Friday, 23 August 2013

Toodle Pip.

The halcyon dream that was Broome already feels like a lifetime ago. Before I went to Australia I had been terrified of flying for twenty years. Once I knew I was definitely going over there I couldn't indulge that fear anymore. Not only did I have to deal with the twenty plus hours getting there but once I arrived I'd be on a number of internal flights for both the tour and the holiday I'd be having with Keir and Kate at the end. And what would be the point of being afraid? It would just mar an otherwise wonderful time. In my first Australia Blog I mentioned that I had chosen not to be afraid anymore. Its often the things you perceive as being huge and insurmountable that are resolved by a simple shift in perspective. It seems perverse that I can remember so many flights that were endured with sweaty palmed terror and a blanket placed firmly over my head. But that doesn't mean they didn't serve a purpose. Eckhart Tolle said that: “Suffering is necessary until you realise it is unnecessary.”
What I'm getting to is that had I not overcome my fear of crashing planes I would not have found myself climbing aboard a helicopter, heart in throat, in the safe knowledge that if I backed out now I would never forgive myself. I'd rather the fucker went down with me in it than go up without me.
The pilot, Wayne, introduced himself:
'So anyone here going in a helicopter for the first time?'
We all nod.
'Cool, me too,' he grins.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
'Seriously though, you couldn't be safer -'
Of course I could be safer you wanker.
'Most helicopter crashes happen to private owners, not professional pilots. They give us a bad name.'
I cannot believe he's talking about crashes before we've left the ground.
'So, shall we take the doors off?'
'Yes!' Kate exclaims. 'Can you do the zero gravity thing too?'
Our father, who art in heave-
'Sadly not, there's too many of you, the weight would be too much.'

We watch as he and the boys remove the doors. It looks like a remote controlled toy. Wayne takes our weights and does some maths before one by one strapping us in to our seats. I'm in the centre with Dave and Adrian on either side of me. Dave and I are not small which means that by the time he's strapped Adrian in the poor sod is sat right on the edge with one arse cheek hanging out of the helicopter. He goes a bit quiet. Kate is strapped in the front and looks delighted by the whole thing already. We're given headphones and mouthpieces and Wayne checks we can all hear each other.
'Please don't scream,' he says.
'Do people scream a lot?' Kate asks.
'Yeah,' he sighs. 'Its really annoying. A squeal is okay though.'
I place my hand firmly over the mouthpiece despite the fact that out of all of us its Dave who's given to squealing.
The blades start rotating and we sit for a while waiting for it to 'warm up.'
And then we rise. Straight up and quite slowly. Hovering about five feet above the ground. The old familiar terror rises up in me and is brutally cut short by my brain saying 'What's the point? This is happening. Either enjoy it or shut the fuck up.' I think of Bill Hick's philosophy on life: It's just a ride. It's just a ride. The fear is replaced by a wave of pleasure. Look at me! Look at me! I'm in the sky going higher and higher and there's no doors! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Don't get me wrong. I'm no adrenalin junkie. Clearly. But I am learning, at close to 40, that life is infinitely better when you do things that frighten you a bit. I wish I'd learned that years ago.
We glided along looking at the incredible coastline beneath us. Kate saw a mantaray in the ocean and as we flew over Gantheaume Point Wayne showed us the area where you can see 130 million year old Dinosaur foot prints in the rock. He glances back at me to check I'm okay and I hear him through my headphones saying:
'There's a lovely smile. You feeling better now?'
I nod happily and pat his shoulder.

In the afternoon I play with Adrian in the pool at the hotel. He has his goggles and its my lot in life to throw trinkets in the water for him to dive and retrieve.
'Are you sure you want to go to the adult pool?' I ask.
'Its heaps fun but!' he grins. 'Like being a pirate diving for treasure.'
I throw a ring in the water and whilst he's under a woman on a nearby lounger looks at me quizzically.
'He's not my boyfriend,' I state.
A man on the other side of me starts giggling and I stop short from also asserting that I'm not his carer.
I read my book and toss things in to the water which Adrian fetches like a happy golden retriever. After a while he paddles to the side.
'Its your turn now.'
'Oh no. No really, I'm fine.'
'Its fun,' he says.
'You have to have a go,' he insists.
I know from cruel experience that once Adrian gets something in to his head he won't let it go until I capitulate. I put the goggles on, sigh, and climb in to the pool.
Its disturbing how quickly our roles reversed. Suddenly its me waving my hand in the air screaming 'I got it! I got it!' I love that about Adrian. He still plays. He enjoys things like a kid and he reminds you over and over again how much fun can be had if you just stop pretending to be an adult all the time. Once we tire of the diving game he shows me how to empty my lungs of air and sink to the bottom of the pool.
'Lie on your back on the bottom and look up!'
After that we took turns timing how long we could stay under water for and Adrian whiled away the last part of the afternoon diving off the side just by the sign that says 'No diving.'

Nobody but Dave is looking forward to the wet t-shirt competition. Adrian is insisting we attend because A. Its a local institution and B. The promoter of the gig Kate and Keir will be performing the following evening has asked us to go.
'People keep saying its a local institution,' Keir says. 'By that definition you can make anything acceptable. Hey, come to the lynching! Its a local institution.'
'He organised a helicopter ride for us,' Adrian says. 'We have to go. It'll be fun.'
Kate wants to rest her voice before the gig and is the only one of us with a viable excuse. Dave is delighted by the prospect. I am resigned and Keir is off his face on a cocktail of wine and anti histamine by the time we set off.
I head straight to the bar and start ordering myself beers and tequila chasers.
'What are you doing?' Adrian who hardly drinks is looking on in horror.
'She is getting methodically drunk,' Keir explains.
By the time the 'show' starts I am eight tequilas down. Young girls line up on stage and writhe around to music whilst knuckle dragging men pour jugs of cold water over them.
Five minutes in Adrian turns to me, all colour drained from his face.
'This isn't right. We should go.'
The audience clapo-meter starts and a few men boo some of the girls who have slightly smaller breasts than the others. One by one they are picked off until only the most porn-like remain. The most popular girl, who must really need either the 500 dollars or a psychiatrist removes her tee and bra. She's disqualified for removing her top but not until she's been allowed to continue subjugating herself for a further ten minutes.
Keir looks as depressed by the whole thing as me.
'Can we go now please?' Adrian asks.
We leave and everyone is quiet in the car except Dave who says:
'Well what I've learned from this evening is not to go to a wet t-shirt competition with you lot you fucking kill joys! What did you expect?'
He's right really. What did we expect?

The next day is our last day and none of us are happy about it. Before the gig the promoter Peter takes us out for a lovely dinner and before long its time for Kate and Keir to perform.
Its wonderful having one more opportunity to watch them sing the songs I have come to know so well over the last three months. The gig is brilliant, even though an alarm goes off over the road and takes fifteen minutes to silence. They soldier on with good humour and the audience screams for more when it ends. I spot several grey nomads in the audience that we met on our drive and when Kate comes out to sign they come over and buy cd's and chat.

