Monday, May 31, 2010

Farewell, East Kimberley Kununurra

And so, after nearly five weeks, my time in Kununurra is over.

Here at the other end of my secondment, I have experienced a great number of things I wasn't expecting.

Firstly, and most importantly, I'm the proud owner of a 40-page, 10,000 word strategy that sets out a way forward to develop and support leadership amongst Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley. That's practically a thesis. But better than a thesis, I actually think it's achievable.

I have at least 937 tropical-strength mosquito bites.

I have survived Wolf Creek, explored the Bungle Bungle ranges in Purnululu, driven a manual 4WD, camped (and more surprisingly, actually enjoyed it), worked up to running 9.5 km in one go, swum in crocodile-infested waters, seen rock art in situ, eaten goanna, met amazing people and made new friends, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

I even have - wait for it - a tan. I don't think I've ever had a tan before in my life.

Best of all, I've lifted my eyes to the sky in a way I haven't done before. I am so glad I was given the opportunity to be here and experience all this.

Before embarking on this secondment I didn't know very much about Aboriginal affairs. Now, I have a much better understanding of the way white settlement has impacted on first Australians, and I have some things to work through as a consequence. I struggle with what colonisation has wreaked on their society -and what we continue to perpetrate today - and I am convinced we need to work together to set that right.

How? I don't know how. But I am hoping that my being here has made a difference, albeit a tiny, infinitessimal one, and that I will continue to carry that difference with me as I go ahead.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Everybody wins a prize

I don't quite know how this happened, but it's been over a week since my last post! As you no doubt know, if you have clicked back here over that time to find out what I'm up to, only to discover that the answer is quite plainly Not Blogging.

It was a race to the finish line with my secondment, as these things always are, and then there were various other things like a daytrip to the Bungle Bungles, and an evening movie - Baz Luhrman's Australia, under the stars, and does anyone else agree with me that Nicole Kidman is a TERRIBLE actor in that film - and then a dinner with all the other secondees, plus a few other things .... time really fell away from me.

I will post updates on all those things (perhaps with the exception of the film) over the coming days.

But the most important question is surely: who won the giveaway??

I did promise that I would draw it last Saturday. And draw it I have: the winner is DOINA, from Romania! Doina, please email me your postal address - I am at

BUT there is more. Because I have been so slack and spent all my time working when I should have been blogging, I realise I have let you down. I promised I would draw the giveaway last Saturday - over a week ago! - and I didn't.

So, if you left a comment on that giveaway page, you are now eligible to receive a souvenir tea-towel of your own. Yes that's right, everyone who left a comment now gets a tea-towel. So please email me your best postal address, to

I look forward to hearing from you! And also to catching up on my blogging in the next few days .....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Creative Space

Tea-towels! Souvenir tea-towels galore!

I have put together quite a collection in my three weeks here to date. I have some from Halls Creek, but most of these are from Kununurra.

I fully intend to put these to use when my dear sewing machine and I are reunited in a fortnight.

Cushion covers? Peg bags?

Perhaps a giant souvenir-tea-towel quilt cover?

Hop on over to Kootoyoo and see what everyone else is up to with their creative spaces.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Me and the Governor-General

Did I mention that I met the Governor-General last week in Halls Creek? I didn't?

Well, I met the Governor-General in Halls Creek last week! She came to visit the school there, and the kids were so excited - they sang and danced for her. Take a look at this photo:

I felt a bit like singing and dancing too, she's that kind of woman.

Quite incidentally, Quentin Bryce gave the speech at my graduation from university (many, MANY years ago now) - she was inspirational then and is still inspirational today. 

And how lucky is this: I was due to meet with Doreen Green afterwards, the local woman who really spearheaded the grog restrictions, and because Doreen had a lunch appointment, Doreen casually invited me along to said lunch appointment, which I didn't realise was the Official Reception for her Excellency; so quite by chance I got to go to lunch with them both! Here is a picture of Doreen.

At the conclusion of the event, the GG came over to speak with Doreen and I, and I had the opportunity to introduce myself and explain that she gave my graduation speech. I told her that I was so pleased when she was appointed to her current office as she is the embodiment of what can be possible for women who have determination, intellect, support and opportunity. I believe I may have blushed a little at that point.

