Mayıs 29, 2021

Wet at the Top End Ch. 01

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If you have never been to the top end of Australia, unless you have to be there, or need good pay – don’t go.

It is hot and humid, the undergrowth is full of slithery things that bite to kill. You can’t swim in the rivers; the biting things there grow 16 feet long, swim underwater and eat you. They are the ‘salties’, sea going crocodiles and they are protected by law. Obviously humans aren’t covered by the same law so quite a few go missing, often unnoticed for months or years in this untamed, wild and sparsely populated part of the country.

The sea is full of man eating sharks, little box jelly fish that sting you to death and stingrays.

And there are the flies. Not just a few, not just a few hundred but thousands upon thousands that only want to drink your sweat. But the fishing is good. Not far away they catch the mammoth tiger prawns which go well on a barbecue and also make excellent bait. As they say up here “You have to be desperate to live here, mad to choose to, and crazy when they take you out of here.”

So here I was in Weipa, at the top end of Cape York peninsular. A small community of about 800 people, of whom only a few hundred were female, and all because of a red earth called bauxite. The bulk of the population are single males working on the diggings 12 miles away; carrying the bauxite in 40 ton specially made carrier trucks to the port and loading it onto ships. There are a few full time residents involved in the hotel, some shops and auxiliary services. Then there are the bush pilots who come and go regularly.

Weipa is one of the largest open cast mining centres of bauxite mining in the Southern Hemisphere. They ship the earth directly to Bluff at the southernmost point of New Zealand where a massive refinery converts it to aluminium (or alumina if you live in the USA). And what on earth was I doing here?

I was doing the monthly stock-take of the liquor supply, and gearing the staff for conversion to computer control from head office. It had taken me all day to fly the 2000 miles from Brisbane, after a 40 minute drive from Surfers Paradise to the airport. It was my job as Marketing cartons of spirits and bottled beer — the famous ‘stubby’. Oh yes and of course some fine wines and carbonated soft drinks. Over $250,000 in value per trip.

Amazingly from over 30,000 items on the stock sheet the only thing unaccounted for was a single bottle of Johnny Walkers Red label whisky. Until Anton remembered they had some V.I.P’s from the mining corporation that Frank had entertained in his private suite, and they drank whisky. Problem solved — 1 bottle Johnny Walker written off under ‘Entertaining V.I.P’s.’

This area also has heavy rains, heavy enough to prevent the Friendship turboprop aircraft from landing. Owned by the mine, they were the only way in or out — there was no road. And so dutifully the rainy season began and it poured for 4 days.

I had been due to fly out tomorrow back to Cairns (a 3 hour flight) but now I was stuck in the hotel. Because when the ‘Wet’ arrived it could rain for weeks and everything became flooded — including the runway.

I was largely left to my own devices because the Management staff have plenty to do, and don’t need a Head Office fellow hanging around them all day.

There wasn’t really much you could do in a place like this with the rain thundering down, temperature outside in the high 90’s but a comparatively cool 72 inside, courtesy of air conditioning. So I decided to do a wander around the non public areas of the hotel. My position in the company allows me to go anywhere (except maybe the ladies’ toilets) and it wasn’t long before Anton saw me wandering around.

He approached and said “Mr Higginbottom, can I be of any assistance?” I explained I was just trying to pass time by exploring the ‘pub’.

“Aaah qui, it can be so boring on these types of days.” ” Perhaps the weather will fine up and then you can go fishing.”

“Let’s hope so Anton otherwise it is going to be more than a bit boring for 4 days.”

“Perhaps Mademoiselle Harris should join you; she too is not sure how to pass the time.” he said.

“And who is this Harris person — I haven’t seen anyone else in this place except me.”

“She is something to do with medical supplies who came in by bush pilot just this morning from Groote Island missionary station. She will be waiting for connection to Cairns just like you. Perhaps you might meet her in the Lounge bar before lunch.”