We fly back to Brisbane and spend the following day doing nothing much at all except napping and eating. And then its somehow my last day. Kate and Keir take me out for lunch and grocery shopping. I spend the afternoon drinking wine and cooking a feast for them and a couple of friends I've made whilst there. We eat and drink and listen to music and talk about our adventures. Afterwards we head downstairs to John and Sallie's flat and drink more and laugh. John plays the piano and Keir and Sallie sing Aerosmith's What It Takes drunkenly and with gusto about eight times. Doesn't matter how proficient or talented a musician you are, drunken singalongs are the same the world over. I'm so happy sitting there watching them wail and laugh and I can't believe I'm heading for the airport in six hours.
We stagger upstairs at around three and get a couple of hours sleep. Keir is driving me to the airport but Kate also drags herself heroically out of bed and comes along in PJ's and sunglasses.
'Darling you don't have to come,' I say.
'Of course I'm fucking coming,' she smiles.
I'll see them again in the winter over here which takes the sting out of the goodbyes. There's still a sting though. I'm going to miss living with them, listening to music, eating great food, laughing and talking about books and films and songs and and and.

A mere thirty hours and several near disasters later I am back in the UK.
I've seen and learned so much in the last three months and it was all golden. I wouldn't change a moment.
Thank you so much to Madame M, Christian, Sandy, Randall, Dave, Sallie, John, Benedict, Tai, Hannah, Junior, Tim, Adrian, Madelaine, Mikki and all the others that made me feel so welcome and spent so much time keeping me entertained and feeding me and showing me new things. And thank you to those of you that have been following this blog and leaving comments, it has been much appreciated.
And thank you Kate and Keir for too many wonderful things, I love you both very much.
I'm not going to be writing any more blogs now. This was really more to keep a diary of the holiday and a sort of round robin letter to my family and friends. I'm going to spend some time writing a book instead. I don't know if I'll finish it but by starting it I'm at least giving myself a chance at making the life I want to lead. And its good to do things that frighten you a bit. So long, farewell and thanks for all the Barramundi. It's been a piece of morning sun, swallowed with a grin. Bliss.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

My friends and other animals.

The mosquitos come at me with a fanatical zeal usually set aside for the opening of a TV chefs new restaurant. My O positive blood group is all the rage in fashionable culicidae circles. But Gods help them if they haven't made a reservation well in advance because let me assure you there is scarce an inch of this pelt that hasn't been claimed by the little vampires as their own. I have done my bit to stem the tide by glazing myself in a mixture of Aerogard and Bushman’s remedies. Either one on their own is a heady toxic brew of evil smelling, nostril stripping death. But, my friends, combine the two and you have something you could confidently sell to the Russians. I crackle when I walk.
When this concoction fails to snuff their ardour, and somehow it occasionally does, there is always Stingoes or Itcheeze which will temporarily soothe the imperative to scratch my skin away until there is nothing but bone to gaze upon. You'd think that would be an end to it wouldn't you? You'd be wrong. They have evidently held some kind of crisis meeting, so delicious is the nectar I have to offer, and created a hybrid version of themselves that causes the areas they can access to swell to the size of a small marble, become entirely solid and emit an infernal heat. I show Dave.

'Yeahhhhh,' he says, taking a measured step back. 'Pop some stingoes on it and take some of these.' He throws a pack of anti histamine into my quarantined area and goes back to smoking his cigar. I limp away.

I think initially Kate thought I was being a bit over dramatic about the whole thing. Us Poms making a fuss over a little nibble. But she has certainly changed her stance in the last few weeks:

'Huh. They really do seem to head straight for you don't they,' she observes as I stand in the middle of the bush performing some hellish interpretation of the YMCA dance whilst screaming FUCK YOUUUUUUUU.
Yesterday she observed that even in the pool they will take their lives into their hands and try to alight upon any part of me not submerged. I tread water as night falls.
In a very sweet gesture of complicity she announced yesterday that I'd be glad to know a mosquito had bitten her arse. I was not glad. I won't be glad until they have eaten her face.

Adrian and I, after a two month separation, are back to our usual form:

'Switch the mac off Thea, enjoy the moment.'

'I am enjoying the moment.'

'You're not living life. Appreciate what's around you. If you ask me -'

'Adrian if I want your opinion be assured that I will have asked everyone else first.'

'See you just take it too far. That hurts my soul.'

'You don't have a soul.'

Dave looks on in horror.

'She's never once spoken to me like that,' he says.

'Aw its a brother and sister thing,' Adrian reassures him before continuing on his never ending quest to distract me from whatever I am doing and give him my full undiluted attention until the end of time.

As a quick aside: Just as I had finished typing that last sentence Adrian crawled from his bed, stuck his head around the door behind me and screamed 'BOO!'
As I clutched my chest he sank in to the chair next to me and lit a cigarette.
'Pass me the lighter would you Adie.'
He inches it across the table with his finger stopping some two millimetres away from where I can reach it. This is how our day together begins. Is it any wonder that come 9pm this evening I will be verbally cuffing him at any given opportunity? And I'm supposed to be getting in a helicopter with him this afternoon. But more of that later.

That aside, we are all having a marvellous time in Broome! Except for possibly Keir who at the exact moment we arrived and were presented with a veritable treasure chest of never ending luxury and pleasure, promptly fell ill and has been steadily worsening as each fun filled day passes. Where initially he appeared to have a mild case of the sniffles he is now shuffling around, hunched of back emitting a low and constant groan. Only wine seems to alleviate it. And then only temporarily. Even in his death throes Keir manages to remain hilariously funny and delightful to be around. One never ending source of joy is when Keir starts laughing hysterically and can't stop. I wish I could bottle it.

I have become worryingly accustomed to the luxury of our surroundings. For all of 24 hours I was amazed and grateful to find my bed freshly made, delicious chocolate covered strawberries secreted in the fridge, champagne upon arrival, the spa bath with delicious unguents for my personal use. A mere two days in and I'm calling reception demanding to know why the nespresso machine hasn't been filled and questioning the hospital tuck that Chang has deployed upon my king sized bed.

Christ. As I attempt to write this Adrian is STILL sat next to me clipping his toenails and trying to convince me to go to a wet t-shirt competition this evening.

'I really think you should come to the wet tits comp this evening.'

'Stop calling it that! Its a wet t-shirt competition.'

'Its a wet tits competition to me and I refuse to conform to the Broome stereotypical naming of-'

'You are conforming to the stereotype by attending Adrian.'

'If you come, I'll drink.'

'If you can convince Keir to go (there is no way in hell he will surely?) then I'll come too.'

'I think it'd be really good for you. For your blog. And you can meet a man.'

'What good would that do now? And what kind of man!? Oh. You mean for sex.'

'For whatever. It could be the beginning of something incred-'

'Stop speaking. Please please stop speaking.'

As I continue to type he is talking about what a dick Francis Drake was, the different languages used in the film he watched last night, my preference for honey and yoghurt with fruit in the morning, my pronunciation of the word 'yoghurt', George Clooney, Nespresso machines, why I only find tall men attractive and his current bid on ebay for something I've never heard of and have no desire to understand........ I'm going to have to play with him for ten minutes and hopefully tire him out enough to return to writing soon.

Hi. I made him a coffee like the ones they do in shops, I even heated the milk. Its bought me about fifteen minutes of peace I hazard.

