An African Wedding

We’ve finally managed to take stock the last few days here along the Great Ocean Road. We realise there hasn’t been much communication so we’ve had to try and get our bums in to gear to bring you up to speed. This will be the first of two instalments. Enjoy.

Well I guess we’ve got a fair bit to catch up on since our last instalment. It’s only been about 9 months!

At the end of our last update, we made the big mission to South Africa. This involved a 2 day drive from Mitchell Plateau to Broome, a 2 hour flight to Perth, a 5 hour wait until we boarded an 11 hour flight to Johannesburg, where we were treated to a 5 hour wait at the airport before boarding our final 2 hour flight to Capetown. It was a mission to say the least but the kids were fantastic travellers, kept entertained by the in-flight entertainment! A time and a place to be sure.

Our African adventure began in Capetown for four days where the kids and us found our heads spinning, back in a metropolis after the serenity of the Kimberley bush. Nevertheless, we had such an amazing time driving around the Cape, getting our fill of fresh and exotic produce whilst taking in the sounds, sights, smells and all the excitement of Southern Africa. The birds and wildlife were amazing, as was the hospitality from the locals. We caught up with Rosco Deane in Muizenburg (an old mate from London) before we headed further North to Stellenbosch and the Cape wine regions. Well, apparently Capetown had been in drought for the previous few years but you wouldn’t have known it. It was a bit of a shock to our Kimberley system having to wear so many layers again. We experienced flooding rains, there was snow on the Swarzberg pass, and ice on the windscreen so it was very conducive weather to enjoy Franschoeks full bodied reds!

Heading further North and East we passed though the Little Karoo, winding our way though that intriguing and arid environment until we had done a big loop, through Outschoorn and back down to the coast again where we enjoyed a few days with Karl and Mandy Nutt in Knysna. More wine. More food. From there we parked up in Jeffery’s Bay for a week where it was nice for us all to get our fix of salt water and waves without the fear of getting eaten by a crocodile. After a nice break we carried onwards, and literally upwards, through Addo National Park where we delighted at the amount of awesome wild animals we experienced up close. Elephants and zebras in plague proportions. The kids had an absolute ball spotting wild game.

From there we headed away from the safety of the garden route and into the untamed and remote Transkei. As it was for me on a previous trip, this was to become our favourite part of South Africa. It was the real and rural Africa which we craved and maybe our experience in the north of W.A had instilled in us a love and appreciation for the simpler and more remote areas of the world. It was a fascinating thing observing the kids playing and interacting with the poorest kids in Southern Africa, who largely spoke little or no English. It was a beautiful thing to watch the continuation and further development of a tolerant and non judgmental attitude towards people that are different to themselves in culture, that our kids have attained since living in the community. To them, kids are simply kids and no different to themselves (which is true I guess) despite their upbringing, their beliefs, the houses they live in and the food they eat. In our eyes, this is perhaps the greatest thing that our kids will take away from this whole trip, and we are so proud of that. That open mindedness will hopefully be one of the biggest gifts they receive in their life. Hopefully it counteracts the comparative lack of curriculum based academic prowess.

The couple of weeks we were in the Transkei were just so good for the soul. It was simple living at its best. We ate crayfish and oysters straight out of the sea. We enjoyed long walks though rolling green pastures where herders tended to their flocks of cattle, sheep or goats. We rode donkeys and horses. We dodged pigs and chooks on the rough roads through villages. We ate a freshly killed chook and mealie pap (maize) meal with a family in their unpowered mud hut rondavel. I surfed a truly wild and remote coast during the sardine run with literally hundreds of dolphins (and probably other large fish) schooling around me whilst I watched the whale highway at peak hour just beyond the breakers. I shared warm longneck beers with extremely poor but proud African men in the local shabeen where we talked politics and sport. We celebrated Byron’s 4th birthday with the local kids. It was surreal and magnificent and we never wanted to leave. But there were other good things on the horizon.

The real reason we had come to this amazing land was to share in the celebration of our good friends Lee and Anita Cummings’ wedding. We met up with them just North of Durban in Umhloti, a week prior to the big day. A group of dedicated travelers from all over the world had made the journey to see these two awesome humans wed (again). And it was here that we started to meet them all. We had the best week in the lead up to the big day. It started with a huge bucks show in Durban where we jumped off a bridge, drank our weight in lager and ended up dancing to the rhythms of Nigerian Jazz in a nightclub in a completely dodgy part of town. The hens day was a more civilised affair (sort of) with day spas and cocktails on the menu. We all made the journey to a private game reserve where in luxury, we marvelled at the diversity and scale of African wildlife. We were treated to true Zulu hospitality complete with a dancing performance. We all trekked up into the Drakensberg mountains to see the stunning beauty of the area. And over that week, the eclectic group that had made the trip, truly bonded. We felt so lucky to be a part of this celebration.

In the last of the lead up, we all hung out together in Umzumbe, south of Durban, where we surfed, ate, drank, shopped and generally chilled. The day itself was so awesome to be a part of. I was lucky enough to be part of the bridal party and Elsie was very chuffed to be appointed with flower girl duties. It was an incredible ceremony where love was the real winner. The reception carried on well into the night where there was live music performances, flash mobs, fires, dance offs and the most incredible gin. It was a collection of simply fantastic human beings, championing omptimism and positivity and above all, LOVE!

