At last I’m in Saigon. The city of 8 million people, 4 million small motor bikes and absolutely no trafic rules that I can ascertain. Yesterday I flew Brisbane through Bangkok arriving late and tired. I had a good seat courtesy of my youngest daughter’s boyfriend who told me to phone the day before and book a preference. It worked. I had more leg room than the pilot. Good flight, good food, indifferent movies. Arrived at Bangkok at 22.30 and waited around the carousole for around thirty minutes until someone told me that being in transit I wasn’t going to see my baggage untill I got to Saigon. Clean clothes and shave pack were things for tomorrow. Damn. The lack of a fridge or coffee facilities in the room forced me to use Room Service and I gladly signed a chit for 450 baht. Not having noticed the conversion rate I didn’t have a clue what that meant in AUSD but next morning in the lift I noticed a Christmas Lunch for 400 baht. Visions of the coffee costing 50 or 60 bucks were unfounded as it eventually converted to $13.00 Ordered coffee next morning and thanked the waitress… ‘Cam On’. The girl looked blank and should have as I thanked her in Vietnamese! She gave me a quick reminder and I thanked her meaningfully, in her language. I wished I could have stayed longer in Bangkok as it would have been a buzz to go to the Old Asia Hotel where I lived for 6 months during the Vietnam War. Maybe Tai was still behind the bar and Honest Sam may still be selling rubies. I brought my wife a ruby from Sam way back then for $90.00 for one carat which is now worth several thousand dollars. It would have been good to do it again. A fellow always needs some brownie points. Ah, Thailand, where the woman are petite, pretty and all smiles and the fellows are…mmm…I don’t know..didn’t really notice. A short flight to Vietnam sitting next to a young Vietnamese woman who has just finished two years in Switzerland preceeded by four years in Vietnamese Universities. Her job hopes? She is going to work in hospitality as all the young people with any sort of education can see the tourist dollar is coming.
Are your parents meeting you?
No, just my boyfriend. If I told my parents before hand I was coming they wouldn’t sleep until I got home.
Good story with the boyfriend being the winner. Love or hormones, it was sweet and she was so excited when the plane touched down. Flying low over the city the Saigon River still snakes through the suburbs and the old aircraft bunkers protecting memories and old oil slicks at Ton Son Nhut are still there as if the Vietnamese are maintaining them. Small memorials to many brave deeds. The last time I was there I wrote;
Tan Son Nhut airport still beggars description. Every cliché that ever was has been used by war correspondents to describe the chaos and order. The chaos apparent, the order witnessed by the lack of mid-air collisions. Then the busiest airport in the world, our arrival deposits us in an inferno of heat and fuming avgas produced by the tropics and uncountable aircraft. Not a system in sight but oh, the aircraft! F4-Phantom jets, Republic F-105,\nC123 Providers, RAAF Hercules and Caribou, Huey Choppers like a locust plague on the Nullabor Plains, Jet Ranger Choppers and small bubble choppers we later called the Flying Sperm (was there something on our minds?) Sky Cranes, “Dragon Fly? Chinooks and Push-Pull Cessna’s used as spotter aircraft. Military Inventory Overload! Get me to an Aussie base!
Not so this time. Nowhere as busy and instead of trying to kill us they were just checking our passports. Tomorrow we, my son Stuart and I, are off to Vung Tau by ferry. Tonight might be the time for a beer at the Caravelle or some such other pub steeped in history. Will post again from Vung Tau after I’ve visited the old battle grounds – the bars-and other sites a vet might like to see again. Long Tan, Nui Dat, Hoa Long, Lang Phouc Hai, Phouc Buu, The Horseshoe and all places inbetween.

Back to War Tour

This afternoon at 16:30 I depart Brisbane for Saigon. Blogging will be minimal over the duration of my sojourn in a Third World country however I will try. The biggest problem that I can forseee, will be my Third World standard knowledge of mobile blogging. Best of the season to you all and thanks for visiting.

Vietnam bound

The Vietnamese Socialists are still getting up my ribs. The Australian Government/Customs are happy that I have 6 months left on my passport on return to Australia but not the bloody Vietnamese. They want 12 months. This socialist bullshit costs me another $230 for a quick new passport and not a little inconvenience. $230 isn’t a big deal but would be better utilized in the bars markets of Vung Tau. By the time I got my new passport I was left with an eight day window to arrange a visa through the Sydney Consulate. Not enough time – you will have to pay double to get the visa before the booked flight (18th Dec). I promised my son I would be polite to all official looking people, particularly if they are carrying AK47s, but I’m not to sure whether I didn’t make that promise to quickly. Never mind…it will all work out in the end.