She was very kind and gracious, as Governors-General should be; and asked me what I was doing in Halls Creek. So then, like the communications professional I am, (never one to let a good spruiking opportunity go by) I took the reins and explained that I'm lucky to be in Halls Creek and Kununurra on secondment, due to a partnership my company has with an organisation called Indigenous Enterprise Partnerships (IEP); and that under the terms of the partnership, secondees from large corporates spend between 1 and 3 months working for indigenous organisations; on specific projects that require skills which can't be sourced internally from those organisations.

I told here how I was working with Wunan  in Kununurra on developing an Aboriginal leadership framework and development model to catalyse change in communities across the East Kimberley - how it's truly fascinating stuff, and really gives me the chance to feel that I can help make a difference in people's lives, even if it's just in the tiniest of ways.

She was very interested in the program and we had a good conversation about it - and she has that knack of making you feel like you are the only person in the room and that she is fascinated by every word that comes out of your mouth (no matter how fluttery your heart may be in its chest.....)

Gosh. Afterwards, I felt like I'd had a brush with royalty. The world needs more women like Quentin Bryce.

(And quite separately, here is my favourite photograph from the day. I took about a thousand, too, so that's saying something.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Surviving Wolf Creek, Part II

You already know we got to Wolfe Creek - firstly, I told you yesterday that I survived; and secondly, if we hadn't I wouldn't be writing this post, would I? Chuh. Logical thinking, really.

But the devil is in the detail, as they always say! So picture the scene, as it unfolds:

It's 530am, and I wake to a cacophony of snoring and the sound of rain pounding on the roof. It's not clear which is noisier.

I'm eminently pleased that no snake has crawled into my sleeping bag and snuggled up next to my warm body during the night, which was my primary fear; but I'm apprehensive about the rain. More rain is not good.

Out of bed and rolling up my swag, I feel my shoulders sag with disappointment. I love the Wolfe Creek crater, I've come all this way from over the other side of the country, I'm lucky enough to be working nearby which means I can do a weekend trip, I've got fantastic company on the journey with me, we've driven much further than we actually needed to in reality, and despite it all, I've got a sinking feeling that the roads are going to be rubbish and we won't get through to the crater.

It's a mere 22 kilometres away, but right at this moment it might as well be the moon.

The lead naturalist, Eddie, gives us the Weather Forecast Of Doom, which is that another 25-50mm of rain is expected today. He happily informs us that this will definitely mean the road to the crater can't be driven, certainly not, can't even be attempted; and that we might even be cut off from getting back to civilisation  -well, to Halls Creek at least- that day. Yes, a very high chance of being stranded for another night at least. The road might be closed! The creeks might flood!

(Silently, I wonder if I murder him with my Swiss army knife, could I defend myself in a court of law by arguing that he deserved it due to an overwhelming superiority and a perverse display of schadenfreude at our predicament?)

The thought of being stuck for a full day and another night with these naturalist folk (and ye gods, probably  being made to sing again - heaven help us) well, let's just say it galvanises us into action. We breakfast on scrambled eggs prepared by Snatch, ditch the washing up in favour of getting started on the trip, and pack up the cars poste-haste.

Turning down the road that leads to the crater, we're all a bit quiet in the cars. Dave and I agonise over how terrible it would be if we were to stumble at this last hurdle, when the scent of the crater is practically in our nostrils.

Neither of us can really explain the drawcard of the crater itself, though I try to describe how the thought of something that powerful and random makes me more fully aware of my insignificance in the universe, and how it's all completely by chance that we are here on this planet, living our little lives, going about our business, when it all could have been quite different. It makes me alive to the reality of how infinitessimally small our world is, and makes me profoundly grateful for simply just being here, as well as far more aware of the futility of it all. Does that make sense?

Anyway, as our philosophical discussion progresses and I grapple with trying to describe the enormity of it all, it suddenly becomes clear to us that the road we are driving on is not impassable. That it's actually quite good. Very good, in fact, when compared to the Tanami Goat Track we just got off. Much better, in fact! Drier! Considerably less muddy! All of a sudden, we feel a surge of hope that we might get there after all.

22 kilometres, some old tin sheds, an animated Dutch couple and several gates later, we're there. We're there at last! Here is a picture of some lunatic - hang on, that's Dave! What on earth is he holding in his hand??

The Aboriginals of the area tell a Dreaming story about two snakes that came out of the ground at Wolfe Creek. They say one of the snakes came from the sea, and that is why the interior circle of the crater is so salty. I knew I had good reason to worry about snakes in my sleeping bag.