And it was from the next day, that people started to peel off and go their own ways, exhausted but content. It had been a truly amazing African adventure. We feel so lucky and privileged, that not only did we get invited, but also that the community gave us the time off to make it happen. It really was the trip of a lifetime for us to do as a family and we will always remember it. We feel so fortunate of where we have come from and the opportunities we have had to allow us to partake in such an adventure. We acknowledge the hardship that many South Africans have been and still go through. We are thankful to have stayed safe throughout the journey and to have met the people we have. We all still laugh at things like vervets getting into our room and stealing bananas (cliche right?), Harvey hunting an octopus in a milky brown river in the Transkei (which we ate), doing a dodgy cash deal for a zebra skin in the car park of a service station, the kids going down a waterslide out the back of a pub where the water temperature must have been close to zero and they all turned blue and had to hand back their left over tokens. For Byron, it was such a blur and we’re not sure he grasps the concept of being in another country as he keeps talking about it like it’s a part of Australia, and I guess it’s great that these times blend into one big amazing experience. It was just superb and a great little holiday in the middle of our trip around Australia. Kez and I didn’t say no to much and left a few notches longer around the belt. The colour, culture and diversity of South Africa will long remain with us and we feel blessed at having experienced such a lekker place together.

While we were in South Africa we received the unfortunate news that the community could not fund our tutoring position past the last term so we were left with some decisions to make….

To be continued……..



An African Wedding

North Kimberleys to South Africa

Well here we are, 14 months on from leaving our safety net of Margaret River, and we find ourselves in one of the most remote parts of the Kimberley’s, indeed Australia and perhaps even the world, living and working in an indigenous community amongst the most unique and pristine bushland I’ve ever had the pleasure of immersing myself in. Yes, over a year on and we still find ourselves on the best side of the Western Australian border, still not being able to bring ourselves to cross it. It’s fair to say, that this place has got under our skin a little bit. 

Having left our friends on the Gibb, we made our way up here in October in a convoy made up of our Hilux and a bit of a wet season hack Toyota Landcruiser which we had just bought and completely loaded to the roof full of supplies to get us through the next six months. The roads are bloody terrible to put it lightly. You just can’t grade bare rock. We were fortunate in that we only lost one wheel off the car on the journey up and that on an otherwise deserted road, a trio of cars came to our rescue and sprang into action chopping down trees to jack up the vehicle to make the necessary repairs. We stole a wheel nut off each wheel and on we went. Just in time for our first ever build up to the wet season. And what a wet it was!! The plan was, for Al to settle Kez, Harvey and Elsie into the community and then head back with Byron along the Gibb River Road to Over The Range Tyre Repairs near Mount Barnett, to caretake the place for a month whilst Nev, Leonie and Mira were away. We settles in to our one bedroom longer, the 3 kids sharing one room and the two of us, sharing the lounge room and kitchen. It felt so big compared to the caravan. We have a fridge, a washing machine, air conditioner and a television with no reception. We have no phone and no internet and it’s a wonderful thing. 

Well, our first experience of the community was the morning after we arrived, and due to start our school tutoring careers. As we made our way down into the community and into our ramshackle tin shed of a school, we were greeted by a dozen barking dogs and a friendly, yet snotty little girl who appeared the age of about 5, but who told us she was 11. As we struggled to understand what she was saying, we both looked at each other and wondered what the hell we were doing here. Without an adult in sight, it was the kids that took us under their wing and showed us how to make contact with the outside educational world!! We soon had kids of all sizes all around us, eager to discover the newcomers, particularly the new pale skinned children in the area. It was an overwhelming, confronting and completely amazing experience, not to mention a complete uppercut on every one of our senses. It was incredible. Oh, and the 5 year old was indeed a 5 year old, just playing a bit of a misunderstood trick on the new teachers!!

So, off Al and Byron went, leaving the others in a completely unfamiliar territory trusting that all would be well. And indeed it was. Over that month, Kez, Harvey and Elsie, were given the grand tour of this amazing part of the country by the people who know it best. And they thrived. 170mm of rain in October. Billabongs, creeks, birds and wildlife, hunting and fishing and lots of snakes!! Despite the good time they had, it was a relative bore down on the Gibb so it was good to get back up for Al and Byron. And it certainly was starting to get hot!! The build up continued and everyone began to find their feet in this amazing corner of the universe. On their arrival, we all moved from the community over to the Outback Spirit Safari camp, which we were to caretake for the wet season. It’s only a kilometre or so from the community but there are two creeks to cross, and we were to find out later that they certainly swell to raging torrents after biggest mobs of rain. 

School had it’s ups and downs as it still does. It was certainly a real eye opener for us at the level of education up here, and it makes you realise how far the gap is to bridge. I mean, you know people whinge about education standards in cities and down South. They really need to come up here and check it out. We’ve got 12yo kids here that don’t know when their birthday is. The school of the air education system, whilst so incredibly valuable to remote kids around Australia, is by nature a little bit clunky, particularly given the technological difficulties we experienced when the rains started to come. The internet and phones would often drop out, and when the rain fell on that little tin shed, you couldn’t hear yourself think (it was sometimes respite from the nagging kids however)! Temperatures inside our school shed were in excess of 40 degrees regularly, not ideal conditions for learning. Anyway, the teachers have been amazing support for us, however trying to tutor these kids from such a very low baseline, whilst trying to manage teaching our own kids, coordinating the 9 different students classes at various times during the day and also keep Byron busy has certainly been a challenge. And take it from me (Al writing here), if you think the idea of home schooling your own kids sounds romantic – think again!!! It sux!!! The boundary line is very blurry between teacher and parent and it becomes very hard for the kids to differentiate between the two. We certainly didn’t do much strict home schooling in the early parts of the trip and now we were doing it with structure, but with a handful of other kids in the class. And I don’t mind admitting, that out of a classroom full of kids from an aboriginal community, our kids were by far the worst behaved!!! Battles have been frequent. Of course when they are online dealing with their teachers, they are just little angels. But when it comes time for us to do set work in the classroom, forget it. Too much other stuff going on around them. And I have to say, my prior aspirations of becoming a teacher one day have completely gone out the window. Keryn is far more patient than me, as women seem to naturally be, but even so, we have both had some major meltdowns with our own offspring. And so it was, that we were all looking forward to the school holidays.