So.We have a Butler. Well, a Personal Valet, which is much the same thing. Admittedly I would have preferred something more in keeping with Jeeves but I'm certainly not turning my nose up at Richie Hutchings and his board shorts, shades and one button on the phone aways presence. Its stunning how quickly you can adapt from pissing in a bush to round the clock service.
That, and a book Kate has been reading prompted a discussion in the pool about whether money can in fact buy you happiness. Kate says absolutely not. I'm disinclined to agree. Having said that, after spending most of my adult life working in one service industry or another I find it impossible not to be aware of how hard others are working to maintain our lap of luxury. I find myself stacking plates, straightening out the bed, tidying up as I go along, thanking everyone profusely and asking after their families. I think that's probably a good thing. You can't un-know the experience you have and if I were handed this lifestyle twenty years ago I'd be even more of an insufferable prick than I am now.

In addition to the endless drinks, food, pool, sunsets and siestas, Kate yesterday treated me and herself to a long massage. When we arrived two women bathed our feet in large copper bowls before submitting us to an hour of complete bliss which ended with fancy tea and a book of inspirational quotes concerning joy.

I'm basically ruined for real life now. If you sense any cynicism in this blog please be assured that its all brazen and quite fake. I feel as though I must exercise my sarcasm before returning to the UK or I'll be completely sunk.

Whilst bobbing in the sea yesterday Kate said:

'So, what's the plan when you get back to England?'

'Get a shit job I guess. Save some money.'

'And what about writing the book? Or that one woman show Keir suggested. Or any one of the other projects...'

'Yeahhh, well there's no guarantee even if I did write something that anything would ever come of it.'

'You know that's a flawed logic don't you. It seems like you have a lot of opportunities to do the things you want to do....if only you did them. Sorry if I sound like I'm lecturing.'

'Not at all. And I know what you mean. Its just (I have no real excuse) I'm not very good at making plans.'

'Okay. So. Well, when do you suppose you might start planning to make a plan?'

Neil Gaiman said that listening to Kate sing is like being fucked by butterflies. Kate taking an interest in and care for your well being and happiness is not dissimilar. She's gentle and kind and kind of relentless. She has a clarity and vision about certain things that you feel helpless to defend yourself against because you know on some level that she's right. Even if you can't quite harness the will to take action, the advice she gives hooks a tiny anchor inside you.
In the last three months of being with her I have probably done at least seven things I would otherwise never have bothered to do. Not least was coming to Australia in the first place. I'm going to miss her so much.
That brings us neatly to the matter of imminent helicopter rides. I remember overhearing some vague talk about a complimentary helicopter ride whilst in Broome. And now that we're here it does seem to be an actual thing. It turns out the promoter has a 'mate' who has a helicopter. Hmmm. Keir is absolutely refusing to partake and I wish I'd taken that stance before he got in there. He suggested at dinner last night that the 'mate' probably bought the fucking thing on ebay. Adrian of course is wildly enthusiastic about the whole affair which only makes it more concerning.

'He reckons its a proper state of the art thing and we can do stunt stuff.' He is practically bouncing in his seat as he picks every single piece of vegetable or salad from his meal and places it disdainfully to one side.

'Stunt stuff?' I flag the waiter for the wine list. Again.

'Yeah!' he enthuses. 'Back flips. Zero Gravity drops. We can even have the doors open.'

Keir looks at me. 'If he starts going over the top you tell him to stop,' he says deadly serious. He knows Kate will only scream 'Faster! Higher!' And I am the one chance he has of keeping his wife alive in his absence.

'We're living the dream!' Adrian asserts.

'Just think of it like this,' Kate says to me grinning. 'If it crashes I'll die too.'

'And what? That'll show you?! I'll have won??'

'I'll have wunnnnn.' Kate has taken to imitating my accent. She's getting really good at it.

So that's happening in about three hours. This is my life now. Apparently we're going to 'vibe' it. See how we feel when we get there. Check the pilot is sober etc. But as Keir pointed out, even if the thing was held together by rubber bands I'd probably go along with it just to be courteous.

'At least she died doing something she loved....being polite.'

I'll let you know how it goes. Or at least, I really fucking hope I do.

In other news Kate and I have been attending early morning yoga classes. I hate it and it leaves me feeling murderously angry. I'm still spoiling for a fight after yesterdays 90 minutes of unrelenting stretches and bullshit Ommms.

Disclaimer: Eight mosquitos were killed during the writing of this blog.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Part Two The Northern Territories Diaries.

Day Seven: August 5th.

I wake at 4am. It's pitch black and the lamp Christian gave me doesn't cast a light in this vast empty space, it just exists as a pinpoint. I sit on a camping chair smoking and watch as the sun comes up about an hour and a half later. Its like waiting for a show to start. Bit by bit the set is revealed, the birds start chattering, the sound of kangaroos crashing through the dead leaves and Dave snoring in his tent/cave. The trees are stripped of bark and just bone white trunks remain. I make coffee on our little stove and head in to the bush to take some pictures. When I get back Kate is emerging and we sit together eating and waiting for the boys to wake up so we can go to Zebedee Springs for a swim. Swimming has become a daily need. When we're not in the water we're covered in red dust. It gets everywhere and now both Kate and I have insane hair which we're quite proud of. I arrived wearing silver sandals, they are now the same colour as my feet. Filth.

When we arrived at El Questro there was a ridiculously good looking cowboy wandering around with a leaf blower.

'Kate. Kate! Have you seen him?' I ask pointing directly at the cowboy not ten feet away. 'Look at him! Look! Look!' I have shown nothing like as much enthusiasm for the wildlife. He's not wearing a wedding ring and he has cheek bones you could slash your wrists on once he has inevitably broken your heart.

In the last few days Kate has somehow managed to get me climbing mountains. As far as I'm concerned if you have to use your feet and both hands to advance, it is no longer a walk. But Kate, like a spider monkey, is scaling half the thing before I have so much as stubbed out my cigarette and had a small weep.

Zebedee Springs is a mercifully short walk. Its a hot spring pool formed by six or seven small rock pools nestled amongst tropical palms. Its brilliant and I bob around on my back in the bottom pool whilst Kate and the others climb up to each pool to see if they get hotter.

Everyone decides it would be an excellent idea to do the El Questro Gorge walk. It's advertised at a modest three hours either way and is rated at a difficulty level of '6'. A level '4' walk has left me questioning the very essence of existence and I gracefully bow out claiming I have important things to do on my computer, at the bar. I spend a happy few hours watching the cowboy wander back and forth in tight jeans and a dusty hat, squinting in to the sun like James Dean as he lifts heavy things and puts them down nearby in slow motion.

The others return victorious a few hours later and describe beautiful pools of water and incredible views. I describe the cowboys arse.

Kate has been told that there's a lovely sunset spot a short drive away and we hop in the 4WD to catch it before dinner. It certainly is a short drive. Unfortunately no one mentioned that it was also a terrifying off road 45 degree ascent with hair pin bends, rocks the size of your head and absolutely nothing to stop you slipping off the edge and plummeting to your death. Kate and I yelp at a few of the turns. Keir is more or less silent and Dave quietly mentions that his sphincter has entirely clamped shut with not a hope of opening again any time soon. I take a moment out of watching my life flash before my eyes to enjoy the sight of the cowboy sauntering past on a horse. Wearing spurs. Dave heroically gets us to the top where there is only one other car and a young couple sat on the bonnet having a romantic moment which Dave makes short shrift of by farting loudly.

