Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Kununurra, the last frontier

The shire of Kununurra used to be known as "the last frontier" of the East Kimberlies. Having been here only a little over 24 hours now, I can understand why.

It wasn't the three (three!) freshwater crocs I saw yesterday evening, nor the bat that swooped in and climbed up a railing near our dinner table, or the giant lizard or the monster catfish. Though those things helped. 

The town (population around 3,000) lies right on the edge of civilisation. It's truly a physical frontier environment - in over 424,000 square kilometres of land, there is approximately 1 person per 12.5 square kilometres. Work intruding on your life? Need space in your relationship? This is the place to come. 

And it's a strange cross between the proverbial ragged ranges and the barren desert. The dirt is red like blood and the sky is the colour of sapphires. At four o'clock in the afternoon, gun-metal grey clouds move in low and open up, throwing down the last fat gasps of the wet season.

The Kimberley ranges lie off to the south, where running out of water basically means running out of life as well. Getting lost is a ticket to hell. The cold can kill you at nighttime and the sun can kill you in the day. All in all, it's a spot where people survive on the proverbial knife blade.

For all that though, there's a sense of vibrant life brimming around the area. Money is pouring into the region via the Government's stimulus package, and various investment initiatives - too numerous to count - are designed to assist and support industry, irrigation, mining, people and services around Kununurra. For example, there are 19 separate programs aimed at helping the young Aboriginal kids here - of which there are about 700. So there's a lot of activity and it's not all connected or coordinated. 

Package that up with the overwhelming openness that comes from the landscape, a certain kind of freedom that you feel in the isolation here, and a peculiar brand of recklessness that results, and there you have the second kind of frontier I'm referring to - the psychological frontier.

It's the feeling of a town on the edge. The edge of what, I'm not sure.... but it permeates the air, this feeling of possibility teamed with hopelessness, of vibrancy paired with apathy. There's optimism and indifference, in equal amounts. I get the sense that many of the people and organisations are hacking their way through the undergrowth of the metaphorical jungle, trying to carve a way through to something better.

They're pioneers, almost, in a place where western civilisation has only been in existence for 40 years - and trying to bring everyone along on a journey where maybe we're driving too fast, but slowing down could be disastrous. Social norms here are different, or non-existent. Some of the problems run so deep, and are so interconnected, that untangling them seems like an inconceivable prospect.

How can change be effected in an environment like this?

It's one of the questions we're here to consider, and I think it's going to be a long road - but I'm hoping for lots of fascinating stops along the way. 


Liesl said...

It sounds beautiful, fascinating and daunting ... all at the one time. I'm looking forward to reading more about your posting there.

Isabella Golightly said...

Sounds like it's going to be a blast! Enjoy yourself!!