I’m going back

My eldest son has suggested I stop talking about it and do it. That is, go back to Vietnam and face my demons. So sometime this southern summer, most probably December, myself, my wife, my son and his fiance are heading off to look at Vietnam, Ancor Wat, Thailand and whatever inbetween. I served in Thailand during the war and look forward to visiting again. Maybe have a Singah beer at the old Asia Hotel where I lived for several months and generally play the tourist that I wasn’t in 1972. Vietnam though, will be a trip of discovery. Everything old will be new again. Different eyes, different experience. No fear. No having to fit your entire life in a 36 hour leave pass in Vungtau because your days may be numbered Man, they were pretty heavy leave passes. You haven’t partied unless you’ve done so thinking for tomorrow we die!. Lends strength for party games, allows for consumption of huge amounts of alcohols which in turn makes you taller, stronger, wittier and able to beat the provost at any game they call. What I want from my readership is useful advice on Vietnam today. I know some of my peers from all those years ago live in Phuouc Tuy province today. I know some of my readers are from Vietnam. I know others are vets and may have travelled there lately. I need contacts. I want to meet our old enemy – the soldiers, not the communist party stooges – and have a chat and a beer with them. I’d particularly like to meet Vietnamese veterans who served in C2 D445 Battalion. The last time we met, in August 1970, I didn’t get a chance to say hullo. They fired and killed a mate of mine and then ran. On reflection it most probably wasn’t the time and place for a chat – it was time for death and I was looking to create some. Maybe I did – we found plenty of blood trails but no bodies. C2 D445 Vets are the only ones who would know. Love to meet them. I’m a different man now. Have a beer, a chat, swap stories and photos of wives and kids. Civilized now. Help me readers – leave some meaningful advice.

On the Road IV

A tropical paradise for some, a time warp for others. A contradiction, a fiefdom within a democracy with tribal and national law in conflict – three months suspended sentence or three spear thrusts to the thigh. One drives a 100 series Toyota, the other collects yams.
We spend the first night in the Police compound watching NSW thrash Queensland in the Origin football – the fact that most of the coppers were NSW supporters didn’t help. As I’m here to learn I question the locals on the town and its problems. I get honest answers from honest men and woman there to help. Not a racist comment to be heard just local problems in a very remote community. The next morning we are taken in tow by a local senior public servant (who shall remain nameless) and taken on a ‘warts and all’ tour of the town. We visited YothuYindi’s sound studio overlooking the Arufura Sea and I’m told how the money from the band was used to help the locals. We met one chap who had traveled with the band for 12 years and I quite liked him (no names- no pack drill) but noticed body language that would indicate that he was not a favoured son. Alcohol, drugs and a murder investigation is cramping his style. yothuyindi.gif Yothu Yindi’s Nuhlunbuy studio. Continue reading »

On the Road III

After Jabiru and Ubir rock we cross the Alligator River and head to Gurig National Park on the Coburg Peninsular. Located NNE of Darwin and accessible via Arnhem Land the trip covers 560 km of mostly gravel roads and some great land. Shane Stone told me that Arnhem Land never had any leases operating and I wonder why. Seemingly great cattle country with ample feed and water I can only surmise that it was to remote to settle. Permits are required for Australians to drive through Australia when there are Aborigines present and access to the park is also dependant on a $220.00 fee. But hey, who’s complaining. Continue reading »

