Red Dust and Wilderness in Australia

Beer in hand, I watch day turn to night as the sun sets across the majestic lands of Karijini Eco Retreat. The red dust becomes engulfed by impenetrable darkness and a cloudless starry night is born. My only light comes from the notorious milky way of stars littering the sky; but not even those can provide enough light to prevent me from walking into yet another spinfex bush. But I battle on for the beauties of these lands inspire faith and happiness, which was long forgotten during the lost days within Halifax Bank of Scotland.

I have entered a paradise of a different kind. Dry, barren lands as far as the eye can see, red dust and yet more red dust, hidden gorges filled with tropical green waters, mountainous ranges. There is everything, yet nothing. The nearest sign of civilization is over one hour away in a small mining village called Tom Price. The nearest town to that is Perth, which is a two hour flight. But this is what makes Karijini a special place, this is why we travel.

We arrived in Perth and like everybody who has never been to the country before; we expected it to be incredibly hot. It came as a huge shock to me when the pilot announced over the radio that it was 3 degrees outside, I had not really dressed for the occasion. To the amusement of others I was still wearing shorts and T shirt and did not really prepare for cold weather. The only option was to wear pretty much all the clothes I could find within my rucksack before stepping out into the unforgiving cold winter.

Perth itself seemed to be very similar to England, albeit with nice people. The weather was cold, the night’s got dark early and it was pretty much like any other major city. It was quite a surreal experience however as it felt as though I had gone back in time. The only thing missing from the high street was Christmas decorations, it was very strange. Happy people, dark and cold nights – It felt as though it should be Christmas. There was nothing really of note during our first night in Perth other than my brief brush with death. Whilst in the hostel I decided to treat myself to a crumpet, and like all crumpet-loving men I felt like the most suitable device for the spreading of butter would be a knife. However, rather stupidly the thought that someone may be travelling round Australia with a full cutlery set never occurred to me and therefore I was rather surprised to see the hateful stares of death coming from the French girl standing next to me. I was about to commit an act beyond the forgiveness of any human; I was going to use her knife. I did the only thing I could do – ignored her and used the knife anyway. I understand the importance of cutlery and how much it means to people, I understand many of you will be shocked when reading this, but do not frown upon me; for the crumpet brings out the worst in all men.

Our second day was slightly more eventful. We spent it in a small coastal town called Fremantle, which seemed to attract a large number of tourists. Here we were able to walk along the beach and try fish and chips Australian style. They were good but will never hit the standards of English fish and chips mainly because they use oven chips instead of real ones. But do not be dismayed for they still proved to be a highlight. The walk along the beach proved to be another surreal moment. Minding my own business, entering the lands of sea and sand I was bought to a halt and had a moment of De ja Vu. On entering the earthly realms of Fremantle Beach I felt as though I had just walked back into Sea ham (my hometown). The beach was a mirror image, the only difference been that there were no vagabonds drinking cider and listening to rave music. It was a strange moment, travel to the other side of the world and end up back on Seaham beach. The town of Fremantle was quiet and pleasant, there were small shops selling the necessities and many Victorian style buildings. The most spectacular attraction was a local pub called creatures, it was a brewery which had been transformed into a bar and the beer was freshly brewed right before your eyes. Partial to a beer or two, I decided to try one of these freshly brewed ales and I wasn’t disappointed, I wanted another one but the glaring eyes of Anna caused me to think otherwise. It was time to leave, the sun was about to set and we needed to catch the train back into Perth; for tomorrow was to be the day when we would make our long awaited trip onto Karijini Eco Retreat.

The sun had risen and I was awoken to the sounds of a strange Irish man talking incredibly loud on his phone, whilst in bed in the same room as me. It was time to leave Perth and the excitement for the next part of our adventure had grown. We arrived at the airport not quite knowing what to expect. I had heard many stories about the size of Australia and the Australian outback but it is something you don’t really understand until you see it for yourself.

