Thursday, September 1, 2016

Leaving Gove

It was time to make a decision about the next year-stay in Gove or head overseas. Marg's work contract was due to be completed at the end of June and she wasn't that keen to renew even though the organisation really wanted her to stay. They even offered me contracts as an enticement!
I wasn't sure that I could last another 'wet season' without air-conditioning and we were both aware that Ruby was still with us due to the repeated house-sits we were offered. We contemplated renting somewhere in town but prices were exorbitant. (A house was offered on the local noticeboard- "cute 2 bedroom house with large garden..$575 per week")

A house like this one (without the boat) was available for $500 plus. Needless to say there was a problem with housing in the area! Most houses were owned by Rio Tinto and they released only a few to the public to "keep prices high for those individuals who bought during the boom". A drive through town revealed streets where every house was empty. Sad.

I was given the opportunity (thanks Marg!) to escort a Yolgnu elder from her homeland to Nhulunbuy for medical treatment (and return a week later). What a joyous experience that was. Not only was N gorgeous and entertaining, the flight over country was spectacular.

So we made the decision to head across to Darwin and participate in the Sail Indonesia rally, due to leave on the 23rd July. We careened Manatee again and anti-fouled her and gave her a general 'going over'.

We kept our options open in regards to Ruby-while she was still happy we were prepared to do our utmost to support her.
So, the car and scooter went into storage as we both know we want to return to the NT somewhere to work. Darwin here we come!

Friday, April 22, 2016

'I love Gove'

A few beautiful images representing what locals love about Gove.......
Gove Harbour-artist unknown

Manatee can be seen in the distance to the left of the kids

Yappa with Yappa skirts-artist unknown

A local employment scheme has set up a café and op shop at Yirrkala to give Yolgnu women new skills. Not only is the food fantastic, locals give generously to the op shop and Yolgnu women have started sewing and selling yappa skirts. The colours are amazing.

artist unkown

artist unknown

Yolgnu land management stresses the regeneration that occurs after a fire- I do love it when some wit sets fire to the 'no fires here' sign!

artist unknown

Life continues in East Arnhem

Yirrkala bark petitions 1963 (Cth), p2bark
This image is of the 'bark petition' of 1963. 'Yolngu people from Yirrkala in eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory sent the petitions to the Commonwealth Parliament in August 1963. On 13 March that year the Government had removed more than 300 square kilometres of land from the Arnhem Land reserve so bauxite found there could be mined. Work started without talking to the people about their land.  Yolngu leaders made plain their objection to the lack of consultation and secrecy of the Government's agreement with Nabalco, and their concern about the impact of mining on the land unless their voices were heard.'
The petition was unable to stop this......

The mine, although in partial shutdown, remains a dominant feature of the area, both with its visual scarring and the auditory reminders. The conveyor belt which delivers the raw bauxite to the processing plant over many miles, emits a sound not unlike an air raid siren every time it breaks down, which is often. The belt 'operates' 24/7.
We continue to spend as much time as possible going bush! We made another trip to Darwin during March, staying in a fabulous dog friendly house for a week. Beautiful gardens with an outside spa and air-conditioning! We all did a happy dance. Ruby loved the independence of her own garden, although she was a little frightened of the wildlife.


The track was very different to our last trip across, although it has been a very dry wet season there was a fair bit of water around. Water brings animals. What is it with them? It felt like they would wait for a vehicle to approach before they would cross the track. Horses, buffalo, donkeys, lizards, frogs, wallabies,birds, cows and an emu! A group of cows and their calves waited for our approach, commenced their crossing stopping in the middle of the track to reconsider their plan. They looked at us wide-eyed while we sat looking at them-then one cow made the decision to RUN the way they came! Off they went bounding into the bush, I guess to wait for the approach of the next vehicle.

We didn't feel comfortable camping this time either so stayed in Katherine both ways. We had brief pit stops along the way, to take photos, stretch our legs or to just gaze in wonder at the bush. During one stop, I was having a pee only to look up into the eyes of a curious buffalo cow- that became the quickest pee in history! Lucky for me it was a cow, the bulls can be threatening and dangerous- a few pawed the ground as we passed.

a much lusher track

Flying Fox Creek- our last camping spot
Marg continues to work full time and along with her job she gets invites to Yolgnu ceremonies. Lucky gal. We have both taken a Yolgnu language class- it is a very difficult language, Marg's language skills are coming along as she needs to speak to many Yolgnu at work.