I thanked him for his advice then wandered in to the kitchen. I had met the chef Dave on my last trip. He wasn’t much older than I was, about late 30’s but his Dad also worked in the kitchen. There is (or was) a fabulous Australian artist called Joliffe, whose cartoons depicting two outback Aussie farmers were legend. They were also called Dad and Dave casino siteleri and this real life couple could have been the models for the cartoons.

Dad in particular with his beer gut hanging over a dilapidated pair of khaki shorts; skinny bowed legs; a black singlet that just rested at the top of his gut, and a semi bald head of flyaway ginger hair. There were also millions of freckles all over him — on the other hand they could have been fly droppings. About 70 years old he had a gentle manner and a heart of gold.

“Gidday Jimmy,” he chortled as I wandered in,” heard you were back to bother us. Pity ’bout the weather ‘cos the sea trout been running for weeks.”

“Gidday yourself Dad.” “What delights are you two drumming up for lunch?”

“Well knowing there aren’t many in the house,” said Dave, wiping his hands on his apron as he approached, ” wondered if you might be interested in a mud crab for lunch. One of the abbo’s brought in a pile in exchange for some grog.”

I laughed and said “That was convenient seeing as how we have just finished stock-take.”

“Nah.” said Dave. “We have an allocation for cooking with, as you know, but it doesn’t all get used so we use left over half bottles to trade with aboriginal’s for all sorts of specialities — some you don’t even want to hear about. For example there is also buffalo steak on for lunch if you prefer. We are told the abbo’s found one bogged in mud so it ends up here.”

“Tell the bosses back at head office it also cuts down on provisioning costs” he added with a laugh.

“Thanks I’ll stay with the ‘muddy,’ see you in about ½ an hour” I said as I made my way out to the Lounge Bar. It had an air conditioned non- smoking area but with access to a patio area surrounded by gauze to keep out flies and other insects. Needing a smoke, I wandered up to the bar and got a handle of beer then went out onto the patio area.

Over in a corner, reading a book was a female. The book was held at face level so I couldn’t see it. However the upper half of the body looked great. Bare shoulders, holding up a couple of straps from a loose fitting dress. The straps were pushed out to quite a nice angle as they reached the bosom. The legs were very shapely too and nicely tanned.

She heard the doors swing shut behind me, lowered the book to see who had entered, then put the book back up as if nothing abnormal had happened. I wandered over to the other side, lit up a smoke and idly glanced through an old ‘London Illustrated’ that had probably been there since the War.

Dave came in about 10 minutes later to announce that lunch was almost ready. We both got up together and being 6 foot 3 inches, I was surprised to see she was close to 6 foot in height. She was also quite attractive with long black hair. Her reading glasses framed a pair of brown eyes and her face was definitely part Polynesian. She was also quite young so I was intrigued to find out what kind of medical provisions she was involved in.

Dave had set up a table in one corner and invited us to share it.

“Makes it a bit easier for serving up if you don’t mind Miss.” “I don’t mind at all,” I said, “but perhaps we should be properly introduced.”

Dave said “Miss Rebecca Harris, meet Jimmy Higginbottom.” She nodded and I smiled, then pulled out a chair for her. I waited as she sat so as to push it in towards the table, but I also was trying to sneak a look down the front of her loose dress front. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

She had decided on a salad whilst I had the mud crab, which as always, was delicious in melted butter. There wasn’t a lot of conversation in between the eating, but I did discover she worked for a Family Planning outfit and had some basic First Aid knowledge as well. She had been on Groote Eylandt (it’s original Dutch name) some 500 miles away to the west. Evidently there were some sectors of indigenous tribes who were multiplying with gusto but there were worrying tribal groups where births had almost ceased entirely.

She had been on a fact finding mission when tribal elders in one group became aggressive, advising here to leave “before harm comes to you”, so she had radioed for a bush pilot to collect her and just made it here before the rain began.

I asked her “So what is your next move?”

“I will have to go back as soon as I can so that this tribe doesn’t set the others against me, and undo all the work we have achieved so far.” said Rebecca.

“Well if I can help in any way don’t hesitate to give me a yell.” I said.” I will either become stir crazy or perpetually drunk if I am left alone for 4 days.”