On the Road II

We arrive in Darwin on the 26th of June late in the afternoon. The first obvious point about Darwin is that there is no golden mile of motels. Wary of top prices in the CBD we look at the Stuart Highway and eventually choose one of only two we could find on the road into town. We watch the football at the local pub and next morning work hard at laundry so when the wives arrived they wouldn’t have to. The next morning Brian phones Shane Stone to be told we’d made a dubious choice with the motel…’Third country mate!’ and then we remembered a disproportionate number of cabs pulling up with ladies of indeterminate professions, maybe the oldest, but then what would I know?. Shane offers us his recently vacated house – no furniture but power and tons of room to throw down swags. Shane was at the house when we arrived and amongst other things said. “If the elections was set for August do you think I’d be here cleaning up my garage? No. But I’m happy to see the media waste space on guesses. At dinner that night Shane was very clear in his description of Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the Chairman of the Northern Land Council, and summed it up with…He’s a Black Prince. I’d followed Galarrwuy in the press and wondered how I would be able to reconcile his rumoured wealth with the poor conditions his people suffer. I’m beginning to think I won’t be able to. I do know I can’t agree with his thoughts on the maintenance of tribal law. You may wonder at the connection between Shane Stone, Galarrwuy Yunupingu and us. Both of them have sons at a GPS Boarding School in Brisbane and my friends run the house where the boys live. Nothing sinister, no insider deals, just a common interest in two boys. Shane and Josephine are first order hosts and the few days we spend in Darwin are used up with restocking for our sojourn into Arnhem Land, rest and social activities. We watched the fireworks celebrating Territory Day from the balcony of their top floor apartment at Rundle Bay and next night have dinner at Buzzes and the next, at Sicilian. If you go to Darwin do yourself a favour and visit these two fine restaurants. Whilst at Buzzes I had occasion to use the bathroom and after establishing correct aim I looked up to see the whole restaurant through a one way mirror. My initial reactions was a mid-stream freeze but resumed business when I noticed no one was looking. We now head off to Kakadu, or as the Territorians call it, Kakadont and arrive in time to go on the Yellow Waters boat tour. All the boats are skippered by woman and they do an excellent job. With crocodiles croc.gif Birds birds.gif and brilliant sunsets sunset.gif it was money well spent. Whereas my money was well spent, I’m not sure that royalties given to the local people by ERA have been as well used. There has been a lot of political bullshit about Kakadu and the debate still rages. Troppo Armadillo posted a positive piece here and a dated article by David Barnet paints a less happy picture.
Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), has, for instance, since 1980, paid out more than $132 million in royalties, plus $5.1 million in up-front fees and lease costs, to the Northern Land Council and to local Aborigines. It expects to pay out another $210 million over the next 28 years. The Northern Land Council shares 40 per cent of these royalties among the Territory’s four Land Councils, taking 57 per cent of that share for itself. Another 30 per cent goes as ‘grants’—running costs for the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account, which is the body set up to receive the royalties after ERA pays them to the Commonwealth—and ‘Land Council top-ups’. Up until 1995, the Gagadju Association got the remaining 30 per cent. There has been a rediscovery of spiritual connections to the land. Since Kakadu was set up, and since the uranium royalties began to flow, the Aboriginal population has risen from 100 to 300.
There are flaws in this Eden, flaws that afflict Aboriginal Australians more generally. It would seem from various somewhat guarded reports, that there has been no improvement in either health or education. The schools have failed to provide adequate levels of literacy, so that there are training and education problems. Along with the flow of uranium royalties there has been an increase in alcoholism and crime.
Northern Land Council distribution of these royalties is very questionable. Later in our trip we visit Nhullunbuy where I witness Black Prince/Northern Land Council excesses and little obvious advancement of life styles of our Indigenous brothers. A society locked in time-warped nomadic lives gathering yams but no English skills, while leaders have degrees and fly around in helicopters. More on that later.

