Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia
As Long As Me Tits Don't Get Wet
© Jens Hültman
I fuelled and stocked up on supplies at Mount Barnett Roadhouse. From there, I continued on a much-deteriorated Gibb River Road until I got to the turn-off to Kalumburu. You take this road if you want to go up to the Mitchell Plateau, with the outstanding Big Merten’s and Mitchell Falls. Your first stop on that road, and your last chance to refuel and stock up on supplies, is the Drysdale River Station. There, Ann, a slender, red-haired woman with no limit to her friendliness and helpfulness, will meet you. She is a legend in the Kimberley. She is the type of hardworking outback woman who looks as if she could castrate a bull with one hand while comforting a crying child with the other.
Her little seven-year-old son was off to Kununurra with one of the station hands to bring back supplies. She asked me where I had been. I told her about the Gunbarrel and the wide-open plains where camels roamed. I raved about Diamond Gorge and told her how that had been like a dream come true to me. She told me that she had been living in the Kimberley for all her life but that she never tired of it.
I confessed yet another dream to her. I would like to find a place where I could set up camp next to some flowing water. I would like to lie in my hammock, read a book, watch the birds fly by, get the fire going and now and then boil the billy to make some tea. Her eyes shone as she listened to my enthusiastic stories. She said that since I seemed to be an honest person, she would tell me about a very nice place to camp along the King Edward River. She drew a mud map in the dust and explained how to get there. A mud map is any kind of improvised map the locals make—she drew with her finger in the dust: 'rough, good, rough, rough, good, rough, turn left to the river, very rough, cross the river, very rough...' and then she explained how to find the camp.
I asked her about crossing the King Edward River. Campers at Manning Gorge had told Bob and me that they had had water over the bonnet when they had crossed the river. It sounded like an overdose of adventure to me. Ann looked at me with motherly eyes. She assured me that it was not a problem. She had driven up to the Mitchell Falls the other week and had had no troubles. But what the locals considered easy might not be easy for me. I thought of the F’n H Tour’s stories about how they had had to winch themselves out of bogs in rivers. She showed with her hands around her waist that this was how high the water was. ‘As long as me tits don’t get wet, no worries, mate’, she laughed.
I asked her how long it took to drive from the river up to the falls. She answered that it was a bit over sixty kilometres. ‘Fine, that’s about an hours drive’, I thought aloud. Again, she gave me that motherly look. ‘How do you drive?’ ‘Well, as cautiously as I can.’ ‘See, sometimes it takes people four to six hours to get up there from the river crossing. When I drive up there, pretty much all I do is concentrate on the road.’
Oh, I see, one of those places. Still, her warnings did nothing to prepare me for what lay ahead. I drove off and continued up to the turn off from the Kalumburu Road. So far, the going had been surprisingly good. But when I drove down toward the King Edward River, the road virtually ceased to exist. The condition of the road worsened to a dry, hard, uneven and bumpy mud creek. You could drive at about ten kilometres an hour, maximum. Any faster, and you would damage your vehicle severely.
I got to the river and had a look. One of Nigel’s many wisdoms is: 'Always assess the situation before you tackle an obstacle.' I assessed. There was a line of stones in the crossing; I guessed that one was supposed to go to the left of them. I got back into Fidelity, connected low ratio, pulled out the throttle to get an even flow of petrol, chose first gear and off we tugged through the water. It was not my first river crossing, but it was certainly the first deep one. Larry and Bob had instructed me how to go about it. First, you should choose the gear that you need to get up onto the opposite riverbank. When in doubt, select low ratio first gear. Second, you should not shift gears when you are in the water. Third, you should keep petrol flow at a low speed. Therefore you use the hand throttle and drive slowly, steadily and cautiously into the river. Preferably, you should walk the crossing before you try to drive it. You should never try to walk or drive through water that is rapidly rushing downstream. I was not too keen on walking this crossing, just in case a river reptile was lying there waiting for me.
Into the deep water we plunged. My heart was beating wildly when I got to the other side, but Fidelity and I made it all right—the Landcruiser is an incredible vehicle. After you've been driving in the bush for a while, you develop the same relationship with your Landcruiser that people developed with their horses during the pioneering days: Love.
I cautiously continued on the mauled road, found the place where I should turn off, and drove Fidelity through the grass up between the rocks to the place that Ann had described. It was right there like a secret little living room in the bush.
Chapter 22 →