Marg in her yappa outfit at a homelands ceremony

The areas beaches remain a favourite excursion for us all....

set up at Ngumuy

spot Ruby

Yirrkala Beach

Shady Beach
Checking for croc tracks before we set foot on any beach is now second nature to us. As is one person keeping watch while the other/s swim. Who cares about stingers when there are crocs about!

We are still loving the area, it is a tight knit community due to being remote. A lot of communication happens via a facebook noticeboard- what's on, who's moving on and some amusing stuff.....
'my cat doesn't like this pup (insert photo) sitting on her verandah, if you're her human can you come and pick her up before the cat goes berserk'. People post photos of their kid 'if this boy is at your dinner table can you tell him to go home NOW'. It is a funny community.

Despite the sad message of the need of 'stop violence against women' protest marches, this years march along the main street was a joyous affair, dogs, kids, Yolgnu and whitefellas. Good stuff. Ruby, god love her, got very amorous with Max the adolescent dingo who totally ignored her. She was appeased by the sausage sizzle!
where's Max?

Who cares, not Ruby anymore

Ruby turned 16 in April, our beloved girl is fading but happy.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Life in East Arnhem

'The spaciousness and unhurried peace of the land they lived in had claimed both of us'
Geraldine MacKenzie missionary (1925-65)

The land claimed us as well! 

We bought a 4wd after Marg was offered a position in a local community organisation and set off on the track to Darwin, camping overnight and having an exhilarating time exploring the area. Just beautiful. 

'The track' is a 700km stretch of dirt road which crosses East Arnhem Land and joins the Stuart Highway just south of Katherine. Multiple Homelands are along the track and one Homeland, Beswick has set up an art gallery and coffee shop which seems to do well in dry season.

Once in Darwin, we were glad that we had made the decision to stay in Gove (Melville Bay) as Darwin felt extremely industrial, not the Darwin we had both previously visited.

We are anchored in 'Gove Harbour' whose landscape in blighted by the dominance of Rio Tinto's bauxite processing plant and the number of abandoned and wrecked boats. We make sure we always enjoy the other view! Yolgnu who own the land (Melville Bay was their prime hunting ground and mining commenced without their permission) are making their views heard about the environmental vandalism caused by boat owners leaving their boats. Apparently during the time of Bauxite production and smelting, boaties arrived in Gove, got jobs with high pay at the mine which came with housing, so abandoned their boats-hell they could just buy a new one!

Smelting no longer occurs and the mine is in partial shutdown; community services and health organisations are now the major employers in the 'white town' Nhulunbuy. Nhulunbuy is 12km from the harbour and was built and is run by the mine owners. Yolgnu who choose to live near 'town' live in the communities of Yirrkala, Ski Beach and Wallaby. Most East Arnhem Yolgnu choose to remain/return to their Homeland- the 'isolated communities' the Gov wants to shut down in WA. The energy of Homeland Yolgnu is so different from the townies, and conversations I have had with folk living in their Homeland supports the need- no alcohol, no drugs, living on their land, feeling confident.

Yirrkala supports an art gallery, Buku-Larrngay Mulka, where Yolgnu art is purchased and then re-sold- a lot of it overseas. They run workshops for youth, have free internet access for Yolgnu, provide space and materials for Yolgnu to create art and support pop-up gigs for bands. They also have a huge collection of Aboriginal film, which Marg and I love viewing whenever we get the chance!   And the art collection is extraordinary - I often walk the gallery crying, this stuff is so powerful.

We get good use of our vehicle- the beaches are magnificent.

Middle Beach

We had hoped to do lots of camping, but it has been far too hot over the (rainless) wet season. Instead, we've done a bit of sailing around the bay, taking friends out to explore.

Fatima helming for the first time-a natural!

Sara and Fatima

Liz feeling happy!

Judy feeling happier!

Sara feeling confident on her second sail! 

We have managed to get a few swims/paddles in despite the stingers (I have been whipped twice by a box jelly-it feels like an attack by a hot poker!). There are a few crocs around also so we are very careful- water must be very clear and over sand. We spent a fantastic day at Ngumuy (Turtle Beach), all enjoying a good paddle. 
While Marg has been busy at work and building the bank balance, I've toiled away on Manatee. Our inbuilt freezer was inefficient and extreme yoga was required to clean it, so out it came- we now have a 12v fridge/freeze that looks like a domestic number. We have unlimited ice-yay! I've also painted and sanded endlessly! We now have new wheelhouse windows-tinted which relieves some of the heat. And they look beautiful!
         Manatee is looking and feeling fine, almost ready for our next adventure.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

post Gulf

We slept and tidied Manatee after our Gulf crossing, giving ourselves 24hrs before heading up to Gove and then around to Darwin.