On The Road

nissan.gifIn 1986 I commanded a 200 man, 100 vehicle convoy from Darwin to Brisbane. The whole trip took 11 days as we could only travel at the speed of the slowest vehicle, a 20 year old fridge trailer. Upon arriving at Tambo I had the guys set up camp just north of town, grabbed a Land Rover and went to town to phone my long suffering wife. I found the Post Office and at about 6:00 pm I duly called home. When finished it became apparent that the Post Office front door had been left opened ? the wind was cold and kept banging the door as a reminder of someone?s slackness. The Post Office being a Commonwealth Building and myself a Commonwealth officer I was obliged to do something about it so went in a search of the Sergeant policeman. The search for the local constabulary would have been quicker concluded had I gone straight to the bar of the biggest pub in town but I eventually arrived there and asked him if we could talk outside for a moment. I didn?t want to un-necessarily embarrass the locals and the Sergeant appreciated my tact. He went off to fix that problem and then came back outside. I mentioned that I had a mind to let my 200 man forces loose on the town with a leave pass and would he like to suggest a good pub. I also mentioned I had my own Military Police under command and that he most probably would not have to become to involved in policing. The Sergeant introduced me to the publican who was as keen as mustard to get 200 punters into his pub on a mid week night. He figured the last time that happened was during World War II. During some spirited bargaining he reduced the price of a pot from $1.50 to $1 .00 and agreed to put on a free BBQ for all if my cooks would help. Deal done, the troops got leave, fed and watered. Some fell in love and all were back for first parade. We?re now at Lawn Hill Gorge with 2415 on the trip meter. The day we went through Tambo we ended up at the famous or infamous Kynuna Pub known as the Blue Heeler Pub. For non Aussies, a Blue Heeler is a local cattle dog ? Blue because they have red in their coat and Heeler because they influence the cattle?s intended direction of movement by biting one of the beasts heel.. The old Heeler behind the bar was nineteen and was no longer required to mix it with cattle ? reduced to mascot. The Publican, a lady, confided in us for some reason and we got the whole saga. ?Some reason? might have been associated with the fact that she was consuming copious quantities of Bundy Rum but that?s a bit presumptive of me. Her dishonest male partner left her with nine unpaid tax bills totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars and fled the scene. Negotiations with the Tax Office allowed her to continue trading and pay off the bill. Once this was resolved she started negotiations to buy the pub freehold but was gazumped by the only other trader in town ? her 1.2m offer for the pub was not enough ? he brought the pub and the service station and now owns the entire town. Sounds like a plot for a B Grade Western Movie but with no John Wayne in town (remember her fellow had walked out) she was beaten. A retired English teacher she had a good turn of phrase and I wish her well in her search for a freehold country pub. The next day we travelled to Gregory River to camp on the banks of the river and soak up the local atmosphere at the pub. Road, bridge and Telstra workers were staying at the pub so lots of stories told by the actual players. On the outskirts of town there is an aborigine mission with kerbing, sewerage and water reticulation which you might correctly state is their right. The white town people think they should have all these services as well, but they don?t. They have to pump water up from the river into tanks and they have to pay for and organize their own sewerage and kerbing is simply out of the question. Mick, (not his real name) the Telstra manager, told us horror stories of dealing with the local indigenous population. Cultural monitors demand $300 per day for their presence at any work site. Once the monitors on any Telstra job exceed 6 then there is a Cultural Monitor Supervisor who gets paid in excess of a $1,000 per day to make sure the monitors are doing their job. Telstra are expected to have an Archeologist on site as well and he is charged with ensuring the Optic Fibre lines are not desecrating culturally significant sites. Stories of the Archeologist picking up a rock and saying? ?This looks like an old axe? or whatever, and the monitor saying ?Is it? Oh yeah. You fellows have to go around? Ah, such science. Four D11 dozers are used on an optic fibre line. One to clear the scrub, one to level the path, one to rip the trench and one to fill. These things cost thousands of dollars per day so I would hate to think of the costs associated with rerouting the line a kilometre or two around a culturally significant piece of rock. The fibre optics get to a mission and Mick tells me that Telstra gives all the locals CDMA phones. Do they pay for them? No Do they pay for their calls? No Conferencing Indigenous style. Telstra have to fly the participants, the elders, to the conference site wherever that may be. They refuse to fly commercial thus Telstra are forced to charter aircraft. All well and good except often, on arrival, for some inexplicable reason, the elders decide now is not the time to hold the conference. Stay a while, have a chat, take the plane back home. Nothing achieved. Maybe next time. A word for 4WD enthusiasts. According to Mick Telstra are changing their entire fleet from Codan HF radios to Sat phones. If your looking for a second hand Codan I think there will be thousands on the market very soon. The next morning after a delightful camp on the Gregory River we go back to town in time to see the road train taking fuel out to Century Mine. We spoke to the driver who says he does it daily. 