Taistealaí at Kurrurungku

The troopy developed a few brake glitches.   I will not jeopardise the safety of my kids so when the Rangers visited the community I asked them to accompany me in convoy on their return trip so I could take her to town for maintenance.  If things are dodgy, you want company on hand.  It turned out she needed a bit more work than a mere adjusting of the brakes.  Could be some time.

Rather than deprive anyone in Halls Creek of their work vehicle I decided to use my own Taistealaí in the interim.  I really wanted to take her for a ride anyway, because since I last drove her out to Marella Gorge  she has had a bit of “doing up”. and I was keen to give her a run down the Tanami and out into the boondocks.

She has been in to have a thorough service and a roadworthiness check.  She had a bit of electrical upgrading, so I can use the second battery to run a few appliances, including my CPAP machine, while the ignition is turned off.  A snorkel was installed and the air-con was regassed.   Although she was in pretty good nick when I bought her, and I trust the vendor who sold her to me, I wanted to start out with the secure knowledge that everything was top notch.   I requested that anything that needed fixing should be done. Just tell me if it was going to cost me heaps.  I got a really good deal from Steve at Bailey’s Auto.  For the snorkel and all the above work including brake repairs he charged only $2,100.

The snorkel is not just a device to allow a diesel engine to run under water, although it does that, but it reduces dust getting into the air filters and, I am told, actually improves performance and fuel consumption by enhancing the engine’s respiration.   Also it looks cool.

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I had hardly been back in the community for more than a few minutes when the first of a dozen people approached me to ask whose car it was.  On learning it was mine they all asked if I wanted to sell it.  I could have sold her for twice what she has cost me so far.  Everyone wants a lifted series 80.

The first opportunity I had, one afternoon after work I took her for a ride out to Lake Stretch where Molly and I had a bit of a training session.  Then, on a whim, we jumped into the Toyota and I followed a track I had not been on before, just to see where it went.

Along the way I saw a couple of emus and quite a few skippies.

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The sunset was beautiful.  The picture above does not do it justice and I don’t have my Photoshop on hand to bring the image up to the reality.

It gets dark pretty quickly after sunset. The twilight does not last long.  Soon I had no idea where I was.  I knew I could turn around and back-track at any time, but I decided to press on.

Driving the bush in the dark is a whole new experience.  Even with my bright lights the track was a bit hard to spot in places, as it went from spinifex to scrub to trees and back again. It meandered around copses, through dried riverbeds and over dried lake beds.  Judging from its condition and the lack of tyre marks, the way I was following had not been used for a long time.  I began to wonder if it actually led anywhere, or if it was just going to peter out under me in some old lake bed and I would have to turn around and drive slowly back on my own tracks for an hour and a half.   I stopped occasionally to get out, douse the lights and admire the sky while Molly hunted around in the dark.  We shared a couple of bottles of water.

The Milky Way  is spectacular out here.

Finally I suddenly realised I knew where I was.  I had arrived at Salty Bore after having travelled a huge semicircle West and South and East. I have a marine compass on my dash and now I knew my location, I knew which track would take me  out to the Tanami, about half an hour south of home.

Just in case you think I was foolish to do this alone, it may help to know that I carry at least 10 litres of water, a camp stove and food (and dog food) and I have satellite communication in case of emergency.

The only thing I don’t routinely carry is my CPAP so getting lost means I will not get much sleep.

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This track is the well-used main highway to Lake Stretch.

 

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Taistealaí at Lake Stretch

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Molly in the golden glow of sunset.

Sturt  River..   Lake Stretch  is the tiny lagoon ^
Sturt River.  Just a series of dried creek beds and a few small lakes and puddles at this time of year. 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bright Side

Occasionally, I ask myself, as a person suffering depression – albeit medically managed – whether I am in the right job out here in a remote community far from everything I have ever known.  The black dog does get me down periodically.  My job is simple enough on the surface, but it is more important than some realise.  My role is to help and support at-risk children, try to keep them out of trouble, encourage them to attend school,  and show them that there can be a worthwhile future for them.  I am not a child minder or entertainment officer, though both those activities are tools I use to start a conversation once I identify those who most need my encouragement or support.