The wet season holidays were just fantastic!! I have never seen so much water in all of my life. There’s just got to be a way to pump some of it down to the drier parts of the country!! The electrical storms were so intense. Weather-wise, it is a completely volatile area. We experienced huge nightly build up clouds with thunderous storms and heavy down pours. I have never heard thunder and seen lightning like it before. We experienced some huge tropical lows and also 3 cyclones. On the morning of Cyclone Marcus which was due to travel right over the top of us, we had a couple of the community kids run up and knock on the door of our donger, which I had been busily securing and tidying around. “Mister, Mister, you have to come quick”. They informed me that two of the teenage boys had headed off early that morning to hunt for goanna and had become bogged out the back of the air strip in thick bush. They had managed to get two cars bogged, one on either side of the track. So, I reluctantly headed off to rescue them, with the impending Cyclone Marcus bearing down. I managed to recover one of the vehicles and no sooner than I did, off he drove at 100 miles an hour despite me running after him waving my arms to come back. We weren’t out of the woods yet, literally. To put it lightly, I was a little bit cross. The explanation I got was that he was in trouble with Jeja (Grandma) and he’s gone back there quick smart. “Well it’s alright for him, what about us?” I thought to myself. Well the inevitable happened and I myself got bogged whilst trying to retrieve the other vehicle. It had started raining by this stage and the wind was picking up and I really didn’t fancy spending the cyclone sitting in my car amongst falling Bloodwood trees and Livistonia Palms. Anyway, I luckily had the keys to a spare vehicle parked at the airstrip and I sent the young fella to run the few kilometres to get it whist I kept digging. Fortunately we managed to get my car out and then in turn, the other vehicle so I was back at home with the family before things really started getting serious. Kez was out of her mind with worry. And it’s fair to say that I think Wesley and Wyatt weren’t in the good books with Jeja for a fair while.

The plateau is largely huge deposits of laterite and dolerite rock so it is normally possible to drive around the roads during the wet season as it’s so hard and not boggy. Just don’t venture off the main tracks and you’ll normally be ok. This also means the water runs away relatively quickly and into the creeks. The roads around the area turn into rivers so for months on end we were driving through floodways. We had a few close calls crossing creeks but overall we had a ball. The kids, our own and the community kids, just lived in the water. As we are 350m or so above sea level, and not far away from the magnificent Mitchell falls, there is no risk of Saltwater crocodiles, although we had a few encounters with freshies. It was just an incredible place to be. We received mail and food on the weekly mail plane, when it was able to land, once going for three weeks without contact from the outside world. Just prior to big rains, at one stage, the whole community, all of the rangers and Kez and the eldest two kids had gone into Broome (12 hours drive away) for the end of year school camp. Well, Byron and myself and Angie (Who was care taking the APT Safari camp) were the only 3 people on the whole of the Mitchell Plateau. It would have to be tens of thousands of square kilometres to ourselves. By car the closest person would have been at least 5 hours away, if you could get over the King Edward River. And then another few more hours to the next closest person. The isolation and remoteness of this place is one of the reasons why our family love it up here. It was such a shame when the roads opened up to here from the Kalumburu road and we started having to share it again!! 

During the holidays we had some great friends come and visit over Christmas as well as a few cyclones. Nutty and Nic and Cleo and Harty along with kids, made the voyage by air just before Christmas, and it was a fantastic time. They ended up having to stay 3 days extra as it ended up being too wet to fly out which was a bit exciting. We took the tinny out and got some fishing in down at the coast of Port Warrender, and made a trek into the falls. The kids had a ball!! Our Boxing Day Test backyard cricket plans went a little underwater however the well prepared pitch was put to good use by the kids as a mud slide. Other than that, we didn’t find the wet season heat too oppressive. I think the altitude certainly helps and also the fact that we had so much rain and a swimming hole right there to cool off in. All in all, we had 2.5 metres of rain from October to April. Gave everything a good clean out thats for sure. We also had Al’s Mum and Dad come and visit at the tail end of the wet and they had a jam packed week of boating, killing and cutting up wild cattle on the ground, hiking into the falls and helping us do a few jobs. It was great to see them and I’m pretty sure they would have had a good rest after they left us!! I was a bit over enthusiastic to get Dad to a favourite Barra spot on my boat and managed to break his tail bone whilst sitting up the front, but he put on a brave face for the week. Sorry Dad. 

So, anyway, here I sit writing this and it hasn’t rained for a couple of months now and everything is starting to dry out. In fact, despite us doing a lot of burning off in Autumn, there has been a few big fires around the place up here lately. But it all seems to be the norm up here. We finally managed to drive off the plateau last month into Broome town, for school camp. It was the kids second school camp and such an important event for all these students of school of the air to interact with each other. REAL COFFEE!! FRESH MILK!! BEER ON TAP!!! FRESH FRUIT AND VEGGIES!! It’s amazing what you miss when your out in the bush for that long, but to be honest, as the week drew to a close we were all glad to be heading back up the hill. Haircuts, Doctors, Dentists and shopping and the wallet was starting to bleed. During our time in town we renewed all of the kids passports as it was decided at some point during the wet season, that we would join our friends Lee and Anita in South Africa to celebrate their wedding. So we’re off next week and I have to say I am really bloody excited!!! It will be so good to have a family trip where we don’t have the stresses of school to deal with daily, we can actually go and have some fun with the kids in a new place. And we can enjoy some relative luxury. But most of all – we can swim and surf in the beach!!!!! Even if it is winter. Yep, not much swimming goes on in salt water up here. The kids have followed the local kids into the water down at the coast a few times but I didn’t for one second feel safe. I’ve seen some BIG lizards up here. 

