Our next stop on our trip north was to be the tiny town of Coral Bay. Not massively far from Monkey Mia by Australian standards (it took less than a day to drive there) Coral Bay is a very strange little town. The local economy revolves almost exclusively around the tourism industry with a large backpacker’s lodge and a campsite comprising the majority of the local population. The only reason that most people go there is to see the whale sharks which can be found for much of the year on the nearby Ningaloo reef, a completely unspoilt coral reef strikingly similar to the world famous Great Barrier Reef although as yet far less exploited. This was something that we had yet to realise when we arrived there.
In fact we only stayed for two nights. The first night we spent in the local pub where we watched the final game of the aussie rules season with a sizeable crowd of people, much to our confusion although we did finally get an inkling of how the game was played. We watched the game outside under a gazebo in the warm tropical air before heading inside for a few cold beers.
I had made the mistake of wearing my big leather hat thinking that it might help me to fit in with the locals in what was to all intents and purposes the back of beyond. Once inside it soon became apparent that I had made yet another glaring hat related faux pas. I hadn’t yet realised, although that was soon to change, that earlier that day the revered Australian country singer Slim Dusty had passed away and the majority of the punters were drinking to his memory. Apart from his singing, Slim Dusty was synonymous with wearing a big leather hat very similar to the one which I was sporting although it must be said with a great deal more aplomb and so inevitably they thought that I had come in fancy dress. Most thought that I was honouring his legend and a few that I was taking the mickey. The truth though, as is so often the case, was more prosaic than that. I was simply doing my best to look the part, something which although I was beginning to get better at still remained a somewhat hit and miss affair.
We soon got to chatting with two local people called Marty and Toni who, like ourselves, were by this time much the worse for wear. A few more beers later Marty began telling us about his pet kangaroo Solo who he had found as a joey injured by the roadside and hand reared by himself. He invited us back to his house, a single room shack that he had built himself from corrugated iron and driftwood but unfortunately Solo was not there. Apparently in his adolescence he had taken to often staying out all night and coming and going as he pleased, a story that probably strikes a chord with the exasperated parents of many human teenagers as well. Although a very interesting tale, I wasn’t entirely sure that it wasn’t just a drunken fabrication but a few years later, while surfing the internet to research this book, I was reading about Coral Bay and their town website links to a page devoted entirely to Solo the tame kangaroo and his exploits.
The next day was spent relaxing under a makeshift sun shelter rigged onto the side of the van and incorporating a sleeping bag, a blanket, some driftwood and a lot of rope. Hideously ugly as it was, it served its purpose although what it could really have done with was protection from the swarms of insects that seemed to be inescapable wherever we went in Coral Bay.