My community kids are a constant reminder of how well-off I am and have always been.  They keep me busy and can be very demanding, but if things get too much, my hours are flexible enough that I can take a break, rest my legs and carry on later.  Sometimes I work 9 to 1, nap until 3 and continue into the evening.  Unless it is very cold the kids are usually out until 9 or 10 at night.  Give them some balls, play some music, and they have fun without mischief.   I can usually find a moment to talk to those I need to while the others play.  The freedom I enjoy in how I go about my job is one of the best things about it.

I have learned however, that I must partition off that part of my life and keep some time for myself.  I need to be able to get away and explore the countryside – and my thoughts – alone, except for my dog.  It is good that I can have time alone. My own time is important.  I cannot be working every day, all day.   I get along very well in my own company which is an essential skill.  Even when I am down, I prefer to deal with it alone.  Misery does not always love company.  Not that I am miserable very often.  I remind myself that my record of getting through bad days, so far, is 100%. When things start to get on top of me, I am free to take a break.   Even so, I feel almost guilty when I return to a well provided and comfortable home with clean sheets on a warm bed.  Something not everyone out here has.

There are always the little golden moments that make the darker ones go away.  Today I cooked a barbecue. My little six year old admirer came up to me with a mouth full of sausage and bread with tomato sauce, and said ” I love you Mr Alan”. I know she means it.

 

 

When Molly Met Sally

Sally the Goat was not particularly impressed when I brought Molly the Bitch home.  One can hardly blame her. She has not had a good interaction with dogs until now.  She was very suspicious, and clearly at first could not figure out what to do.  Normally if a dog was around she would come and stand beside me for protection.  But here was a dog in that very position and I was not doing anything about it.

Molly, on the other hand, was very interested in Sally.  At first I could not be sure how it would go, and I stood by ready to intervene. But it was soon apparent that Molly wanted to play.  It was also apparent that Molly is not as mature as I thought she was.  She still exhibits puppy play tendencies.  The problem is that puppy play is mock aggression  and Sally doesn’t know the difference.  Sally decided , bravely, not to run but to meet the problem head on. Literally.  Goat style.  Butt.

This delighted Molly who dodged the horns nimbly, and clearly thought she had found a new sparring partner. I watched for a short while until I realised I did have to intervene before things got out of hand.  Molly was determined to play hard and Sally did not like it.  I was not sure whether Sally’s courage would turn to panic.  I did not want her injuring herself trying to flee.  She won’t get through the fence again since I repaired it.

A short, sharp, angry sounding “No Molly!” was enough to call the dog off.  She responded immediately.  She only wants to please me, and does not want me cross.  I just had to keep an eye on them for a while. If Molly forgot for a moment and approached Sally to play, a quick word was all that was needed.   Since Molly was spending all her time with me nearby, keeping an eye on her and teaching her how to be a companion dog rather than a community mongrel, it was no problem for me. Molly goes where I go for now.  I was not going to leave those two alone until I was confident Sally was safe.

By the third day, it was quite apparent that Sally had figured out her protected status. Goats are just as smart as people say they are, and as science has confirmed.  Now she was actively taunting Molly by occupying any territory Molly might consider “hers” for the moment, such as in the vicinity of her food bowl.  A few more sharp commands and Molly got the message. Leave her alone.  She too is a quick learner.  I was actually able to leave them alone and unsupervised together  this afternoon while I had a wee nap. There was no barking and no bleating.

There is quite a lot of training to do with a dog such as Molly.  Even the best cared for community dog is not treated the way we whitefellas treat our pets.  Never having been allowed inside a house before, she is not house trained.  She has never had a bed.  She slept wherever she could find a comfortable spot.  Having had to fight for her share of food amongst  a pack of seven or eight dogs, she is greedy and ready to scavenge.  She chews things.  That can be costly if she picks the wrong thing.  The best way to accomplish the necessary training is to keep her company all the time, watch what she is up to, and intervene. Luckily my job allows me to do that.  A sharp word is all that is needed when she transgresses because she is so desperate for my approval.

So Molly has already learned not to get on my bed or on my armchair, not to forage in the kitchen rubbish bin (though putting some laundry powder in it as a deterrent helps) and hopefully soon, she will know not to chew my stuff. In the meantime if I don’t want it chewed I must keep it out of reach or keep her in view and tell her off when she tries.  Her one toilet mishap in the house was my fault. I was not paying attention.

