WWOOFING in the bush
30.07.2010 - 05.09.2010 28 °C
My first day ever, south of the Equator and Perth welcomed me with brilliant sunshine but a mere 18 degrees of temperature. My wonderful cousin was at the airport to meet me and take me, firstly, to an Op Shop (charity shop) to buy some warm clothes! Then back to her apartment in South Perth, overlooking the Swan River and the city of Perth - how wonderful is that!
Perth is the most beautiful city with the huge Kings Park just west of the highrise business district. Even though July is classed as winter, families were out in the park, using the gas barbeques supplied by the city and enjoying watching the kids climbing over model dinosaurs by the lake. The next day, we took the ferry across the Swan River and did a 'tourist Sunday' walk, visiting buildings old and new such as the Bell Tower (bells donated by Britain), Supreme Court and Government House where the Queen stays when she's in town. I then took the train to Cottesloe Beach to visit old friends from France for the afternoon which was a great time to catch up with news and new children. I very proudly managed to get myself back to South Perth by train and bus - another fantastic public transport system.
Fremantle was on the agenda for the next day with its famous prison, harbour and beach. I also spent some time on the foreshore overlooking Perth city, sitting in the winter sunshine and watching the black swans and pelicans. Dolphins can sometimes be seen in the river but they are rarer than in previous times and I didn't get to see one. My last trip into the city consisted of buying a head torch and working clothes for the outback. We visited Perth Mint where my cousin used to work and I also visited the WACA (for all cricket fans) and got a personal guided tour of the ground, with photos!
Now, off to the bush! I took the coach from Perth north to Kalbarri and was dropped off close by the YHA. The journey was pretty uneventful, through bush most of the way. Saw about ten kangaroos but they were all dead, by the side of the road. This is serious roadkill and I can now understand why everyone in the bush drives 4WD trucks with huge bull bars on the front. Kalbarri has beautiful surf beaches and my new friend, Manu and I walked more than 5Km out of town along the cliff headland to watch the surf and look for whales. We were so hot and tired on our return that I suggested we hitched - not something I have done for years! We were picked up by a couple of 'grey nomads' in their camper van and taken back to town. Grey nomads are older Australians, mostly just retired, who are "spending their kids' inheritance" travelling the length and breadth of Australia before they get too old to enjoy it - rather like me!
Before I start my two weeks of working at the Bush Station, I took a tour into the National Park to the Murchison River Gorges. The scenery was very arid and the narrow gorges nearly dry as there has been so little rain this winter. It seemed like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon with rock formations nearly as dramatic. Wild flowers should be everywhere but they are late because of the lack of rain.
After being picked up in Kalbarri by Belinda and driven out to the homestead, I was shown my accommodation and told to have a 'look around'. Murchison House Station is a mere 15Km from Kalbarri but you could be in the middle of nowhere. The Station spreads over half a million acres and supports rangeland goats, Brahman cattle and sheep. There are five other WWOOFERS staying in the old Shearers' Quarters, close to the main house. WWOOFING stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms and is now run throughout the world. The idea is that farmers who need help will offer free board and lodging to people who want to experience a different way of life and learn about different types of farming. I want to experience as much of Australian life while I'm here and also work for my supper. Australia is a hell of a lot more expensive than South East Asia was so my money will need to be supplemented in this way.
Work - an unfamiliar concept for me for the past few months. All that changed at Murchison House Station. Up at 5:00am to herd wild goats into a transport truck after driving for two hours across the land to reach them. I got to drive the 4WD truck through sand dunes, over rocky tracks and through flooded riverbeds with the other WWOOFERS on board. On the early morning trips, we saw kangaroos, emus, cattle and sheep as well as spectacular, barren landscapes with not another soul around. We also got to collect rocks from a distant limestone area and bring them back in a trailer to place around the homestead. Various other tasks, done in rotation, were feeding the chickens, ducks and ponies; sweeping the front verandah and collecting horse poo off the lawn; washing up after Belinda's huge suppers and general maintenance chores in the machine sheds. Three kids (baby goat variety) had been orphaned and were brought back to the homestead for tlc from the girls. We had to witness goats being shot and finding dead animals in the transport truck - not pleasant but it had to be done. When on one loading run, a goat jumped clear over my head as I was trying to load him into the transporter - pretty stressful stuff. I managed to cut my hand quite badly and was taken to Kalbarri Medical Centre - no stitches but very painful irrigation of the wound.
