Rain smashed into our tin shed like glass pellets and thunder split dark clouds as we waited for news of two cyclones heading our way from Indonesia. Sitting in near darkness at the edge of our shack, we were also waiting to begin our journey north of Broome with our Gypsy trailer.
I’d been living in Broome, Western Australia, for nearly three months doing labouring work. The day before this storm, I’d ran into my boss, Tim, who told me – “you guys are foolish really, you are foolhardy if you are going out walking in that.” Perhaps we were, although I trusted my mate Luke – a camel handler/explorer who was as crazy as bat shit, although cluey enough to pull off trips most would never consider.
Another local and camel man, Bob, was in, as was his camels Charlie and One Arm and my friend and photographer from Sydney Dee Kramer. Then there were Luke’s dogs Cranky and Steak and Luke’s sidekick/camel Bull, who was as unzipped as Luke was. Why had we decided to travel in the wet season? With humidity, threat of cyclones, fires and ludicrous amounts of rain? This time of year the land explodes with life – and adventure.
Luke’s invention was an old boat trailer with an upside down Land Rover roof covered with Astro Turf for a floor, chicken fencing for a roof and a makeshift awning patched with PVC piping and shade cloth. The pièce de résistance, however, was the security door tied to the rear and bent at either end, which Luke dubbed ‘the kitchen’.
This wild contraption, which symbolised the sanity of our journey, even had a leaf spring off a car attached to the front, which bounced and scraped its way across the earth, giving it balance. It was a bit like a Gypsy’s horse and cart.
Beginning our journey at Luke’s place in Buckley’s Plains, about 10 kilometres north of Broome, our intention was to travel north for a week or so. I sat in the trailer and was towed by Bull, thumping and sliding along a dirt track. Luke told me that today I was the white prince of Broome, whilst tomorrow I would be the white slave. I didn’t doubt him.
Our first day was slow going, as the cart was loaded with our gear, including old surfboards and odds and ends. After travelling near 20 kilometres, we called it a day and camped for the night, enjoying a relatively peaceful sleep beneath a sultry February sky.
The next morning we arose to a cloudy, muggy day, although one thankfully devoid of the cyclone we half-feared. Heading off, we made steady ground for a couple of hours until, bang! A flat tyre. Pretty soon our team began stuffing the tyre with grass in an attempt to get mobile. It seemed Luke’s slave prophecy was born.
This was confirmed as march flies descended, adding irritability to our discomfort as they nipped at our flesh. To escape this malice, our party huddled inside an abandoned water tank near Barred Creek, where we set up mosquito coils, cooked and drank some whisky. Later that evening, incandescent streams of light blazoned across the sky. It was a wild February night in the far north of Australia. It was all fire and whisky, then bed.
The next day we decided to dump our charismatic, band-aid trailer and continue on foot. We now discovered Luke had packed most of our water deep within our gear, so we only had about a litre each per ten kilometres until we set up camp. Trudging onwards, the day began to feel like a vast outdoor sauna.
Curiously enough, a Britz van soon pulled over and began taking photos of us (I’m sure we looked a sight) without asking. Bob thought this behaviour warranted a request for cold drinks (rightly so), and soon enough, ice-cold beers were produced. Not the most sensible drink in our predicament, however instantly satisfying – as you can see by Dee’s face above, almost swallowing the can.
We lumbered onwards, along the coast now, where Luke went for a surf while we took respite in the warm sea. Continuing, we walked towards Luke’s friend James’ house, when the sky turned a menacing purple and seemed to be hurling something formidable – like an aqueous desert storm – our way. We stopped at James’ house on the edge of Quandong Point, had some lunch and continued as far as our journey would take us – to the ‘Meena block’.
James accompanied us to the Meena block, which was a rather large shelter, and we turned on the radio to learn that Cyclone Nicholas was indeed headed our way and was currently 300km to the north-west. It was predicted to hit Broom in 24 – 48 hours. James stayed up all night listening to the radio and burst in at 3am to inform us that it would be best if we hit the road ASAP.
It was a savage alarm clock. Moths and cicadas began to brutalise my eardrums, as did the steady, clamorous sound of rain pelting against tin and the blaring radio informing us of the latest. There was excitement, slight panic. Luckily James had a 4WD and a spare tyre for the trailer, so he managed to drive us back to the old water tank from where we made the final slog towards home.
We didn’t catch the full brunt of the cyclone, although we trudged home for about 30 kilometres through copper-coloured puddles, under the steady fall of rain, with our trailer, dogs and camels. Bull surged towards home now, as he could sense our return. I took advantage of this wave and jumped on the trailer. This time I was the wet prince of Broome, for an hour or so longer….