes saturated it is boggy, soft and very slippery. From Nookanbah to Yakanarra the road crosses the Fitzroy River and once the river fills, the only way out of Yakanarra is across land is via the rich pastoral leases. The heavy soil of that area is like a checker board of hexagonal black earth all dry season, spotted with rich foliage, cattle and water holes, but after the rain it is a sand trap of treachery, lined with the testimony of rusted carcasses of cars that tried make a run for it but didn’t make it through.
At this point in the trip to call off 2 of the communities would seem overly cautious, especially as I only have Brian and Candice with me now for another week before they fly home. As we drive north along the highway towards Derby an ominous sky lingers above. The positive side is that at least the clouds keep the sun off and it is a few degrees cooler than normal.
Wednesday 13th October 2010 – Day 8
After bumping into the school’s multi-purpose room yesterday morning, Richard and I took the truck over to the local Basketball court. Dickey Cox the Elder and council elder predicated the weather would hold which was good enough for us. However, as we started to set up the sky rolled out an ominous black ceiling to our event. A few cracks of lightening and a light sprinkle arrived with the girls who had walked over from the camp to find us half set up under the dark Kimberley sky. Our mistake was obvious by then and, feeling somewhat foolish, we piled everything back and drove over to the wool shed where we could play in safety from the rain.
We got most the electrical stuff unloaded again before the big rains came, but it fell so heavy on the tin roof it was deafening. The roof leaked and the winds whirled up a moist spray that drifted around in the air. While the others waited for the rain to die down, Emily and I went back with the truck to pick up the sea container. The air was warm even in the rain and I felt like a true country man, my big statesman cowboy hat like an umbrella, being put to good use. We laughed at our own misfortune, happy to get the job done, accepting the adventure as it came. We got the truck into a small compound close to the shed entry so we could load up if it was still raining after the concert without getting the gear wet.
A small entourage of locals had followed us over from the basketball court into the shed. Since we had an audience we decided to go on with the show. By the time Em and I got back the others had sound checked and Ulla Shay was kicking off the set. We had our new beat sensitive disco lights going that we had bought in Broome giving a great effect. An old cowboy got up from the silent audience unexpectedly and started to dance. His black wide brimmed hat hiding his face, his boots plotting the course to a slow country jig. His old denim jeans and flannel shirt danced to the rhythm of his lean figure. As if waiting for permission to enjoy the music, the others joined in, now the ice was broken and from then on in no kids sat down again. The wool shed came to life, its long rows of tall piers disappeared into the darkness above, where they held out the rain that beat a steady rhythm on the ancient tin. In this forgotten hall we warmed a little recess in a far corner with our exertions. Our stage, lit up by our down lights was the only light source and from the far end the concert looked like a candle on a bed stand.
This big old wool shed has seen some sweat and tears. It is the original shearing shed for the old Noonkanbah Homestead, now just a few piles of stones at the far end of the community. Many a man bent his back out here in what would have been the furthest reaches of the universe a hundred years ago. The rain kept on coming.
Emily decided not to take her Viola out of the truck, everything was a bit damp by now and her precious instrument is not to be mistreated. Richard and I had practiced some songs to the backing track that we had recorded for the new album we had been working on. He played the electric guitar over them with my live vocals and acoustic guitar. It worked well and we had some fun but as always Bryte MC took the cake.
What we had not prepared for was what had happened in the few hours that it rained. Upon trying to back the truck up to the gate we discovered that the court yard had turned into to veritable bog pit. Within a few seconds of driving and reversing the truck I was bogged. It would not have been an issue at all, except when I went to engage the four wheel drive, it did not work!? In the darkness and pouring rain I also discovered that the cab of the truck leaked like a hose pipe through the door seals and water splashed up on the windscreen, making it impossible to see out. It became obvious that I just had to try and get the truck to high ground and leave the gear behind, hoping we could pick it up tomorrow if the rain stopped.
There was only one exit out of the fenced courtyard area, and by then the path leading out was a pool of muddy water. With a big run up and low gear I got some momentum going and was able to clear the courtyard. Things did not get an easier on the town’s soft roads. Poor old Auntie Hino was screaming away in second and hardly moving. By shear miracle she slid around the corner of her own volition and headed up the small rise leading to the basketball court, and 10 metres beyond that lay the ring road that is Noonkanbah’s main bitumen road. Dashing our hopes, was we appraoched I came to grinding halt. The slight rise and the ever worsening mud, fuelled by the continuous rain, had becalmed us; she could go no further. Without 4X4 she was not moving and every moment the conditions grew worse. Just then the generator went out, the lights of the basketball court shut down, leaving us in darkness. The cab continued to allow in the downpour of wet season rain; my boots were filled with water and my hat turned shapeless.
With all our equipment unprotected and our only means of transport bogged, we looked a sorry mob. We could walk back to the school and leave it all there or try to get the truck out. Seeing how fast the ground had changed into runny sludge the idea of leaving the truck was not appealing; it could be far worse by the morning if the rain kept up. Richard and Brian want seeking some timbers while Em and I ran up the PTO and set up the hydraulic legs. With the use of some timber blocks we jacked the truck up enough to build a bridge of timber up to the bitumen. After several attempts, gaining a few precious feet each time, she made the last little rise and dug her way up onto the hard bitumen! Like a pack of drowned rats we celebrated our victory over the elements. Rescuing Auntie Hino from drowning in quick sand deserved reward and in our muddy, drenched clothing, suitably fashioned by the famous Kimberley red sand, we danced a little jig. We had won that night but we still had the issue of how to fix the truck in the morning, and how to get our gear back. We went to bed hoping it was all still there in the morning.
I woke up at daybreak, too worried about the equipment to sleep much. The rain had stopped at first light too, but all the gear including both the Vox and Fender amps, and the whole kit and kaboodle was sitting on the stage in the wool shed, unprotected and uncovered. I wasn’t too worried about someone finding it, as no one would have been out in that rain except maybe a bunch of crazy performers from Perth bogged in the mud. I just hoped that it wasn’t wet or damaged. We got as close to the old shed as possible without getting bogged again.
Considering recent experience, only with the greatest of caution did I leave the road. The area in which we had been trapped was now completely submerged and glad was my heart that we got her out when we did. Another hour or two and she could have been stuck there for a week. There were predictions for further rain up till Friday so it would only get worse now. We found the gear as we had left it and no one was to be seen. A little damp but generally ok, it was a real relief to have it back safe inside the sea container.
Back at the ranch we had to get focused on the next priority; doing the workshop for the school. I was looking forward to seeing Bryte’s new recording workshop and excited to do the first major school of the tour, however at the back of my mind all the time was a little voice asking why did the 4×4 not work and how will we get out of here if I can’t fix it? For now I had to focus. This is one of the biggest schools in the valley and our audience was over 70 kids.
We started at 8am which is the earliest we have done a workshop, but the school had requested it so we agreed. Managing 70 kids of various ages is no mean feat. After our customary introductions, the standard preliminary acknowledgement of traditional custodians, and other formalities, Candice and Bryte got the kid engaged in some activities to burn off some steam first. A great activity to engage the kids is the scary game; the kids form two lines facing each other, side ‘A’ must run over to side ‘B’ and do their scariest face and noises, then vice-versa. It works well because it overcomes shame by getting everyone participating first up, and then everyone is ready to get involved.
