I drove to Bililuna on Tuesday, in convoy with Jake. The plan was to check out the reported damage to my donga – my new home – which was broken into on the weekend, and to see what needed to be done at the youth centre, which had been trashed some time before. Afterwards we would proceed to Mulan so I could spend a few days with Tika to see how this job is done.
Past Ruby Plains and the Wolfe Creek turnoff, just after crossing a riverbed, I saw an emu, which is a pretty rare sight these days on the Tanami. I considered that a good omen. Shortly afterwards I came upon a willy-willy twirling on the side of the road. As I approached, it moved across the road in front of me and picked up a shiny green VB beer can which it whirled around and around. I have never seen a beer can being swung around in the air by a whirlwind before. I was wondering what sort of omen that might be, bearing in mind the stories Des tells me of willy-willies being the preferred means of travel of the wise old people, when the beer can suddenly came flying straight at my windscreen. Not sure what to make of that.
It is an odd time to be travelling the Tanami. We drove through a bewildering combination of dust, gravel, sand and mud, under blue skies and blazing sunshine.
At Bililuna, the damage to my future donga turned out to be minimal, a broken window and damaged door lock. However quite a lot of the appurtenances were missing. Moving in might be delayed. We went to the store, to learn that the community had already taken matters in hand. Most of the gear that was stolen had already been returned, and was being stored at the school. Even what remained unaccounted for had been identified, and the culprits had agreed to return. A lesson there. Let the community deal with matters such as this.
For those non-Australians who are wondering what a donga is, it is a small portable house (or office) somewhat larger than a shipping container. The one that will be mine has a double bedroom, bathroom and toilet, lounge area and kitchen/laundry. Perfect for a single man, especially one who is in the throes of downsizing and who intends to end his days as a grey nomad in a caravan or yacht.
We visited the school and introduced ourselves to the principal and staff. There is a new principal since I last visited, and our discussions were very positive. I am looking forward to collaborating with her. This is going to be exciting.
Next to the basketball court to talk to the kids. They were enthusiastic to learn a new youth worker was coming at last, though a couple seemed a bit dubious about my age and physical stature. They were suitably penitent about the damage that had been done to the youth centre, and crestfallen when they realised that I would have been starting that very day, had there been a home for me to move into. They wanted to know if there would be camping, and swimming, and fishing, and football. I assured them that we’d be doing all those activities and more, subject to good behaviour and co-operation.
Jake and I both like a bit of adventure, so we decided to attempt the back road to Mulan despite the recent rains. We soon found our way was blocked by mud holes and swamp where in the dry season there is little but sand to slow one down. We didn’t even get to the river crossings. After exploring a couple of alternate routes that also ended in deep wallows, we reluctantly turned back to Bililuna and headed down the main road via Balgo.
This diversion made us about two hours and a half late. Tika had a meal waiting when we arrived, for which we were most grateful.
The rest of the week I spent in Mulan with Tika, and a very interesting time it was. I re-established contact with some of my network of associates, and even met a few new valuable contacts.
You learn a lot in this job. On Friday, which is movie night, I learned that there is such a thing as cheese-flavoured microwaveable popcorn.
Some Bililuna boys were visiting family in Mulan and I gave them a lift back home today on my way back to Halls Creek for the weekend. We had a good chat. One of them is very enthusiastic about nature, and snakes in particular. We swapped snake stories and talked about the species that can be found in the area. It looks as if I may have found myself some lieutenants already. I undertook to get them a football each if they promised not to cut them up for shanghaies.
They promised. But they will anyway.
Now, I have some more packing up to do.