Now, to bust some myths from the movie. It is NOT a three-hour walk to get into the crater. It's 400metres and about 10 minutes. And thank goodness for that, just quietly. I did not fancy a three-hour walk in the rain.

As we come up to the lip of the crater, struggling against the icy wind and the water running down the inside of our collars - the landscape falls away beneath our eyes.

Magnificent. Awe-inspiring. Astounding. We all let out coos and gasps of admiration. Snatch may even have whistled in appreciation.

Here is the Mother Hen on the very edge of it, looking down - she was the only one of us clever enough to bring some wet weather protection. (Because when does it rain at Wolfe Creek? Never! Oh, except for this weekend - of course.)

The Mother Hen wisely stays on the top of the crater, but the other three of us make our way down the rocky slopes into the great bowl of the impact site inside. It's 20 metres down to the base of the crater, but originally, the crater was six times as deep, 120 metres down.

You can clearly see how the impact pushed up the surrounding rock, and the enormous crater looks like a gigantic drop of water splashing up from the ground, frozen in time. Three hundred thousand years ago, a meteorite weighing 50,000 tonnes slammed into the ground here, and its impact literally sent ripples through the earth.

The echo inside is at least a second long.

I felt tiny inside it. Tiny, and wet.

That was the apex of the trip for me. That was my goal, my dream, my quest. Achieved now, it sits safely inside my chest and from time to time I will gently stroke it in satisfaction.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I survived Wolf Creek!

Ladies and gentlemen, I survived Wolf Creek!! (But cheekily, I left it an extra day before telling you, just to see if you'd worry. Did you?)

In actual fact, there was plenty to worry about, too. I mean, not scary serial killers from the outback - though we did end up having to camp with 15-odd "naturalists" from Perth, which was certainly scary enough, especially when they made us join in with their sing-a-long - but there was plenty else.

For starters, it rained. Not sprinkled, as you might get the occasional bit of rain during the dry season. No, it poured. For 48 hours straight.

This is unusual. Apparently they've only had rain like that in May twice during the last 20 years (so said the local expert at the service station.). And of course it had to be the weekend I finally managed to get to Wolf Creek Crater, which I have wanted to see for years, and of course it had to be the weekend we planned to camp there, OUTSIDE, and of course it had to be the weekend we wanted to project the movie onto a big screen under the stars and scare ourselves silly. Of course!

So that put a ... dampener (ha ha, oh my aching sides) on the plans, you could say. And in the Wolf Creek movie, it is raining unexpectedly too, all the characters comment on how strange that is ... and how menacing .... Coincidence? I think not.

It started on Saturday, when the four of us piled into two four wheel drives in Halls Creek - Snatch and the Mother Hen in one vehicle, Dave and I in the other. The woman at the motel desk warned us the roads would be impassable, that the police would close them down, that we wouldn't be able to drive them.

Did we listen? NO! We were going to see the crater, dammit, and this was our only opportunity!

So we headed off down the Tanami Track, which is technically called a "road" but in practical terms is more of a "disaster". I don't know if you've ever driven the roads in the top end, but generally they aren't sealed, and they're heavily corrugated, so driving over them is a bit like being jounced up and down on an incredibly uncomfortable, bumpy bit of concrete scattered with fist-sized rocks and brick-deep troughs. Go too fast and you'll burst a tyre. Go too slow and you'll judder yourself to death. Fun!

We got to the Wolf Creek crater turnoff after about an hour and a half of fun, and it started raining harder.

On investigating the large, tin abandoned station at Carranya, we discovered 15 naturalists from Perth who were also taking cover from the rain (and were much excited by a flock of woodswallows flying in).

They assured us we couldn't get to the crater in this weather, so after much consultation we decided to go on to Billiluna, the Mindibungu community about 40km south, to get a weather report about the condition of the creeks and roads, as there are a few water crossings to contend with, and in wet weather they can get pretty nasty pretty quickly, especially when novice drivers are concerned.

The Tanami had turned into foot-deep mud by this time, which meant our cars were sliding all over the road, and it would be fair to say that my knuckles turned white on occasion. Conversation kept flowing however, and Dave and I enjoyed poking a bit of light-hearted fun at the Gen-Ys in the car ahead (we are both Gen-X, you see) and the determination to stick to plan.