The kids requested Wipeout for the recording workshop and Bryte had his hands full laying down a drum beat to that one, but Richard with his musical ability was able to lay the keys down in moments and in the course of a short period of time the school was able to dance along to a simply recorded version of ‘Wipe Out’. The finale and much anticipated conclusion is, as always, Bryte’s Hip Hop workshop. The kids are always enthralled with him and love participating in the beat boxing exercises. They will always get up and have a go, and when he offers up his closing song you can just about guarantee that several of the kids will start to break dance along.
It’s always hard to end the workshops, we have enough content to go on for days! There is never enough time, and the limitations of the short hours of access and the need for the kids to take regular breaks and keep to their normal schedule limits the delivery time of our content to an hour or two maximum. I only hope that soon we will have the funding to allow us to stay longer and really focus on developing songs and skills with kids that want to play music over a 2-3 day period.
After the workshop Richard and I looked over the truck. Richard just happened to have an OMS meter on him, as you do in the middle of the desert, so he was able to establish that there was current to the switch that activated the pneumatic drive for the 4X4. From there it was just a matter of tracing the wire back to the cylinder where he discovered that a stone had quite simply detached the wire from the housing. So, after soldering the wire back with the soldering iron and solder that he ‘just happened’ to have in his backpack, (as you do when you travel in the desert with a backpack full of random items) it seemed the switch should work fine. However still no joy, the 4×4 would not engage. After some more ferreting around in the sand under the truck, I found one of the pneumatic lines on the cylinder had burst off. It was simply a matter of trimming and reattaching it, but this meant that if it was a reoccurring issue, the line would get too short to reach. Hopefully we just got unlucky and we would be right now.
At last we had some down time now and fishing on the Fitzroy River was high on my agenda. This far into the Valley the fish are safe from tourists and with the rain the river would be moving. I met up with two local girls who were coming back from the river. After asking them about a good fishing spot they offered to be our guides and turned around to head back down with us again. By the amount of giggling and low chatter they amused themselves with along the way, it was evident I was a source of amusement.
Lesley is 17. She has lived here all her life and went to school here. She had been to Perth once to visit a cousin, but she did not like it. Shanna was the same age and remembered us from the concert last year.
We crossed the river under their instructions at the road. Because the river is so wide at this point it is quite shallow and is used as a crossing. An old concrete footpath has been run across between the two banks but this was well under water now after all the rain. On the far side a beautiful white sand beach opened up before us, similar to Cottesloe beach in Perth minus an ocean, in the middle of the desert.
Its pristine banks were devoid of people until we rounded a bend to find 4 young boys who had somehow erected 4 huge, full size football goal posts made out of PVC pipe. Their scratch match was quickly abandoned when they discovered we were going fishing and, eager to show us around. They followed us up stream, pointing out the best spots. Two of the older boys showed me how to find fresh water mussels, called Gagaroo in language, to use as bait. Within a space of five meters along the shore we had removed a Coles bag full. I would never have guessed they were there if we hadn’t of been shown.
After discovering that they are as good to eat as they are for bait we decided to save them for later for a huge cook up. Candice was very excited and offered to make Chilli mussels for our local guides boys if they came back for a movie night. After several attempts at catching my ever elusive Barramundi we decided to settle for Catfish, which the boys assured me are “very sweet”. The girls had caught four by now on hand lines. I have caught the salt water version before but never eaten them. The evening was topped off with a swim in the cool river.
Two of the younger guys showed me how the traditional face paints are made by grinding special rocks on the foreshore in small pools of trapped water until they became a paste. Several shades of yellow and red were concocted in this manner after which I was painted with the substance. It felt quite nice, sort of like a clay mask only not as heavy. The kids found this quite comical and I was the source of further amusement, particularity when I tried to repeat the local Walmanjarrri words. My pronunciation would bring on great bursts of laughter.
Candice’s Mussel dish was interesting to say the least. I have never had fresh water mussels’ before, and found them to be a bit muddy. Occasionally I would get a bit of grit, crunch through it, and continue on. Other than that they are a bit chewy and quite ok. I think the traditional way, on a fire with a bit of salt, might be nicer. But none of the local boys complained and they all ate all theirs so I figured it must have been fine. Either that or they are just very polite at Nookanbah.
Outside the rain started up again.
Thursday 14th October 2010 – Day 9
At dawn the synopsis was no better. I ran into some of the guys at the town office; they had attempted to cross the river that morning but had turned around. I rang the office out at Yakanarra and the CEO told me that one car had got through last night but only just, and was towed into town after spinning out. On the south side of the river the black mud is slippery and even if I got into Yakanarra, the road across the Valley out through Bayulu would be dangerous. The road back into Fitzroy is old, it’s hard from years of use. Even flooded it would stay hard but if the creeks got too full it would turn us around. On the other hand, if I waited and we got more rain as forecasted I might not even get out.
I rang Bayulu to see if we could change the dates around. If I could get into Fitzroy today then would be only 15 minutes to Bayulu and its high ground, where we would be safe. I called the school and they were happy to do so. It worked out for the best, even though I didn’t get into town in time. We took over 2 hours to make the 70 kilometres back to the main road.
In town the teacher from Yakanarra called me. She said she had spent 2 hours stuck in mud on the south side of the valley and ended up turning around. They only got 40 kilometres. They couldn’t get out and we couldn’t get in. My own trip out was just as fun. By the time you read this we should have a video link on the site of a creek crossing we did. Parts of the road were flooded as far as the eye could see; it was quite intimidating. There is no stopping and no turning round. The road is only distinguishable by the absence of any sort of foliage appearing through the water, more like a flooded creek than a road and its horizon seemed endless.
The first creek was a torrent. Emily and Richard waded across first. It was waist high. I got across in 4 low, the water entered the cab but we made it with some to spare. Richard filmed us coming through from the far side and Candice filmed it from in the cab. It made for good footage and there were loud celebrations upon reaching the other bank. Anyone would think we were a pack of school kids. By the time we made it back to the bitumen, the air-con had stopped working again and we had picked up a peculiar noise. More worrying was when I went to disengage the 4×4 and it wouldn’t come out?
By this time we were running late. The delays left us with an hour to get the 90 kilometres in to town and set up all the equipment for the workshop. Instead of bolting for town I was under the truck again doing running repairs in the mud. More of the pneumatic lines had worked loose and the problem was quickly solved. Hoping to get some mileage under our belt now with the open road in front of us, we were to disappointed all too soon. Every time I reached top gear and got a bit of speed up we seemed to hit a floodway. Sections of the road up to 400-500 meters long were under water. Our speed was considerably reduced. Then it started to rain again.
Rushing now was just not safe and it was obvious that we could not make the schedule I had set in the morning. Instead I took it easy into town and when we arrived I called the school to ask if we could delay to tomorrow.
Friday 15th October 2010 – Day 10
I would like to publicly thank Bayulu school for their flexibility this year. Unfortunately I gave them two false starts which they brushed off with impunity. I am sure we, although always welcome, alter the normal activity of the teachers and the school they run, so it is only with much hesitation that I ask to change dates.
Bayulu School was a highlight this year. Candice and Bryte are very versatile in the workshop styles they can run, but I personally enjoy the song writing workshop in which the kids learn the structure, components and language of a song. Once the overview is delivered we give a quick example of how it all fits together, how versatile styles of music are and how they can interchange. The next is to find a topic or theme that the school community or kids like. We encourage those game enough to get up and perform.