The biggest mistake anyone can make when training a dog is to hit them, especially if they have just come to you in submissive posture. The posture means they already know they have transgressed.  The strike they receive seems to them to be for the last thing they did, that is, for coming to you.   I learned this many years ago when I was training my German Shepherd, Mach, who became an obedience champion.   It did not take me long to get control of Molly by voice alone.  When she does something wrong, a sharp word makes her stop whatever she is doing and come to me.  Then she gets praise and a scratch behind the ears, or a cuddle.  The sharp word teaches her that what she was doing displeases me, she has been distracted from doing it, and her relationship with me is positively reinforced.  Of course it does require one to be alert. Dogs can always find new mischief.  Even as I was writing this, Molly left her position at my feet and grabbed a pack of paper kitchen towels from the pile of things I don’t have room for in the cupboard, and was about to start chewing when I called her back.

I gave her an old punctured football this afternoon.  She left it outside. I had better go find it.

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It’s only a box with a blanket and a bit of foam, but it is MY OWN BED!

Seasonal Weather

One of the things many people do not realise about the outback Kimberley is that even though we are still in the tropics, in the Winter – or Dry Season as it is known – it can get quite cold, especially at night.  Cold at least for those who are used to temperatures well above 20 C for most of the year.  Last night got down to 9 degrees the last time I checked on a bathroom break.  In the small hours I was thinking maybe I needed an extra blanket.

The dry season is the best time for tourists due to it being dry (usually) and comfortably cooler than the humid heat of the wet season when despite frequent heavy rain, temperatures can get up into the high 40s.  Also of course, travel is much easier when the roads are not under water for days or weeks at a time.  The only tourists who come at that time of year are usually those who are interested in lightning storms. We get a lot of those.  Climate change may have quite an effect on this.  Last year was not much of a wet season compared to previous years.  I did  lot of travelling to communities when in theory I should not have been able.

The weather has turned quite cold in the last few days as expected.  The unseasonal rain seems to have made it worse.  During the day I was  comfortable enough in a tee shirt, though I did consider putting on something warmer for a while just after I arose from bed this afternoon. However my local neighbours are all rugged up in jumpers and quilted jackets.  I saw no kids out and about, so it was a good day for me to be ill in bed sleeping off the effects of a dose of food poisoning.

Today was remarkable because it was heavily overcast all day. and there was a short but very violent thunderstorm this afternoon. The first thunderclap was directly overhead and simultaneous with the lightning.  I had just got up from my warm bed and was drinking a mug of soup.   Very startling. Just as well I no longer had diarrhoea.  My first thought was that a bomb or a car had exploded. One does not expect thunder at this time of year.   The rain continued for a while, though not as heavily as yesterday.

 

Unseasonal Weather

I drove up to Halls Creek on Sunday ready to pick up a few things on Monday and complete some admin stuff at the Shire office.  Sunday and Monday are my weekend days, but I often end up doing work stuff.  No problem because my days and hours are flexible.  I hadn’t planned to, but I ended up staying Monday night as well. I still needed to shop for hardware and a few items for the Youth Centre.

Then the rain started.  Surprisingly heavy and totally unexpected at this time of year in the midst of the dry season.  On Tuesday morning Budgie warned me he was planning to close the Tanami so I should get started for home, which I did.  It was already pretty hairy between Ruby Plain and the Wolfe Creek Crater turnoff.  I was down to 40 or 50 kph and still sliding around.  The trip usually takes me two hours and fifteen minutes. Today it took well over three hours.  By the time I arrived the troopy was red with mud from top to bottom.

When I arrived in Billiluna a convoy of Grey Nomad tourists up from the Alice Springs end were fueling up ready to head north. I had the fun of telling them they could not go, and indeed they should not. I advised them to camp locally.  Fortunately I was able to tell them where the good spots were.

I phoned Budgie to give him a road report and headed for bed very early.  I had eaten one takeaway meal in Halls Creek on Monday and ended up with a nasty dose of what I suspect was Bacillus cereus intoxication.

Wednesday is going to be a day of bed rest.

An Interesting Day

Today was an interesting day.

