Tuesday, November 02, 2010
"GREETINGS FROM EXMOUTH WESTERN AUSTRALIA" Jeff Phillips & Liesbet Verstraeten
For a selection of recent photos see:
Greetings from Exmouth, Western Australia. In the weeks past since our last travel update from Kununurra in the Kimberley-boab country to the north, we’ve covered several thousand kilometres of some of the most remote territory in Australia, met dozens of really nice people, “ridden on the storm”, experienced a wealth of the power and beauty of nature, and, as you can guess, a dollop of fair dinkum genu-wine down-home “give me that old-time” stupid human stuff! The “s.h.s.” by no means over-shadows the nature experience, but it is a force to be reckoned with now and then, and is always good for a laugh, especially if you find psychic mutation to be funny!
Western Australia is a land of extremes and extreme contrasts. The time zone here is iso-longitudinal with places to the north like Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines; Perth, while still closer to Sydney than New Delhi, for example, is strategically located on the “grand chessboard” in terms of the American global dominance paradigm, and, like Darwin, functions as a major conduit for U.S. military forces. The local “economy” is in fact “booming”…at about the same decibel level as 50 tons of TNT…not only from the American military presence but even more from bureaucratically-unleashed mining and energy extraction industries. At present, no uranium mines have ever existed in WA, but as soon as Minister of the Environment Donna Faragher finishes handing out the carnival tick…I mean, permits, over one hundred uranium mines will open all over the state.
And that’s just one of many resources under attack: Woodside Petroleum, already destroying the Burrup peninsula (home of the largest concentration of rock art on the planet) with emissions from it’s Mordor-like gas plant there, has essentially closed on a deal with the state government of WA and premier Colin Barnett to open an even huger monstrosity at James Price Point, north of Broome on the way to Cape Leveque. According to environmental activists in Broome who we met, this thing could dwarf the Burrup site and cause Broome to mutate from the “relaxed tourist destination” it is now into “another dysfunctional mining town.” The new plant, located directly on top of an extremely ancient aboriginal song-line path, would include an “industrial port…built in a humpback whale nursery. Reefs and seagrass beds…would be blasted and dredged so that supertankers [over 600 per year] can get close to shore…” in conjunction with “the bulldozing of thousands of hectares of woodlands and rare remnant rainforest.”
For more information see www.environskimberley.org.au
Who is behind this ecocidal madness? Believe it or not, it’s YOU AND ME. Every time we drive a car or fill our tanks with petrol or diesel, we are participating in “eco-terrorism” and maintaining demand for the resources stolen from the Earth by energy henchman like Woodside, BP (“first the Gulf…then the Earth”), Shell, Chevron, and BHP “Resourcing the Future” Billiton.
BHP stands for “Broken Hill Proprietary” and was the first mining company in Australia. I spent some time in Broken Hill, in the remote western outback of NSW, a few years ago, and if this small town can be seen as the after-math of mining and the future of Australia…well, if you like tailings in your breakfast cereal, lead in your water, 70% of your people classified as “mentally ill” and the second highest suicide rate in the southern hemisphere…you’ll be laughing! It was in Broken Hill that I first encountered genuine “PR” (public relations) executives who had been imported from Hong Kong to “improve the image” of Broken Hill and to put it on the map as a tourist destination. I laughed when one of the blokes was describing to me his vision of “walking down the street in Broken Hill and smelling apple pie.” I told him that people would have to clear the lead dust out of their nostrils before they could smell any apple pie. I feel pretty sure that these clowns were paid for by BHP, who has succumbed to the rampant macrophilous tendencies seen around the world. (Macrophilia is a socio-psychological disorder I identified a few years ago, characterized by an obsession to become as huge as possible…you can see it everywhere, from peoples’ bodies to their cars, caravans and houses, to military budgets, investment portfolios and national debts. Interestingly, the mathematical manifestation of macrophilia is the number of zeroes used to describe the quantity of something, for example, of bytes, tons or dollars.)