The first day when I arrived is a day that will remain in my memories forever more. For the last hour of our plane journey, all we could see was harsh red landscape after harsh red landscape. It was incredible how the country could change so quickly, the difference from one hour to the next was surreal. It was exciting, we were ready to land. We departed the plane and arrived at Parabadu airport which was incredibly small to the point where there was only one little office. We literally stood next to the plane and waited for the men to take our bags off, as you would do after a long coach trip for example. It was all done outside in the open air. Here we met the first three of what would be our work colleagues for the next few months. There was Ben, Nikki and Karen. Ben and Nikki are a couple who met during their travels. Ben comes from the distant Lands of California, and has travelled many dark roads to arrive into Karijini. He is a humble man, and has an expertly grown moustache. Nikki comes from our lands, albeit further South in Northampton. She is a free spirited lady and often graces Karijini with the gift of song. As does Karen, who is of Aboriginal decent and is better than Jimmy Hendrix on guitar. Karen was on her way to Perth that day, so we would not see her for another two weeks. It was Ben and Nikki who were charged with the task of escorting us through safe paths to Karijini Eco Retreat.

We climbed into a typical Australian style truck and set off through miles and miles of red dust. It was an exciting moment, the sun was about to set and we were finally in the outback. The landscape was incredible, seas of red with dry yellow spinfex bushes and dry trees, mountainous ranges in the distance and never ending roads. This was a true Outback experience and one of the reasons why we travel. It ceases to amaze me how most people who come to Australia spend there time drinking every night in the major cities on the east coast. What a waste of time, surely there is more to life than that. The Journey to the Eco retreat was to take around one and a half hours and on the way we were able to stop and watch the sun set behind the distant mountain ranges. We also saw our first Dingo, who appeared on the road in search of food.

As darkness fell we arrived at the Eco retreat and were immediately impressed with our home for the next few months. We are staying in a deluxe Eco tent with an ensuite shower and king sized bed, which costs guests around $280 a night to stay in. The tent offers an amazing view of the landscape and it’s hard to believe that only three weeks prior to this I was stuck in a basement flat in Leeds City centre. On arrival we were able to meet the rest of our work colleagues. There was quite a diverse mixture of people from various parts of Europe and beyond. Three belonged to the tribes of France: Jean, Oli and Alison. Like me, Oli has a football obsession and we often find ourselves talking about how terrible Marseille are as a football team. Jean is a simple man with a nice beard and a love of maintenance. However he has not quite mastered the art of Rock, Scissors, Paper and often finds himself losing to me. Alison was a fair maiden and has now departed the lands of Karijini in search of peace and tranquility in other parts of the globe. There were also three Germans, Alex, Julie and Helen. Like Alison, Helen has now departed these lands but was a kind hearted soul and had an equal irritation towards people which was very similar to my own. Many mornings were spent by the barbecue cursing the irrational behavior of Europeans – happy days. Alex looks like a 1970s john Lennon and is a very relaxed and calm person. He is a major hippy who enjoys music and life. He is a quiet and mysterious man, but a kind one nonetheless. Other than that we have Tim who dwells in the realms of New York city, and has an array of knowledge on many different subjects and Lianne who Comes from New Zealand and is a favorite of mine and Anna for her outgoing personality and her willingness to let us stay in her home when we go to New Zealand. She arrived a week after we did and we often spend our nights drinking beer/wine and reflecting on life’s events. Finally, there is Fiona who is our boss and a very good one. Gone are the days of Ambleside and Halifax when bosses where there to question you if you went to the toilet or used your imitative. In fact Fiona is quite relaxed and therefore this place seems to run very smoothly and happily. We have a nice group of people and it will be a sad day when we eventually leave this place.

The retreat itself is deep in the heart of the outback and has an array of deluxe tents with ensuite bathrooms and also camping areas for those with tents. There is a restaurant which is where I am mostly based having recently been put on the dinner shift which involves cooking for all the guests. Other than that I work on a breakfast/dinner split shift which involves cooking breakfast on the barbecues just outside the restaurant area and then having the rest of the day free until the evening when we come back and serve food for the guests who are staying the night. I have also tried my hand at maintenance which involves responding to any issues which arise during the day and fixing them, checking all the solar equipment and power generators and for me it involves winning at Rock, Scissor, Paper. However for the losers (Ben and Jean) it involves cleaning away the excreatement and/or bits of food which get stuck in the waste storage containers based on sight. My psychological prowess in too much for any man and therefore I am often spared of this beastly task.

