Extreme North | OUTthere Magazine
Words and photos by Belinda Jackson
It was late afternoon when it finally hits me: I can’t hear a thing. The air is still and all animals (including people) have been lured into a gentle siesta by the luxurious heat, which lays heavy on our skins like a velvet cloak.
The sun has warmed the waters of the plunge pool, fed from an underground spring, and after a rest we slip in lazily, saying nothing, just looking out over the virgin coastal scrub to the Timor Sea, which spills all the way to the horizon.
Somewhere past that line, after the water changes from tropical aqua into the deepest blue of the Indian Ocean, are the islands of Timor and Indonesia, connected to this rocky headland millennia ago, when the land was young and infinitely wilder. Australia’s tiger, the thylacine, roamed alongside flesh-eating mega-roos, giant wombats and the Old People – the earliest Aboriginal settlers. Faraway Bay is aptly named. Perched on the northern tip of Western Australia’s Kimberley coast, the nearest town is Kalumburu, a gathering of just a few hundred souls, while the flight to Darwin crosses Cambridge Gulf and the stupendously large delta of the Victoria River, whose tributaries and estuaries creep over the land in a pattern as intricate as veins on a leaf.
The few signs of human habitation are the rare occurrences of long, low homesteads on properties that tote up their acreage in the the millions. The only things moving are grazing cattle and buffaloes, an occasional flock of emus or a mob of ’roos startled out of their sun-driven stupor.
Then we see the eight small thatch and estuaries creep over the land in a pattern huts and one large communal shelter that as intricate as veins on a leaf. comprise Faraway Bay. The plane taxis onto a red dirt strip, our pilot, Sam, leaves the keys in the ignition and guide Steve McIntosh (lanky and laconic, a former pro-fisherman with a shark’s tooth at his neck and plaited leather on his bicep) throws us and our gear into a battered Land Rover. He submits with good humour to an interrogation.
Where are you from? Southern Queensland.
How long have you lived here? Seven years
Why? Liked the place. Learned the Aboriginal ways of hunting.
What’s your social life like, then? Pretty quiet, he says with a bashful grin. No surprises there, then.
Incredibly, this strip of coastline near Cape Londonderry – the northernmost point of Western Australia – has never been officially surveyed, so the place names are whatever the locals call them. The bush camp generates its own electricity, takes its water from a freshwater spring, and catches its own fish.
It goes without saying that there is no mobile phone reception.
The region’s history is a blur of Dreamtime records in the hidden caverns and remote rock faces throughout the land, most unmarked and unremarked upon, spotted with the occasional reference to modern life – a lonely plaque commemorating the bombing of a boatload of evacuees by Japanese aircraft in World War Two. In the early ’80s, Bruce Ellison was working with exploration companies all around this coast when he discovered the location for Faraway Bay. Remote, but with fresh water and a place for a landing strip, he told his wife, Robyn, in 1989, ‘I think we’ll put the building here’.
“I thought, ‘You and whose army?’”
Robyn shoots back with a laugh, as we chat over sundowners beside the pool made of local stone, from which wallabies sip in the hot months.
Aside from the stone, everything else has been barged in, including the massive kauri pine beams that hold up the main building, which in a former lifetime were the old Wyndham wharf, lying unused and earmarked for the bonfire until Bruce claimed them.
What Faraway Bay does have is plenty of fish and plenty of wildlife, including turtles, wallaroos, dugongs, irrawaddies (a type of dolphin) and the aptly named Resident Croc, which lives in the waters behind us, which Bruce puts at nearly five metres.
“That’s the good thing about falling in the water here,” adds Steve. “You’ll never drown, something will always eat you first.”
Throwing a line out the back of our boat as we motor slowly up the King George River, the newly-fanatical fishermen on board hook saltwater salmon, blue mullet, an archer fish, long toms and a diamond-scale mullet. I’ve never heard of most of them. The rushing river ends at two curves of sheer vertical waterfalls, maybe 60 or 70 metres toward the baby blue sky, their ochre rock faces are lined with fissures, ledges and large expanses polished by the wind and the rain, but no-one’s ever named them so they won’t have been measured. I lean back to capture the rich sandstone colours with my camera, promptly losing my new sunglasses to the deep. Fruitlessly, we try to skim them with a hat, but no-one’s going to challenge a croc for the sake of my sunnies. Scrambling to the top of the falls, the river above is fresh, cool and safe for swimming, bliss after the hot climb, and when we walk back down to the boat, the reward is a cold esky with snacks and a welcome beer. The only other sign of human life on the river is a large white catamaran, Dog on Cat.
“We used to have a dog,” says river rat Ray by way of explanation. Steve slings the weekend papers and a bag of fresh chillies to Ray and his wife Barbara; they share a few words then we part ways. After a hard day’s fishing and boating, dinner is fresh golden snapper with broccoli, almonds and jasmine rice, dished up by Mason, a chef from Kununurra who’s stepped in for the week while the property tries to find a new chef in a region where the crocs outnumber humans. We’re all gathered around the long, trestle table with a chilled white wine going down smoothly, and everyone starts to talk about Faraway Bay and the irony that because it is so remote, those who’ve chosen to work here are always surrounded by people, like us, wanting to touch that remoteness.
There’s talk about the serenity, the lack of pressure, and the friendliness of other folk out here. And there’s a lot of talk about sacred places and magic. Looking out into the clear, starry night and listening to the lonesome wail of a dingo, calling for a mate, that magic is absolutely tangible.
Faraway Bay is about an hour’s flight in light aircraft from Kununurra. The roads are often closed in the wet season (October-March).
Where to stay
Accommodation is in eight bush cabins (which all look out to sea) with indoor and outdoor showers. A two-night stay at Faraway Bay costs from $2100 per person and includes transfers from Kununurra, meals, drinks and property activities such as fishing in the King George River from the Diamond Lass and rock art explorations. Longer packages are available as is hire of the entire camp.
Book packages, including flights, through Outback Encounter, (08) 8354 4405,www.outbackencounter.com
Belinda Jackson was a guest of Outback Encounter