CSR Day 7: Kunawarritji
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Insider information on the remote community, and the Martu people who live there.
Day 7 Kunawarritji - 634km
Well, we didn’t get very far today. I woke up, as usual, at around 6.30, and woke Jade up about an hour later with a cup of coffee, packed up, and went 4km into Kunawarritji to quickly refuel before getting back on the road to Kirrakurri.
Fuel was the very painful (but not unexpected) price of $3.40, I went to get someone to unlock the bowser, which was a bloke called Tas, who asked where we were from, Jade said Cairns, which he often does, and I don’t usually correct, but today I said “he’s originally from Tassie”. Turns out they’re both from Ulverstone, Tas knows Jade’s mum and stepdad and a whole load of other guys he knows, and Tas played at the lighthouse as a singer, mostly a Johnny Cash impersonator. Again, I said that Jade’s a singer, and Tas insisted he get out his guitar and play a song.
Well that was it. Tas was floored, he exclaimed that Jade sounds the spit of George Jones, he was beside himself, he had to go up to the shop and play for his missus. Then he wanted us to go to his house to his recording studio, a very small room where he turned on a small mixing desk with a mic, put on a CD of backing music, and sang Ring of Fire and Folsome Prison Blues.
Then he took us back to the shop to sing some more, prompting Jade for more with unrestrained enthusiasm, with endless commentary of his unique voice. He then took us to the office, where he started making phone calls, before we knew it, we were on the phone to Jade’s mum back home.
A couple came into the office, introduced as the ranger and his wife, they were in their 40s or so, bright, intelligent, healthy looking, bringing a puppy with them, and asked about watching the AFL grand final. We spoke briefly, and they said we simply must watch it with them. Jade looked at me pleadingly and said excitedly “I’ve NEVER missed a grand final”. It seemed as though fate had a different course of events lined up for us today in Kunawarritji, so we went with it. Also, what an excellent opportunity to learn about the most isolated community in Australia, the Canning, the people, the country, with some seemingly lovely and interesting people.
After restocking our supplies (a small box of groceries that astonishingly cost over $100) having a long warm refreshing shower together, and putting on a load of washing, we watched the match at Tas’ house.
Shane and Maureen proved as charming and inspiring as we’d hoped, having taught English in Brazil, travelling all through South, Central and the United States of America, living and working in Saudi, originating from Cairns (amongst other places) and travelling all over Australia and the world, and now working as Park rangers here. They had a wealth of knowledge to share.
The aboriginal community here only came off living in the desert in 1968, which means that obviously there are people here who lived off the land in their lifetimes, it’s a very recent change. Working alongside aboriginal people, with a huge incentive from the government, being to retain that connection to the land and maintain those cultural ties, Shane told us how unbelievable the indigenous people are in this environment, how super human their eyesight is, seeing tiny dots indistinguishable for white fellas, as identifiable flora and fauna. How they seem to be able to hold both a Birdseye, and ground plan simultaneously in their minds of the land, how easily they find waterholes and soaks, how they maintain strong emotional memories of births and deaths on the land, from generations before them.
Of course, there’s also unfortunately familiar issues of drug and alcohol abuse and the inevitable domestic violence and aggression it brings. Also the lack of material value means people tend to trash belongings and vehicles with no thought. But, of course, that is western value. We value cars and belongings and think they should be maintained and cared about. They do not value those things, so why would they maintain or care about them?
Shane also told us some interesting information, like how many people break down (many, like once every few days, apparently) or need to be evacuated in emergency (3-4 times a year). Also, the vast vast majority go in groups, convoys and tag-a-longs, only 1% or less come alone.
Meanwhile, the grand final was a great game, a close match between Collingwood Magpies and the West Coast Eagles, where the Magpies maintained a narrow lead the whole game, before being overtaken by the Eagles in the last 5 minutes. It was fun to enjoy a slice of modern life for the afternoon. I also got to send an email to my family from the Kunawarritji account, & felt happy to be able to reassure them of my safety, without having to actual make contact with the outside world.
Well, by this time it was 4pm, and we decided we might as well just leave in the morning. Tas got Jade to serenade us again with Shane and Maureen present, pressed upon us again several times that he wanted Jade to tour with him, represent him, promote him, how much he could sell, how much he would make etc. He offered us a lovely spot to camp, more free showers, power water, he just couldn’t have been more hospitable and kind, and told us more about his life, which seemed to span several lifetimes with all he’d packed into it. Eventually he was drawn away by a young fella who’d broken down 15km away, or 3 hours walk, as he described it.
I fried up a very simple meal, tasty potato wedges on the hot plate grill, part boiled first, and mixed with butter, salt, garlic pepper and herbs with red onion, with buttery steamed greens on the side. Oof it was good.
Talked a while, and climbed into bed intending to read, though as usual, writing this takes my reading time, but I enjoy doing it. Kunawarritji has been unexpectedly fascinating and a rather special experience on our route. I suspect goodbyes will take longer than we think, but hopefully we can get away reasonably early tomorrow morning. Next Up: Day 8 - The Kunawarritji community, and The Gary Junction Highway