We woke to gorgeous blue skies and calm waters so pulled the anchor after lunch for the 20 odd nm to Gove Harbour.

leaving Dalywoi Bay, Cape Arnhem

We had a nice sail under main and genoa, passing several small coastal settlements. Marg was keen to troll as the gulf is reputedly a magnificent fishing spot. Within minutes she had caught a huge mackerel followed by another-enough to fill our freezer.

The seas became nasty between Bremer Island and the mainland and of course the furler jammed so we struggled for a few hours, causing us to enter Gove Harbour at dusk. We anchored off the boat club and relaxed! Ruby was rewarded for her fine sailing with a lengthy beach walk.

Gulf crossing - only look ahead!

The weather forecast for our crossing was variable 10-15kts increasing to 20kts NE/SE! We were happy with this as the winds and seas were forecast to increase at the start of the next week.

We were eager to visit Groote Eylandt after deciding not to sail down the western side of the
Cape due to the smoke. Our planned track was a distance of 322nm and we were hoping for kind seas. The Gulf is shallow and the seas can be huge! We had heard horror stories but we took comfort in the fact that Manatee loves a good surf.

Groote Eylandt-the large island on the NT side of the Gulf

We set the alarm for 0400 to be ready to use the tide to exit Weipa. The channel was extremely busy with shipping movements so we waited for a break in traffic before contacting Weipa VTS for clearance at 0545. We were told to wait for another departing ship and to follow her out-damn. We pulled the anchor at 0600 and had the main up at 0615 ready to follow and left Weipa with an incoming tide, managing only 4kts. Shoulda got up earlier!

We did spot a whale at 0800 which improved our spirits.

The seas were choppy and confused overnight which was very tiring- we had an overnight watch system of 4 hours and a daylight watch of 6 hours. Our first 24hrs gave us a distance of 105nm and I woke to beautiful seas like frosted glass.

That afternoon we changed our heading for Gove as we encountered a nasty beam swell. We saw no other boats or any coast guard aircraft. At 1415 we had only travelled around 34nm. With our new waypoint of Gove we had 146nm remaining at 1730.    

I was eager to see a cloud named the morning glory which is a rare meteorological phenomenon found in the Gulf.

No morning glory but a fabulous swell so Manatee had a surf, but it was tiring hand steering so as not to broach. I only look behind once and gave myself a fright at the size of the swell!

We managed 70nm overnight and decided to head to Cape Arnhem rather than spend another night at sea as we were both very weary. In the early hours of the morning a large fishing vessel came very close to Manatee giving Marg a scare.

At 1540 we had 21nm remaining, at 2100 we had the anchor down off Cape Arnhem's beach. Hooray we did it in 57 hours.

Weipa.....what can I say!

The next morning we rested while we waited for the seas to calm. At 1430 we pulled the anchor for the trip to Weipa, following the marked channel to Evans Landing. We anchored in the little bay, making sure we were well clear of the wharf with huge cargo ships that take bauxite to China.

We spent 3 days walking around Weipa, which had a small industrial area and a huge 'workers camp'-uninspiring dongas. Buses picked up and dropped off workers in high-vis uniforms regularly.

We visited the 'cultural centre' which is funded by the mine (Rio Tinto). It was very run down and the caretaker/administrator was a English woman who referred to the local Aboriginals as 'too lazy' to be involved in the centre. The exhibitions were, in my opinion, quite amateurish and neglected, with the pictorial exhibit showing the process of local mining  presenting the end process of bauxite refining as steel. Oh dear!

'cultural' centre

The area between the Pennefather River and Cape Keerweer has a unique place in Australian history as the location of the first recognised contact between Aboriginals and Europeans. In 1606 the Dutch yacht Duyfken visited, in 1623 the Pera called both crews disappointed that there was no interest in spices!

view of the bay where we anchored

After exploring all within reasonable walking distance, we hitched into the shopping centre with a young tradie who was employed by the mine. He spoke of the 'good money' to be had but that the loneliness due to isolation was 'quite bad'. Fishing and hunting (guns and dogs) was a very popular pastime.

On the 16/9 we headed to the Evans Landing wharf for fuel. It required lots of discussions with Cairns where the fuel is booked as the wharf was in 'shut down' as all workers were involved in a weeks intensive mine maintenance. After explaining that we were eager to make the Gulf crossing in the available weather window, Kate in Cairns made the arrangements for us. We took on 566L of fuel and filled our water tanks before anchoring on Cora Banks for the night.

looking back at Evans Landing from Cora Banks

We spent the evening relaxing for our early morning departure to cross the Gulf.