Bayulu is easy as their school motto is Honour, Nurture and Succeed. So that becomes the chorus. The kids are then broken into groups with a facilitator per group, given a word to expand on, to brain storm what that word means to them. These phrases and sentences will then be massaged into verses with the kids’ participation. It’s their words and their meaning, we just help to make it rhyme a bit. One of the facilitators takes to big whiteboard and from the floor the kids call out their ideas while we arrange them into verses. The process can be funny, but kids are rewarded by having their ideas embedded in the song.
We show them the drum track together with a bass line and a simple chord progression on guitar which the students can learn. With our microphones already set up we record the whole school singing along and add some lead or a break out section where the kids can get even more involved, add some more instruments and harmonies, and voila! In one hour the kids have learnt, participated, performed, created, and sung on their own song. If you didn’t know that anyone could write a song that quickly by following some basic rules, you do after our workshop.
It puts a creative outlet within arm’s reach of anyone willing to try. More importantly, the kids see that music is not only for rock stars or famous people, or even the highly talented, we show them it is a form of expression that can be used as a cathartic outlet, a hobby or even as a career option with unlimited possibilities. The educational and future employment opportunities are endless.
To finish off we hand out little show bags to all the kids, with information pamphlets, what types of schools are available and what to do, along with a few little treats like temporary tattoos, balloons, stickers, a healthy fruit box, a music CD and maybe just one naughty little lolly cause kids still have to be kids too.
Bayulu has been really receptive to our tour and made direct requests with regards to their requirements. I am ever hopeful that we can get the funding to really fulfil the ideas of Ken Molyeneux the Principle. Asking me to help set up a school band and a school choir, I told him that Emily has studied choral conducting as part of her Classical Music degree. With more time and a bit of backing, we could spend 2-3 days there to set up the choir for those that wanted to be in it, provide the music, and implement a program which is easily sustainable. The band part is even easier. In the same 2-3 days, if we could get the equipment donated we could quite easily help three or four groups of kids that want to set up a band arrange some songs and even record them.
Ken and I both agreed that if the equipment was provided, access to it could be used as an attendance incentive. He is quite happy to put the time into running the activities in school time and has the basic music knowledge to maintain it. I really see this idea as the future of the tour. Having a measurable outcome gauged by attendance, which is required to gain access to the school band equipment, now seems so obvious.
If you are reading this and you can help us provide this service we would love to hear from you!!! It just takes the right person who knows the right person that can introduce us to that one ideal person.
Saturday 16th October 2010 – Day 11
I was hoping to spend some time out in the community; I still have not fulfilled my dream of going goanna hunting. The boys at Noonkanbah offered to take me but we had to leave. After the workshop yesterday with the schedule being altered and a little uncertain it seemed best to head back to Broome.
This suited Bryte as it’s his birthday today and it means we could celebrate in style, unlike last year when we were stuck out bush with no shops or access to phones. We dropped in on the illustrious Patrick Davies, who has not been able to join us because of work issues. Again I was disappointed byhaving to turn down his requests to go up river in the punt! His invitation was highly tempting, especially because of his confidence surrounding the outcome! Being a local and armed with his knowledge of the conditions, we would have been guaranteed us a Barra’. The nature of conditions, with the first rains moving the water, are the best of all possible circumstances, he assured us.
The morning was spent up keeping the truck. I poured nearly $600 into it by 10am just on some spare parts. I was able to fuel up again on MacMahon’s account which saved us $250. The cruncher was when I went in to get the tires checked. We have two spares but I never occurred to me that there might be different size tyres on the back!? It turns out we are running a tyre called an 8.250 R20. There are four tyres back there, one of which I noticed had a bulge. It needed changing.
However after the boys looked at it they all agreed that I wouldn’t get one of these in Broome! I had to order it in and it won’t get here till Wednesday. I just have to hope she holds up as they also told me my spare looks so old it may not be worth putting on. I will need some hoods for the spares next year; this sun just kills them. Similar for the crane; after taking it to the hydraulic mechanics they said as long as you don’t do a hose “you’ll be right mate.” I got some spare fitting for the pneumatic system as that seems to be something that needs constant attention. I wanted to get the windscreen fixed as the dirt roads will make that crack we picked up near Jigalong worse, but all three windscreen guys in Broome were closed for the weekend.
That was a stroke of bad luck; a bit of glass welding now could save a grand or so later. I’ve done this trip three times and never had a stone hit my windscreen before. It was brand new too! Ironically, just before it happened we had been on gravel for nearly 2 hours. I turned out of the Jigalong dirt track onto the bitumen and was not even in 3rd gear before the first passing car cracked it! Seemed a bit unlucky to cop a stone on the bitumen after all that gravel but hey who said life is fair right!
We rolled out of Fitzroy around 4pm, a little disappointed but simultaneously excited, with 2 nights in a nice hotel, Brytes Birthday party, our big Broome Concert and the coincidental arrival of Richards Girlfriend this Sunday. We started out back west and so Auntie Hino once again took to the red dirt stained highway.
Sunday 17th October 2010 – Day 12
What a luxury playing in a venue was last night, after all the shows we’ve done on the road, in the desert, on the truck, in and out of schools, on basketball courts, in wool sheds with horrible acoustics, on damp floors and sandy open spaces. Having a sound guy fuss over us, a ready-made stage and clean sound with fold back! The staff at the Divers Tavern looked after the whole lot of us in fine fashion. The manager, Sam put our lunch and dinner on the house and the staff took the door for us all evening. This meant we were free to relax after the sound check and actually sit down and listen to each other’s performances. It might sounds like a small mercy but would you believe that after all this time I have never had time to actually just listen to the others perform.
The Divers Tavern had a green room, the absolute best sound gear, well thought out stage and a totally professional sound guy who mixed the sound from the centre of the room which created a beautiful mix for the audience and a clean sound on stage for us. It really was like a slice of heaven. I don’t know how to explain it someone that has never performed live, but so much of what a musician does depends on elements out of their control once the performance begins.
For example, as I play guitar and sing I take my harmonies off my guitar, but if I can’t hear my guitar over the other instruments I might be singing out of tune!? That is the worst fear I have as a singer / song writer; that I might subject an audience to an off key performance.
Anyway, the point is we all enjoyed the gig. So did the staff and we were invited back again which is the best compliment you can get. Unfortunately our D.F.T concert conflicted with a Xavier Rudd gig at the Mangrove Hotel. As a result, even with the mighty Mat Gresham as our enticement, we were only attended by 70 hardcore fans. Our line-up was attractive. Four live acts from 3-8pm with original music and a good headline, however it seems that several managers had similar ideas to us squeezing several events into the last few weeks of the tourist season before the big heats come and the rain kicks in. A German beer festival yesterday at the Mangrove did not help, much but Xavier Rudd just crushed us. This is an irony of sorts as he is very pro-indigenous issues; if he had known what we are up here doing I am sure he would have given us a hand rather than offering unassailable competition which only depleted our slender coffer all the more.
The DFT gig at the Divers was advertised as a benefit gig but the income was so slender it did nothing to for our stretched budget. After advertising and costs we made a loss with only 70 people through the door. However the night was still a success, a relief and much enjoyed by our loyal fans, who I believe got good value for money. With 4 live acts for $10 compared to 1 for $50 we were defiantly the viable option, but knowing Xavier’s ability I can’t say I am surprised nor am I in any way upset.
The bottom line is that the budget looks ok for the first time in 3 years. I am not constantly calculating costs and as such have been able to treat my performers a little better this year too which, aside from meeting getting to all the communities, is my priority. Creating performance opportunities and employment for Indigenous artists is part of the VOW mission statement and if my guys are happy then I’ve done my job. I think for the sake of a few hundred dollars my sponsors would be happy for the performance opportunity which was awarded us at the Divers last night.