4 dogs (trailers) carrying a total of 111,000 litres goes to the mine everyday and soon, when just three more vehicles are brought on line, the total daily fuel will increase to 150,000 litres. fueltruck.jpg In the pub there was a photo of a dump truck with a D11 dozer in the back, like a dinky toy. Big machines, big fuel burners. We travel on and do the sites of Lawn Hill Gorge. I comment on the age of the land, the well eroded hills and Brian tells me these same hills were being eroded before Mount Everest was pushed out of the ground. Looks about right to me. Ancient land Australia. Lawn Hill Gorge. Imagine a semi arid landscape ? small rocky hills, very sparse vegetation, flat dry and hot. Take a D111 bulldozer, scrape a ditch 100 metres to 500 metres wide, up to 100 metres deep and maybe two or three kilometres long. Fill it with fresh running spring sourced water, all types of fauna and flora that exists only there and has done for millions of years. Add tourists. We went for a walk and swam in the ancient river amongst a dozen different species of water life with palms and grasses throwing up a lush backdrop. At night we are visited by a Wallaby. Small and totally unafraid of humans he approaches Brian demanding food. Brian is being polite..nice Skippy, settle down Skippy?stop it?and I interrupt with a tap to his ribs to try and make him let go of the vegetable bag. We?re laughing and trying to pick up spilt potatoes and onions quicker than Skippy. We eventually convince him to stop bludging and go eat leaves or whatever but as he takes off he grabs a bag of sausages and we have to leap double quick to save them. The tourist brochures talk of ancient sands being the base of the sandstone cliffs and rocks. Formed some 1560 million years ago they are in danger of being eroded by the tens of thousands of tourists who visit each dry season. Well worth it. Go there Doomadgee, an Aboriginal town ? the least said the better. Travel on and camp at Wollogorang, pay $48.00 for six cans of Bundy Coke and a $1.40 per litre for fuel. Talking with other campers makes it worthwhile Next day head for Daley Waters, some 650 Km away but a pub of such character as to make it all worthwhile. 150 Caravans and associated contents crowd the scene but the eye fillet and barramundi dinner lift the standards of the night. A long conversation with Russell, (I knew his brother Bob in the Army ? 6 degrees of separation) a retired Corrective Services Inspector is based on a lot of preaching to the converted. An associate of Ted Eagan, the current Territory Administrator (read Governor for states) and Shane Stone the Liberal Party Federal President and ex Leader of the NT Country Party he tells us stories of both of them that we should be able to confirm at dinner with Shane and Ted later when get to Darwin. The Grey Nomads ? retired couples travelling the land in $45,000 caravans tend to socialize with other nomads and spend little time talking to the locals. The first night they camp and meet a couple they like and then agree to meet the next night at the next caravan park. That night they meet another couple and they all cluster like Indian Myna birds, sit in their plastic chairs and swap the same stories about kids?our mortgage is paid out?Jayco caravans are best and have you been to Uluru yet? I?d rather talk to the locals ? the truckie, the publican, the Jackeroo, the Ringers and the professional Roo shooter. Different stories?real stories. Why travel a thousand miles to talk to a replica of yourself. All the bar staff are backpackers with more accents than the UN and they?re selling pots and schooners as ?a half? or ?a pint?. Sacrilege. The other backpackers aren?t looking for a plastic copy of home ? they should be told how to order a drink in Australia. Next morning we start the final leg to Darwin and stop at Katherine for coffee at the Bucking Bull Caf?. I notice an elderly Aborigine couple dining there and I?m pleasantly surprised. We order coffee and are seduced by the smell of fish and chips. We sit at a table outside and the owner comes out and talks to us. Ivan, a Croat, had a choice when he left his old home and still chose Australia. With his daughter and son-in-law to help they are all working hard to make a go in the new home and they are exactly the type of new Aussie we need. He has developed a relationship with the local tribes and encourages them to come and have a proper meal. If they have the money they pay. If not they can tick it up until pension day or sign a chit that the local Government authorities will honour. Other businesses in town don?t like this approach and are trying to get him out of town. One of the local charities even took him to task for taking away their customers from the soup kitchen line. Ivan counters that they are only feeding them left-overs and the Aborigines know it, while he sells good tucker at fair prices. A journalist from Darwin phones and accuses Ivan of taking advantage of the disadvantaged by charging them for a meal. Ivan points out that no one accuses the Publicans of taking advantage of people by charging them for beer and wine and no one gets up the local petrol service station owner for charging them for petrol to melt their brains. The Journalist hung up. Ivan says he loves Australia and generally agrees with the Governments attempts to fix the problem but the debate is hamstrung by bullshit. One of his indigenous customers stops and asks for a smoke. Ivan is embarrassed but stays cool. It?s midday and the man starts singing at the top of his voice. He has a reasonable voice but teeth like ?Jaws? of James Bond fame. The drunken signing continues and conversation is stifled while Ivan tries to move him on. He gives him money for cigarettes out of his own pocket and the drunk quits while he?s ahead. Lectures about lung damage falls on deaf ears but anything for peace and quite I sneak a look at his tab system and see hundreds of cards with the one card I saw having twenty or so entries. Ivan is carrying a lot of money ? I hope it works for him Just another day at Katherine.