As Australia’s largest mining company, their most highly macrophilous endeavour so far is the extraction of the largest iron ore deposit on the Earth, in the Pilbara near Karijini National Park. From the summit of Mt. Bruce you can see the whole mine, which must be 20 kms long. Ore trains of around 250 cars each run continuously to the loading facility at Port Hedland; these are reputed to be the longest trains in the world. Most or all of this iron ore is going straight to China, who is by far the hugest importer of resources from other countries. BHP is responsible for one of the biggest Earth-raping projects currently underway, and not only does their board of directors have no idea whatsoever about the planetary geological, atmospheric, energetic and ecological effects of this mining, they are also spending sums of money which to them are nothing but to most other people are astronomical to fund “scientific research” which on the surface appears to be meaningful, but when you look closer, you find that what they’re actually doing is paying the researchers to prove “scientifically” that not only are BHP’s activities harmless to the environment, they might even be beneficial! Right now I can name at least a half-dozen “scientists” whose work pertains to the environmental health of this region who are receiving substantial funding from BHP. I’ll save this for later…back to the travelogue.
We made it out to El Questro Wilderness Park, at the top of the Gibb River road, for about three days. Liesbet and I had fond memories of Champagne springs, from our visit in 2007, and our first walk was to there, about 13 kms return through some relatively rough country-side; we were alone, as the temperature was climbing into the mid-forties. But there’s no way we weren’t going to go; even though this was probably the hottest walk by far we’ve done on this visit to Australia, the cloud ancestors stepped in and gave us a good bit of solar shielding while we were at the springs themselves, which allowed us to be able to sit on the rocks for a while, as there is no shade to speak of in that area.
The next day we walked into El Questro gorge, which is shorter; less strenuous, yet requiring a good deal of large boulder scrambling; and in shade most of the time. This was our first visit here, a place regarded by many as the best walk at El Questro, and it truly is a wonderful, magical place, with permanent spring-fed water and a lovely fall at the end of the gorge, beyond which you cannot proceed without climbing a wall.
The landscape at El Questro is fantastic, but the non-traditional “owners” are not so cool. Even though some of the management people were quite helpful and even gave us a couple of discounts of significance, the overall vibe was one of the total and on-going commercialisation of the “wilderness” experience.
We learned that new “management” had taken over since our first visit in 2007, a company called Delaware North, based in the U.S. and owning major tourism properties at Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks, and Niagara Falls; in Switzerland and Canada; and in other Australian locations like Kings Canyon and several islands off the east coast. We heard talk of plans to open a ski resort at the base of Nix Olympica on Mars pending the outcome of U.S. Air Force atmospheric modification experiments there…but don’t quote me on this, ok?
Check out the future of "wilderness tourism"...it's all about eating!
At the reception kiosk at EQ we happened to be sitting there waiting to use the phone, and over-heard the chick at the desk running through the gamut of things you had to pay for to be there, for example, a $35 per night camping fee and a $35 PER PERSON entrance fee for the “park.” When she had finished reeling off all the figures, the young German couple who were enquiring asked her to repeat it all, as if in disbelief or confusion at the amounts of money being asked of them. “Now, let me get this straight…you want HOW MUCH for…”
Anyone who is at El Questro has just driven at least a hundred or so kilometres, and probably a lot more, over mostly unsealed roads, paying exorbitant remote-western Australia prices for petrol, just to get there. Unless, of course, they arrived in their own jet-black tri-rotored helicopter. Yes, we saw this!
In other words, a couple arriving to camp out for a night at El Questro would be expected to pay over $100 for their first night of that privilege, which includes a camp-ground with not a single picnic table, nor a single bbq, rubbish bin, or even working water taps. Toilets and bins can of course be found over at the “amenities” center, but nothing related to cooking, washing dishes, or even boiling water can be found anywhere, as if they’re trying to channel everyone into eating at the over-priced restaurant. Besides, who would expect all that stuff at a truly WILDERNESS camp-ground?
Other than that, the area where the camp ground is IS nice, but not because of anything people did…only because of what people have yet to do. There’s no actual “sites” or numbers, which is what you’d expect from a “wilderness” camp-ground, right? You kind of just set up in one of several “areas.” This much is ok. We almost never had anyone to set up right on top of us.
But we did have a ‘shades of Nitmiluk” déjà vu experience, when we were already lying down ready to go to sleep and what did we chance to hear…no, not reindeer hooves prancing on the roof but the ominous sound of an amplifier turning on and someone preparing to “sing.” Yes, again…yes, at an outdoor café…yes, in a “wilderness” camp-ground. I’m beginning to wonder if the management of these places all attended the same tourism conference at the Gold Coast where a presentation was made called “Live Music at Wilderness Camp-ground Bistros Will Draw Heaps More Tourists and Impress their Friends Back Home” and a special work-shop on how to get away with recording and selling your own version of songs that belong to famous American artists!