We celebrated by driving the truck down on to the beach at Gantheaume Point, setting out the deck chairs on the white sand in front of an emerald ocean. The breeze was cool, the night was clear, our spirits high. We are past half way. Four communities to go and 1 more concert; on with the show.
Monday 18th October 2010 – Day 13
It was great to go back to Wankatjungka; this is my third visit and the kids now know us by name. Candice is a big star here, especially because of her role in Waabiny Time (the Indigenous equivalent of Play School) which reaches all of these remote communities thanks to NITV. Most of these kids see her on telly every morning so her showing up here to play a concert is greatly anticipated.
The accommodation here is good too. We get the whole compound at the workers quarters this year. It is not actually on the community lying about 20 kilometers out. Originally a mission set up by monks in the 1900’s, this site is the location of some fresh water springs that are literally an oasis in the desert. The monks started an apple orchard here for some reason, but nothing remains of it now except a few piles of stones. The springs are still in use and as beautiful as ever. I wrote about them in depth last year so won’t again now, however suffice to say this is sacred water and the site of one of the main creation spirits for the Wangkatjungka language group. The whole place has an amazing presence.
The drive over from Broome took 5 hours but was a fun trip. We had a bit of a sing along as it has become custom to have the Ukulele in the cab now. Eventually the others fell asleep, leaving me and Candice in the back while Emily drove on. Candice has a striking voice and as she harmonised to a tune that she improvised on the Ukulele I thought to myself I have never heard that tinny little Hawaiian instrument sound so melodic. In her hands it was a soothing symphony, coxing me like a narcotic to drift away. I too feel asleep, overcome by a lethargic heaviness, my eyes closing on the endless vista of the Kimberly plains.
When I came to I discovered something astounding. I woke the others to bear witness, and the cab filled with hysterical laughter. Candice had sung herself to sleep with her fingers still strumming across the strings of the Ukulele! She was still keeping time to some subconscious song now beyond our senses. That night at the concert I told the story to the audience and it brought a huge laugh from all. She still denies it though – if only I had filmed it.
That Ukulele was the best $30 ever spent. It is such versatile little instrument and it is idea for travelling. The kids are very impressed with it generally having never seen one before. I had to laugh as I remembered when Richard bought it in the shopping centre at Port Hedland. He had not had it for more than five minutes when I found him having a jam with some random guy in a cafe. Richard had sat down to tune it and the fellow had pulled out a harmonica. Within seconds they were entertaining the punters having a coffee. I tell you, you can’t take this guy anywhere without something entertaining happening!
It was 4pm before we bumped in at Wangkatjungka. We showered and changed and headed straight to the local basketball court, as is the custom.
You can always be sure to find most of the town at the local basketball court. There is only ever one and it is the only place to hang out, especially for the youth. Our audience resembled a drive-in cinema, mostly sitting in their cars along the shadows of the tall flood lights above, that intermittently shut down due to some power issues.
Most of the teachers and all the kids huddled together in the flashing of our disco lights and danced upon the dusty court under the stars of a waxing moon. Our music echoed across the dry landscape till it was swallowed up by the enveloping Kimberley night. Somewhere out there, at the verge of our radiating sound wave, her voice rose to sing its own song, a song chorused by frogs and insects, song without an end or beginning, the timeless breath of the desert, whose inhalation is a thousand years and her sigh is a hot desert wind.
Tuesday 19th October 2010 – Day 14
Today is the last day I will have Candice and Brian with me. They will leave for Broome tonight at 1am by bus to catch their plane home for Bryte’s CD launch. I still have 3 communities to visit, Yiyili, Djugareri and Yakanarra.
The plan was to start the Wangkatjungka workshop as early as possible and try to get over to Yiyili before school finishes and do two in one day! If the guys are up for it we could do the concert that night and that would pretty much put us back on track. However, the best laid plans of mice and men are never what they seem. Candice woke up ill and Brian has been struggling with a sore throat for the last few days (Just what you don’t need before a CD launch). A 6am start got us off early; we were ready go by 8am.
Wangkatjungka School has about 30 students. The kids here got right into the workshop and before we knew it, two hours was gone. They begged us for more Hip Hop and in the end were all break dancing to Bryte’s rapping.
The workshop went well and teachers were really happy with our work inviting us back, which I believe is always the best measure of our success. I ran into an old friend from Perth that I had lost touch with about 4 years ago. Here she was, now a qualified teacher living in Wangkatjungka, teaching at the school and married to one of the residents! It’s a small world!
The requests for more time with the students and more equipment for the school, is consistent where ever we go. It is obvious now that I need to find funding to supply these schools with music equipment. Ideally, we should be spending a few days’ work-shopping with the kids till they have songs they can practice and rehearse. Giving them access to equipment in school hours means the teachers can deliver incentives for things like attendance or grades. This would work especially well for those interested in playing in a band or pursuing music. All the teachers see the value in this idea.
With all the excitement it was 11am before we got back to the bitumen road. With nearly perfect timing that we arrived at Yiyili with time to set up and run a workshop just after the lunch break at 1pm till school finished at 2:30pm.
But two workshops in one day, with the travelling, setting up and loading out this demands, near finished us all. With the heat and dust Brian’s throat was starting to sound like a chainsaw. During the beat boxing workshop he was in obvious pain.
In spite of some very generous offers to take us down to the local water hole, in spite of the inspiring beauty of the ridges and landscape of Yiyili, and in spite of the requests for us to stay and play the concert, we made a decision to head back to town and try to get a good night sleep before pushing on with the last leg of the tour..
Fitzroy Crossing was only three hours away. We left with good light and planned to have a nice farewell supper for Brian and Candice at The Lodge. We were making good time till Richard got us to stop at a parking bay that had an amazing backdrop to do some last minute interviews with Candice and Brian. But turning into the truck stop I picked up a nail through the passenger side tyre; not only was it the rear one it was the inside rear!
Two hours later and completely dumbfounded, covered in red dirt, grease and exhausted from shifting massive truck tyres around we ended up driving the last hour into Fitzroy with a flat inside tyre. Surprisingly the tyre did not tear itself apart; if I had known that 2 hours ago I could have saved myself some pain and a lot skin off my knuckles. Our schedule was not looking good. To get another tyre in from Broome or Perth would take days. I still hadn’t even heard if Bridgestone in Broome had received the one I ordered last week and the chances of the local tyre shop in Fitzroy Crossing having this rare size tyre was slim to none. It wasn’t looking promising and for the first time this trip (apart from being bogged at Nookanbah) I started to contemplate the possibility of not being able to finish the Tour.
By the time we got to the hotel the restaurant was closed and so was all of Fitzroy.
Wednesday 20th October 2010 – Day 15
I hit the hay so hard last night that I slept right through Candice and Brian’s departure at midnight. The guys said I was asleep with my eyes open and even when Brian dropped his bag on my head by accident I didn’t move. Yesterday I drove all the way from Wangkatjungka to Yiyili then back to Fitzroy, and with the two performances, loading in and out twice and the tyre incident, I was gone. I had two mouthfuls of a spam sandwich, half a cup of tea and was dead to the world. When I came to, our party was considerably reduced and the absence of those two is strongly felt. I am dubious about the last two communities as I have never done the workshops without an Indigenous facilitator and the concerts will be considerable reduced too.