Back to work Reality

Six weeks on the road and now I?m back home to sort 2,000 emails (mostly spam) and a host of “where have you been” enquiries. The trip was a large undertaking with nearly 12,000 km covered over 6 weeks through some very remote parts of the country – Arnhem Land and the Simpson Desert to name two. We talked to literally hundreds of Australians, both local and travelers and to mobs of tourists. We dined with politicians, both white and black and have heard more from the “horse?s mouth” than most people do in a lifetime. We were privileged and appreciated the confidences that people shared with us. It was very illuminating. I would like to be able to say that I saw hope and promise in the Territory and in Queensland in respect of the Indigenous question but I can’t. There was little good news and a lot of misuse of government funds. Considering the scope of the trip I intend to post regularly on what I encountered amongst daily musings on day to day events in the world and Australia. There will be a travelogue of sorts interspersed with summaries of local opinion. If you live in the Victoria, NSW and Queensland voting triangle and have not had the chance to travel and talk to people at the coal face you might find these local opinions interesting. If your vote has been based on warm and fuzzy op-ed pieces written by people with an agenda that precludes truth or includes lies by omission then you might find local opinions at odds with your beliefs and compassion and consequently disturbing. Whatever, I can only tell it as I saw it.

Travel – Sailing

On 28 July, 2002 I arrived at Canarvon in the Northwest of Western Australia to wait for the yacht Jezebel, owned by my brother-in-law and sister, Bill and Lesley Haddleton. Bill and Lesley had been sailors for decades and I was keen to sail with them. Two years ago they had sailed around Australia and when they were sailing up the Broadwater just south of my home in Brisbane I had joined the yacht then and had a taste of life on board. I wanted more. \n\n ‘,’Whales astern! Pic 1 this one – pic 2 closer – pic 3 panic ‘hard to port!\n \n The trip had been mooted at Christmas 2001 when my wife and I were in Albany Western Australia visiting my mother and sisters. The trip was on invitation of Bill and Lesley and authorized by my wife. All go! So on 25 Jul 2002, my 32nd wedding anniversary, I flew from Brisbane to Perth and booked in overnight at a motel in Perth. I phoned Geoff Murray who had been in my section in Vietnam in 1970 and we arranged to have a beer the next night at the City of Perth RSL Club. We had a good night catching up with 30 odd years of family etc and then next day I caught a regional airline plane to Canarvon, some 1600 km up the coast. Canarvon had been mentioned as a pick up point and as the yacht and crew had been out of contact for some time I had to take a chance. I booked into a motel and phoned the coast guard and they confirmed that the yacht Jezebel with three crew were due in port that afternoon. Great planning or good luck, whatever, we were all about to get together That evening I walked down to the yacht club and found Lesley and Bill and an 84 year old crewman on what may turn out to be his last great sail. We had dinner and a couple of drinks and agreed that I would come on board the next morning when the old salt intended to catch a bus back to Bunbury. First settled in 1876 Carnvarvon has had a colourful history not to mention a traumatic beginning with several destructive floods caused by the Gascoyne river breaking its banks prior to bulwarks being erected along the perimeter of the foreshore in the early nineteen hundreds. The Gascoyne river and surrounding fertile course red sand are now the lifeblood of the towns thriving agricultural industry. Drawing water from the aquifer of the river basin the many plantations grow a host of delicacies. Bananas, mangoes, papaya, carambola melons and grapes together with a wide range of vegetables are usually available for tourists to enjoy, while with a vibrant seafood industry their is no shortage of fresh fish, prawns and scallops available in season to throw on the barbecue. The next morning we stock up at the local grocery store and I meet Bonny the sea dog, a Jack Russell and Kelpie cross, a delightful small dog that will entertain us for the next twenty-one days. It is now the 29th of July and seas are dead calm – no sailing today. Bill and I arrange to go out to a banana farm and labour for the day in return for some fruit. The farm is owned by Romeo, a friend of Bill from a previous trip and the day proved interesting. We harvest the bunches with a machete, dropping the load onto our shoulders and then onto a long trailer. The bunches are placed on the trailer vertically and contained by racks. Stories of snakes and spiders living in the shade of the plantation only serve to ensure we keep our eyes open. The trailer, when full, is driven back to the shed and all the hands of bananas are cut from the bunch, dipped in ripening fluid and then placed on a three level carousel. Romeo, being the only one who knows what he is doing, then grades the bunches and places them on the corresponding level. From there the bunches are packed and the carton marked with the grade. We cut, unloaded and packed three trailers which is