We’ve had such an incredible time up here and we all feel really privileged to be living on the country of and with the Wunambal people. They have been such a welcoming mob to us. We’re really thankful of the relationships we’ve been able to forge whilst here. The kids are just awesome. Harvey and his mate Winston are virtually inseparable and go on daily fishing, hunting and exploring adventures, making cubbies in the bush to spy on kingfishers and falcons, spotting dancing brolgas, setting up traps for dingos, and just walking around this country (barefoot of course) and taking it and it’s stories in. Harvey has really grown during his time here and his passion for birds and wildlife is so infectious. We’ve been on quite a few camping and boating trips together down to the coast and I’ve really enjoyed watching his enthusiasm for nature and also fishing. Elsie is a bright little spark. She certainly gives us a run for our money. She is FIERCELY independent and as stubborn as a mule, and although she is the source of most of my stress, she has grown into a great little bush girl. There’s two girls Shianne and Shanita who are both similar to her in age and she for the most part gets along with them swimming, picking flowers and colouring in. She has got so much energy and she is a real little fish in the water. She is such a confident little thing too, who always takes her chances humbugging the staff at the camps to help her colour in books. She has got so much character too, when she reads her reading books to us at night time, Keryn and I are both captivated by the stories, such is her expression, grammar and comprehension. She really does know how to get what she wants which can be a blessing but I suspect may be a curse and cause me many more headaches one day. Little Byron isn’t so little anymore. With his 4th birthday due whilst we are in Africa, he is just in his element up here. His two best mates up here are 3 year old Kingsley and a 14 year old boy with cerebral palsy who can’t talk but is completely mobile and these three just run around or ride around on their bikes around the community all day!! We often see Byron sitting on a trolley, ordering Junior to pull him along down the rocky hills. He just keeps busy all day and has turned into such a strong little bugger, yet so caring too. He often surprises us with his understanding of what is happening around him and his ability to portray it. Byron can swim now although it really was a worry for us that he might get washed away down the creek when it was a raging torrent over the wet season. One of the best things which we have noticed about the kids is their lack of prejudice. Kids are just kids and that is such a beautiful thing to see. They just accept what’s around them with this blind innocence and get on with it which has been so refreshing for both of us. Last weekend we managed a trip up to Kalumburu to check it out but also fix one of the Wunambul Gamberra rangers cars (Yes I’m getting my hands pretty dirty these days). There is obviously a very high concentration of state housing within that community. It’s kind of the stereotypical community that you conjure up in your head, car wrecks everywhere, heaps of dogs cruising around etc. Yet our kids just walked along the street and sniffed out all the other kids there to play with, and took no notice of the dogs, or the stark difference in property appearance and life up there. It just didn’t matter to them. They just wanted to kick the footy with kids. And it helps that they kind of speak like this mob up here now too. One lady said her older daughter came running over to her and proclaimed, “Mum!! Have you heard these kids talk?? They talk just like Kalumburu mob here now!” And her reply was “Oh well it’s not our fault – it was that mob up on Mitchell that broke ‘em in!!”. We had some of the traditional owners take us right up to the old Pago mission where we spent the day fishing with them, an awesome experience and such beautiful coastline. Such hospitable people.

So anyway, we’re pretty sure we’ll finish the year and do another wet season up here. We’re over in South Africa for 6 weeks, which will give us a nice spell. And then we’ll finish the school year within the community and then move over as we did last year to caretake the Outback Safari camp. It’s just too good an opportunity to leave. We have a great job, so varied and rewarding in so many ways. It’s such amazing country and the experience for the kids and us too is just invaluable. We’ve had the chance to hunt for and sample local delicacies like dugong, turtle (Fresh and saltwater), goanna and emu. We’ve had snakes in the school, snakes in the house and snakes in the car! We’ve had the arrival of the dreaded cane-toad. We’ve learnt how to catch Barramundi and baitfish. We’ve been to corroboree’s and swam at cascades. We’ve seen rock art and rare birds. We’ve flown in choppers and cooked cherabin on the coals. We’ve felt the spirits of the lands on the wind. We are all learning so much. And also, we feel like we have started this educational journey with some of the kids in school and feel we owe it to them to take them a little bit further along on that journey. There is some classic people around the Kimberleys, all with several stories to tell. Really welcoming, salt-of-the-Earth, genuine characters and I must say that it’s just a complete pleasure to hang out with them. Of course we miss our friends and family back home, but gee whiz, the quality of some of the people up here is incredible. 

Aside from the people, it’s the environment and way of life that has really stuck it’s claws into us up here. It’s complete remote wilderness, one of raw beauty. It’s stark and scary, empty yet entertaining, powerful yet peaceful. It is BIG and it is OLD country. Prehistoric looking in many ways, where you expect a big T-Rex to come bursting out of the bushes at any moment. As it is, we’ve only seen frilled next lizards and crocodiles, but you sense that their distant ancestors certainly weren’t out of place here. It’s also so refreshing to be in an environment where image is not important and bureaucracy takes a back seat. Everything is so laid back and relaxed and just happens on Kimberly time, if at all. Once you step out of it, you realise what a fast paced and stressful life we live in the Western first world, often not stopping to smell the roses. So it’s kind of nice to be out of that bubble for a while. And that’s why we’d like to stick around. 

If you can brave the ridiculously rocky and rugged roads, we encourage you to come and visit. Bring 2 x spare tyres.

And that’s about it…

The North


Firstly, we have two apologies to make. The first is how long it’s taken to give an update. We keep getting reminded that it’s been months. But believe it or not, we’re not sitting round twiddling our thumbs all day. Travelling with three kids in the car, feeding, schooling, sleeping, sightseeing and yelling takes up a fair portion of the day and by the time the little buggers are in bed the last thing we feel like doing is writing about all the yelling experiences from the day.