Remember, the official marketing name of this place is El Questro Wilderness Park. Emphasis on WILDERNESS. You know, with live amplified “singers”, just like in the middle of the Gobi desert, the Pacific ocean, and the Antarctica ice fields!
OK, this is the short version of our travelogue…and you probably think I’m joking about the ski resort on Mars. Gravity is somewhat weaker there, so skis will have to be made of lead, or perhaps depleted uranium, which is even denser. You’ve got to be forward in thinking these days, eh?
We returned to our beloved Kimberleyland Holiday Park in Kununurra after the EQ excursion (thanks again Nora, Daniel, Mary and George!), and were arboreally invited to set up camp beneath another huge, twin boab tree there. Here we were able to chill out for a few days, paint some rocks, and meet up with Pierre and Katherine, a nice French couple traveling around Australia. They were headed south, same as us, and their van had two seats for extra passengers and plenty of room for us and our gear, so we joined forces and set out for Purnululu, or the Bungle Bungles as the Aussies like to refer to this awesomely unique region of mountains, gorges, strange geological formations and potentially extreme heat.
As it turned out, we just missed 50 degree heat by only a day or two; and just as we got there, some cloud cover had begun to appear, enough to keep the temperatures moderate but still give good light for photos. At first I was a little dismayed at not having the cobalt blue skies in every photo, but later on I realized what a true blessing it was from the sky ancestors actually to have some cloud: fifty degrees is HOT and human beings as we currently know them are not likely to be found out in it for any reason other than seeking shade or mummification.
This is the only place in the world where “bungling” something is a good thing! We bungled our way to Mini-palms and Echidna gorges; these are essentially large crevices between bee-hive shaped mounds formed from sandstone sandwiched between cyanobacteria deposits. It’s hard to know if the cyanobacteria are living or fossilized, as they can “live” in the harshest known conditions, from the benthic depths of volcanic vents on the ocean floor possibly to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, requiring neither light nor oxygen to flourish.
Because of our early start, our timing was good with respect to being a step ahead of the larger tourist groups waiting to descend on these locations. We synchronistically managed to have extended periods of solitude in the depths of these gorges, where Liesbet was able to play some flute in silence so that we could hear the magic of the reverberation in these very sacred places. We even had a relatively long span of silence at Cathedral gorge, a large dome-shaped enclosure with magnificent acoustics; but before Liesbet could play much, this Canadian chick who we later learned to avoid couldn’t resist cackling and guffawing, even while the beautiful flute harmonics reverberated throughout the chasmic space.
After a morning of almost chilly temperatures, we “bungled” our way back to Halls Creek, a small and not unfriendly town often mistakenly associated with a bogus B-grade Australian film called Wolf Creek (the Wolf Creek meteor crater is about 100 kms down the Tanami but there’s no town by that name).
We headed down the highway to Fitzroy Crossing, a seemingly desolate small town consisting of a huge multi-star caravan park/tourist facility on the outskirts of an aboriginal community. The cool thing with the aborigines is that you see them out on the land, outside, outdoors, sitting on the grass beneath the trees. Maybe they’re just sitting there, doing nothing, or sitting there in groups talking, maybe drinking some grog. But they’re OUTSIDE. The white fella, he stay indoors with the air-conditioning and tellie going full blast.
We arrived at Fitzroy only hours after a torrential downpour, the first of the season. Huge puddles of water were all around the caravan park. We were beginning to realize that somehow we were traveling right on the leading edge of the early wet season, having experienced some very early downpours in Darwin in early September. In Kununurra we were in more brief downpours, this time accompanied by thunder and lightning, which was exciting! As we pulled into Fitzroy we were listening to a Doors compilation...the song “Riders on the Storm” was playing, and we realized that, for the moment, that's who we were! I felt the spirit of Jim Morrison smiling on us all the way!
After Fitzroy we made our way to Geikie Gorge, which is an ancient limestone reef now exposed to the air, and then continued on to Derby, a smallish town on the coast at the southern end of the Gibb River Road. In this area you see a higher concentration of boab trees than anywhere else in the Kimberley, and some of them are quite freaky, even scary, looking.