We now refer to that fifteen minutes of our lives as the Sunset Of Terror. You have to say it in a 1940's BBC announcers voice.
Sunsets are all well and good but its hard to enjoy one when you know you'll be making the same terrifying descent again shortly, and this time in darkness.

We have dinner at the more casual outdoor bar when we return. After I have finished kissing the ground we order Fat Yak beers and sit waiting for our food listening to an excellent chap playing guitar and singing country songs. The cowboy wanders up to the bar with a horse in tow and orders a beer. He then does a circuit of the beer garden looking moody and occasionally kissing babies.

'D'you think he's a model?' Dave asks.

'I don't care,' I say.

'I think he might be an arsehole,' Keir observes.

'I don't care,' I say.

We are all ready for bed by 9pm these days. Keir points out that furiously recreating is exhausting.

We head back to our campsite, in the middle of nowhere and make a fire. Kate sticks marshmallows on the end of twigs that we may well have pissed on earlier in the day and attempts to hold them near the fire without losing several layers of facial skin. Its very hot and a tad bigger than we'd planned. We all wish we had something to sit on. Its lovely having a fire if you can sit around it. Its a bit strange to have a fire and just stand around it. Kate and Keir take a torch down to the river to irritate the crocodiles. Dave has been talking about how easy it would be to murder someone out here and Keir returns and says:

'Is your tent going to be okay there Thea?'

'Why wouldn't it be? Its further away from the river than yours.'

'Yeah but what if a car drove past and decided to reverse in to here to turn around. It would run straight over you.'

Keir is a worst case scenario predictor. He does it all the time. Comes up with potential disasters you couldn't begin to make up yourself. He chuckles and climbs in to his tent. I sleep in the car with one foot out of the window.

Day 8. August 6th.

Keir staggers out of his tent, hair on end, crazed eyes.

'It took us ages to put the fire out. Dave poured five litres of water on it and I covered it in dirt. It was out. It was definitely out.'

'Uhuh. Do you want a coffee?'

'Then I got up to piss in the middle of the night and it was burning again. And not just a little bit. It was huge.'

He sits drinking his coffee staring at the now cold fireplace as though it might burst in to life at any moment and attack him.

We, and by 'we' I mean Kate, has decided we're going to do the Emma Gorge walk today. If it wan't for Kate we'd all sit around scratching our arses all day and whilst some of the proposed plans make me shudder with dread they are all ultimately great fun and we feel so much better afterwards for having made the effort.

'How perilous is this walk Kate?' I ask weighing up the options between Birkenstocks and Converse Trainers.

'Aw its a lovely shady stroll,' she mumbles not at any point meeting my eye.

'By who's definition is it a lovely shady stroll?' I persist.

'Aw mumble mumble mumble,' she asserts knotting her trainers, packing a litre of water in her back pack and secreting a harness in the side pocket.

We start the walk. Before long I am scrambling over rocks in the unforgiving sun. Kate is a dot in the distance. After twenty minutes I sit down to await death and am confronted by two octogenarian women in hiking boots skipping past me on their return to camp base. (I don't know if I've mentioned this before but our party is the youngest group on this journey. Almost everyone else is what is termed a 'Grey Nomad.' I thought it sounded noble and clannish until Dave explained it was just retired people with caravans spending their kids inheritance in one final outdoor dance before death claims them. I like the term 'Grey Nomad'. Keir calls them 'Snowy Prunes.' Usually prefaced by the word 'Fucking'. Usually when he's driving.)
I have a smoke and before long another couple of elderly people, this time with walking sticks and and fold out chairs, nimbly hop by and I ask them if its much further to the Gorge.
I don't know why I ask. They always blatantly lie to your face.

'Not far now! And so worth it.' They grin sadistically.

I overheard another woman who was sitting and smoking (and keeps reappearing at every place we travel to) and is basically me in twenty years, scream “If one more person tells me its not far I'll fucking kill them!” Before taking a long angry drag on her fag and dragging herself by her chipped red nails up a sheer cliff face.

When I arrive at Emma Gorge the others are swimming. As always Kate gives me a wide berth until I have gotten in the water and cooled down a bit. I take the place in and as always am so glad I bothered. At the far end of the gorge is a Drip Waterfall. It trickles down like rain over a wide area and its lovely to float underneath. The water is cold but at one end it becomes thermal and its all we can do not to physically hurl the nomads out of it before climbing in ourselves.

On the drive back we listen to the only music CD available to us: Taxi Ride with Manjeet!

When Kate and Keir returned from the UK the taxi driver that picked them up played his very own cd and sang along to it. He even handed out laminated sheets with the lyrics so they could join in. They bought a copy immediately. It is terrible in that he has absolutely no sense of rhythm and the phrasing is more crowded than a whore's knickers. But the Indian backing music is great and the lyrics are so funny and sincere you can't help but love it and him. We all sing along to 'Aussie Aussie Fair Dinkum Aussie'. I am particularly moved by a number called 'Gandhi and World Peace.' At first you might be forgiven for thinking its completely shit, but when you listen to the words and how sincerely he wails them you just have to accept that he speaks the truth. And there's no shame in having a little cry. None at all.

Kate books us tickets for the Chamberlain Gorge cruise in the late afternoon. Dave bows out, he has some episodes of Futurama to catch up on.
Whilst waiting for the bus to pick us up I see the cowboy stroll past looking sweaty with a monkey wrench.

'He's a wanker,' Keir says.

During the drive to the boat our guide, Johnny (early 60's), tells us a bit about the excursion.

'This particular boat cruise is really in honour of a man named Buddy. Buddy worked here for many years and he was a great man. A friend of best friend actually.' He pauses and stares in to space. 'Anyway, Buddy died comin' up for two years ago now...and well....he loved this particular area that we're going to see...I remember he and I sitting under a Boab tree practising some songs together and he reckoned the place was special. Well, Buddy was special and I'll tell you more of his story as we go along.'

Its all a bit Brokeback Mountain and I look to Keir for confirmation. Keir is smiling and nodding earnestly at Johnny. We're all sunk.

We get on the little boat and as we glide along looking at rocks that haven't moved for millions of years Johnny points out baby crocs sunbathing on the rocks. He tells us that after the terrible floods of 2011 the whole area was devastated. All the big crocs washed away. Boab trees torn from the ground and sent on their way. The Aboriginal community were aghast, they'd never known a Boab to be destroyed by weather. But slowly life was returning, shoots are becoming trees and they've counted thirteen little freshwater crocs in the area this year.

'If you look to your right here you can see the Boab that Buddy and I used to practise our songs underneath. He'd say this place was magical, then he'd wander off in to the bush and return an hour or so later with a bottle of wine!'

Everyone chuckles and I am now certain I'm listening to a love story. Friendship my arse.

'When the area was bought and turned in to El Questro (which by the way is a made up name and means nothing at all) Buddy spoke to the new owners and said to them-' he pauses to control the wobble in his voice. 'He said: “I never had a home. But when I came here It felt like my home. And I call it home. If you let me live here until I die I'll work for you as long as I can and to the best of my ability.” And they shook hands – Buddy didn't believe in writing things down – and that was that.'

I can feel the man's grief travelling out like waves and wonder how much I can stand.

'Anyways, he was only 69 when his heart gave out-'


'And legend has it that his good old heart stopped the moment he saw his bar tab.'

We all laugh, more out of relief than anything. Thank God that's over. I was inches from weeping.

