Memories of Africa

Mo and Erroll at their home in Shark Bay.

Mo and Erroll at their home in Shark Bay.

I came across a lot of African expats while I lived in the Pilbara. Most had left for political or family reasons to settle in Australia.

Most notable for me was a photographer named Erroll Bartlett-Torr. He grew up in Zimbabwe – Rhodesia back then – and eventually migrated to Western Australia after marrying his wife, Mo.

I was lucky enough to have him share some of his memories of growing up on the second largest continent in the world. This was put together for ABC Radio.

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Murujuga National Park

The Burrup has the worlds largest collection of ancient Aboriginal Rock Art.

The Burrup has the worlds largest collection of ancient Aboriginal Rock Art.

This is a story I put together for PM on ABC Radio.

The West Australian Government proclaimed parts of the Burrup Peninsula a National Park in early 2013 as part of an effort to preserve the worlds largest collection of Aboriginal rock art.

It is significant because the Burrup Peninsula also houses one of the biggest gas operations in Australia.

In a first, the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation will manage the park in partnership with the Department of Environment and Conservation.

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Karijini National Park

This is the view on the way down Dale’s Gorge

It’s worth visiting the Pilbara just to see Karijini National Park. People have tried to explain it’s beauty to me before but I never really comprehended how amazing it is until I went there.

I spent a weekend out there for work (one of the many reasons I love my job) with Cristy and Paul. We had the privilege of being shown around some of the gorges by the parks rangers. Ranger Dan and Ranger Steve were our guides and seemingly knew everything about the park. When I commented on the blueness of the water Ranger Steve told me it’s because of the calcium carbonate in it. We stopped in a small clearing and Ranger Dan told us about the resident snake who has been spotted there a number of times. Ranger Steve had an amazing knowledge of birds and could name every single one we saw. My favourite part though was when we saw a lady posing topless for some photos and Ranger Dan casually mentioned that when there are no tourists around he likes to stroll around the gorges naked. Basically if you ever come across anyone in a rangers uniform in the park make sure you strike up a conversation. You will come away with some great little facts about the park.

We walked past a few rocks and Ranger Dan called us back to show us the profile of the Banyjima man. The Banyjima people are the traditional owners of Karijini National Park and work with the rangers to manage and protect the land. You can hear from an elder, Maitland Parker, about the park and what it means to him here.

Banyjima Elder, Maitland Parker, one of the traditional owners of Karijini

That’s why it’s so sad to hear about people disrespecting Karijini. While we were there a spot fire broke out because someone threw a cigarette butt into the spinafex even though there was a severe fire danger. If that fire had gotten out of hand it could have burnt hundreds of thousands of hectares of the park and closed it off to tourists for a long time. We saw people driving and walking right over the top of spinafex. Even though the plant itself is quite harsh to touch, it’s very sensitive. Even stepping on the edge of a spinafex plant will kill it. When we were walking through the gorges we picked up some beer bottles someone had carelessly tossed aside. Drinking in the gorges is forbidden. Picnic tables and BBQ’s are even provided at the top of the gorges so people can have a drink or two before they head down for a swim. Ranger Steve and Ranger Dan said this was a common thing and they dread Sunday’s. It’s the day most people have off so they head down into the park, get drunk, and get into all sorts of mischief.

Sunday is also the day that the most cliff rescues are performed by the local SES. The Tom Price Cliff Rescue team is very professional and experienced, the locals are lucky to have them. Being a transient mining town, it can be hard for the SES to hang onto good volunteers. But time and time again I hear about them performing another successful cliff rescue so they must be doing something right. They were even up for the Team Achievement award this year.

Ferm Pool, one of the most photographed places in Karijini

Although you can camp in several different gorges, we ended up spending the weekend at the Eco Retreat where you can camp or hire out and eco tent. Some of the gorges on the northern end of the park are accessible by car but a 4WD is a must if you want to go to the Eco Retreat. The road out there is very corrugated and we shredded a tyre in the worst possible place. It was right on top of a bees nest on a 40 degree celsius day with flies everywhere. It was also a brand new car and the first time we’d taken it on a long roadtrip so we weren’t exactly sure how to change the tyre. You can hear what happened if you follow this link.

That night we had dinner with Ceinwen and Glynn from the Royal Flying Doctors Service on the roadprogram. They are a couple of amazing people and great ambassadors for the RFDS. They travel to remote locations to give basic first aid training to people who live there plus check and top up their medical kits. They spend a lot of time away from their homes so it must take its toll but they never let it show and are extremely friendly and professional. I also seem to see them everywhere I go including the Marble Bar Races, so they definitely get around.

That tyre’s a goner. Paul, on the other hand, looks very manly

We also found out that night that Glynn is a bit of a survival expert from both his years in the army and working with the RFDS. He shared some of his driving wisdom with us that night, telling us ways we can avoid getting another flat tyre. The main one being that when you come of a sealed road onto a dirt one you should slow right down for a while. The tyres are very hot from the bitumen so they are more susceptible to being damaged by the rocks and loose gravel.

Cristy, Paul, and myself post-tyre change. Yes we are covered in red dust. No it hasn’t come off yet.

Despite a few mishaps along the way Karijini was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t hesitate in going back there. I’m constantly surprised by the things I find in the Pilbara. From grand national parks to strange sayings the locals have, there’s always something to discover in the north west. It’s a shame it’s so rare for people on the east coast to hear about these things or the tourist trade could be booming. Or maybe it isn’t a shame, part of what makes these places so great is the relaxed attitude of the people and the expanse of untouched landscape.