Derby is known for having the second highest diurnal tidal fluctuation in the world…I think it was around 8 meters (but I can’t remember what the highest is); we spent a few hours out on the wharf while Pierre was fishing and the out-bound tide seemed to be moving at about 20 kms per hour. The sunsets here over the Indian Ocean are often spectacular, too. We visited the Mowanjum Arts Centre before we left, and the girls there loved our Milky Way paintings, saying they were “deadly.” The saucer-eyed Wandjina figures of local dream-time mythologies came from the Milky Way, they say.
Our next destination was Broome, perhaps the most well-swept community in Australia! (ugh!) The night we spent between Derby and Broome, at a rest area called Nillibudgie, was interesting. First, we arrived there, again, on the tail end of a rain-storm, and were greeted by a brilliant double-rainbow. After dark I sat with my cameras photographing the lightning, vehicular tail-light trails, and nocturnally illuminated storm-clouds. Strangest of all, we were awakened in the night by one of the weirdest sounds I’ve ever heard. From my initial half-awake state, I thought it was some kind of huge baritone frog that was stuck inside a metal container. But as I woke up and listened more closely, I was going “That ain’t no frog. But WHAT THE HECK could it be?” I got out of the tent, donned my trusty headlamp, and walked towards the sound source. As it got louder and louder, I could also hear it rustling in the grass. By now I knew that not only was it NOT a frog, it was something with a degree of physical enormity. And the fact that I could in no way identify the sound made it a bit scary. I knew that there was a fence between me and it, but I also knew that if it chose to do so, it could walk around and come in through where the road was. I returned to the tent only then to hear ANOTHER one going off, much closer to the tent, but still on the other side of a fence. What we figured out was that, even though we never saw them, it had to be a pair of huge wild pigs that had become separated in the dark and one was calling out to the other so they could catch up. Eventually the one made its way to the other, and we could then hear them rustling away, rooting as they may beneath the bright star-light, one of them emitting the occasional grunt as a locator beacon. From the low frequency pitch and loudness of their groans or grunts, I would say they had to be the size of a bear!
I’d visited Broome several times before, and always thought it to be vastly over-rated as a place to visit. The last time we were there was in 2007 when the caravan we were hitching in with our German cyclist friend Christian broke down near the Sandfire roadhouse and had to be towed back to Broome; they parked us in the Cable Beach parking lot for the weekend, which was cool. This time was the first time I could actually say that I liked it there. Pierre and Kathy dropped us at a caravan park at Cable Beach, as they didn’t want to pay to stay anywhere. Liesbet and I, on the other hand, were glad to be there, and also relieved to have a couple days on our own again, de-coupled from the rhythms of another couple who were new-comers to Australia, who invariably had to take ten minutes to smoke cigarettes before beginning any action or movement, and who liked to listen to “music” that we could hardly stand, like some moronic rap and System of a Down. Actually, System is good for what their goal is, which would be to go up inside and inflame the hole of any mainstream parent, teacher, bureaucrat or other authority figure…but “The Prison Song” is not exactly what you want to hear at full volume very early in the morning after spending the night on an isolated and tranquil beach!
We did enjoy Broome, and here we were able to go on-line; it was here that I learned about Pete Bethune and Sea Shepherd’s “whale whores” war. I’ve already reported on this ad nauseum, as is called for in this case, but one further insight: Bethune was saying that Paul Watson ordered him to sink his own boat…SO HE DID IT…as a publicity stunt. THEN…Bethune somehow manages to “board” the Japanese whaling boat, in a brave and noble attempt TO PROTEST THEIR SINKING OF HIS BOAT and to demand remuneration…even though he sunk the boat himself, as can be seen from the video footage. Months later, Bethune is released by the Japs and then accuses Watson of ordering him to sink his own boat, which he obeyed. Watson says he gave no such order and that the Japs are making Bethune turn against him. Is it possible that a larger and more fertile crock of pure shite can be found anywhere in the world of enviro-media today? If you can top this, let me know, because the Murdoch Book of Media Abominations is just waiting to crown it with glory…and a full scholarship to Murdoch University’s School of Tourism and Reality Activism.
On our way back from visiting Gantheaume Point, we had a ride with a very cool guy named Ike who related some highly relevant “camping” stories that were very much like the kinds of things we experience and talk about, for example, the time he was camping in a remote area and had his little generator going. All of a sudden he gets a knock at the door, and it was another camper, asking not that he turn it off but, get this…if HE could plug into Ike’s generator and get some juice! He also related an incident where a friend of his was camping in an extremely remote area, off the Gibb River Road and way up in there towards Mitchell Falls…you’re talking many many hours to drive these roads which are notoriously unforgiving on tires and vehicles…they had set up camp in the middle of nowhere and set off on foot for a few hours. Upon returning to their site what did they see but a huge caravan that had somehow followed them in and set themselves up RIGHT BESIDE IKE'S FRIENDS, complete with satellite dish. We know all about this phenomenon which I've yet to name, but I'm working on it. We had a similar experience in Tom Price, but that can wait.