Down at Billiluna the town seemed deserted. Only 220 people live in it, and most of them were occupied that day with sorry business, due to recent deaths in Mulan down the road. After a brief stop (where I confess I locked all the doors in the car, just to be safe, because it seemed freakishly quiet) we continued on down the Canning Stock Route to Lake Stretch.

Slidey goat track adventure! We're having an adventure, we're having an adventure - that was the mantra for Dave and I as we mushed about through the water and foot-deep mud. Worried? Not us, no.

We headed back to the abandoned station after a quick bite to eat at Lake Stretch (where we saw a spoonbill, which was pretty cool) and it took us over an hour to drive the 40 kilometres as we slid left, right and centre over the mud swamp formerly known as the Tanami. Now I understand why some communities get totally cut off during the wet season.

Here is a picture from inside the vehicle as we plowed through the rain and mud. That's the windscreen wiper trying to clear it off.

Back at the station we wedged ourselves in beside the naturalists and enjoyed a quick, hot dinner. Yum!

It was freezing though, and I one point I had on every single piece of clothing I had with me - which included my harem pants underneath my shorts, for extra warmth. I thought longingly of the khakis and snuggly jacket hanging securely in my cupboard in Kununurra, which of course I didn't pack, because of course I wouldn't need them in Wolf Creek, where it never rains and is rarely cold. Sigh.

Then Wolf Creek on dvd in the car - not as much fun or as scary as the big screen, but then, wet and cold beggars can't be choosers - and then it was time for bed in the swag. Wearing all my clothes, including a pair of Dave's socks, because I hadn't brought any with me, because of course it doesn't rain at Wolf Creek and is rarely cold .... etc ....

It was a pretty thunderous night - between the apocalyptic snoring of the senior naturalists, and the rain drumming heavily on the metal roof, I managed to snatch only a few hours of sleep.

And before we knew it, it was morning. The rain eased off a bit. Would this be our opportunity to see the crater after all?

(to be continued ....)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

To market, to market... and Wolf Creek crater

Oh thank the powers that be - Kununurra has a weekend market! It has honey.

It has watermelon (or if I am to believe the sign - giant, stripey grapefruit apparently)

It has assorted pickles and chutneys.

And - drumroll, ladies and gentlemen - IT HAS CRAFT. Happy day.

It has extraordinary, delicate handmade lace.

And it has slightly creepy Kewpie dolls dressed in crochet.

(Speaking of creepy, this is an automatic post today, which I set up a few days ago, because guess where I am driving to this weekend? Cue drum roll and creepy music ...... Wolf Creek Crater! To camp! In the dark! With the movie! Projected onto a white sheet we'll string between the two four-wheel drives!

 Hopefully I will live to tell you all about it when I'm back in Kununurra on Monday. Wish me luck.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Getting rid of the grog

Firstly - readers, it rained!

I woke gently at 430 this morning (everyone wakes up early here, probably because we're all in bed by half-past eight) to the sound of the rain falling on the tin roof. This is the stuff of legend, rain falling on a country roof - could things be any more romantic?

I'm here in Halls Creek, about 300 km south of Kununurra, for a day of meetings today. There are a group of Aboriginal women I want to speak with, because they galvanised action last year and brought about a grog ban in this community.

It was a pretty divisive thing, from what I understand. The issue is more complex than this, but to grossly sum it up, it went like this:

Alcohol was destroying Halls Creek, in the way it is destroying many Aboriginal communities across the country. Men and women were out late, getting smashed, smashing each other, kids were out until all hours, money was spent on grog and not on food (or schooling, or anything else) and kids were experiencing severe neglect - running wild, undernourished, bashed, abused.

A group of senior Aboriginal women got together and said Enough Is Enough. This grog is killing us. 

But bringing in an alcohol ban wasn't as easy as you might think. Some local business owners objected, because they sell alcohol and were worried about their business viability and being able to support their own families. Some white members of the community objected because they felt a grog ban infringed on Aboriginal human rights. Some Aboriginal people objected for the same reasons - that a grog ban is a further step into a nanny state and that they had the right to make their own decisions even if they weren't positive ones.

In the end a compromise was reached. Alcohol is still available in Halls Creek, but it has some limitations. You can only drink full-strength grog in the bars and hotels. You can't take it away to drink at home or in the park - you can only take away light beer.

The Government changed the legislation, and apparently, the problems disappeared almost overnight. Because it is a lot more difficult to get completely pissed (and carry on drinking into the wee hours of the morning), things have changed.