Her look softened and she said slowly and softly, “Thanks I might have to take you up on that, if only to prevent you getting drunk, but are you free to go to the Island?”

“According to reports all canlı casino mining aircraft are grounded in Cairns for at least another 4 more days, when I spoke to my office. When I asked if there was anything I should be doing they just laughed and advised me to keep my powder dry” “So I am in a sense a free agent, plus I do speak a bit of pidgin and understand abbo sign language. I have hunted in that area before some years ago.”

“That would extremely helpful where I am going. Although mainly fish eaters I was wondering if meat protein might be part of the dietary problem amongst the males.”

“Why only the males. ” I almost choked.

“Because I figure their sperm count is down through lack of iron and protein and that could account for the lower birth rate.” she answered.

“Isn’t it always the male’s fault?” I jokingly asked, trying to hide my surprise at such a forthcoming observation.

“Depends on the type of physique, lifestyle, diet and exercise they get. Yours is probably way down despite your physique because of probable diet and lack of exercise.” she retorted.

Thanks very much I thought.

We decided to grab some 40 winks while the rain thundered down and retired to our respective rooms — opposite each other on the corridor.

An exceptionally large crack of thunder woke me up about 4:00pm and despite the air conditioning I was sweating so I had a cold shower.

Feeling marginally refreshed I wandered into Frank’s office and joined him in a rum and coke. I told him about my lunch time conversation with Ms Harris and he looked at me quite gravely.

“It is only because she is a female and not European that she is able to visit so many of the tribes, and because of her ethnic background they view her like a cousin. I am not so sure you would be quite as welcome trampling in there with your size 12 feet.

“Well I haven’t exactly been asked yet”. I said. “It is also nearly 10 years since I hunted up here, mostly wild Rusa Deer and some crocs — hey that just reminded me. There was one village on the east side of the island that lost a few children to a croc and I managed to shoot it for them. When we pulled it up on to dry ground the males formed a circle and kept spearing it with their wooden spears. I wonder if that village is near the one that’s giving Ms Harris the problem?”

“You may have found your personal passport to Groote Eylandt.” Frank observed drily.

“Yes but nowadays you need permission to land there and there is no hotel or accommodation.” I pointed out.

“You are right,” said Frank, “But I do know the chief headman around here has connections everywhere, as does the local Mine Manager so let’s see where we end up. You aren’t likely to be going anywhere for a while, not while it’s pissing down like it is.”

And so it proved. The tribe where Ms Harris had encountered resistance lived near Bartalumba Bay on the ocean side of the island. Most of the population was centred around Anguragu near the airfield and a manganese mine run by Gemco on the western side near to the Australian mainland. Through the Mining Company that had links to the one on the Island we both gained approval to visit. Evidently there was some excitement when my name was mentioned and my I.D. had been scrutinised by various people.

We had to wait another day before we could fly and against the headwind in the 4 seat plane, it took a long time to cover the Arafura Sea but we soon saw the island. It is a bit hard to miss being over 2,000 km square, about 30 miles East to West and 45 miles north to south.

We landed and were met by representatives of the Warnindilyakwa tribe, accompanied by the Manager of the mine who drove us in to the village of Angurugu, where about 900 people, mostly aborigines, lived.

We were taken to a large tin roofed open area for a welcome. Most of it in the ancient language spoken only by this tribe, so most of it was unintelligible to me. Then the Manager addressed the assembled onlookers pointing to Rebecca and saying in a type of Pidgin “We welcome back Missee, she here not long time ago; take care them bites and sores. She also talk woman talk. This other fella he here long time ago. He kill pukpuk (crocodile), killer of picaninny over Bartalumba many time ago.”

At this announcement there was a loud stamping on the floor — a sign of approval even though the crocodile can be sacred to some tribes.

The Manager asked Rebecca what she intended to do first so she told him she would be all right on her own with the women for a day or so then would get a message to the mine for transport to the other side.

He then turned to me and said “What did you have in mind Jimmy? “Well to be honest Mr Read, I came along to lend Ms Harris a hand, if she needed it over at Bartalumba. Last time she was here she was kaçak casino treated a bit harshly by some of the elders of the tribe.”

