The Australian outback. A place unlike any other. To the greenhorn it seems a harsh, inhospitable desert wilderness punctuated by …
Within a couple of days we had decided to carry on to Broome, another six hundred kilometres away on the edge of the famously beautiful Kimberly Mountains, in the South Eastern corner of an area known as Dampier Land. Unsurprisingly this region is named for William Dampier, the pirate-cum-cartographer who charted the North West coast of Australia at the turn of the eighteenth century. We were advised to take a jerry can of petrol with us as there is a three hundred kilometre stretch of highway with no roadhouses en route to Broome. The journey took us through another endless stretch of now familiar desert and took the best part of a day to complete but by the evening we had set up camp near the renowned surfing destination Cable Beach.
Having eaten dinner we were sitting outside the van. I was playing my guitar while we both had an inspiringly cold beer from the chest fridge which we had managed to procure upon our arrival. Out of the blue the calm of the tropical evening was shattered as a tall, blond, long-haired man on a pushbike careered between us, crashing with some considerable force into the side of the van and landed somewhat awkwardly half underneath the rear axle. Surprised and concerned, Faye asked him if he was alright.
“Yes thanks, Darlin’.” He replied. “This thing hasn’t got any brakes so I’m used to it! I heard this fella here playin’ some guitar so I came to see if you guys wanted to have a beer with us. Bring your guitar though mate. It’s nice to have some live music, eh?”
So we followed him a few yards across the campsite to a picnic bench which a large group of backpackers had separated from the main area by parking their vans around it and hanging sheets between them. There was about fifteen people there all having a drink together, most of whom had only known each other for a few hours. They were mostly Australian backpackers but also included in their number was a slim, blonde German girl who would have been stunning were it not for an unfortunately noticeable moustache, two local blokes who had stumbled upon the party on their way home from the pub and a couple of long-grassers.
One of the local guys was stupendously drunk and much to the embarrassment of his companion had begun accusing people of spiking his drink. In an effort to help him to sober up, the long-haired guy who had so unceremoniously invited us to join them offered him a bottle of water, to which his reply was;
“I’m not drinking that, mate. That’s magic mushee juice. Don’t think I didn’t know you’d put magic mushee juice in that beer you gave me. I can tell.”
“It’s just water mate.” He laughed.
“Yeah? Well I still don’t believe you. I’m gonna go and find some water of my own. I don’t want none of your magic mushee juice.”
And with that, he stumbled off towards a nearby drinking water stand pipe. Instead of stopping for a drink he staggered straight past and reeled off into the night.
Meanwhile, the bizarre long-haired bloke, who had earlier so unceremoniously deposited himself under our van had somehow managed to get his bicycle stuck in a gum tree. He had been attempting first to ride straight up the trunk of the tree, resulting rather unsurprisingly in failure. After a few attempts at this he became frustrated with how unflinchingly predictable gravity can often be and decided to change tack. He had lifted the bike onto the top of the picnic table and informed us that he was now to attempt to jump into the branches of the gum tree. Somewhat impressively he actually achieved this, leaping a good five feet above the table and perching momentarily on one of its branches. Within seconds though he had lost his balance and came crashing out of the tree, leaving his bike tangled up in the twigs and branches eight feet off the ground.
Half an hour later the thirsty local reappeared from the other side of the campsite.
“I can’t find any fuckin’ water, Steve. Let’s go home.”
Steve didn’t particularly want to go home but in the best interests of his friend he got up, said his goodbyes, apologising for how drunk his friend had managed to get himself before all but carrying him off over some scrubland towards a distant collection of houses.
We spent the next few days finding out what Broome has to offer, and we were certainly not disappointed. For a relatively small and very remote town, Broome is bursting with things to do, places to go and sights to see.
Of particular note is the open air cinema where we spent many evenings watching the latest films, sitting in the warm tropical air on rows of deckchairs of the kind that can be rented on sandy beaches at British seaside resorts. At half hour intervals the films are interrupted by the noisy take-offs and landings at the airfield which backs onto the cinema, but rather than spoiling the film I actually think that they added something to the whole experience.
Our first fortnight in Broome was spent staying at Cable Beach. The guidebooks suggest a great many things to do in Broome, one of which was to get a cocktail from the bar and sit out on their veranda watching the sun setting over the breakers. With the campsite only a stones throw away from the beach we decided that we would give it a try. Just before sunset we walked down but moments before we got there we bumped into two young Australians who introduced themselves as Stewey and Dicko. They informed us that they were travelling around the country like us and had read that it was worth watching the sunset from the Cable Beach bar, only to find that it closed before sunset. Instead they had opted to walk to the nearby Divers Tavern, a fantastic pub which was later that year named in the top ten pubs in Australia by FHM magazine.
A good mix of locals and backpackers frequent the Divers Tavern, probably because the atmosphere is lively, the beer is cheap and the food is quite simply some of the best pub food I have ever had. If Carlsberg made pubs, they probably wouldn’t even get near the Divers Tavern.
After a few drinks we found ourselves sitting at a table with a group of locals. A motley crew they consisted of three, white twenty-something men, one of whom had brought along his uncle, Reggie, and two aboriginal blokes who were also somewhere in their twenties. Upon introducing them, Uncle Reggie told us not to worry, ‘They might be Abos, but they’re alright.’ This seemed an odd sentiment but it has to be remembered that racial prejudice in Australia is a very different beast to the sort of thing we are used to in Britain.
In the hour or so that we sat with them, Uncle Reggie was getting himself steadily more drunk, probably not helped by the joints that he had been smoking the whole time we were there. Apparently not one to be wasteful, he insisted on smoking them until all that was left was a blister on his thumb. He also put a great deal of effort into trying to woo Faye although his efforts were wasted, not entirely undue to his bloodshot eyes and the fact that he was in his sixties.
For the month that we stayed in Broome, the Divers Tavern became our local. We were in there almost every night and when the rugby world cup got underway there was no question of where we were going to watch it.
The first game that England played in the world cup was against Wales. Faye was very hung over from the night before and decided to stay at the campsite so I went on my own. Whilst watching the game, I got chatting with whom I thought were a couple from England although as the game progressed the girl was becoming increasingly flirtatious with me, much to the obvious annoyance of her partner. It later transpired that in fact they had been a couple six months ago when they had arrived in Australia but had eventually split up three months later. With their trip already booked and paid for they had decided to try and make the most of it regardless of their newly single status. This led, quite predictably to some awkwardness, both for them and at the time for me as well and so as soon as the final whistle blew I drank up as quickly as I could and took my leave.