most probably small change to banana farmers but we felt we had done something to help and gladly took the bunch of green bananas and some avocado as payment. Romeo most probably lost on the deal as we also sat an drank about 6 stubbies each before we made our way back to Jezebel. The mast of Jezebel is lying at a crazy angle puts a damper on the day as she is obviously aground. It’s not a major problem and the only thing damaged is Bill’s ego but it makes sense not to go on board until about midnight when the tide will right the yacht. We sit on board another yacht, ‘Sundancer from Bunbury’ and the good company, food and wine help to fill in the hours before we can find our bunks, almost horizontal, but by then I didn’t care. As we wait, a multi-million dollar yacht slowly moves into the channel and anchors. Bill described it as a ‘Flash Harry’ yacht that was owned by a millionaire and skippered by a major player in West Australian yachting. The owner is not on board which is just as well as next morning we watch her drag her moorings and settle on the rocks near the town. The crew were in town relaxing and a group of yachties, all from less flash yachts, fought to save her from damage. She was secured and all went about their business slightly smug that the ‘major player’ had got it wrong. A good south-easterly and friendly skies welcome us at dawn on the 30th and we set sail at 0730 for Cape Couvier, a deep natural port 70 km north from Canarvon. My first time ever at sea on a small yacht started well with 10 knot south-easterly winds and the excitement of leaving port, following beacons and dodging fishing boats. Within two hours we encounter whales to starboard and then later more to port. Even from the distance we saw them they were still magnificent creatures. I take the helm and start the process of getting a feel for the yacht and the seas. I do it badly, over compensating for following seas under the port quarter and by the end of the day feel useless. Port Couvier rises out of the sea and as we draw nearer I see no people, no town, no houses, just a deep water port and a huge, high jetty where ships load salt beneath a 60 metre cliff. At the same level of the cliff is a huge mountain of raw salt with a tonka toy sized D10 bulldozer on top. When the ships come in, tugs and crew come up from Carnarvon and load the salt mined from Lake McLeod. The company, Dampier Salt supplies 30 percent of the worlds requirements from Cape Couvier. We don’t anchor, we tie onto a rope of sorts and settle for the night. I say ‘rope of sorts’ because it is the thickest rope I’ve ever seen or heard of. With the 7 tonne weight of Jezebel and an outgoing tide, the rope doesn’t even straighten. It just sits there looking like something that kept old sailors ashore, a veritable yellow sea serpent rising from the depths. The wreck of the Korean Star\n \n Closer to the cliffs lies a shipwreck. On 20 May, 1988 the ship “Korean Star” had discharged its ballast and was riding high at anchor, ready to be loaded with salt at the Jetty. In the early hours of the 21st, tropical cyclone “Herbie” struck with very little warning and in high seas and gale force winds the ship was swept up against the rugged coastline. The Korean Star was soon broken into two sections by the continued action of the sea, settling to its final position after having holes blown in the hull some weeks later by a team of army engineers. \ I sat and looked at the wreckage and contemplate the vagaries of the ocean, to me an unknown quantity. Before going to bed Bill tells me a story about the early sailors exploring the Pacific in the 14 and 15 century. He told me of the natives finding drowned sailors, all with pants down around their ankles. They thought a homosexual God had taken residence in the Pacific but in fact the sailors had gone to conduct their toilet with their pants on, had dropped them down to their ankles, done their business and then stood up and used both hands to pull up their pants. A freak wave spelt their doom as they had no hands left to hang onto the ship. The lesson, strip completely in the cockpit, go over the stern and do your thing with one hand ready to steady yourself. Good story, point made. I take to my bunk with a curious Bonney the sea dog nuzzling my hand and sleep with thoughts of an undignified demise rattling around my head. The seas come in at an uncomfortable angle and Jezebel rocks and rolls all night. The rocking and rolling gets worse through the night and at dawn we face 25 knot winds south-easterlies and swells to three and four metres. The seas are lumpy but Jezebel flies. Later in the afternoon she touches eight and a half knots surfing down the face of a good wave. It got so exciting that we reefed twice to slow her down. We are heading to Maude’s Landing near the Ningaloo reef and optimistically hope to find anchorage before dark. The seas stay up, the suns goes down and we are all tired and cranky as we thread our way through the reef to safe anchorage. Hot food and a drink restore spirits and my mobile phone finds a tower, my wife finds me and the feeling of adventure and remoteness is dashed. My wife has good news though. We had a house on the market, for once the market had moved my way and we had a contract to be signed. The next morning Bill, Bonny the sea dog