One of the good things about riding with Pierre and Kathy was that he liked to drive pretty slow, around 90 kms per hour. This is not only safer, but saves on fuel and things are less of a blur as you pass them by. Sometimes this meant going only a couple hundred kms per day but this was a good thing, as after Broome we got to camp out at two fantastic remote beach locations, Barn Hill Station and Cape Keraudren, where we met Steve, the park ranger, who told us how nice he thought Americans in general were, even polite, compared to the usually rude Aussies he knew so well. He also reckoned that most Australian women had testicles, a hypothesis I hope never to test (and I'm scared to ponder how he came to believe this!)
After we fueled up in Port Hedland and glimpsed the huge piles of salt and the gargantuan ore-loading machinery in the heart of town, we headed inland towards Karijini National Park, stopping to spend the night at the Munjina Gorge lookout. This beautiful location was littered with assorted rubbish that looked like it had been building up for years, so the next morning Liesbet and I were inspired to pick up as much as we could, often getting a Spinifex thorn in our hand as a reward. The Frenchies saw no reason to help, however, and went about their business of taking a shower and trimming their nails. C’est la vie, as they say.
Karijini is one of the most special places in all of Australia, to us, up there with Flinders Island, Nitmiluk, and the Flinders Ranges. This was my fourth visit there, and Liesbet’s third. Located in the middle of the largest deposit of iron on the planet, Karijini is a huge area but is mainly known for a network of deep gorges cut by water into the surface of the Earth. This particular area is some of the most stable crust that exists on the planet, not having moved in over two billion years. Because of this, as you descend down into the gorges you are traveling back in time as you see the BIF’s (banded iron formations) deposited by ancient cyanobacteria, the most ancient of all life-forms. It’s even possible that DNA and consequently life-as-we-know-her arrived on Earth embedded in a giant meteor or asteroid that crashed into what was then ocean above the modern-day Pilbarra, leaving the huge deposit of extra-terrestrial iron for BHP and bringing the cyanos to evolve, mutate and proliferate.
At the visitors’ centre we caught up with Margie, an elder of one of the three local aboriginal tribes, and her two daughters. I’d first met her in 2004 on my first visit to Karijini, riding with my friend Tanya, aka “Doc Hillbilly” in her 1978 Landcruiser with dual-fuel options. Margie shared some information with us, for example, that the name “Karijini” derives from the aboriginal name for the local Hamersley Ranges landscape, which is “gulligini.” We gave them each a rock and a dvd of our film “Te Waiwaia Dreaming”, in honour of Thurru, who, in the local story, was a serpent who moved over the land and created rivers and streams; then we went out to become “engorged.” We hiked down into almost all the gorges, and went swimming in every one, too. None of the walks are long in terms of distance but are quite steep as you might descend several hundred meters over a one-km long path. It’s really like entering the bowels of the Earth, or maybe her womb; a feeling of comfort and security as you are buoyed up by cool waters and surrounded by ancient living rock, literally, the body of the Earth, “hine ahu one” to the Waitaha of Aotearoa, of which we all are made.
As usual, I with my massive load of camera gear lagged behind everyone else, and I never went quite as far as everyone else could go, into the depths of gorges where you had to swim to get through the narrow channels. But I was happy to sit there in solitude, at least some of the time, alone with the rocks, water and ancestors…enjoying REAL reality as it should be.
After a couple days of exploring the gorges, we climbed Mt. Bruce, or Bunurrunha, which is the second highest peak in Western Australia. (Interesting to note that the whitefellas insist on calling another similar peak Mt. Nameless, although the aboriginal name, Jarudunmunha, is printed on all the maps and travel brochures, as if to remain in defiance of history and negation of black Australia.) We left the car-park well before sun-rise to avoid what was likely to be massive heat by mid-day. Climbing Mt. Bruce is a wonderful walk of a little less than 10 kms return; it’s not that steep of a climb but there is a significant bit of serious boulder scrambling and climbing rock that can be as hot as a frying pan. On the way you can see the entire BHP Hamersley iron mine and dual rail-ways stretching from horizon to horizon. I found myself wondering, “How much iron can China possibly want or need?” Supposedly it will take hundreds of years at present rates of mining to get it all out…but what will the distant ancestors of present-day humans look like by then? Surely, if they’re still walking it will be on at least three legs?
