From the outset, let’s be clear: these events actually happened and in the timeframe mentioned, but they are not the everyday experience of those who work in the Kimberley. This was an OMG week.
We were down a lecturer in Derby and I was without substantial work for the time- my project having reached a point where the work was with the publisher. So I was packed off to Derby to fill in for 6 weeks. It’s now spun out to 12 weeks but that’s another story.
In the first week I drove my own car- one that is not well suited to the Kimberley but OK for the trip I needed to do. After teaching a full day I was off to my accommodation for the night: a cattle station just out of town. After coping with the fact that it was located next door to the old (now closed- but I didn’t know that at the time) Derby Leprosarium (Yes- a leper colony!) I missed the turn to the station and drove another 47km up Gibb River Rd looking for something that looked like the right turn off. That’s one way of discovering the Kimberley- just wasn’t the one I planned. I flagged down an oncoming work ute and asked the guys in it for assistance. As it turned out they didn’t know where they were either and were no use at all. I was later to discover that this was a terribly risky thing to have done. It seems there are stories of ‘things’ happening along that road.
As I had passed the leprosarium (also known as Bungerun) I’d noticed a white 4WD with a guy sitting outside looking into the truck at a woman. I considered stopping but something felt ‘off’ so I’d kept driving (another 47km as it turned out). Later that night at dinner, the manager of the cattle station asked me if I’d noticed the 4WD. I said yes, she told me that she had stopped to see if they were OK and had been told to keep going, the police were on the way: the woman in the 4WD was dead. It seems she may have jumped out of the 4WD while it was moving. Intuition is a wonderful thing!
In the following week, I drove the work ute to Derby that I was given for the job, having left at first light from Broome. A few kilometers out of Willare I hit a roo. She’d run in front of the ute and got to the other side safely, but then turned around and ran back under the wheels of the ute. I’m since told this is a usual thing for roos to do. I’ve never taken a life before and it was very distressing despite many others saying that one less roo was a good thing. One hundred kilometers later, the rear tyre blew spectacularly while I was doing 110km/hr. I hung on to the steering wheel with a death grip as the ute bounced around the road a little closer to an oncoming road train with four very large trailers behind, than I would have liked. I managed to pull over safely and got a very rattled phone call through to my manager to send help. I was counting myself rather lucky to have managed the 1 minute of mobile phone connection as it isn’t known for being very reliable around the Curtin Detention Centre area and I didn’t have a satellite phone as an alternative. Cutting a long story short, I was actually rescued by a passing Pindan Solutions guy with an angle grinder who was able to cut off the lock (for which I had no key!) on the spare tyre and changed it for me. I still need to learn how to change a tyre. I am deeply indebted to him and his wife for not leaving me stranded there- also too to the Willare Roadhouse woman who stopped and took a message to the college for me.
A few days later I was settled into a house in Derby for the bulk of the rest of my stay. I’d shopped and bought a basic kit for the house and all was looking up. Across the road from the house is bush with the most beautiful boabs through which the sun sets. Truly breathtaking! But then came my next lesson.
Just about sunset a small group of Aboriginal people were going for a walk through the bush with their dogs. A few minutes later they all walked back out again- with dinner over their shoulder- a snake or goanna (called a ‘barney’ here). It then came sharply into focus that many of my students may live in western style homes but that they still live very closely to their traditional practices.
Conversations with my students have since convinced me that continuing traditional practices is a good way of fighting the depression and poor self esteem that many of the men in particular feel here. Providing food for the family and keeping culture alive is important.
And that was the first 6 days of working in Derby. The following days were a little quieter but everyday was still a story on its own.