But for now my priority was to get this truck going and I was waiting at the gates when the little shed that is Fitzroy Crossing’s only tyre shop opened at 7am. I had left Emily and Richard asleep as they had stayed up late to take the other two to the bus at 1am.
It took two hours in the shop, with pneumatic tools, a breaker bar and 3 men to get the inside studs off. So I didn’t feel so bad after all my trying last night. The tyre was fitted with an inner tube. It meant I still had a spare on the back and the DFT was ready to roll again!
Next issue was to find someone to come with us. I had run into Jason Bartlett (2009 Australian Idol contestant) in Broome at an Indigenous showcase fundraiser at the Roebuck Bay Hotels Oasis Bar last Saturday night. He was headlining the event but as several of the acts had not showed up the organiser, seeing the entire DFT crew sitting at one of the tables, asked us to fill the slots. We just happened to be there celebrating Brian’s Birthday and we all played a set on the huge stage. I have seen Alex Lloyd, James Rayne and Ian Moss play on this stage, so to get up in the shadow of those all-time greats was a real blast.
Anyway, it turns out Jason is now working in Derby. He was interested in coming out with us for the last few days, as he and his brother Phill are great musicians and have always been supportive of the DFT. We had made tentative arrangements for me to call him from Fitzroy and see about getting him out. Fitzroy is only an hour or so drive from Derby but the dates conflicted with other work he had when I called and he had to pass.
My last hope was Patrick Davies and by chance I ran into him in the Road House while fuelling up. I told him about our situation and expressed my concern about going out country without an Indigenous performer. He dismissed my anxiety, assuring me we would be made welcome and what we had to offer was enough on its own. Still I pleaded with him to come for the last two days but he was so caught up in local affairs he couldn’t afford the time. I have never met anyone in the Kimberley’s as busy as Patrick, a real unsung hero of the north.
He sits on more committees than a tip truck loaded with back benchers, he has more volunteers positions than Lions International and is an honorary member of just about everything that breathes in the North West, including The Australian Reconciliation Forum, The Kimberly Land Council, The Fitzroy Futures Forum and the local community radio station. He is also an amazing musician, performing at festivals like Fairbridge and Nannup. None of all this does he allow to interfere with his huge family and the correlating commitments. He is a bush politician really, the person you contact if you want something done or if you want to do anything up here. I can assure you I would not be up here without his invitation and if you know Patrick you know everyone.
The road out to Djugareri was not too bad but the evidence of the recent rain was prevalent. In places the road had been torn up badly by attempted crossings, making it almost unusable. We passed two cars that would not be coming home again. Still other sections had wheel ruts mashed into red clay like little valleys, now baked rock hard in the Kimberley heat; they can grab your wheels in a split second and rip the steering away from you. We took it real slow. The corrugations got us vibrating so violently that one of my shock absorbers sheared off at the weld on the chassis. Stopping to inspect the damage, wWe took the opportunity to stop and swim in a nearby creek, delightfully cool.
Djugareri is an Oasis. The community is laid out in a broad leaf shape headed by a beautiful and neat little school yard. Shaded and grassy we parked the truck under the huge old gum trees and set up the chairs in their shadows for the performance tonight. Our accommodation was a large classroom with great facilities and we felt rewarded for the effort of coming out. Djugareri is without a doubt one of the nicest communities I have ever visited.
The customary football oval (generic to every community) lies a little to the north along with a fair sized airstrip below the rise that elevates Djugareri above the rolling land of this rich valley. She looks out south towards the ridge that borders the Great Sandy Desert and lies at the foot of two ridges protecting her northern end. The view from those ridges would be breath taking (I made a mental note to take a hike up there as soon as I was free), but even from the community’s location the red and gold plains below gave one a real sense of just how small we are. It’s hard to imagine that this community would be an island for a part of the year, completely cut off from town for weeks at a time by the floods that will spill out from the raging Fitzroy River in the months to come. The second fastest river on earth, yet almost dry for more than half the year, she will rise, fueled by the water logged plains, swollen by her many arteries filling her from every point on the compass. Bulging to the brim she will transform this desert into a sea. It’s seems impossible looking out from here now, but it’s a reliable phenomenon, a flood with proportions generally attributed to a natural disasters, only as regular and anticipated as the tide.
I won’t talk much about the concert, except to say it was lightly attended but intimate. It was a lot of work for one performance and I felt a little silly really; showing up with a truck full of equipment to play a 45 minute set was overkill. We had a disastrous start. Tuning issues, mixing the sound on the fly, trying to play and start the drum track – all these caused us a problem or two. What started as one of the worst performances I have ever done was, I hope, resurrected by our commitment to finish what we started.
I only hope to redeem myself now by making the workshop worthwhile.
Thursday 21st October 2010 – Day 16
This morning’s workshop signified the end of the remote communities for us this year. After having to delay our visit to Yakanarra twice because of circumstance, on the eve of finally getting there – weather permitting – , with the road open and the distance now achievable, they cancelled. Helen the principal is a great advocate of the Tour, having received us with real gratitude last year, but had to cancel because the school was leaving on a field excursion the following day. The community was almost vacant because of sorry business at Noonkanbah (the same sorry business we had encountered was also delayed due to the rain). The CEO of the council told us not to come so far for so few people.
Ironically, now that there are no schools left to conduct workshops at, we have perfected the process. Finally, after all this time, we have the song writing workshop down to an absolute fine art. A mixture of experience, preparation and Richards computer and recording skills have culminated in an performance that both the children and teachers came away from amazed – in fact I think we amazed ourselves.
Today we produced a song with the kid, one which stuck in our heads for the rest of the day, a sure sign of a good tune. It’s a song with a hook which made sense to the people that made it, and is as good as anything you hear on the radio. We kept it simple with a chorus, verse, chorus structure, accompanying basic rhythm and chords. The words flowed to make a song with meaning based on the community’s name and the theme they gave us; ‘working together’.
With a little encouragement the kids called out ideas based on the theme. Once we had an idea, we wrote a line of the verse, trying to end on a word that is easy to rhyme with. From there the verses flowed quickly. It serves to show the creative process and how intuitive and easy it is to write. Usually in a very short time the verse emerges.
It is a creative process which can be daunting at times, and hilarious at others. In Yiyili the topic was ‘a strong race of people’ and a little girl called out “eat your veggies” and the school burst into hysterics.
The result is a group effort which they are then happy to sing along to. Everyone in the class has been involved in its construction but more importantly they see how simple it was to do. Dissecting a song and seeing the basic structure makes music available to all. The realisation that three or four chords can recreate almost any song they can name, then using those same chords to produce a completely new melody with a different structure, is like seeing a light come on. Mouths hang open at that point and from then on in even the youngest in the class will get involved.
I was like a proud parent when we drove down to the gorge later that day with 5 of the kids from the school. They sung the chorus to us in the back of the car as if they knew the song of old.
“Djugareri, that’s the place I want to be!”
Later I got to spend half an hour with one of the older boys who wanted to learn guitar. I showed him the 3 chords we used in the song we had written today and he picked them up within 20 minutes. Staying at the school and having a bit of time after the workshop has been magic.
Richard, Emily and I walked to the top of the closest ridge. Djugareri is surrounded by flat top peaks that border the horizon. They look like a scene out of a John Wayne movie and I expected to see Indians or smoke signals. I learnt later from Steve Pigram that this geological structure is the same as that of Colorado, the only other place on earth with the same formations.