'So anyway, we're gonna stop here at Buddy's Beach and have a glass of bubbly and if you'll humour me I'd like to sing you a little that Buddy loved.'


He sings the song. It's a good song.

He then reads a poem that Buddy wrote.

I ask for a top up. And another. And just the one more. Thanks.

Before we leave Johnny hands out some fish pellets and tells us to look over the side of the boat. There are lots of fish staring back at us patiently. Kate suddenly screams and jumps back. She turns to the rest of the boat wet faced and stunned:

'That fish just spat at me!'

Johnny chuckles through his broken heart.

'Yeah, the fish have been trained to spit at you for treats.'

Its amazing. We hold out a pellet and each fish takes aim and spits a jet of water right in to your face. We do this for half an hour without ever tiring of it before Johnny tells us its time to head back.

That evening we have dinner at Emma Gorge and drink lots of red wine.

'Thea was crying when Johnny sang,' Keir tells Kate.

'I welled up,' Kate says.

'You cried too Keir, I saw you blinking furiously,' I say.

'Yeah,' Keir says.

As we're leaving we bump in to Sam, a tour guide and old school friend of Keir and Dave's. Dave has been trying to get hold of her for months and the co-incidence is incredible. She tells us to travel to the Bungle Bungle the following day where she's taking her tour party. We can have dinner with them. We agree and head off to our tents happy to have a vague plan.

Day nine. August 7th

Its time to leave El Questro. We pack up, throw stale bread to the fish and a small crocodile comes and claims some.
Hygiene is now a thing of the past. Where a few days ago we were begging Dave to wash his clothing we are now insisting he burn it.
As his t-shirt makes its own way in to the now ripe 4WD Keir says:

'I might buy him a top at the next town. As a gift.'

It would be a gift to us all.

We stop via Zebedee springs and have a final float. I overhear a conversation between a very alpha male dad and his entirely effeminate 10 year old son:

'Just get in son.' The dad sounds weary.

'But it looks dirty,' the boy observes with wrinkled nose.

'Its not dirty, its a hot spring. Its lovely and warm. Just get in.'

'I grazed my toe.'

'The water will do it good.'

'Well if I get an infection it'll be on your conscience.'

He lowers himself in gingerly and stands with his hand on one cocked hip.

'See? Its nice right?'

'Mmm. Is this freshwater?'

The dad sighs.


'So why are there no crocodiles here?'

'Its too warm, there's no oxygen and so no fish to eat.'

'So there's no crocodiles here?'



'Son I can't have this conversation for an eighth time. I'll drown myself if you make me.'

Something brushes up against the boy and he screams and throws himself like an ingenue in to his fathers arms.

The father with a look of bewilderment and love hauls the boy on to his shoulders and walks him around the pools.

'Isn't that a pretty tree dad.'

'Yes son, its....nice.'

We arrive in Wyndham in the burning midday sun. Its a shit hole and Dave loves it.

The prison is the nicest building in town.

We stop by some Aboriginal even that's been advertised and are stopped by a nervous looking white man who says its all pretty much over now. Dave senses something amiss and tells Keir to turn the car around. A moment later an angry Aboriginal man approaches the car and ensures us that he'll happily kill Keir and fuck his wife. Keir does the sensible thing and drives in to the compound of angry people.

'What the fuck Keir?!' Dave exclaims.

'Ooops,' Keir says and turns the car around.

We take some pictures of the fuck all that is Wyndham and hit the road. We drive for eighteen years and pass a thousand dry creeks. I have lost the will to write down their names by this point and only note:

Mistake Creek and Big Mabel Creek.

At one point I shout out:

'Oh oh! Look! Look!! A fairground!...Oh. Sorry. My bad. Its just another rock.'

We pass a dead cow and the top half of a dead kangaroo.

We get to the entrance of Bungle Bungle about half an hour before sunset. Its a two hour off road rough and scary terrain. That people do not drive at night. We begin the drive.

We drive through muddy rivers in the dark. We drive up hills in the dark. The landscape is the same mile after scary mile. Eventually we arrive at Sam's tour group camp and drag our sweaty seasick bodies from the car which somehow is still in one piece (although we have found some unattached screws on the floor) and hear laughter and merriment around the corner. We walk through and find a very civilised dining area has been set up in the middle of the bush. We pass glamorous luxury tents (houses with canvas walls and en suite showers) and envy these people. We will be setting up our tents in the dark.

We're greeted by Sam and her team warmly and sat down and fed huge rare steaks and lashings of red wine. The will to live returns.
After dinner we sit around their big camp fire and drink whilst they regale us with their adventures to date. Not a one of them is under 60 and they have more life in their little toes than any of us right now.
We mention the hike up to Emma Gorge and how I thought I wouldn't make it. Sam mentions a man on her tour called Keith who did it and he's in his late 80's. AND he stopped and helped younger people over some of the more tricky rocks. Show off.

'Yeah he made it up there, he was amazing,' Sam says.

'But did he make it back?' Keir asks.

Everyone falls about laughing.

'He's an inspiration to us all,' Dave says. 'We'll remember him fondly.'

'Yeah, they've renamed the place 'Keith's Gorge.'

We have been treated to a wonderful dinner and evening but we still have to set up our tents and Kate is looking enviously at the luxury accommodation.

'I want it,' she says. 'We deserve it and we must have it.'
She looks feral in the fire light and I burst out laughing. She starts giggling.

'I feel like the monkey that threw the peanuts back,' she laughs.

Sam takes pity on us. Who wouldn't? And somehow how swings it for us to get two luxury tents for the night. Dave immediately has two showers lowers himself on to the crisp pillows and makes a noise of contentment that's a cross between a gurgle and purr.

Ain't no such thing as a free glamp though. Sam asks very nicely (she's lovely) if we are going to see Cathedral Gorge the following day. We are. Its a huge cave with incredible acoustics. She asks if Kate would sing for her tour party whilst inside. Kate says sure.

Kate standing on a rock inside a vast chasm singing Ave Maria to the luckiest fucking tour group in the world is one of the most memorable experiences of this trip. There is absolute silence, you could hear a pin drop and she fills the space with her voice. When she finishes the crowd shout for an encore but she ducks her head shyly and scrambles over the rocks and back to us, narrowly missing the spot where I have recently pissed.

We look at the rocks. They are big. And rock like. I am so over rocks.

We make the horrible bumpy ride out and agree that people were correct when they asserted that you should really only fly to the Bungle Bungle.

As we get to the exit we are confronted by a mirage in the shape of an old man with a generator and a coffee machine. We poke him a bit and then demand all his coffee.

We drive for two centuries and listen to Batavia. Mutiny has occurred and something unspeakable has been perpetrated upon one of the ladies on board. This writer is beyond terrible but we are so hooked on the story there is no chance of ever switching it off.

Sam has recommended an isolated spot called Saw Pit Creek to camp for the night. So far all the Creek signs have been vaguely official looking. This one is a bit of card with Saw Pit spray painted on to it with an arrow.

'Huh,' Keir says. 'Its almost exactly like a sign a serial killer would make half a mile before the real Saw Pit sign.'

We drive down and it really is isolated. And beautiful. And isolated. As night falls the boys go off to get fire wood and Kate and I cane a bottle of red wine and gossip as though to all the world we were sat in the bar of a five star hotel. Albeit dirty, covered in twigs and having just had our first outdoor shit of the trip.