First of all,  the community store was robbed of $2,600 worth of cigarettes and tobacco in the early hours.  Going by the price of things out here that would be barely a shoe-box full.  It took until about 2 pm and a community meeting before things were sorted out.  The store was shut until then. Some, but not all, of the stolen stuff was recovered.  The culprit was identified, and will not be well regarded for his actions.  The store is owned by the community itself.
I was quite glad to be diverted from it all by one of my lads, who brought me a black headed python  (Aspidites melanocephalus that he had caught at a friend’s house not far from the Youth Centre.  He wanted to save it from being eaten.  These pythons are highly prized as a delicacy in these parts.  My young friend, like me, is very fond of snakes for themselves, not for any culinary reasons. He considers himself a “snake expert” and I am happy to let him teach me.  He handles even venomous snakes with confidence, and removed a king brown  from the school only last week.    I am really getting to like that kid.  We carried our new  python friend about all day until we found somewhere to let it go.  I would really have liked to keep it, but besides being illegal, it is impractical.  Especially when it would be eyed by everyone the way you might look at a particularly delicious chocolate cake.
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Shortly after, he brought me a frogmouth that had flown into a car last night and broke its wing. I trimmed the feathers near the break, so I could splint and tape it,
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I now have it in a straw-filled cat box. I am not overly confident in the likelihood of its recovery but I am feeding it mince and milk,  and water and keeping my fingers crossed.

It occurs to me that if it does survive it will probably never fly again and I have just acquired a new dependent. If so I shall probably name it Grumpy Cat.  Look at that face.

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I took a bunch of boys and girls out into the desert looking for bush tucker, since many had not eaten breakfast because the store was not open .   Well – I drove, but they took me.   They know where all the interesting bushes are.   We brought back a bucket of “bush blackberries” to share with their families.   These are tiny little fruit that look like miniature plums.

After 2 the store opened.   I bought some sausages and bread and put on a BBQ.  Not sure I should have been cooking with a python around my neck. Lucky there were no health inspectors around.

Then another bunch of kids and I went out past lake Stretch looking for more bush tucker.  We found quite a lot.

I have now tried “bush blackberries”,  “bush tomato”, and mardijwah which I learned is a sticky gum exuded from the tree of the same name.  It is slightly sweet, with a pleasant, mild flavour and the consistency of amber coloured toffee with a runny centre like treacle.  The kids are certainly very keen on it, though apparently it causes severe flatulence.  It also , I am told,   gives one diarrhoea if one overindulges.  I drove my little friends home and got rid of them as soon as I could after I learned that.  I’m OK so far…

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Mardijwah
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A Juicy One

While I was doing this, I was also baking sourdough bread.

My Neighbours and Other Animals

Yesterday I put on a barbecue for the kids after a sports session and the party was crashed by Sadie the camel.

Like Emu, she is a community pet raised here since she was young.  She is very curious about whatever is going on, especially barbecues.  She is not keen on sausages, it turns out, but is quite fond of bread.  Try persuading a two metre camel to bugger off while you are trying to cook.  She is not easily put off when she is determined to check something out.   She tolerates the rough treatment the kids give her with admirable equanimity.  She munches away at whatever vegetation takes her fancy while they clamber all over her.  Mostly she just ignores them unless they are holding food.

She seems to have taken a shine to me. She follows me around and nuzzles my ear or pulls my hair to get my attention.  The kids even commented on it, saying I had two wives now; Sally the Goat and Sadie the Camel.  I think they find my fondness for animals quite amusing.   But not in a weird way I hope.

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Sadie the Camel

Earlier in the day one of the community elders came for a visit.   A friendly elderly gentleman,  he came for a chat about the children and to borrow some curry powder.  As we sat on the deck drinking icy cold lime cordial, he pointed to a hole in the ground near the fence.  I had not noticed it until he drew it to my attention.

It is a King Brown burrow, he told me.  He then told me how to catch the occupant, using a live mouse on a string as bait.  Not keen on doing that.   I have my own snake-catching equipment.

It is the cooler dry season now.  My neighbour should be hibernating and will not be a problem until November. Not that I think it will be a problem anyway.  I am not the sort of meal a snake would want to eat.  I am not at all concerned at having such a dangerous creature nearby.   I merely need to be careful not to accidentally surprise it.  And to that end I’ll need Sally to keep my grass short.

Rather than show a boring photo of a hole in the ground, here is a picture of a KB that I borrowed from the Internet:

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King Brown

I suspect I shall eventually have to capture my neighbour and remove it to a safe place out in the bush.  People are likely to kill it.   No one else seems as fond of snakes as I am.

I really don’t understand why that is.