They're looking at what the Sobering Up Shelter could be used for now, because it no longer needs to house the same amount of drunks overnight. Domestic violence and assault rates are down. And with grog out of the way, that clears the path to address some of the other issues of disadvantage that Aboriginal people face out here.

It's not a complete answer, of course, because people - whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal - can still drink themselves into oblivion within the bars and hotel if they want to. They can also get in the car and drive three hours to Kununurra and load up with booze there. Truckies can still bring it into Halls Creek and sell it for exorbitant prices. So there are some complexities, for sure.

But it's a start, and the way the Aboriginal women came together to make lasting change in their community, is an inspiring example of the leadership principles that I'm looking at as part of my secondment. I'm looking forward to hearing how they did it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's giveaway time on My Creative Space

I'm having a giveaway, quite randomly, just because I feel like it. 

As you know, my creative space is limited at the moment (due to the absence of time, space and sewing machine) - so I rather feel like adding to someone else's instead. I figure, I'm lucky enough to be having this wonderful experience at the top end of Australia, why not share the love?

So on offer here is this magnificent linen tea towel purchased freshly from Walkbout Souvenirs in the Kununurra Coles arcade. See those vibrant colours! Behold the cutesy pictures! It's a perfect addition to your kitchen or your collection, whichever you'd prefer.

I'm also including a brand-new wide-brimmed canvas hat branded with the Kimberley TAFE WA logo, and a Kimberley TAFE WA water bottle, both of which I received as part of my 4WD training program at the Kimberley TAFE WA a week or so ago.

Sure, maybe these TAFE items aren't exactly your thing and you'll end up donating them to one of the boys or men in your life. But on the other hand, maybe you have a secret collection of TAFE-branded products that you've never told anyone about, and it's stored in a box at the very back of your cupboard, and every now and again when no one's home you get it out and go through it lovingly and admire your items .... how happy would you be to win these two things THEN!?


The rules are simple, to enter the giveaway you have to:

  • join up as a follower (if you're a follower already then you're halfway there) AND

  • leave a comment on this post telling me your favourite travel destination and why
I'll draw the giveaway randomly next weekend, and I will post this package anywhere in the world, so don't be shy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Wyndham Early Learning Centre

Yesterday three of us visited the Wydham Early Learning Activity centre (WELA) about a hundred kilometres up the road.

Wyndham is a tiny town on the coast - some would call it "extremely remote", otherwise would call it "dying".

The WELA though is a thriving patch of colour and life. It's an initiative which grew up behind the local high school, where mums and bubs can come to spend time and promote their children's early development. It's not a daycare centre - a parent has to accompany their child, and that way, there's a dual-learning opportunity.

The centre focuses on health and hygiene, listening skills, nutrition, creative expression, social norms and expectations .... they do some amazing work. It caters for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families, and provides an outlet for all sorts of frustrations and concerns. It gives guidance and advice, and operates on the smell of an oily rag.

Here are some faces from WELA.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bush Tucker Woman

I've eaten some strange things in my life.

I've had "crad ovaries" and sea cucumber in China, and sweetbreads (calves' testicles) in Germany. In Japan, I ate turtle innards, chicken-butt skewers, and a bizarre dish composed of large, meltingly sweet lumps of beef fat mixed into a broth. In the Middle East, I never got to eat the sheeps' eye I was promised, but I managed to be given a dish made of curdled sheep-milk that was just about as revolting. And nothing comes close to what My One True Love ate in Kyoto - a single oyster that was bigger than his head.

Now, I've got a few new things to add to the list.

1. Freshly-killed goanna. Seen here being held by Chase Bedford (on the left) and Reuben Bedford (on the right), these two enormous goannas were sniffed out by their faithful goanna dog Lucky, a big old animal with three good legs and a nose as sharp as a diamond.

The best way to train a dog to find goanna is to burst a goanna's bladder and squirt a bit of the urine up the dog's nose - that way, the dog gets the very essence (as it were) of the animal's scent.

When properly trained, a goanna dog will even go into a burrow and drag the reptile out, or follow it into water to drown it. In Lucky's case, he will corner the animal until his owner arrives, who then shoots it in the head. I admire that efficiency!

A good way to cook goanna is in a bush oven.