After a week of working, we were given a day off to visit the thriving (!) town of Geraldton. It seemed so strange to be in a town, albeit not a very interesting one. Stefie was our chauffeuse as she was the only one of us with transport. On the way home we drove by Lynton Prison where Anna (of King and I fame) used to live as wife of the Governor before heading off to Thailand (Siam as it was then). Hutt River Province is also quite close by. This is an independent territory, claimed in the 1970's by a farmer who got fed up with the taxing system of Australia. It really is classed as its own country, with passports and everything. Surprisingly, the Australians don't talk about it much.
At the end of our stay at Murchison, three of us bid sad farewells and left on the Greyhound Bus which took me to Coral Bay where I met up again with Manu who had been trying to learn scuba diving. We had a lazy weekend on Paradise Beach, trying to find turtles but the weather was not that great. We couldn't go out to see whales (phew) so mooched around the hostel, getting ready to take the overnight bus north. This was the weekend of the Australian General Election and we saw all the locals queuing up to vote in a huge marquee near the beach. Voting is compulsory in Australia and New Zealand - very good idea I feel.
Manu and I spent 18 hours on the bus to Broome and arrived in the early evening to a crap hostel. Broome is a lovely town with a fabulous beach and great facilities in the town itself. It also had great weather which was a bonus. One evening, the full moon allowed us to go to Town Beach and witness the Staircase to the Moon - as the moon rises, the light shines on the low tide sand which looks like stairs going all the way to the moon. I also attended a fabulous annual concert entitled 'Opera under the Stars' which says it all! They performed my favourite duet from The Pearl Fishers so I was VERY happy - great company, good food and wine and wonderful arias.
Whilst up so far north, I had to visit the Kimberley desert and spent a very long day driving along unsealed, dirt roads to get to Windjana Gorge where we saw freshwater crocodiles fighting in the water. We then went on to Tunnel Creek where aboriginals used to hide from the evil white man. We walked thigh-deep through the waterlogged caves with our torches picking out what were supposed to be the eyes of crocs! After Tarzan-like swinging off tree roots among the bats, we swam in a lagoon before heading back to the truck where our guide was mending a puncture, ready for another long drive along the Gibb River Road and back to Broome via the Fitzroy River and a roadhouse for supper.
My last day up north started early with low tide at Gantheaume Point where dinosaur footprints can be found! We then walked the 5Km along Cable Beach and had a camel ride - as you do - along the beach in the morning sunshine. In the evening we went to the oldest outdoor cinema where you sit in deckchairs and watch the film - great fun - and free popcorn as Manu is a YHA member.
After flying back to Perth, my cousin and I spent a day at Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert before I hired a car and drove south for a long weekend of solitary sightseeing. I finally saw whales at Albany, the site of the first European settlement in Western Australia. Just a few hours before I got there, the authorities had blown up a whale that had got stranded in the harbour - messy. The coastline is quite dramatic and inland, green fields with sheep grazing reminded me somewhat of England, except with the wrong trees. Huge Karri trees in the Valley of the Giants with a Tree Top Walk which (wussy) I passed on as it was 40M above in the treetops. As I had a hire car, I didn't think it would be prudent to take the dirt roads to some of the more remote sites such as Conspicuous Cliffs so I don't know why they're conspicuous - big I guess. Spent the night at Augusta and then drove to the other cape and saw even more whales, quite close to shore. The geography south of Perth is so different from that of the north and I was really glad that I had the opportunity to see so much of Western Australia before heading east. Next stop Alice Springs - don't miss the next exciting instalment!