The ground here is made up of brown gravel, like the pebble driveways you see in rural houses, only spanning endlessly. The ridges are like loosely stacked shards of brown slate stone. The hills have a gradual angle of repose that ends abruptly where they have weathered and collapsed to form sheer cliffs in almost perfect circumferences directly under the flat peaks. The hills appear to have been pushed out of the earth by a giant thumb from underneath. It is easy to see how the traditional owners were in awe of this country.
Their stories tell of how ridges are formed by the creation spirits. The ridge to the south that borders the Gibson Desert is the site of a huge lizard that had lain down to seal the sand dunes off from the Valley below. One can imagine looking over the plains from that ridge arriving here thousands of years ago, this valley an Oasis, with the sand dunes of a mighty desert at your back. How they crossed the endless sand dunes that abruptly end on this ridge we may never know. What drove people with no equipment and no help to walk into the unknown all those years ago it is imposable to guess, but once you view the valley from this ridge you have no doubt what kept them here.
The marked difference in landscapes is a phenomenon. One side is alive and fertile the other is waterless and empty. The vastness of this land, its power and the song of its stillness speak of ages uncountable. The only descriptive word I can think of is ‘spirit’; this land has its own spirit.
These people here, the Walmajarri, have won their land back now. No longer will white men exploit this pristine world again. From now on if you want to be on country you need to go with traditional owners; you need to be invited. You can’t just use the water holes here, you can’t just jump into the springs. The Traditional owners believe that you have to be sung onto the land, you have call to the serpent before you enter its water. For too long we have disregarded something far greater than we understood. This form of contempt prior to investigation is called arrogance. At last this land rests in the hands of those most connected to it.
What we have forgotten in our haste is our true nature. What we didn’t see when we arrived is that this land is as much a part of its inhabitants as its inhabitants are a part of the land; the two can’t be separated. At last we have an opportunity to revisit that state, to be invited back to our true nature. This invitation is inclusive not exclusive, no countryman will deny you the right to visit his land, the way we denied him the right to be on his own land for hundreds of years. If you want visit this county and see the spirit of it, just ask.
Peter Murray is the CEO of Djugareri Community. I have never met Peter before, he owes me nothing, nor does he know me. I rang him and asked if we could conduct the workshops for his kids and community. His Mother is Martu and married into the Valley mob from the Desert people. Peter married in accordance with the kinship laws and his wife is the daughter of an elder to the Walmajarri people. He is a respected man on country.
When I got here, I had not been speaking to him for more than 3 minutes when he told me he would take me out to Loomboo Loomboo Gorge.
“This is the living water, where the rainbow serpent lives. We must call to the serpent and tell it of your arrival. After you have swum there once, the serpent will remember you forever, and you will never have to call him again,” Peter told me. These are real stories; they are our stories and our heritage. They are the stories of Australia and are our greatest resource, of greater value than the iron ore or gold we dig up out here. The High Court has just recognised the gene lines of these people and the language groups that have occupied the region since forever.
Counter-intuitively to its original intent, it seems the Government recorded the very documentation needed to satisfy Native Title requirements. In the early days the pastoral lease owners of this area, keen to have the natives removed during settlement, forced the hand of the Government. Reserves were set up and in order to monitor the ‘Indigenous threat’ to colonisation, names of the elders and the language groups were documented. This information, designed to repress culture and resistance, has now become the very undisputable evidence that was the necessary proof for Native Title. 16,000 square kilometres were handed back three years ago in a landmark decision.
Tell me Perth, how many of you would invite a stranger to swim in the pool at the back of your house?
Friday 22nd October 2010 – Day 17
Back to town.
I left Djugareri with great regret. I could quite happily wait here for the rains to come; I would love to see the storm build up and roll in across these plains and turning this valley into a glimmering yet treacherous lake. Peter Murray’s tour of country yesterday is a treasure I will always keep in mind. In the back of a Troopy with five of the kids from school I learnt a heap of Wangkatjungka words as the kids excitedly rattled off explanations, stories and translations for the country we passed. Peter showed us some of the water holes, completely invisible to the a layman’s eye, and how by just digging a few feet down drinkable water from the earth can be accessed all year round.
These are sacred places, as old as can be remembered. They are the source of life and have been used for generations by the traditional land owners. I reflected on the fact that I could have crawled across this spot on my belly dying of thirst and not thought to dig here! A man might have dropped dead from dehydration only metres away from fresh water but for local knowledge.
Nothing in the Kimberley is simple, there is food here but the wrong parts of it can kill you. Like the bush tomato, I have no idea what the real name for it is, but the fruit has a black bitter centre. All you can eat is the tough rind which takes some preparation but once cleaned it is sweet and packed with protein! It’s lifesaving bush tucker if you know how to gather it.
Loomboo Loomboo water hole lies amongst the ridge that was visible far to the south from the community. Swimming there with the kids was unforgettable. Peter hacked a path through tall reeds to reveal a secret pool that he informed me was full all year round. The kids jumped from a small projecting ridge above for an hour until they got interested in Richards camera. At first it was a bit disconcerting having five kids running around with about $5,000 worth of camera equipment but after we realised they had a real interest in how to take the photos we let them loose. They actually got some really great shots but mostly it was just so funny to see these little kids with great big cameras taking photos of themselves taking photos. I got a great photo of one of the boys taking a photo of one of the other boys taking a photo of him taking a photo! We laughed real hard, our voices and spirits mingling in the outback.
Saturday 23rd October 2010 – Day 18
This weekend back in Fitzroy is mostly about getting the truck ready for the long haul home. As a bonus I get to do a bit of fishing and get some rest before the final concert at Fitzroy Valley High School on Monday night. The truck is booked in on Monday morning for an oil change and I want to get the fuel filters changed as I noticed the truck was losing power occasionally. Also a shock absorber that broke off needs welding back on and the speedo stopped working yesterday. I spent a some time going over her and doing what I could, topped up the water put on a new radiator cap, as I noticed the old one was leaking, plus other small fiddly things. But aside from that we have pretty much completed our scheduled itinerary without incident.
With some time now to reflect, looking back over the past weeks, there has been some testing times and some moments sublime. Living, sleeping and working together is hard work and everyone has to make sacrifices. I think the biggest scare I had this trip was on the way in from Nookanbah.
Richard, with his inherent need to engineer electrical devices, had set up a transformer in the car run off the batteries. He had a power board plugged into it that fed into the cab of the truck through the door. It worked well and meant we could charge cameras, laptops and pretty much anything, while on the road, we could even run the entire PA off of it if we needed too! However, the jolting corrugated road caused the lead to chafe through with a shocking result!
I was focused intently on getting the truck thought the boggy road and when I heard Emily yell, “Stop, stop! Something’s burning!”
My first thought was, “Oh no, the truck has blown up.” When I turned around to see Emily sitting in a cloud of smoke trying to get her door open my adrenalin kicked in. You have never seen a man get out of the truck so fast, I can tell you. I literally cleared the 6 foot drop in a leap, hitting the ground running. I was around the other side of the truck pulling her door open in one clean movement, when I realised it was just the lead shorting against the cab door. Oh! We laughed with relief, but it sure made a lot of thick smoke.
One item I have to recount for the record is the leg out of Broome. Once again Richard was playing around for hours with something in silence. I was busy driving so didn’t pay it much mind but when we arrived at Willare Road house I turned around to find the back of the cab decorated with the little internal computer fans hanging from the roof and attached to the sides of the seats with coat hangers. They were all wired up in a convoluted and intricate system of electrical 12 volt engineering that would have impressed Western Power. At long last I discovered why that bag of computer fans was for. However the cooling effect rendered upon its recipients was soon counteracted by the potential danger after Candice put her elbow into one by accident and lost a rather substantial chunk of skin.