Next time you have yourself a goanna, dig a hole in the ground and burn a fire down until the very hottest white coals are left. Put the gutted goanna into the hole, and then cover it with coals and a sheet of corrogated iron for a lid.

Your goanna will emerge from the oven succulent and sweet. Cut off a piece and peel back the hardened, leathery, scaly skin. The meat will look and taste remarkably like chicken, with a firmer, chewier texture.

(And it's true, if a goanna is chasing you run like hell, because if you stop they will think you are a tree and run UP you instead!)

2. Kangaroo. This is a different kettle of kangaroo, you could say, to the steaks you can buy in the supermarket that are bled, dressed and vacuum-packed in their cryovac bags Here's Luke Bedford preparing it for us..

This kangaroo comes with its skin still on, and when you're handed your piece of the tail you peel it like a banana, which isn't easy.

After that's done you scrape aside the glistening, gleaming layer of fat - it looks like little gel-filled bubbles wrapped around the flesh - and the dark, sweet meat is underneath.

The tail is the best bit - though roasted ribs are a very close second -and it has a stronger, gamier flavour than the steaks I've eaten before. Kind of the same, but different. More ....wild.

3. Bush coconut. This one was really cool! All the kids were eating them and then they showed us how to do it.

You take your bush coconut and smash it in half with a sharp rock. Inside is a yellow grub that has burrowed into the fruit, surrounded by thousands of tiny pink larvae. You scoop out the grub and swallow it down - it provides an excellent source of fluid and nutrition if you're thirsty, and then you use your fingers to grab the larvae and eat them as well.

It's true that in the bush you will never go hungry - as long as you know where to look. For my part, I'd make sure I had a gun and a dog called Lucky as well.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Swimming with sharks (well, crocodiles actually)

Generally, I'm not a paranoid person.

I like to jump into things, and really experience them. I like the sense of adventure. The adrenaline rush. The feeling of a personal challenge accomplished.

But before yesterday, I had never swum with crocodiles.

We'd tramped over the hills,the eight of us - four locals and four blow-ins - the two boys running over the rocky ground like mountain goats and the experienced walker carving a path through the long, dry grass through which we all tried to follow. After about an hour of sweating through the sun and the heat we came to the crest of a hill, and there, spread out beneath us on the other side like a literal oasis in the desert, was Packsaddle Gorge.

Peering down over the lip of the bluff, Mandy pointed out two shapes floating motionless in the gully - freshwater crocodiles.

Tittering nervously - we're all slightly concerned about crocodiles, and not sure whether we are insured through our companies for a misadventure-by-crocodile type of event - we made our way down the steep face of the cliff until we got to the long, dark waterhole spread out in front of us.

As I slid gingerly into the cool water, a ripple passed through me - and the goosebumps I could feel on my arms weren't caused by the temperature, I can assure you.

I kicked off and paddled about a bit until suddenly I felt the rocky ground drop off beneath my feet - and with that, I was deep in the throat of the gorge.

Freshwater crocodiles won't attack you unless they're provoked, I'm told. For example, if you accidentally jump onto one of them, you're likely to get bitten. Which is fair enough, because if someone jumped on me, accidentally or otherwise, I'd be likely to bite them too.

Treading water calmly, with the red arms of the cliffs encircling us, I told myself that everything was fine. we had two kids with us, after all, and a dog, and the local wisdom is that you always send the kids in first - because they're smaller, and easier prey, and the crocodiles will go for them in preference. (Great! I feel so much better now!)

I damped down the nerves and relaxed a little, swimming further out and turning onto my back to stare up at the enormous blue bowl of the sky above me. The feeling of isolation was amazing, and the scenery breathtaking. It felt like I was the only person in the world.

But I couldn't shake the feeling that somewhere, beneath my paddling feet, in the depths of the waterhole, something was lurking ....

... watching ....

....waiting ....

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A visit from the local wildlife


This little guy appeared on our kitchen wall a day or two ago.

He's a mosquito eater, so we're happy to have him. In fact, he could bring a friend or two and I don't think we'd object.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Getting a grip on things

So it’s back down to earth with a thump today.

I may have survived the saltwater crocodile sighting, the freshwater crocodiles in the lake, being nibbled by fish in a natural waterhole, getting sunburnt despite every best effort not to, camping, camp food, snakes, learning how to drive a 4WD without killing myself (or my passengers), the Kununurra Coles, the tropical strength mosquitoes, the blistering sun, and the army of crickets at the caravan park we're staying in – but now the rubber's really hitting the road.