Last year, while traveling with a wonderful Czech couple, Mike and Jana, we were able not only to visit Hamersley Gorge, but to arrive there by the light of the full moon and camp out in the parking lot, just the four of us. The next morning we had the whole gorge to ourselves for a few hours, and came to know and love her as probably THE most awesome and special place in all of Karijini. Liesbet and I were determined to return there, at least for a few hours, no matter what it took to do so.
At the last minute Pierre and Kathy decided they didn’t want to go to Hamersley, so Liesbet and I said “au revoir” and set up camp at the Tom Price caravan park while les Francoise moved on down the road towards Exmouth.
It took us about a day and a half of first talking with people at the caravan park, then hitching in front of the visitors centre in Tom Price (which is actually not a bad little place for a mining town). Finally we connected with a nice couple named Ben and Sharon and their daughters Chelsea and Caitlin. They came and stayed at the caravan park and we all went to Hamersley the next day. This time we were there in the latter part of the day, which made the colours quite different from our first visit which was at night and early morning. The magic was no less powerful than before, and we spent a few hours swimming, taking photos and just being with the beauty and tranquility, and feeling the presence of the ancestors smiling on us all.
The only bad thing that happened was that I experienced a “gravity attack” when a plastic clasp on my video camera bag broke as I was twisting my way along a rocky ledge; I heard a “snap” and looked around just in time to watch my camera bag drop about 3 meters onto solid rock, then roll gently into the water. Instantly I was down there and got it out. Luckily, it floated and there was no water damage. I had the top zipped closed, which would have been disastrous if it had not been. Due to the bag being really good, plus, I take great care to pack the camera to absorb shock, the only damage that was sustained was to the microphone and to the view-finder. Even though the image in the view-finder is blurry, it records perfectly, but with no audio. It also plays back audio and video perfectly. The problem then is recording audio. I have an external mike given to me by a cool repair guy in London; when I plug it in, it records audio fine but there is a low-frequency rumbling sound, as it seems to be picking up vibration from the camera motor. So, if I detach the mike from the shoe on the camera, it records the audio fine, only I have to hold the camera in one hand and the mike in another. I haven’t really had time to deal with it much yet, and there hasn’t been much to record here in Exmouth, but I might be able to find a way to duct-tape the mike to the camera to free up my other hand. All this is just to keep going until I can get it repaired.
But this may be an ordeal in itself, as my former Sony repair person, the Hon. Paul Duckworth at Macray Specialized Services in Artarmon, got shut down a few weeks ago on short notice because the owner decided to sell the business. Paul had hoped to keep his top technician in operation with their existing client list, and I’m hoping that this in fact is the case. If not, I am terrified at the prospect of having to send my camera to people who a) I don’t know and b) stand a good chance of proving to be totally incompetent, as I’ve learned from previous experience.
From Tom Price we got a ride with Mike Earnshaw from Geraldton, who is truly one of the nicest and coolest people we’ve met on the road in Australia. He’s a computer person working for a company called “Not a Geek” that deals with automated control systems for mining companies. He was actually heading from Tom Price to Karratha, so we got to ride up the road that parallels the ore rail-way. Mike drove us up onto a mountain top (or almost there!) to get a view down the Hamersley range, then we went out onto the Burrup peninsula and camped out at a cool spot called Hearson Cove. He shared some interesting stuff with us, for example, that the ore trains really don't need humans on them at all, but that the unions require that each train have at least two engineers. These guys have so little to do that, if they aren't actually operating any machinery, they have to push this big button once every two minutes to prove that they are awake! FAIR DINKUM! He also said that he had been involved in physical violence against people in camp-grounds who were making too much noise. He's a pretty big dude who used to be an Outward Bound instructor, so I can guess who came out sucking hind tit there!
The next morning he dropped us at the Karratha roadhouse, and after a couple hours of hitching a nice truck-driver named John who was “dead-heading” (American truck-driver jargon for driving with no load) to Perth gave us a lift to the Minilya roadhouse, where we spent the night. The next morning the couple next to us, Trish and Mac, loaded us into their caravan and dropped us here in Exmouth where we’ve been for the past several days, painting rocks and doing internet stuff and taking care of this and that.