Secondly, we know it’s been a wet and cold winter down South and we are trying our hardest to not make it sound like a brag. So we apologise if it does, it’s not intended. Given – the weather is good, the water cool, the fish fresh and the beers cold, however travelling with three kids in the car, feeding, schooling, sleeping, sightseeing and yelling does have it’s moments and it’s not always an easy day, however there are some good moments along the way so if you feel you can read about some of them without imagining that it’s paradise every day, please read on.

From Exmouth we headed into Ningaloo Station on the newly graded road (Yyesss!). We had 10 magnificent days on the beach here. It really felt like we had a break. Fishing, diving, squidding, walking, kayaking, swimming. We saw sooo many turtles, a few sharks, cod etc. We Met Nat & Morgs from Cowaramup with Abbey and Jai who we had a great hang with. Harvey caught some fish – he claimed the mackerel, our biggest fish. Al wrangled with a giant ornate cray – was a beauty, we got some tasty squid. Kez managed to put a hook through her finger – luckily there was a nurse camping nearby! Al had a close encounter with a couple of reef sharks and an estuary cod the size of a 44 gallon drum after spearing a trevally near the reef but luckily got it into the boat without losing an arm.

The day we left Ningaloo Station, the wind started howling. We were headed for Waroora but we were glad to change plans, be off the beach and in the comforts of a Coral Bay apartment where we cleaned up & had a meal out. The forecast didn’t look good with rain and wind predicted for the next 5 days so after much deliberation we decided to head inland, away from the coast. We were sad to miss Waroora and move away from the coast but excited about the next leg of our adventure. Karijini and the Pilbara.

Karijini exceeded our expectations. Every day was a new gorge, breathtaking scenery, challenging climbs, swimming in fresh cold pools and adventure! And we were there doing it with our 3 kids. Some thought we were mad taking our kids through some of the more difficult gorges especially bare feet but they were little troopers & were awesome and seemed to clasp onto the rocks with their toenails. They had an absolute ball. We got to hang out with Dan and Emjay, friends from Margs, with guitars and wine and we just thoroughly enjoyed the whole Karijini experience. We checked into Tom Price for a night or two to wash out some of the red dirt and then we carried on through the Pilbara to Millstream Chichester National Park, to get some more of the red dirt. It was an amazing little oasis in the middle of dry and barren land and we had a great walk around and a swim in the Fortescue River. We have to say, that the Pilbara blew our mind. Maybe it was because we had average expectations but we just loved the scenery, even the drive from the coast to Nanutarra was breathtaking, though you won’t find it on any tourist itinerary suggestions. And to think that we had considered missing Karratha and Port Hedland.

We checked into a mates yard at Wickham which was an experience in itself, we were treated like royals being able to have hot showers in the dongers, and even given a fresh feed of fish from the mangroves. We based ourselves here for the best part of a week while we sorted out some maintenance issues with the van (snapped shocky mount), and did a service on the ute. It was also a great place to go from to check out all that’s around Karratha, which is a lot. Point Samson, Cossack, Dampier, Roebourne and the amazing North west gas shelf project, and just a couple of bits of rock art out on the Burrup Pensinsula (only around a lazy 500 000 or so), some of the oldest images of human faces in the world, and its not even signposted! Karratha Tourism Board needs to pull their finger out, it’s almost like the town has other ways of making money or something. We just had a fabulous time there and reckon it’s pretty bloody underrated. Kids at this point were learning heaps, from wildlife and nature and geological formations, to industry and our cultural history, beats sitting at a desk they reckon. Harvey may not have the most legible handwriting in the world, but he can identify any W.A fish species in seconds, and then reel off edibility, size and bag limits to boot!! What more does a young boy need to learn? The last thing we did as we left Karratha was have a day out at the Roebourne races which was a lesson for all of us, not to wear white!! An awesome day out, didn’t pick a nag all day, but still had fun. We cruised further North stopping in for a meal and a sleepover at Whim Creek, a beaut little outback pub, where you will find the BEST sausage rolls EVER. Seriously. But they are $10 each!

Next stop Port Hedland where we were so engrossed in the port that we didn’t notice Byron leave the playground near the harbour & run out onto the road. Luckily someone brought him back. Parent of the year award! We had a good catch up & lunch with Adam Roos then on to a magic little free camping spot called Doolena Gorge on the outskirts of Marble Bar. We couldn’t help but stay an extra night at this beautiful spot & we explored the rocks at Marble Bar from here. Onwards & upwards to Pardoo Station – we did our first river crossing at Mullyies crossing on the DeGrey. We all had a swim & found some beautiful rocks. We have since found out it has big beautiful crocs as well. From here on in we had to be on lizard watch. (The big snappy ones).

Into the Kimberleys we headed. We had big expectations of fishing at our next stop, Pardoo Station but unfortunately the weather & the tides weren’t quite conducive so the giant thread-fin salmon will live another day. We cleaned up, spent time in the pool & on the mud flats. Al caught our first mud crab, on a fishing line which snapped (Al’s always looking for an excuse to buy a new fishing rod) & we also hung out with our new friends Joel, Tara, Marley & Lenny who are roughly on the same route as us (or were). From Pardoo we high tailed it into Broome, we couldn’t wait to spend time with one of our best mates Nutty and his awesome mob Nic and Evie. It was great to get back to civilisation and good coffee!!! Good Cartel is the place, if your wondering. We had an unreal time with these awesome humans, even treated to our own wing of the house and a pool to boot, only a stubbies throw from cable beach! Nutty took us down to Ridell beach and we scored a few octopus for lunch followed by a Saints win vs Dockers at the RSL. One of the better days on tour for Al.