Let me go back a bit. You might be wondering exactly what I’m here to work on.

In a nutshell, I’ve been asked to scope out a pan-regional leadership strategy to catalyse change across the East Kimberley.

 … sound difficult? It is! And it’s even harder than you might think!

As part of my work I need to take into account a range of complex and often conflicting factors around the social and political frame both here and nationally, concepts of leadership, avenues for support for emerging/existing leaders and the cultural sensitivities and pressures they experience; not to mention a whole other bunch of things like the historical and social context; endemic and systemic problems like grog and substance abuse, minimal education, entrenched apathy, and social dysfunction

That is a lot to take in.

To help, I’ve arranged a bunch of meetings for tomorrow so that I can get a handle on the local perspective, and hear from some local leaders about their experiences and ideas.

Then with any luck, all of that info will slosh around inside my head over the weekend (while I’m taking in some of the local scenery) and provide me with a bit more clarity, so that I can actually start the hard yards of drafting up a scoping document.

Fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Creative Space

Well looky here, I actually have a creative space today! For the first time in OVER A WEEK. I know none of you are reading this though, because you are all at the Stitches and Craft show in Melbourne, you lucky lucky things. I curled up with disappointment when I found out I was going to miss it.

For those of you not in Melbourne and swanning about the show, you might remember my dilemma about what crafty thing to bring with me to Kununurra (known crafty spot that it is ..... not).

There were strong recommendations for embroidery (which I need to learn), crochet (which I need to learn) and knitting (which I will never learn because I am crap at it and my mum is excellent, so I don't need to.)

I was all set to choose embroidery, and then time got the better of me. I managed to buy a little book to show me how to learn the stitches, but I didn't even get close to buying the right needles, a hoop, or linen.

In a last minute panic, I shoved some scraps into my bag along with the necessary button-making equipment. So now in the evenings here, I'm going to make myself 200 buttons. I think that's achievable in the three and a half weeks I've got left.

My hands have been itching and tingling to keep busy, too, because I'm not used to being without my sewing machine. I gave My One True Love strict instructions to have it serviced while I'm away - it's the perfect opportunity - but I have this feeling that it might have fallen off his list of things to do. Poor machine, that means it'll have to wait until .... um .... er ..... Christmas? to have its service. Ah well. As my Greek tailor would say, What can I do?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Driving to stay alive

We've just finished eight hours of 4WD training in what I think I can technically call "the outback", and my eyes are like giant, gritty, grainy orbs in my head.

My tear ducts are in overdrive, trying to soothe the irritation brought on by 42 degree temperatures and one flimsy shade tree, so it's as if I'm crying silently and without pause......and you know what? I kind of feel like doing that through sheer exhaustion.

Learning how to drive properly out here is absolutely critical. There are a few sealed roads in the Kimberley, but not many - most of them are dirt, and most of them are in poor conditions at different times of the year. If you're travelling any kind of distance, you'll need a 4WD and you'll need to know how to use it. Being able to get yourself out of a pickle is crucial - if you're not keen on an early death.

We got the gist of this pretty quickly from our trainer. Move over Bear Grills, Don Major (who hasn't watched tv since 1975 and doesn't actually know who Macgyver is, so when we gave him the nickname he was a little puzzled) beats you hands down any day.

He took us over a list of things that can kill you .... with a certain amount of relish, I have to say. A long, lanky man who grew up in Central Australia, Macgyver didn't learn how to read or write until he got married - but he's the kind of guy who knows everything there is to know about how to keep yourself alive until help comes.

And this is pretty important for us right now, because we're about to embark on a three-day camping trip into the wilderness, and many of us haven't camped since we were oh, about seven, and got stuck up a tree in the middle of a lake and had to be rescued by our cousins.  

An hour of theory later, four vehicles were out in the distance clambering over obstacles and through water crossings, and I'm delighted to report that the first person who totally bogged the car in the mud and needed to be towed out was one of our male colleagues, Snatch, who'd been at the wheel for less than sixty seconds. I think it helped everyone to feel much better about how they might do themselves.

We learnt how to winch a car out of a wetland (my that was fun, this was in the 42 degree part of the day) and which straps to use and which straps will fling off and kill you if you try. Ahem.

We learnt that it is very important to make your own way down a drop-off incline rather than following the tracks of the vehicle in front, because otherwise you might end up sideways and scare us all to death.