The only other thing of note about Saturday is the real lack of fish that our trip up the amazing and beautiful gorge produced. In fact the only thing that we caught on a line was the dog and after spending an hour surgically removing a hook from her lip we went home empty handed. Luckily Patrick and his most accommodating son Michael had an array of bush meats and entreated us to a feed of epic proportions.
As has now become the custom at these gathering, Emily’s Bush Banjo (As Patrick calls the Viola) unleashed a veritable juke box of endless country tunes while I nursed a more than eloquently sufficed stomach. Packed with the gamey flavours of rare treats that I could not help over indulging on, I lay on the grass with a pack of tiny puppies licking my face, a stomach full of marinated turtle meat, several dinosaur sized spare ribs, and pork strips off a local boar! With meat like that around who wants to waste room eating vegetables that I can get every day, and so I was a little immobilised for some time gazing at the stars absorbing warm country sounds through my every pore until overcome by love, music, friends and satisfaction I passed out on the damp Kimberley grass.
Sunday 24th October 2010 – Day 19
With a whole day to relax today we decided to catch that elusive Barra! We got up at the crack of dawn and headed back to the gorge where we had seen two big Barra come out of the water yesterday morning. Thinking we could get the jump on the others – having carefully questioned what bait they use, what size hooks are best and what technique they use – we were very confident of success. We even got their position on the bank that had produced the fish yesterday, but alas it was not to be. By 9am it was getting too hot to be outside; we went home empty handed.
We headed back to the hotel room to practice for the concert. Not to be defeated and still determined to catch dinner, in the cool of the afternoon we headed for the place that Patrick and Michael had shown us last year.
The recent rain had made the road almost impassable with ruts that could have turned a Four Wheel drive over, however the truck with its double wheels made light work of it and we were rewarded by having the whole sandy bank to ourselves. This time we had Michael and his local knowledge with us. In the first cast of his throw-net he pulled in bony bream, prawns, and some small bait fish. We took a swim with the freshwater crocs and even picked up a heap of river mussels too. We felt very confident that this was our lucky time, with an adequate supply of fresh bait, perfect conditions, the right equipment and special local knowledge. It all proved no use; we caught nothing for four hours and at last I decided I was jinxed, so I cooked the mussels and prawns on open coals and ate them there on the spot.
The night was so still, the spot so perfect and the scenery so beautiful that it was a privilege to be there. Richard took some time lapse photography of some flowers he discovered that opened at night on the river and spent hours shooting the scenery with terrific effect.
At one stage he disappeared for 20 minutes but reappeared on the shore with a massive truck battery that he had carted from the Hino through soft sand for 300 metres. It wasn’t long before he had set up a tripod with a house light hanging up high off an extension cord wired up to the battery. Michael was in fits of laughter; being a true bush man his idea of camping is roughing it. When he asked Richard why he went to so much trouble Richard informed him that he had bought this special yellow light from the internet that did not attract bugs and wanted to try it out. At last the final item of obscure worth was revealed to me, for weeks I have been watching that yellow light roll around in the back of the truck in a plastic Tupperware container. Soon after, I near cried with laughter as Michael had to heap smoke wood onto the fire to repel the swarms of insects that the yellow repelling light had attracted.
Monday 25th October 2010 – Day 20
I’ve given up on the idea of ever catching a Barramundi, so we took the opportunity to sleep in. I have to turn my attention to finishing the Tour now, with our grand finale concert tonight ending the tour officially.
We also have a big drive home yet and I wanted the truck to be loaded up and ready to roll at first light tomorrow. I had ordered filters last week and the mechanic had them ready for me first thing. I had organised to meet the crew at the school stage for the concert at 2:30pm. Today’s would be the first time we have set all the equipment up since Newman, drums and all, so we will need time to do it properly. However, there was some fun and games in store for me yet.
I picked the truck up at 2pm in time to go to the school but on the way she stalled twice. Assuming the mechanic had simply not bleed it properly, I turned around to head back but didn’t quite make it. The guy was good enough to come to me and after some time we came to the conclusion that the fuel pump was not working as we could not bleed the line at the pum. Luckily he decided to quickly check further back along the line and discovered that she had a secondary fuel filter. Upon opening it we found a lump of grit the size and length of my little finger at the hose end of the filter! No wonder she had been losing power!
Running late, we began a ‘power set up’ at the school. The line-up for tonight’s concert included Tonchi, who’s drummer set the kit up for me. The others, including Steve Pigram, are all seasoned musicians and pitched in like true professionals. The result was the fastest and cleanest set up I have ever seen. Then to top it off Patrick brought his own Mackie 18 channel mixing desk, a 20 foot multi-core cable and recording station which he masterfully operated all night. I knew Patrick is a great musician but never realised he could sound engineer as well. I guess it should have been obvious seeing as he runs the only recording studio for about 500 miles.
We played first, kicking off at 6:30pm. The school put on a huge BBQ and some of the teachers from other communities came in for the event, including Danielle from Djugareri and Mark the principal that I hadn’t met yet. I was especially grateful to them as they brought back the box of our lastest CD’s and cooler fridge we had left in the classroom. Ken from Bayulu was there and Emily met some teachers that had worked with her sister in Esperance and recognised her surname.
By the end of our set attendance was at its peak but the audience was fairly shy, so I offered the remaining show bags that we had made up for the kids at Yakanarra to all the kids that got up and danced. Suddenly about 80 children appeared from the shadows and by the end of our last song the house was rocking.
Tonchi played next with his band. A very cool character is Tonchi and I get the feeling I was pretty lucky to snag him for our line up. Bayulu Hillside Band (or the Hillside Boys as they like to call themselves) played next in the typical desert reggae style that has formed as the norm in most communities. It’s sort of a cross between reggae and country, with a lot of rock and roll mixed in. If you don’t know what I mean, watch the movie Samson and Delilah. If you’re an Australian and have not seen that movie you should be ashamed of yourself anyway, it’s a must see Australian production. We played last year with the Bayulu band at Wangkatjungka and they have improved out of sight since then. They have added a keyboard player adding a new dimension and is unusual for these parts.
he grand finale was Patrick Davies who did a joint performance with Steve Pigram (the lead singer from the Pigram Brothers). Of Steve I need not say too much for his fame speaks for itself, but if you have not heard Patrick Davies then stop reading this and quickly shoot over to Myspace and have a listen to Rocky Old Road. It is an epic anthem for a generation and the most underrated song written this century. He is a bush diplomat and his music is a bridge across two cultures. There is something special in the music of this man; of this entire trip, this night is the not only the finale, it is the highlight of the tour. Many of the kids we worked with in communities were in town for the concert. I met a lot of people that remembered me from the last few years and, having met with my idol singer-songwriter Steve Pigram, I dont think I could have asked for a better finish to the tour.
Tuesday 26th October 2010 – Day 21
Patrick’s after-party altered our plans to leave at 4am. Once again the food was outstanding and the company much too good to leave so early. Sitting on the veranda with the lead singer from the Pigram Brothers on a warm Kimberley night was not to be missed and so it was at 6 am, with little more than 2 hours sleep, we headed for Broome to drop Richard at the airport. This now leaves Em and I alone with Auntie Hino and Bella.