“Yes, we heard the rumours through the grape-vine and spoke to those concerned. They assured us they had no ill intentions towards Ms Harris. They just felt she was interfering in areas she shouldn’t have been.”

“Well when she decides to go over there I will be there waiting for her.” I said. “By the way has anyone got a rifle I can borrow and are there any of those Rusa deer left on the island?”

“The deer are starting to be a problem. They have multiplied rapidly and the old hunting skills have been lost among the more modern generations, I have a .257 with ammo that would be suitable and you are welcome to borrow it. Also you will stay at my house and Ms Harris too when she needs to.”

“Great, my plan is to leave here tomorrow on foot with my pack and the rifle” I said as I pulled my big bush knife out of the pack. “Just as well there is no Customs on the Island.” I laughed. He laughed too and said “Matter of fact I am the Customs officer, but survival gear is acceptable. Being the local policeman too I don’t want to have create a search party to look for you, if you don’t mind. But you have been here before hunting so hopefully you still remember the layout of the land.”

I left at dawn the next day heading towards the 500 ft central summit. The inland area of this large island is basically uninhabited. It is stony ground with many fallen trees and as there are few if any regular pathways it is a difficult traverse. But it does provide many feeding areas for the deer.

I was heading south east where I knew there was a favoured valley of the deer. Also it would allow me to sleep safely on the higher ground and then the following morning head north east toward Bartalumba Bay. Snakes of the deadly kind like to lie on the rock ledges for their daily warm up.

After about 4 hours of steady hiking I found a suitable lookout point and with my pocket binoculars soon found signs of deer. They are quite large, about 100 — 150 kilos although their russet coats against the brownish background make them hard to spot.

Heading slightly north I approached a fresh water lake but the deer I had seen had simply vanished. It was starting to go dusk so I set up camp on a large rock, lit a fire and made myself a cup of coffee to go with the can of baked beans I always carry as survival gear.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Ms Harris, or maybe I should start thinking of her by her pretty first name — Rebecca. There was a lot to think about. An almost perfect body (though Polynesians are a bit larger in the hip area), incredible breasts and being not more than 25 years old they were still pert with no signs of sag.

The hair was lovely as were the lips and face and ………. I dozed off with pleasant thoughts.

Rising early I soon found deer sign and it was reasonably fresh, maybe from yesterday. It took nearly 3 hours to find them and get into position for a shot. Within minutes I had bagged two large old males.

My next problem was getting them the next fifteen kilometres to the Bay area. With plenty of dead wood around it was easy to make a triangular frame that I could drag behind me with the deer carcasses on it.

During the next 5 hours I sweated off some of the extra poundage from soft living and as dusk approached I reached the Bay. Quite ahead of schedule I was pleased with my effort.

‘Bush telegraph’ is a common phenomena among native peoples of many lands, so I was not surprised to be met by a group of younger children almost a kilometre from the first village area.

At the village the older folk quickly gathered as I trudged in with my load behind me — now being pulled by teams of kids. Using sign language I expressed my wish to stay when a grizzled old man said ” We do speak English, some of us even went to school.” then laughed at my embarrassment. How times can so rapidly change.

We settled down on our haunches to talk. I explained Rebecca’s concept about protein and he replied, “We meet Missee time ago. She talk our life and we get angry. We send her away; no good tell us how we live. Now we sorry, being angry. Hope Missee come back and tell how be better.”

He continued, “You we know; you kill pukpuk that eat our picaninny long time before. You we treat like family. You almost part Aboriginal, know ways of land, speak our words.”

I thanked him and invited him to help with the butchering of the deer. He was extremely proud to be called upon to help with this task. It is a traditional right that as the head man he should be accorded this right.

Shortly afterwards a jeep arrived bringing Rebecca and two older Aboriginal women from Angurugu. I was very surprised she had arrived a day early. She surveyed the scene for a few minutes before getting out of the jeep, at which stage all attention reverted to her from the village people with much clapping of hands. She was led down to the head man who greeted her with much appeasement.

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