We learnt that tire pressure for mud driving should be around 16 - 20 pounds per square inch (uh huh.... whatever that means), that a Hi-Lift jack is a beautiful tool that should be treated with respect and in fact we should probably never use it because the handle can smash your skull in, and we learnt that in the event of disaster, we should probably just ring our boss for a helicopter.

Now please excuse me while I urgently program his number into my mobile phone.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Barramundi dreaming

Aboriginal people are respectfully advised that this article contains the name of an Aboriginal person who is now deceased.

The Miriuwung and Gidja people who live in the East Kimberley share a Dreaming story about a barramundi fish. Although they are separate language groups living in adjacent country, they both recognised the sacred and special nature of the area the story describes.

This area now forms part of the Argyle Diamond Mine, the only place in the world where rare pink diamonds are mined, along with cognac, canary and champagne diamonds. And so it is that the country is recognised by our western culture as a special place as well.

This is the story of the Barramundi Dreaming.

A beautiful barramundi made its home in the Tharram river, at Bandicoot Bar. The barramundi travelled up the Dunham River, past where the Worrworrum community is today.

A group of old women chased it, and it swam into a cave near the area now known as Barramundi Gap. As it entered the cave the women prepared to catch it with nets made from dried and rolled spinifex grass. The barramundi realised it was trapped in the shallow water of the cave entrance, and tried to escape by swimming to the other end. But the barramundi could not find a way out, and it returned to the entrance of the cave where the women were waiting with their nets.

The big barramundi swam towards the women and jumped over them, swimming through to Glen Hill where some of its scales scraped off on the rocks as it passed through. You can see the scales of Barramundi Gap near the Glen Hill community’s first gate - they are the white rocks on the top of the ranges, and they gleam bright white when the sun hits them in the late afternoon.

The barramundi jumped through a gap in the rocks, landing in the deep, clean water of Kowinji, or Cattle Creek. As the barramundi died it turned into a white stone, and its fat (a delicacy to the local people) became the pink diamonds, and its organs became the brown and yellow stones, and they sprinkled across the land.

Three of the old women who chased the barramundi to Cattle Creek peered into the water to look for it, and they too turned into stone, forever becoming part of the landscape. Today there are three stone formations overlooking the creek.

This story show how the ancient Dreaming story and our western world view both recognise the special nature of Barramundi Gap.

Painting by Rover THOMAS [JOOLAMA], Kukatja/Wangkajunga peoples, 1926/1928 Australia – 1998, Warmun (Turkey Creek), Kimberleys, WA.Barramundi Dreaming 1989, natural pigments on canvas 90.0 h x 199.7 w cm, Purchased 1990, Accession No: NGA 90.1065, Reproduced courtesy of Warmun Art Centre

Monday, May 3, 2010

Camping in the East Kimberley

It's four days later.

There's been dust, dirt, blisters and no bathrooms.

There's been camp food.

There's been driving in a manual 4WD.

There's been mild sunburn, despite every best effort to keep the sun off every square inch of my lily-white skin.

There's been Aboriginal communities both closed (no outsiders allowed) and open (visitors welcome, but check at reception first).

There's even been far horizons, ragged mountain ranges and drought, but no flooding rains as yet.

And I've survived. I'm very proud.

If you ever have the chance to go camping in the East Kimberley, I enthusiastically recommend it; and coming from me; the non-camper, that's one hell of a recommendation.

The scenery is flabbergasting and I cannot possibly do it justice here. The isolation is wonderful, and the night sky is like you have never seen it before. Never.

The ten of us - there are secondees here from KPMG, Leighton Holdings, Wesfarmers and my organisation - were lucky enough to be accompanied on the trip by Brenda Garstone, a local Aboriginal woman with a degree in anthropology and a unique perspective on Aboriginality and contemporary Aboriginal affairs. Her involvement in the trip gave the experience a whole new level of meaning, and my understanding of the historical context and cultural impact of white settlement on Aboriginal Australians is now much deeper and richer thanks to her.

The time together really gave us all a chance to discuss and explore some of the issues we might well face as part of our secondments, which started officially today. And learning about them in the true-to-life setting made them more palpable, certainly for me, though I am sure each of us had our own different response to the discussions and tutorials.

There's one thing for sure though, and it's that I have just completed an experience which will take me some time to work through. I'll keep you posted as I do.