and I walk the three kilometres to Coral Beach in search of a fax machine. Bill and I walk, Bonney runs circles around us all the way to town. Figures of eight marked by small paw prints are testament to her love of land after the restriction of life at sea. Business conducted, fax received, signed and resent, showers enjoyed and a pie and coffee milk add to the civilization of the moment. We walk back and ready ourselves for a 1400 departure. Maude’s Landing to Exmouth is to represent my first night at sea – out of sight of land. The crow would fly 72 nautical miles but I’m sure we do much more. We eat and non-watch people hit the bunks. I lie in the bunk and roll from side to side as this being my first rough night at sea I have much to learn. Lesley shows me how to set up a buffer made of material that will stop me rolling onto the deck. I tighten that up and lie in a coffin shaped bunk (don’t think about it!) with the hull being one side and the material the other. I lie on my side and eventually work out that if I draw up one leg it acts as a support and slows movement down. I rest uneasy and most probably sleep a bit. My hand hangs over the edge and a wet dog tongue nuzzles me. Bonney is nervous as well and us two non-sailor types share the concern. Dawn! Approaching the Antennae farm at Exmouth At midnight I’m called on watch. “We are a bit further from land than I had hoped so head in 45 degrees for an hour or two” Bill disappears below deck as I try and make sense of the moment. Now I’m fully awake and out in the elements I can see the seas all around like a cauldron of black and white terror. The GPS says 10 nm off shore and the depth sounder ranges from 700 metres to blank as it becomes to deep to read the echoes. I idly wonder how long I would last if I went overboard as my hair is exactly the same colour as the white water and I knew no-one would ever find me. My grip tightens on the helm and I try valiantly to follow the compass. I steer 45 degrees but the rough swell coming under the port quarter rolls the yacht ten degrees one way and then when it passes, Jezebel rolls ten degrees the other way. I start by over compensating and then eventually get the feel. I try looking out at the seas for a quick glance and in that second lose my course. In panic I pull the tiller instead of pushing and the yacht goes further off course. I’m very aware that yachts can roll if caught abeam and with all my considerable weight and strength correct the course. On-the job training had never taken such grim meaning before. My size saves the day as I eventually work out that if I row, pushing and pulling the helm in synch with the waves, I can counter the action. When I dare to sneak a quick look beyond the cockpit I can see a clear sky with millions of stars, their illumination unhindered by city lights. Venus reflects across the water like the moon but in circumstances that are a million thoughts away from her namesake, the goddess of love. I stay on watch until the horizon lightens. Far ahead I see superstructures that I mistake for yacht masts. As we draw nearer and I remember Exmouth is the port for the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station I realize that yachts with three hundred foot masts are few and far between. I’m just glad I didn’t say ” Look at those yachts!” We rounded the cape and stopped at Bondagi and took on water. This small place (you can’t call it a town) serves as a jetty for the townsfolk from Exmouth. This small jetty lies between the town of Exmouth and the Navy jetty that served the Antennae station. There is quiet a few people and boats at Bondagi but we sail \n\nTo be continued (as I get time) \n\n The modern settlement of Exmouth can be dated from May 1963 when the Australian and United States governments agreed to establish the $66 million Communication Station at North West Cape. This single event created the town. The area’s strategic importance had been recognised during World War II when Exmouth Gulf became an important submarine base for Australian and US submarines. The base, nicknamed ‘Potshot’ by the Americans, operated between 1942-45. In 1945 most of the facilities were destroyed by a cyclone. It was during the war that the Learmonth airstrip, named after Wing Commander Charles C. Learmonth, was opened. The establishment of Exmouth was the culmination of Federal Government plans which had begun in 1962, and which, by 1963 had already seen the Western Australian Town Planning Department choose three sites on the northerly tip of the peninsula (Vlamingh Head and areas to the north and south of the present town) where it was planned to use 121 hectares to build a town which could house 702 people. From its earliest days it was always a military town. The town was gazetted in 1963 and its first two Civil Commissioners were Colonel K. Murdoch and Air Commodore T. Walters. In 1964 there were only four permanent houses in the town. Most of the population lived in the Burtenshaw Caravan Park. The town and the Naval Communication Station were both opened on 16 September 1967. The population of the town peaked at around 4300 in the late 1960s. Today there are less than 3000 people in the town of whom about 25 per cent are American service personnel and their families.
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