At bedtime we try to put out the fire. Keir pisses on it. We throw mud on it. Kate doesn't feel like she's contributing enough. I turn my head and look down to find her squatting over a plastic cereal bowl with her knickers round her ankles right next to me.

'Not getting performance anxiety are you dear?' I ask.

'Don't break my concentration,' she mutters.

A moment later she proudly throws her bowl o' piss over the fire, and Keir's hand.

I sleep in the car.

Day ten. August 9th.

We know from Sam that the river we're camping next to has freshwater crocs in it but the place is so remote there's no official signs.

We have a swim in the morning. Fuck it. There comes a point where the desire to get the relentless dust off you severely outweighs any concerns you may have about getting nipped.

We drive to Fitzroy Crossing Campsite. Its got a restaurant and amenities and we are very excited. And very dirty. The boys go off to meet Sam who is also there for a pre dinner drink.

Kate and I put some lipstick over the grime and sit and get drunk as the sun sets. We are happy and looking forward to dinner.

Before dinner I roll Keir a cigarette with too much tobacco and he smokes it far too fast and has to go and throw up before we eat.

I sleep in my tent but wake at 3am and can't go back to sleep. I stare at the stars for a while then find a corner and have a wee. Whilst crouched there I glance up and find myself staring at a door with the word 'Toilets' written on it.
We have been in the wilderness too long.

Day Eleven. August 10th.

Its my 39th birthday and Kate and Keir give me a card that Keir has made. He's an excellent cartoonist and has managed to capture much of our trip so far including a severed cowboy head in the jaws of a croc.
We spend the day wading through Tunnel Creek. A cave with lots of pools of indeterminately deep water wearing headlamps and looking out for chubby bats and shy freshwater crocs.

Everyone had a goal they wanted to achieve on this trip:

Dave: Experience the interconnectedness of everything.

Kate: Experience time from a new perspective.

Keir: Experience living in the moment fully.

Me: Experience not dying.

As we are about to make our way out of the caves I ask Dave if he's had any luck with his goal yet.

'Well, yeah. Just now I was sat looking at the view and there were some kids laughing and I realised that their laughter made me happy.'

We have a feast for dinner and the waitress comes out with a Brownie with candles in it and they sing Happy Birthday.
I read messages from my loved ones on facebook and get a call from my sister.
I go to bed feeling loved and as rich as I'll ever need to be.

Day Twelve. August 11th.

We embark on the long drive to Broome and the luxurious Cable Beach Spa Resort where we'll be scrubbing ourselves clean for the next 6 nights.

The drive seems to take even longer than usual, particularly as we detour 80kms via Derby so Dave can get a picture of himself naked next to the Derby sign.

We stop by the coast and everyone gets out of the car.

'You not getting out Thea?' Kate asks.

'No, I'm all good for barren desolate landscapes thanks. I'm full.'

'But this one is a really shit colour,' she points out.

She's right. We stay and have battered barramundi and chips for lunch. Its caught that morning and so fresh its like butter.

We continue driving and stop briefly at the Boab Prison Tree. I literally get out, march over, take a photo, fight my way through a crowd of Grey nomads and get back in the car.

I want Broome so much I can taste it.

We drive, we listen to Batavia. And then like heaven on earth we are in Broome and at the resort.

Everything is elegant and beautiful and shaded and tropical and oh the luxury.

Adrian is there to greet us and I'm delighted to see him. Its been nearly two months since the tour ended and we parted with the exchange:

'You're a psycho.'

'Fuck you.'

A valet collects our car and only recoils slightly before climbing in to its godless interior in his crisp clean uniform. Our butler comes with a buggy and drives us and our luggage to our deluxe accommodation.
There are chocolate covered strawberries and champagne and cold slices of melon. I have a king sized bed and the sheets are crisp and white and wonderful.

We have a look at the beach which is white sands and littered with gorgeous men.

Adrian gives me a nice looking piece of rock he finds.

The others go to the pool and I have my first ever spa bath. Its a bit violent and shocking until I find the right switches. I use every bit of complimentary L'Occitane soap and creams and languish for an hour.

The sun sets, we drink champagne. We dress in clean clothes and go for pizza and wine.

Life is a big warm cloud of pleasure and I crawl on to my island sized bed and sleep like the dead.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Northern Territory Diaries: In which two musos, a failed writer and a cynic drive more than 1165 miles.

Day One: July 30th

As we start the drive to Kakadu National Park Kate smiles broadly and announces to the car:

'I'm really looking forward to having a shit outdoors again.'

Keir doesn't even lift his head from the map.

'Yeah sweetie, but this time remember to dig the hole first okay.'

'Good point,' Kate agrees.

We stop off in Litchfield to see the Termite mounds and have a swim in a place called Buley Rock Hole. One of the mounds is called a Termite Cathedral. Huge and impossible to believe that its basically spit and shit. There is a field full of smaller ones and from a distance they look like hundreds of headstones lined up. Every single insect seems to want to enter my head via my ears and nose.

Buley Rock is stunning. I sit paddling and looking at the trees whilst the other three have a proper swim. We continue on our drive and stop at our first Road House. There is a sign advertising Bikini Car Washes. I soon get the picture. We eat Barra Burgers and continue our drive. An hour or so later we're bored.

'Will we be there soon?' Kate asks. 'Why aren't we there yet?' She adds.

'It's a road trip,' Keir reasons. 'There will be some driving.'

Kate sighs. I know how she feels. In the end we have a nap. When we wake we are in the middle of nowhere driving along a straight road with bush on either side. The sun is setting and the sky is spectacular. But there's nothing for miles and miles and miles. I'm told you need to be one of the three M's to live out here: Missionary, Misfit, Madman. Kate says that when you read some of the letters to the editor of the NT News the theory rings true.

Its dark when we arrive at the lodge in Kakadu National Park. It's like a mirage and so much more than we'd expected. There's a bar, a restaurant, a pool, and oh delight, an open mike night.

'Keir I'll give you my first born if you get up and perform as Franky Walnut,' I say.

'Absolutely not,' Keir says. 'They probably don't have an amp anyway and I'd need to plug the guitar in.'

Kate and I check.

'They have an amp Keir!'

'Ah. They probably don't have a mike,' he says.

We check.

'They have a mike Keir!'

Keir goes to buy a bottle of red wine at the bar.
'You want that chilled or room temperature?'

'What's room temperature?' Keir asks.

'About what its been all day,' the girl answers.

As 35 degrees doesn't seem like the ideal temperature for a fine red he buys it chilled. It's a lively drop.

And then its a trifling matter of two bottles before Keir dons his Franky Walnut disguise (a hat) and staggers to the makeshift stage. The audience are delighted. Franky is funny. And the only other person to perform that night was some dude with a didgeredoo.

After Kate and Dave head off to bed we stay and chat to Joel, a friend of Keir's who is a park ranger of sorts and grew up around here. He's a gentle soul and offers to show us some 'off the beaten track' places the following day. 'Off the beaten track' has become synonymous with 'perilous, long and steep climb' for me and I feel a shudder of dread.

A woman who works on the bar comes over to clear our table.

'Hey, I hope I don't sound creepy but-'

'You sound creepy,' Keir says. Keir is drunk. I love drunk Keir.

'Ha. Yeah, well I hope I don't sound-'

'But you already do.' Keir is grinning.