From there we headed to Middle Lagoon, up the Dampier peninsula and it is here we would base ourselves for the next two weeks. Such a great spot, awesome swimming and fishing, and met some fantastic crew. Al took Joel & Tara & boys on one of “Al’s Aussie Adventure and Angling Tours” to Beagle Bay to check out the unique pearl shells decorating their church. We had a bit of fun 4WDing to get there & were thankful when both cars finally managed to cross the saltwater creek! (Maybe shouldn’t rely wholly on GPS Navigators for information next time). Al and Joel had a very special day out on the boat which saw Joel ice pick 6 cans of beer at 9:30 in the morning (honest girls we didn’t drink them) and then proceeded to squeal like a little girl as he pulled the mother of all estuary cod into the boat. We certainly got our fair share of fish, as did the sharks. As Al had booked a week in hunting and fishing along the South side of the Fitzroy River with a mate, it was decided that Kez would stay at Middle Lagoon for the week with the kids on her own (yes, she’s owed a massage or two and some flowers [still waiting Al]). Al survived the week hunting – just. Walked a lot of miles in search of pigs and barra, and got a really good look at some amazing country, through billabongs and lagoons and tributaries leading into and around the mighty Fitzroy river and saw some cool birds and wildlife and met some lovely local people and just started to let the Kimberley dust slowly seep into the pores and work its way into the blood. Kez survived Middle Lagoon on her own with the kids – just. Gastro going through the camp wasn’t really ideal (did I mention the massage and flowers? [still waiting]. Byron had his 3rd Birthday at Middle Lagoon & the Nutt’s who had a few days at Middle Lagoon helped us sing happy birthday & eat the cake! Linda & Ross Warburton camped a night with us & we had a great catch up. We made many visits to Whale Song cafe down the road for their famous mango smoothies & coffee! What a treat in the middle of nowhere!

Al made it back in one piece and reconnected with our mob in Broome where we had lunch at Matso’s with the Dunnet clan who were on a cruise ship & in Broome for the day. After a massive pack up at Middle Lagoon it was up to Kooljaman at Cape Leveque for a few relaxing days before the Eastmans came to Broome town. Kooljaman was stunning, the beaches and scenery was captivating, as was the 2.5m brown snake Elsie spotted in the shower, and the python that lived in our room!!!!!! But snakes aside, it was a great few days made even greaterer by hanging out with Dave Mann and Bec Schofield and clan who were the resident musicians up there for the month after releasing their new album. It was such good timing, they even had an open mike night whilst we were there so Al got up and had a jam with Dave which they’ve been meaning to do for about 10 years. All in all, we loved our time at the top of the peninsula, even squeezing in a pearl farm tour at Cygnet Bay (how Al managed to escape without buying anything “pearlish” for Kez is a modern mystery (remember that gastro???)!

Well the next week was one for the ages. Good people and good times. Broome is such a great town but when you throw in some of our oldest friends plus some good weather, it’s a great recipe. The clans are growing bigger these days and our catch ups may not be as regular or relaxing but it was fantastic to watch the next generation interact and they quite simply all had a ball together. We are so grateful for the hospitality of Nutty and Nic, we realise that during the dry season they have hardly had a night free of guests but they just embraced it and us and we cherished the time we spent with them and the Eastmans. We fitted in a fishing and crabbing boat trip, Gantheume point sunset beers and barbecue, countery at the mangrove, and a camping trip to Barred creek but most of all just some quality time with good friends. For us it felt like a real holiday, sometimes on the road it feels like you don’t get much time to relax believe it or not, so to let the hair down was a blessing for us all.

It’s probably about this point that we should mention that the Kimberley bugs were starting to bite. No, not the sand flies or mozzies thought there have been a couple. We could just start to feel ourselves becoming at ease with the way we were feeling up here, enjoying the company and lifestyle of the people who live here, and that perhaps it could be a place we might like to spend a little more time. So, it was timely that whilst we were in Broome we received word of a job opportunity out in the middle of the Gibb River road. A job opportunity at one of the most remote tyre and mechanical shops in the country. So we took it!! And what a good decision it’s been. We’ve fallen in love with Nev and Leonie and Mira and their mob, and the country in which they live and work. We have been welcomed in so warmly by the whole community up here, including the Joe Blakes. So, the travelling has been put on hold. The kids have been attending Wananami Remote Community School, near Mount Barnett, for the past two months and Al has been getting his hands dirty. We’ve been so proud of the way the kids have embraced their new school, including being barefooted most of the time. Being here has given us the opportunity to travel around this part of the Kimberleys (including a trip to Mornington with Cleo Chris and kids and the Nutts, Mitchell Falls and all the local gorges) and has also given us enough of a taste of the Kimberley life, to inspire us to make a pretty significant decision to stick around for the foreseeable future.

We are currently in the process of getting our stuff organised for a wet season on the Mitchell Plateau. We have taken a job tutoring kids doing School of the Air, from a tiny little community, close to Mitchell Falls, called Kandiwal, in Wunambal country. The job starts this coming term (next week) and extends until at least second semester next year. Over the school holiday part of the wet season we will also be caretaking at a tourist lodge on the edge of the community. By all accounts, the wet will be a unique experience on the plateau, and that’s exactly why we signed up. We will be locked into the area for approximately 6 months, depending on how much rain falls. Food comes in once a week via mail plane, however the locals are pretty good at collecting fishing and hunting for their own food (and hopefully ours). We’re really excited to have the opportunity to work so closely with a community such as Kandiwal (Check it out on the map), and to be able to give our kids the experience of growing up with some of the children from this special place. Our kids will do School of the Air with the community kids, and we will both facilitate the School of the Air learning, as well as make use of some funding available for a programme to teach the older kids basic mechanical skills. We will live within the community in a very cosy one bedroom donga (it has air con), which will hopefully feel bigger than our caravan. We are all really excited, but recognise it will be a challenge, and as such are trying to go in with eyes as open as possible. The tutoring itself will be something new and out of our comfort zone, we could come down with some weird tropical mosquito borne virus, and the weather and humidity could break us, but we are prepared to give it a go!!!!