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My skin cancer scare

This is me being SunSmart

I took a really grown up step recently. I went and got checked for skin cancers.

 

The Royal FLying Doctors Service and the Lions Club were performing free checks in town. I can count on one hand the number of times it’s rained in Karratha over the past 14 months so it’s definitely a town that needs to be put on skin cancer watch.

 

I would like to tell you that I’m actually quite SunSmart and heeded all of my Mothers warnings.* But I’d be lying. I’ve always been petrified of getting my skin checked in case they found something and Mum could say “I told you so” or “you should have listened to your mother.”

 

Colin checked my skin and he said that this is a surprisingly common reason that people give for not getting their skin checked. He assured me that the more often I get it checked the better because even if they do find something, it won’t be fatal if it’s caught early enough. Anyway, you can find out what happened in the appointment below because, like with most things, I took a recorder along. This was put together for broadcast on ABC North West WA.

 

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*Mum if you’re reading this I definitely wear sunscreen every single time I step out of the house.

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Skimpy bars in the Pilbara

Ryan, Courtney, and Craig at the Mermaid (photo: Stephen Stockwell)

Have you ever been to a skimpy bar? They fairly unique to Western Australia and something that needs to be experienced if you go to the Pilbara. I spent a night inside one and this is what happened. This was first broadcast on ABC North West.

 

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Strange things happen when you’re going through the desert

Searching for golf balls on the salt flats

Searching for golf balls on the salt flats

Anything goes in the country. It’s true, I see some really strange and wonderful things in the Pilbara that would never happen closer to a capital city.

I think one of the best things I’ve seen so far was a Royal Flying Doctors Service fundraiser over the weekend. Cape Keraudren is a National Park that’s about 180kms away from its nearest town, Port Hedland. It’s a spot that’s popular with grey nomads during the winter month, some of them stay for up to 6 months every year.

Since needing the RFDS is a high possibility for them, some of the regular visitors to Cape Keraudren hold a fundraiser each year. It’s a golf day and the 9-hole course has been set up on the parks salt flats. I got out there and gave it a go and trust me, it’s lots of fun! You can listen to the results below, this was first broadcast on ABC North West.

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Coral Bay – another north west gem

Even on a cloudy day it is beautiful.

Even on a cloudy day it is beautiful.

If you haven’t been to Coral Bay you should definitely try and get there at some point. I went for a week or so with my sister and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. There’s a lot of secret places in North West WA that are amazing and this is one of them.

It’s a one street town with very little in the way of infrastructure, which I think is charming even though you might disagree. There’s a backpackers, a pub, a resort, and two camping grounds. The glittering white sand leads straight into the bluest ocean I’ve ever seen. But wait there’s more. The Ningaloo Reef meets the beach! You can go snorkelling off a yacht or just casually swim with the fish, turtles, dugongs, and other sea creatures by wandering into the water.

Coral Bay is one of the few places in the world where you can go swimming with the largest fish on earth, the whaleshark. If you don’t feel insignificant before you come face-to-face with these magnificent creatures, you sure as hell will afterwards.

Make sure you have some spare petrol if you head there though. My sister and I arrived with an almost empty tank and the one petrol bowser ran out of petrol. We crossed our fingers and attempted the 200km journey to the nearest roadhouse. To be honest, I was sort of hoping we wouldn’t make it. I wouldn’t mind being stuck in Coral Bay for a while.

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Meentheena Veterans Retreat

Bill Thompson is a Vietnam Veteran who says the solitude of Meentheena helps with his PTSD.

Bill Thompson is a Vietnam Veteran who says the solitude of Meentheena helps with his PTSD.

This is a radio story I did about Meentheena Veterans Retreat in one of the most remote parts of Australia.

It’s so isolated that I got lost on my way out there. A group of veterans established the retreat and hope that the isolation and quiet will help people overcome their PTSD.

The retreat is about 75 kilometres from Marble Bar and on a former cattle station.

I did this story for The World Today on ABC Radio.

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When Red Dog was raped

I had to basically force Emma (the top one) to stand that close. She was not impressed.

I know that the heading of this blog post is fairly unpleasant … but it actually happened just as I was taking a couple of visitors to see Red Dog. (If you’re unaware of who Red Dog is you obviously haven’t read my blog or you aren’t Australian: the region I live is very famous for having this statue … and also because the mines make around 30 per cent of Australia’s annual income.)

 

Just as we were arriving at the long-anticipated statue, a bus with five or six mine workers in it pulled up just in front of us. They filed out of the bus – only metres away from us – and started removing their clothing. Then, to our collective shock and horror, they started committing unspeakable acts to poor, suffering Red Dog. I will spare you the details, except to say that there were penises at both ends of the statue – neither of which belonged there! I was paralysed by such a state of shock that, regretfully, I was unable to take any photos of the sad event.

After witnessing the horrific encounter, my good friends were reluctant to touch the statue. Hence the photos depict them looking awkward and afraid … more so than usual.

My older sister, on the other hand, was more than happy to wrap her laughing-gear around the inanimate canine just a couple of months earlier. Although, perhaps after reading this story she will be ready for a hardy scrub and a long soak in the tub.

 

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Fifo Relationships

Relationships are tricky at the best of times. But what if one of you was away from home more than you were there? This is the reality for a lot of people who work in the mines on a fly-in fly-out basis. It can be hard to start or maintain even the strongest relationships.

I met a bunch of blokes at one of the pubs here in the Pilbara who have had firsthand experience with the difficulties of making FIFO relationships work. This was first broadcast on ABC North West WA.

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