'Ha! Yeah. Is your friend who I think she is?'

We neither confirm nor deny it.

'Is that Kate?' She persists.

'Yeah,' I say.

'Why didn't she get up and sing?' She sounds incredulous.

'She's on holiday,' I say.


'Another drink Thea?'

'Yes Keir, yes please.'

Day Two: 31st July.

We head out in the morning to see some Aboriginal paintings on the nearby cliffs. They are fascinating and mostly instructional. Here's good to fish. Here's how to separate the fish up. Others are stories. This is an angry spirit. He eats women. Women stay away. We catch a bit of a tour in one of the caves that would have been a living area.

'You can see here some round indents in the table rock. A mortar for seeds to be ground up in with a pestle to make the cakes they ate.'

The Aboriginals back then led a busy life. Fishing, cooking, telling stories, hunting, learning the lessons they learned from an elder at each stage of their lives to take them to the next part. The lessons continue for their whole lives becoming more informative, more expansive, bit by bit.
Dave tells me that nowadays if an Aboriginal person leaves their home, for example to complete a sports scholarship, they lose that chunk of learning completely. And their parents then have no one to pass it on to and so it is completely lost. I've seen completely lost looking Aboriginals wandering the streets in Darwin. When you learn about the customs and rituals of their lifestyle its amazing they have survived as a race at all in the face of overwhelming odds. And then there's the booze. It's so sad to see such an interesting and rich culture laid so low. We drive past a few lying on the side of the street in the burning sun. Or sitting around smoking and staring in to space.
Keir observes that when you take away the hunting and the gathering what's left is downtime.

In the afternoonthe boys finally get to put the 4WD to test. More than an hour off road. Rough terrain doesn't begin to describe it. I think my arse bone is going to come out of my mouth. Kate and I are thrown around like puppets and its slow progress.

'This is like the slowest roller coaster ever,' I observe.

'With no end,' Keir adds.

We finally arrive at the Jim Jim Falls parking area which starts a 900 metre walk to a swim hole. It's so hot I feel like the sun has crawled in to my head.
I get out of the car and see a Crocodile Safety Sign. “There are Saltwater Crocodiles living in this area. Enter the water at your own risk.”

'Yeah, we can't swim here,' I state and start heading back toward the car.

'Aw it'll be fine,' Kate says. 'I checked online and its a really beautiful and popular swim spot.'

I'm in no way convinced but we start the trek anyway. It quickly becomes less a walk, more a climb. You have to focus on every step around the rocks.

I know that to my friends this place seems beautiful, but to me its the set of a horror film. You know the one: Four friends set off for a weekend of hiking and high jinx but something evil is watching them from the cover of the trees.
The silence, to me, is not peaceful, its portentous.
Around three hundred metres in I realise I'm not haivng fun. We bump in to a woman coming back from the Falls. She says its worth it, it's lovely. She then points to the river next to us where a huge crocodile trap has been set. A sign tells us to stay away from the waters edge but its impossible to continue along without being right next to it.
A further 100 metres and my courage gives out. I'm certainly not going to swim in the water when I get there and at this point I really don't want to catch a glance at the natural predators who's home this is. I get the keys off Dave and head back to smoke and read whilst the others press on, Kate in a very fetching pink bikini.

I decide to have a nap in the car but every five minutes or so I notice a man stood nearby staring at me. I close my eyes and when I open them again he's stood closer though I never see him move. This dance continues for about fifteen minutes until I open my eyes to find him stood right by my window giving me a toothless grin. I open the door.

'What's the time?' He asks.

'It's half three.'

'Hot innit.'


He then rubs my arm, a bit like a child would, and says:

'Friendly? Friendly.'

I take a closer look at him. He's a bit older than me. He has two fingers missing and he's childlike.

'What's your name?'


'Are you on your own Kevin?'

'Mum's gone to look at the crocs.'

'Alright, shall I get out of the car and get some fresh air with you?'


We sit on some rocks and I roll a fag, which is no mean feat as Kevin is hugging me from one side with his head resting on my back.
We talk a bit about rocks and crocs and why his brother hates him and why his mum, Tammy, is an angel.
We stay like this for twenty minutes or so until he sees his mum approaching. He rubs my arm again, in what I think he has been taught is an 'Appropriate Manner' and tells me I'm nice and beautiful and thank you for being kind to him. Which makes me a bit sad.

Day Three: August 1st.

We collect Joel the Ranger and head in to Arnhem Land.
We visit an Aboriginal Settlement called Gunbalaya. Its a pretty barren landscape with stray or wild dogs lying about everywhere in the sun looking bloody awful. Dave worked here for a while some years back and says its one of the best in the Norther territories and its improved a lot since his last visit. There's a beautiful billabong next to the housing area but its full of crocs. We go to the Art gallery which is incredible. An old man is sat on the floor painting. Some women sit in the shade weaving baskets whilst one of the older ladies explains the process to us. She occassionally says something in her own language and the younger girls try to cover their laughter. I'm pretty sure she's taking the piss out of us tourists and I don't blame her. She tells us its fine to take pictures which I do but I feel intrusive and basically like a bit of a twat. You know what I mean; “Oh yah I met some fascinating indigenous people! Yah. Yah. I could see the ancient wisdom in their eyes and yah I think I captured it here on my Instagram....”
Nearby there's a pot on a fire and some grey indeterminable meat boiling away. The outside walls are covered with brilliant paintings of local animals. My favourite is of the bats.
We visit the local mini supermarket. The sign outside is painted in bright colours. Dogs lie around there too. They don't even beg, they just hope you might throw something their way.
Inside the shop is well stocked but fresh fruit and veg are very expensive and I assume they have to be flown in. The staff wander about barefoot and there's a sign that says: Don't humbug staff for discounts please.
Dave says they are supposed to share everything they have, food, money etc equally amongst their family so it goes against the grain to work in a shop and not provide.
There's also a sign that says: This is a nice place. Don't spit on the floor please.
The Aboriginals don't have a word for 'Outside' – They never needed one before.
As we leave I see another sign, this one in the window on bright yellow card:
Shop workers needed. Must show up every morning from monday to friday.
They don't really have a concept of time. How long will it take to finish? A while.
How many kids do you have? Too many.
Joel tells me that growing up with Aboriginal kids has given him a different way of thinking and speaking. He says that if you ask an Aboriginal person a question they will think about it properly before they answer. No fear of silence.

Joel takes us to Ubirr where we can see some more rock art and then watch the sunset from the top of the rocks. Its high up but easy to climb. He tells us a few Aboriginal stories he's heard based on bits of the landscape. There never seems to be a conclusion. Joel says this is because you never get the whole story from one person. They'll tell you a bit and then leave you to mull it over until you bump in to some one else who knows a different part of the story and is willing to share. it.

We go for a walk through the Monsoon Rainforest and I see fat bats in broad daylight hanging from the trees like pendulous fruit. There's an area that only women are allowed to walk so Kate and I head off alone to see the rock where an animal became an old woman and menstruated on the rock. O-kay. I imagine women thousands of years ago making this story up just to get a break from the men. 'Oh yeah, its bad luck for men in just stay righhhht here. We'll be back in a few hours. Come on Mavis, fuck this.'
Over lunch at a croc spotting area (why oh why) I tell Joel that people have really enjoyed telling me horror stories about crocodiles.