So there you go!!!! Blog number 3 and the trip is on hold!!! It does feel a bit strange unpacking the caravan in order to move into some kind of semi-permanent accomodation. We certainly are enjoying the freedom and flexibility of being able to make these decisions so spur of the moment, and that’s why we just feel we should go with it, especially with the kids at the ages they are, as we realise that these opportunities may not always be possible. We have just thought to ourselves, bugger it!!! let’s just put ourselves out there!!! Although we hadn’t planned on working, by doing so, we can hopefully extend our trip around the country, but also experience unique adventures at the same time and give our kids and ourselves a better understanding of this land in which we live. So, now you know where we’ll be, come on up and say g’day sometime. It’s pretty amazing country up here, and they have an all weather air strip, so there’s no excuses.

One more thing – Since we have been away, there has been losses of friends and loved ones, including our wonderful dog Chevy. Chev was a constant in our life before we had kids, it was heartbreaking not being able to take her with us. We’ll miss her. Loss of life is a reminder that life is precious… and short. We are trying to live with that in mind at the moment. Kids grow up fast, and our own lives are ticking along. Love the ones around you, use your time wisely, and live each day like it’s your last, because you never know what’s around the corner.

Almost week five and still alive!!!

Almost week five and still alive!! Well we’re off to a flyer. Settled in nicely to on the road living. But it hasn’t all been beer and sunsets for all of those that post how jealous they are (although we’ve had our fair share). It certainly took all of us a while to find our feet. It can be pretty hard on the kids and consequently… us. Having to shift every few days, it’s hard to find routine which the kids, and us, crave. Nevertheless we know how lucky we are, and are dealing with it and making the most of it. I have lost my cool once or twice, usually only every ten minutes or so, but I’m trying to teach myself a few lessons in patience and tolerance, headphones and loud music work really well.

We eased ourselves into it with a really nice transition from staying with family on the farm to one night in Windy Harbour on our way to spending a few nights with great friends Trish and Byrnesy at their block in Denmark. We all camped together which was a great way to start to settle into life in a camper van but with the relative comfort of being around people who we know and love hanging out with. It was a great few days, lots of walking and swimming, wine and enjoying life. Briefly caught up with Mez and Blair at Greens Pool, who are also on a similar journey. Hopefully we’ll see more of them!

With rain on the way we decided to pack up and head to the comfort of Jen and Clarke’s house in Mount Barker. A good decision it was too, as an inch of rain fell that very night. Nothing’s like waking up in the morning on the break of the season to seeing a farmer doing a jig in the kitchen before a big cooked breakfast. We spent some great time with these guys, the kids in particular enjoying the room full of new toys (they’d only been away from theirs for not even a week).

Onward ho, and it was off to Jakes house in Many Peaks. Another chance to sleep indoors and another good decision to do so. The washing had already built up so we made use of Jakes hospitality and at the same time he took us to some of the amazing beaches the Great Southern has to offer, all right on his doorstep. Indulged in some tantalising fresh feeds of abalone and herring and the kids had a ball checking cows for new calves on his farm.

From there we kept heading East and found ourselves at Masons Bay near Hopetoun. An awesome little campsite right on the beach under the tea trees, where Harvey cast and caught his very first fish. Who needs school right? Teach a man to fish. We actually did get a bit of on road education in which Elsie enjoyed and Harvey resisted. Hard wired I reckon.

We got the chance to spend a few days with Dad at Esperance staying at Granny McIlroys house which was a little weird since she passed away late last year, however it was great to reminisce on my own childhood memories spent at the house, and to be able to share them with my own kids.

On some of the rougher roads of the flood affected shire of Ravensthorpe, we had managed to lose a 6 inch pipe off the back of the van containing all our awning and camper poles (we did manage to go back and find them) so we he had a few maintenance jobs to carry out whilst in Esperance. Once all the jobs were done, the weather looked pretty good going forward so we decided to head out East of Esperance to Cape Le Grand for a few days which was absolutely magic and justified our decision of heading along the south coast during Autumn. The weather was superb with warm daytime temperatures and barely any wind and we got lots of walking, beach and fishing action in over the few days, along with a bit of homework (boring!) and met some cool people in a nice location. The beaches in that part of the world are still some of the best, the white sand and turquoise blue of the water unrivalled in my mind.

Got ourselves a bit of a history and culture fix in the Goldfields, mainly Kalgoorlie which neither of us had been to since we were kids, and did all the usual tourist stuff, which is so fascinating we all thought. The gold rush certainly was an interesting era. Caught up with some friends and family there and headed North to Niagara Dam for a couple of nights where we thought it wise to give the kids an education in how to cope with flies in the bush. Elsie failed that exam miserably!!! Massive dummy spit. Nothing that a swim and a feed of yabbies couldn’t fix. Wandered around looking for bits of stray gold and trying to lose the kids down a mineshaft but they all stayed close so on we went through to Sandstone for the night and a rare treat, thought we’d venture out to the local, since we hadn’t eaten out much since we left. Wowee, what a funny little pub!! Upon entering the front bar, full of bar flies, I could feel a dozen sets of eyes stare me down as I sidled up to the bar casually to enquire what they had on tap (I was dying for a nice cold pint). “There’s water on tap if you want some mate” someone yells from along the bar, to a roar of laughter from the yokels. Anyway, a can of Emu Export from the ice it was then (which I am partial to I might add).

Stopped for lunch & supplies at Mt Magnet where the kids found a flying fox to keep them busy, then on to the famous Wooleen Station where we camped on the banks of the Murchison River for a few days. It was great to be able to properly set up camp for a few days & we realised how hard it had been the past week with only one or two night stop overs. Also hard to get any schooling done. BUT we had bigger problems. The kilometres & kilometres of corrugated roads on the way to Wooleen seemed to shake things up a bit & we lost most of our water on the way there, Al managed a temporary fix & saved enough water to get us by.

