Friday, May 20, 2011

Western Oz – finally – part 1

In the past month we have driven through all 7 mainland states and territories. We started out leaving Queensland, and then travelled slowly down the NSW Coast to Batemans Bay, then inland to Canberra and the ACT. We spent Easter with good friends at their block near Adaminaby and also spent ANZAC Day in Canberra, at the War Memorial.

We followed the Murray river along through Albury, Echuca and ended up in Mildura for a few days, helping out some new friends. Then a quick sojourn through SA via Renmark and Burra to Coober Pedy. Our path took us north into the NT and a visit to Kings Canyon, Alice Springs and finished in Mataranka where we did some electrical work at Cave Creek, then Vermelha station near Larrimah, and last but not least Hidden Valley, near Dunmarra.

From Hidden Valley we drove west into Top Springs, then we turned north towards the Victoria Highway, but blew a tyre on the bitumen. After working away with the hydraulic jack, it was decided we need a new one for any future problems. P5196310Finally, we headed west to Kununurra. As we drove into Victoria River, the dry season was well under way, with the annual burn off happening in many places. Because we were running late, and driving just after dark (an unusual event for us), we feasted on the visual splendour as many hills around us were lit up with lines of fire, and a smoky sunset thrown in for good measure. For the first time in 18 months, we have set foot in WA. We are all very excited to be here, and we quickly headed south to Halls Creek to meet the MMM team working there. Along the Great Northern Road we saw lots of Boab trees from small specimens to massive circular bulbs that look like they hold enough water to last many years.QLD to WA May 2011

Over the next 5 weeks we spent time in three remote aboriginal communities, visited amazing natural wonders, and thoroughly enjoyed spending time with old and new MMM friends. Some of the highlights included:

1. The Tanami track – we spent 1 week in an aboriginal community called Billiluna, which is the starting point for the Canning Stock Route. On the edge of the Tanami desert, Billiluna is 180km down the Tanami Desert Road, and the people here are very happy and friendly. Our job was to refurbish an old workshop/garage into a building suitable for church functions and services. The MMM team removed the rotten wooden rafters and replaced them with steel. Then a layer of insulation before replacing the roof. At one end of the building a small accommodation unit was built for visiting pastors. A few other items were tidied up and finished off. Finally we came along and installed lights and fans throughout to make the building more usable and comfortable.

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What surprised me was the drive into Billiluna. I expected the Tanami Road to pass through desert country, flat and desolate. Instead we drove through several completely different landscapes. The road was in reasonably good condition with a few corrugations and passed through fields of green waving grass, rocky outcrops with jagged edges running along the top, and bare bright green hills with termite mounds resembling loose teeth scattered all over them. The amount of water to be found here is amazing, every creek and waterhole is brimming with cool, clear water inviting us to partake of some refreshment.

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My second surprise was the children. Travelling with 4 children, we always manage to attract more in each campsite we visit, but in Billiluna we were literally swamped with kids. Everyone wanted to meet the new kids, especially since we stayed around for a few days, and word got out. Most tourists are either travelling the Tanami or Canning SR, so they don’t stay around for very long. But a WHOLE WEEK to play with other kids; we were more popular than lollies at a 10 year olds birthday party.

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About 40km short of Billiluna is the entrance to Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, so it’s close enough for a quick visit, while we’re in the area. Wolfe Creek is the second largest meteorite crater in the world at almost 1km across. From the carpark, you simply walk up the hill and stand on the rim to view this amazing sight. A quick glance at the surrounding landscape reveals a very flat and featureless land with a few hills way off in the distance. But right here in the middle of this flat dinner plate is a perfectly round ring of hills as evidence of something very large hitting the earth very fast. Awesome sight!

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2. Yiyili – pronounced ‘Yearly’ - is an aboriginal community 5km off the highway between Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. Anyone who has travelled this way, may have seen the sign for the Laarri Gallery, which was set up by the local school for local artists to sell their wares. As we are not allowed to take photographs, you will have to visit for yourself to verify that these people can produce some incredible quality artwork.

The MMM job at Yiyili was to refurbish the old church building and double its size, as well as adding a storeroom and undercover outdoor area. We installed insulation in the roof to keep the temperature down a bit, and built a roof over the front entrance to make the building more welcoming. Lights and fans throughout make the church more comfortable and just before the team left, they made a pulpit for the pastor. He had never had a pulpit, and his reaction was more joyful than for having his entire church rebuilt.

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David (the pastor) took us on a 4WD expedition to show us Giligwah Gorge, an excellent swimming hole known only to the locals. We crossed the Margaret River, which is obviously enormous in the wet season, with some difficulty. Rosa has decided to sit in the front seat, between Daniel (driving) and Karen. As we were driving through sand, momentum is everything! Daniel selected third gear and everything was going well, until we came to a slight rise, which slowed us down. A quick gear change was in order. On the way through from third to second, Rosas’ knee was in the way and we missed the gear change. Frantically changing back to first, and hoping that the tyres would grab something! we managed to keep moving slowly forward and avoided getting bogged, but it was a close call. Rosa has been instructed to keep her knees away from the gear stick in future.

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3. Halls Creek. An unexpected place, because we thought it was going to be rough and tough. And it wasn’t. 12 years ago, the locals brought in alcohol restrictions for the entire town, and the difference it has made is nothing short of astounding. Most tourists use Halls Creek as an overnight stop between Kununurra and Derby, or to refuel their vehicle and refrigerator. But in their haste to continue their journey, they miss the best parts along the way.

We had several MMM jobs happening at once in Halls Creek. Building a new house for the AOG Chuch bible college, building a new kitchen and carport for the Peoples Church, as well as many smaller and much needed maintenance jobs. This was the main base for all the MMM jobs occurring in the district and a great place to get to know the team. Because of Daniels electrical skills, he was required on all sites and jobs and as a result, we managed to spend some time with everyone. It’s a great way to make new friends, and spend some time with friends we met last year, on other projects.

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We managed to investigate the area around Halls Creek and discovered a few hidden gems……

See part two…..

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