'Ah well they're not all bad. They can be quite cute,' he smiles.

'Uhuh. How so?'

'Well sometimes the male ones swim underneath a female croc they quite like and blow lots of tiny bubbles around to impress her.'

We have dinner at a deceptively basic looking place called The Border. There's a Thai woman in the kitchen and she's a genius. We gorge.

On the way back we see the night sky and stop dead in our tracks. I won't even try to describe it to you. The milky way though, its reallllly milky round here.

Day Four: 2nd August.

We leave the Lodge in Kakadu and head for Katherine and our first night camping.

'Keir, what's the name of that swim hole we're going to?'

'Crocodile falls.'


'Fatality Falls.'


'Oh alright. Not Too Many Deaths Falls.'

We check the map Joel has given us. Maps around here are usually the name of a place with a very long straight line followed by the name of another place. Everything is: Drive 200 k's then take a right and drive another 300 k's and you'll probably see it.

We get to Katherine and find the campsite. We set up and head in to town for drinks and dinner.
As we get out of the car Dave says;

'Ahhh fuck, here we go.'

I look around at the perfectly pleasant street and wonder what he's harping on about. Then we walk in to the pub. Or we try to. A man with dead eyes asks Kate for ID and spends far too long checking it. The pub is full of Aboriginal people and the security is massive and quite scary. Also strangely attractive to me but that's another story.
The toilets are labeled: Gents and Sheila's.
We go for dinner at a great restaurant, we always seem to be able to find the finest of fime dining no matter where we are.
Afterwards we drive back through town and watch drunk aboriginal people fighting. I see one girl punch another in the head. Little kids are sat around watching. We have to drive slowly as some stagger in to the road. There's police everywhere trying to reason, trying to stop them. We end up doing three circuits of the town centre. Its both fascinating and horrifying to watch.

Day Five: August 3rd.

I'm walking through the bush alone at night and I can hear animals chattering unseen all around me. A man dressed as a butler steps from behind a tree and hurries up to me with a letter on a tray. I open it and inside in old courier typeface it says 'Wake up Thea. Its not night time anymore! WAKE UP.'

I wake up in my tent and it takes me five minutes to crawl out and get all my limbs in working order.

Keir has fucked his back and every time he gets in or out of the car he screams.

We drive to the local hot springs which are incredible. And hot. And we float around for ages, all happy, all refreshed.

We drive to Timber Creek our next camping spot a few hours from here. On the way we buy a gas stove, coffee and lots of non perishable food. Keir gives me a look and we head off to the Thirsty Camel Bottle Shop and buy half a dozen bottles of good red wine.

'We'll have to ration it so we don't run out,' Keir observes.

'We can try,' I say, already thirsty.

In the car we listen to an Audio book called Batavia. True history of a Dutch ship crashing off the rocks of western Australia in the mid 1600's. Its gripping but badly written, which in itself is delightful.

Timber Creek: Population 70.

We find a lovely camping spot next to the river. There's a sign announcing 'Croc and Kite feeding here at 5pm!'


We watch the Kite feeding which is swooping and fast and fun. They wander down to the croc feeding. I see a croc. I leave.

We go for dinner at the only food place and are served by a man from Cambridge. A fireman who is having a year out.

'Why are you here??' I ask.

'I have no fucking idea,' he responds.

We head back to our tents at 9pm and as we can no longer see each other we decide to call it a night. The sky at night just gets more breath taking and as the mosquitos don't seem too bust around here I lie with my head outside of my tent and watch the stars until I fall asleep.

Day Six: August 4th.

There were a lot of animal sounds in the night. Things running. Things scratching. Things screaming. Dave farting really loudly from across the other side of the camp site. Me laughing.

I make coffee on our little gas stove and we all slowly come to life and head off for the drive to Kunanurra.
We listen to more Batavia. Keir makes up an excellent example of how badly written
it is:

“They were poor in four ways. Poor in that they had very little. Paw like the vulnerability of an amputated animal paw. Paw like the Paw Paw fruit unavailable on this ship. And pour like the tea liberally laced with ginger to aide the mal de mer some suffered so terribly. Although of course the first 'poor' may be the most pertinent.”

I think Keir is a comic genius.

We drive through a never ending landscape of arid rocks and parched trees. Every ten minutes or so it is punctuated by a place name sign that serves no real purpose as far as I can make out.
Quart Pot Creek.
Lily Creek.
Pint Pot Creek.
Keep River.
Newry Station.
Basalt Creek.
Battle Creek.
Moriarty Creek.
Glenarra Creek.
Butler Creek.
Dead Horse Springs.
Beta Creek.
Black Flag Creek.
Cheese Tin Creek. (I'm not making it up.)

I look up to see Keir eating instant noodles dry, straight from the pack.

We enter Western Australia. The Last Frontier Sign makes me feel like a cowboy.
We go through quarantine and I sadly hand over a dozen apples, bananas and some tomatoes and watch the lady put them through a shredder as we drive on.

We drive to El Questro Camping Wilderness. Its a million Acres of camping land. Its basically Belgium.
I ask Kate if she thinks this landscape is beautiful.

'Of course! It looks like another planet. Its been like this, unchanged, for hundreds of millions of years. You can almost visualise the tectonic plates crashing together.'

I look out of the window. I see an arid inhospitable terrain leached by the sun. No shade anywhere, no water.

'Just think,' Kate says. 'This looked the same when dinosaurs were here.'

This sparks something in me and I take another look. I see that its not dead, maybe just a bit abandoned by the things that thrived here once. I can't see it through Kate's eyes but she makes me appreciate it more. I've certainly never seen anything like it.

It's impossible not to acknowledge how easy it would be to dispose of a body in this part of the world.

The WELCOME TO EL QUESTRO Sign has been shot through with a rifle.

El Questro is, as I mentioned earlier, really big. Really, really big. We arrive at Reception and are allocated a part of the Bush to ourselves. Its another twenty minute off track drive to find it. Its within a circle of old trees by a river. Which we definitely can't swim in. We all try and set up our tents behind each other, steadily moving further and further away, so that whoever is at the front will get eaten first if the crocs decide to use the bank in front of us as an access ramp.

Someone has arranged some rocks in a circle for fire making and the boys head off to find twigs. They return looking sheepish with the best part of a tree.

There isn't a soul in sight for forever. Just Bush. Kate and I have never been anywhere so remote.

Keir and I sit in the red dust and share a bottle of wine whislt he doodles on the guitar and we chat about the immediacy of youth. He says he can still attain that feeling for about ten minutes every morning after his first coffee. A world of possibilities.
Kate reads. Dave stares at the river leaning against a tree.

We have a reservation for dinner at a restaurant back by the reception area. Its five star dining and we, feet caked in mud, sit on the verandah in the middle of the wilderness eating fish tacos, calamari, chorizo, steaks, feta, garlic mash, barramundi and hot bread. We drink cold beer and good wine and there's a hot mustard that makes our eyes water. We are so relaxed and happy we can't stop laughing. Kate's hair is turning in to chunks like dreads and she looks beautiful. I can't resist planting at least three kisses on her head as we stagger back to the car.

I thought I'd be nervous, sleeping alone in a tent in so remote a place but the booze and the starry sky and the sound of birds bitching in the trees cocoons me and I fall asleep staring at the sky once again.