It’s at the turning of darkness when Karijini is at its best. The sun sets over the mountains and as we sit there enjoying our feast of evening tea we watch as day turns to night and the clear sky’s bring out an abundance of shining stars and planets which can be seen with the naked eye. To say it is spectacular would be an understatement. Only when you are here witnessing the full moon rise and fall in the same night can you really begin to realise how special this place is. We are very lucky and long may this place live in our hearts. I sit here now wondering, how I have managed to arrive at such a place after a long and torturous spell in England. I only hope that everybody else who has the opportunity to come here remembers these moments and realise’s just how lucky we all are. Karijini is a once in a lifetime thing. These moments will never be lost!

In and around the national park there are many spectacular hidden gorges, the closest been Joffre gorge which is only a ten minute walk. These gorges are truly one of nature’s natural wonders. Deep, wide, spiraling spaces penetrate the ancient rocks of old, forming spectacular gorges filled with tropical green waters, and many strange kinds of flora and fauna. The rocks themselves are incredible, not only for there ancient dwellings on earth but for the array of colour’s and sheer size. The water is an incredible green, yet it is Icy cold and only the brave are able to enter. I have swam many times at each of the gorges I have been to, although it does take me at least 30 minutes to build up the courage to brave the cold.

Not two days have passed since me and Anna visited one of the gorges. In fact we visited two in two days with the use of our trusty steeds – the bikes. The first day we decided to go to Knox gorge before we started work, we were encouraged by Tim who informed us of the apparent easy road which would get us there in half the time. “Take the paths from the Gorge of Joffre” said he, “for your journey will be shorter and you will only need to carry your bikes for a short distance over the rocks”. “Okay” said we, for we trust Tim with our lives. Conversation over, we set off on what would turn out to be a strenuous journey. We took the short cut through Joffre gorge and found that we had to carry our bikes pretty much most of the way, over large areas of sharp stone and rock, mini waterfalls with the threat of man eating animals lurking in dark areas. Not only that but when we were almost at the end of these dangerous paths Anna decided it would be the ideal time to make the bike wheel fall off. In addition she refused to pick the bike up as it was apparently too heavy, which meant that I had to do all the carrying. When we finally departed the dangerous paths of Joffre and got onto the road, most of our time was occupied by me having to fix the bike.

Having done this, we then set off along the dusty and incredibly bumpy roads; destined for Knox Gorge. The road again proved strenuous and the intense heat complicated matters. Most of the time we seemed to be riding uphill (or in Anna’s case walking uphill with the bike). We eventually arrived and were blessed with yet another spectacular gorge, which made the whole thing worthwhile. We looked forward to work and then a day off in which we would attempt yet another daring bike ride to Hancock gorge 12kms from the retreat.

We awoke early the next morning ready for the day’s events. In need of motivation I put on some music from the Rocky Balboa soundtrack and punched a bag of raw meat. Rejuvenated, it was time to leave. We set off down the endless dusty roads, which seemed to go on for ever and again we seemed to be constantly going uphill. But hard as it was the ride was still incredible. Not only were we cycling through this amazing wilderness but we were able to see kangaroos in the wild and an array of different birds. Since I have been here I have seen Kangaroos, Parrots, Eagles and dingoes. Not many people can say they live in a place where they are able to have these opportunities. Hancock proved to be yet another spectacular gorge and completely different to all the others. It was deserted and we had the pool to ourselves, it was an incredible experience to swim and relax in this completely natural environment. Nature is a funny thing. I don’t understand why more people don’t live for experiences like this, if this is my one shot at life then the last thing I want to do is spend it worrying about how many sales I am going to get or how many cocktails I can make in a minute. Life is too short. But I will not ramble for not every man thinks as I do and I can only give my own opinions. Everybody is different I suppose.

All I can say is that for now, I am happy. I have another month working in this incredible place and then with a heavy heart I will move on. I will miss the random nights playing guitar, singing together, having strange themed parties and just relaxing under the stars. But do not be down hearted for there are many of these days ahead and many songs still to sing. There are two new members of the team (Dave and Eugene) and with them they bring youth, exuberance and funny hair cuts. It’s the dawning of a new day at Karijini where the old will leave and the new will reign. But songs will still be sung and I will still be in the kitchen cooking Lamb Shanks.

Filed under: 170, Oceania