Next stop (after more corrugated roads) Carrarang Station. We couldn’t resist heading back to this special place. It was a bit of a testing day however with more water leaks, kids on a long trip in the car & no confirmed booking at Carrarang (we had been trying to contact station owners to book in without any luck & had been out of range at Wooleen). We arrived just on dark, couldn’t find anyone to speak with & decided we would have to find a place, set up camp then find someone in the morning. So we drove (16kms) up the coast of the station & every designated area was FULL. Oh no. 3 tired hungry kids. The last camp spot & the one we had already earmarked, was empty – wow! We were ecstatic, our luck had changed in an instant. So out we get to set up camp (we were feeling very thankful for kids Electronic equipment at this point). And our luck changed in an instant again. A snapped cable on the Jayco, actually the worst of the 4 you can snap, got snapped. Whoops. You can ask Kez about that one. It was enough to break Als pledge of one alcohol free day per week. What were we to do? It was dark. We were 200km of corrugated roads away from anywhere with 3 tired hungry kids. Improvise is what we did & managed to prop up one corner. Phew. Let’s sort it out tomorrow. Or…go fishing, fishing, kayaking, swimming, snorkelling…bliss. Did we mention we love this place!!

Next stop Carnarvon for a 1 night stop over – sunset walk on the mile long jetty to burn off some energy after a day in the car. Pizza. Luxury 2 bedroom donga – woohoo! & pancakes with the rest of the park in the camp kitchen for breakfast – what a treat.

After a chance meeting, we had a magnificent lunch with Squid in Coral Bay on our way north.

We now find ourselves in Exmouth. In a HOUSE. With bedrooms, separate rooms from the kids,  running hot water, a washing machine!! Loving it. But alas, our home on wheels is at the doctor getting repaired. I think we’re going over our budget this week! So it has given us some time to recharge the batteries, clean out the ute of desert dust, wash the campfire smoke from our clothes & hair, put the thermomix into action to stock the freezer with pre cooked meals, and take stock & plan for our next month.

Which is, Osprey (Cape Range) for a week (we’ve just completed that bit – took us a while between writing blog and posting blog) then Ningaloo Station for 10 days, Warroora for a week, then Karijini bound. We’re really looking forward to this month – getting the kids snorkelling & experiencing this special place will be rewarding. We’re slowly beginning to get into a groove & of late have really noticed the kids starting to grow & settle into life on the road.

A few fun facts;

– a small Peters bucket of ice cream costs $3 from Overlander Road Station.

– a machine/instant coffee at Murchison Settlement costs $6 each. And is crap.

– fuel is our main cost to date.

– termites live for 3-4 years, however the queen can live for 30 years.

– have you heard of a Happy Moment? It’s  a fish that can give a very painful spike from its fins.

– corrugations break things.

– Wychinnicup is a hidden gem on the south coast.

– Hellfire Bay, Cape Le Grand, is so named from a spontaneous fire that sometimes occurs above a ships mast.

– Kalgoorlies population went from 50,000 in 1890 to 184 000 by 1901.

– CAT Dump Trucks are worth $4.5M each.

– There are currently 4 feral camels on Wooleen Station.

– DONT try to wind up a Jayco camper with one of the clasps still attached. 😬😬😬.
We’re sorry about the lack of updates, however we spend 95% of our time out of reception. If you need us, leave a message and we’ll get back to you when we can.

Signing off, The Macs

Finally hitting the road…

Well, here it is. The first entry. It was a ridiculous fortnight lead up to the day of departure. Where do you start?? Renting our house out for a year, decking out our modes of transport and tightly trying to cram it in like the most intense game of Tetris you’ve ever played, packing up our lifelong acquisitions and treasured belongings, compartmentalising them into seemingly trivial piles – “to throw away”, “to take with us”, “to keep in the sea container” or “to take to the Lions shed”, then there was redirecting mail, finalising bills, selling cars and most of all saying goodbyes.

It was an arduous task. Made easier we have to say, by having the kids take a week of school holidays down to the farm in the Scott River. That and the generous help from our neighbour Josie and the “get it done” attitude from Mum and Dad. I reckon we both would still be standing there scratching our heads if it wasn’t for the enormous assistance from these list crossing angels. Even still, we had our work cut out for us and by the time the day finally arrived, we were well and truly buggered before the trip had even begun.

One of the saddest tasks we had to do was saying goodbye to our beloved dog Chevy, whom we sensed knew of the impending departure without her, but as she always does, took it in her stride and we took great comfort in the fact she will be loved whilst we are away by the O’connors (thanks guys). Nevertheless it was sad, but all part of the plan.

A plan to take a trip around Australia. To do the big lap. A scout around the big back paddock. With a Hilux, a Jayco, a tinny and three kids in tow. Could we survive, or would we turn around after a week or two and come back. It remains to be seen. But what we do know is that it was a hell of a ride for us to get here, much heartache and toil, and we’re really not sure where the road takes us to from this point. But adversity has taught us that we are pretty solid as a family unit, we’ve got a few pennies in the bank, kids at a good age, and an opportunity in front of us which we have decided to grab. We’re scared, excited, nervous and in awe of the challenges before us. Can we successfully school three children on the road, and at the same time combat budget strain, vehicle fatigue, incessant noise assaulting our ears plus the day to day pains of finding accommodation, cooking food, avoiding idiots on the road and the like. It really is quite strange to get our head around, but it feels like the right thing in our hearts to do. 

So we decided to create this blog, firstly for us to look back on as a diary of sorts, to reminisce about in future times. And secondly to let our family and friends know where we are and what we are up to, just in the hope that our paths may cross and that we may have the chance to combine our journeys around this amazing land of ours.