In Broome I was able to get the chip in the windscreen welded at last and have an auto electrician look at the speedo, which had stopped working on the way in from Djugareri. It turns out it’s just the cable that has fallen out from the back of the cluster. The old girl has survived the trip, carried us through reliably, and is ready for the big slog home.
Wednesday 27th October 2010 – Day 22
The mobile home/truck has been entrusted to only two from the original six that set out. However, with no dead lines to meet and knowing the distance we will have to cover, we intend to make a trip of it and stop for the night along the road somewhere nice. The Hino is not one to be rushed so lots of stops will make the long hours at the wheel a bit more bearable. She has been a great asset and although a bit temperamental, very reliable. All the driving was done by Emily and I as we were the only two that had the necessary MR licence, Emily getting hers on the day before we left. Talk about cutting it fine.
It was not until the day before we left that we actually made the decision to take the truck. I had some fears about her ability to make it, and although these proved false there has been a lot of time invested in getting to know her. Leaving Perth we discovered that at its top speed of 90 Kilometres an hour the passenger side window squealed with a high pitched whine. It was the brilliant engineering of (you guessed it) Richard that designed a bracket to rectify this with his shoe. This later became a limitation for him for obvious reasons and we soon discovered that a can of CRC fit perfectly between the window and the dash, preventing the noise. We went through a few cans because every time the door opened it fell out.
The cab of the truck is very large with an appetite for random items too with many a ‘thing’ missing. At one point Emily could only find one shoe and one thong and I have a funny memory off her dismounting the truck in Newman like a true trucker, with one shoe on one foot and a thong on the other.
We decided to head out from Broome in the late hours of the morning aiming for Coral Bay, over 1000 kilometres away, which would break the back of long hike and reward us with a pleasurable rest in a place neither of us had visited before. The plains of Roebuck had other plans, and furious dust storms rolled in from the east spinning up whirly whirlys high above the dust canopy. Droves of Cattle herded before the wind, rushing north; the scene was captivating. Inspired by images of pioneering Drovers I stopped to shoot photos but failed to capture the feeling. One needed to behold the wide open plains with a single endless road parting its emptiness, a red dome of dust marching in-between a blue sky and brown land, the white and black cattle at its fore front running with wild eyes, closely pursed by rolling tumble weed, the occasional whilly whllly leaping up here and there. Oh the North West! Such a movie of extremes puts any Hollywood blockbuster to shame.
The buffeting headwinds slowed us down to a near grinding halt and it was 3am, 830 Kilometres, and 12 hours later that we rolled into Karratha, not Coral Bay, out of fuel and overwhelmed. We camped on the summit of TV Look Out, the Burrup Peninsular sticking out into the distant bay under the moon.
When I woke up the dogs head was swollen so large her right eye had shut closed. She looked like she had been in a boxing match with Rocky Balboa. I looked around for a grass spur but found nothing so assume she must have eaten a Bee or a Wasp during the night.
Thursday 28th October 2010 – Day 23
As we coast home on the sure but slow Hino I have some time to reflect on this year’s Tour and what it means to have completed it three years in a row successfully.
Behind the scenes of the last three years that culminated in the Desert Feet Tours there has been a lot work. The issues that confront me in my endeavours have directed my life upon a new path. Out of a need to understand the facts about the issues that I see in our society I have begun studies of Human Rights part time at Uni focusing on my area of interest; Indigenous Australians.
During my search for funding I have crossed the path of many philanthropists, and been inspired by many. Now, after only a relatively short term in their wake, someone has seen fit to nominate me for an Australian of the Year award. I have mixed feeling about this concept, mostly as I believe those that are truly deserving of these awards will never even be known by most of us; they tend to live in obscurity and serve with anonymity. There is also the caliber of other nominees to consider, and their immeasurable acts. I will present myself at the awards simply because of the exposure it might create that I can then direct into funding or support to enable us to continue.
My decision to be a full time humanitarian has its rewards and its sacrifices. At times I have had to struggle with both personal and financial insecurity. I feel now I have passed a point of no return. My life-goal is no longer a singular point or a measurable material end. I no longer have financial wellbeing as my measure of success. My only wish is to be able to continue on this path.
My transition to philanthropist coincided with my desire to express myself as an artist. So I have probably chosen the two hardest careers available, amounting to near impossibility. Instead of buying into a life of normality, I have invested in a path of uncertainty. The laws of economics have fairly reasonable and very definable guide lines, like strategic analysis, budgets, goals, mission statements and business plans. There are paths to follow and books to read and if you stick pretty close to the rules you will, all things being equal, have the same chance as anyone of succeeding.
The life of an artist/philanthropist is fairly uncharted. I feel a bit like Marko Polo; he didn’t know where he was going, when he got there he didn’t know where he was and when he got back he didn’t know where he had been?! Still he was successful on those terms and so I would be happy with something to that effect (not that anything I do is quite so uncharted). As I have nothing to measure my success by, I must make assumptions and push on with a glad heart, for that is in essence the message I hope to deliver. I hope that ultimately I might be an example to my peers demonstrating the conditions we have inherit from fortunate circumstances are enough, as a platform, to make a difference in this world to others less fortunate.
“Don’t wait till you are rich, be rich in the trying.”
We can’t leave human rights and environmental issues to the wealthy, rock stars and the famous because they are too busy being wealthy, rock starts and famous. The 3% of the population that control 95% of the wealth of the world don’t want it to change; why would they, they made it that way.
The issues faced by Indigenous Australians are obvious and well documented, so I won’t recite them here. Whether you care or not, they are factual. Regardless of our opinions, they exist. As a nation, or individually, we either confront them, or ignore them. After 3 years of touring through remote Indigenous communities, working with various health organisations and Aboriginal Corporations, performing with Indigenous artists, rubbing shoulders with several government departments, a few ministers and one or two people of notoriety, I still have no solution nor do I presume to know any of the answers.
What I can tell you is that I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt why we are the lucky country, and it is not because we are free, or have vast mineral reserves. It is not because we are rich and prosperous. It is because we have the oldest Indigenous Culture on earth. We have a heritage and resource of unimaginable potential steeped in history, in some of the most pristine conditions left on earth. It is, singularly, our greatest asset, and simultaneously our most under utilised resource!
What I can also tell you is this; a more welcoming, unresentful and generous people I have never met. The children out here are among the cutest and most loving of anyone on earth. I have found Indigenous Australian hospitality to be warmer than Polynesian Islanders and as peaceful as the gentle Balinese.
Because we are so young as a Nation, in world that is (hopefully) enlightened in areas of Humanity, we are historically in the best position to be at worlds forefront on Human Rights issues. We should be leading by example. We have the benefit of recorded history to guide us, access to solutions of others, and the resources and wealth to assure its success. Now that is what I call luck!
How do we embrace Indigenous culture? It starts by learning about it, and the best audience is our children.
In the words of Mark Bin Barker, “Reconciliation is not about blame or guilt; it is just about recognising the past, right and wrong, good and bad.”
We have our own stories, or own history, as important as any event like the ‘Wounded Knee’ of USA – all we have to do is embrace it. In all my travels interacting with indigenous populations – including Africa, Indonesia, Philippines, Balinese, Indian and Chinese – I would have to say that our Indigenous culture is the most spiritually connected to the environment. The secrets to ensure our future and answers to ecologically sustainable issues might be lying under our nose, so close that we have missed it, like a parched man crawling over a buried waterhole. These are issues we should all agree on, for the future of our earth that our children will inherit depend on how we act now; it is not to late!!