Liesbet and I realized when we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn last week, that we’d been in the tropics for over seven months, since we crossed it between Barcaldine and Longreach in Queensland back in April. There is something special about being in the tropics, but it’s hard to define exactly what it is. It is related to being warm, but that’s not totally it. Maybe it’s because human life must have originally evolved in a warm climate, or that warm climates are more conducive to life and home to more species than temperate or cold climates?
Once we got to Broome we were beyond the early wet season rains that had cooled and accompanied us for weeks since we left Darwin; we realized what a blessing the rains had been, how wonderful it is to be with the thunder beings, to hear and see them, followed by rainbows and happy plants glistening with drops in the morning sun! We realized how much we truly DO love water in all her forms, how much we’d love to live in “te waiwaia”…”the realms of the beautiful waters.”
We’ve noticed several things about the unfolding season here in north-western Australia: the coming wet/cyclone season is likely to be potent. In Darwin they had one of the shortest “dry” seasons in recent years, with no rain falling only in June-August. All down through the Kimberley we were “riders on the storm” traveling with the first rains of the season as we went. And the “signs” are there: Darwin electronics wizard David Daly, who brought my computer back to life after it’s “near-death experience” with the guru in Alice Springs, noted that the amount of lightning he was already seeing there in September indicated a massive wet season; park rangers at El Questro noted that the crocs were nesting high on the bank, which indicated a big wet coming; and John the truck-driver told us that, according to local folklore, if you tended to see lots of “willy-willies” (Australian name for “dust devils”) in the same day in the Pilbarra…which we and he had both experienced…this indicated that the coming cyclone season might be powerful.
Interestingly, the “season” started two days ago, on November 1; and as of yesterday, indeed there is a baby ‘clone brewing about a thousand kms out in the Indian ocean. Time for us to head on down the road to the south.
OK, enough for now. Take it easy, or, as they might as well say here in Australia, “Have it easy.”
Oh, yes, one final story to tell. On the evening of the day we arrived in Exmouth, a conference of marine biologists was happening at the local yacht club, so we decided to check it out. Some of them appeared to be studying the effects of tourism on the local marine environment, which is an area of great concern to us, and others were studying fish populations. Almost all of them were computer people working for CSIRO constructing “models” that were supposed to be tools to assist local decision-making people. One of them, Dr. Beth Fulton, had some interesting things to relate about “rec fishing” in this area, for example, that over 200,000 tourists come through Coral Bay yearly (a tiny resort town south of here), and that they take somewhere between 400 and 1000 tons of fish per year, which is FAR more than the combined catch of all the commercial fisheries in the Pilbara region. I found it interesting to see in her presentation she mentioned “attitude change” as a possible solution to the perceived problem of fish depletion, the idea being to convince or persuade people to take only one or two fish per trip, instead of filling their whole chest. Being, of course, a forward thinker, I suggested to her that why not take the “attitude change” thing one more step and get people to consider the option of not eating ANY fish, of being vegetarian. She and almost every person in the room, most of whom were scientists, turned and laughed at me, scoffing disdainfully as if that was the most outlandish thing they’d ever heard. “US…GIVE UP EATING FISH? YOU MUST BE CRAZY!!!”
Their research (funded in part, of course, by our good friends and environment-lovers BHP), which claimed to have created accurate and useful models of local eco-systems, was entirely quantitative, dealing only with estimates of fish abundance, or population sizes, but totally excluded ANY qualitative information about whether or not said fish were actually viable as a food, in light of what is now known about the levels of chemical toxicity in every region of the global ocean. Mercury, PCB’s, chromium, and a host of other lethal substances have been found to abound in every nook and cranny of the world’s oceans, as documented by Ocean Alliance’s five-year survey; with every industrial accident, every oil-drilling disaster, every barge and super-tanker voyage, even more toxic substances are poisoning the global food chain further and further. That these so-called “scientists” not only laughed at me for suggesting vegetarianism as an option for living, but that they are totally ignorant of information that is essential and vital for any valid evaluation of the place of fish as a food for humans, was quite unbelievable. But so it goes with the on-going circus of “stupid human stuff.” Where is it all leading?
JEFF PHILLIPS EXMOUTH WA
4 NOVEMBER 2010
To download the Executive Summary of Ocean Alliance's survey of global ocean toxicity:
To check out the new digital atlas of Ningaloo reef see: