|Stephen Scourfield Writing
|'Western Australia: An Untamed View'
|This is a largely untamed land. It is a place where you can still be in
original landscape - where you can see an unchanged world to the horizon.
And in places where the landscape is changed, the land's spirit seems mostly
unbroken. In Western Australia you can still experience the simplicity of
being human - of waking, eating, fossicking around,
catching the music of breeze, hearing silence. Of a day
passing. Just being.
For modern, urban people, it can be quite a shock.
The life and landscape of Australia happens horizontally - Perth to Sydney,
Broome to Cairns. So, the more-than 2.5 million square kilometres of Western
Australia make it the only State or Territory where you can drill a complete
core sample vertically through the Great Southern Land without crossing a
border. From the tropical, oozing tides of the northern mangroves to the
rocky, temperate southern coast, with nothing but
swells from there to the Antarctic, where our geology
Travelling here is inspiring and dramatic, private and
the journeys that have made this book have been on the
ground, voyaging the
great, grey strips of bitumen that stretch straight to the
liquefied by the haze of heat. Patching more than 40 punctures by hand
during a week or so in remote desert.
The photographs you see here are the result of these journeys - split
seconds of time from one of the oldest places on Earth. Often they are
thousands of kilometres apart in what some call inhospitable
places, but in
which I have felt comfortable. They are not arranged chronologically or
geographically, more by colour and shape.
And they also come from simply from meeting people who are truly part of
that landscape. People of spare language, sharp perception and wry
Remarkable people in remarkable places.
Places where you can sit in a cold pool, high on a red, rocky range and look
out over unbroken desert. You can walk on beaches where there are no
footprints. You can follow a dry creekbed all day and enjoy a childlike
pleasure. It is elemental.
We sit on Kelly's Knob overlooking Kununurra and feel heat still radiating
from the rock and watch an amazing electrical skyshow. Rainless clouds pulse
across the night sky like living organs. They flicker like the blue of telly
sets in evening loungerooms, then glow pink as sunburnt skin or gold as
mango flesh before lighting up again like jellyfish.
We are comfortably silent for a long time, then Spanner breaks it. "Beats
any fireworks display," he says, renowned for
understatement. "Can say that
again," says Tic-Tac, the little bloke, famous for
agreement. Spanner and
Tic-Tac are new mates, dug up here in the Kimberley, showing me the
sights."Whaddya reckon, bloke?" says Spanner, zipping the ring on another
can, which froths out white lava. "It's really
something," I say. "Really
something." Spanner and Tic-Tac exchange a glance of
satisfaction. They like
the fact that I appreciate what they are sharing.
"God's country," sighs Spanner dramatically. We all nod in agreement before
lapsing into silence again. It is late when we head back into town at the
bottom of the hill. I sit out for a while in the warm night and consider my
luck. The Kimberley's always been like this for me; full of quirky new mates
and the sort of moments that burn so deeply into your psyche that they leave
a sort of ache.
Yes, the Kimberley leaves an ache. Pioneering grazier William MacDonald,
whose uncles took three years to drove 670 head of cattle from
NSW, to Fossil Downs, a 400,000 hectare station near Fitzroy
1886, once said: "It takes courage to live here, but more courage to
Sometimes it's hard to muster the courage to tear yourself away from the
kaleidoscopic night skies, the extraordinary rock domes of Mirima
Valley) National Park, overlooking Kununurra, or Purnululu
Bungles), further down the road. Harder still to imagine not being able to
sit in Zebedee Springs, off the east end of Gibb River Road, in cool, fresh
water, under palms.
Or not being able to climb down into The Grotto, a deepwater cut in the
chinking rock between Kununurra and Wyndham; hidden below the landscape's
surface, teeming with trees, their roots hanging like
lace, the birdsong
sometimes deafening in this secret world.
It seems impossible to live away from the primal tidal surge of the gulf
country ... to feel plugged into the massive rhythm of the planet that
floods and dries the mudflats and mangroves of Wyndham.
Hardest of all not to be bumping shoulders with these outback
off to the Halls Creek rodeo," says one. "Come
along." A raggle-taggle row
of vehicles pulls up dusty to the arena, some nose-to, some backed up,
garden chairs in the tray. The ringers are warming up before their bull
rides, in the sharp banter of the yards. "Sure you wanna
go?" says one,
eyeing the wall of beef that is The Terminator, a narky Brahman.
might eat ya."
They might win a few bucks, might win a belt. Might get a
tonight, they'll dust down and jostle at the long mirror in the ablution
blocks, knotting ties around the collars of their Western
shirts, ready for
the rodeo Ball.
And then I'm gone, heading west. Heading for Broome. Ready to get spat out
on the coast. I stop off to see some Aboriginal mates and they catch a big
fish, cook it underground. "Like this," says Charlie. "Best like
wraps it in newspaper and soaks it in the ocean until it is encased in
layers of salty papier mache.
Then he buries it under the sand, on coals, and it steams through with
saltwater. "Do it like this," he says, "and the outside comes off with
see". He peels the final layer of paper, which takes off the fish's skin and
exposes perfect white flesh. They know something, these people.
Across the North, they know about yams, wild honey, scrub
kangaroo and bungarra. And some of the women know that you don't eat emu
when you're pregnant because the meat can make the baby kick too
you don't eat mud crabs then, either, because they could make the baby
Broome's Roebuck Bay: Mud crab city. In loose, turquoise singlet and faded
red shorts, a thin man is raking them out from under muddy rocks with a long
wire hook. He jangles them on it, then grabs the great vice grips of their
claws. The tide is kilometres out, leaving a seething carpet of mud
skippers. You feel you could walk across the great arc of the
bay, past the
old pearling side of Broome, around Gantheaume Point to Cable Beach.
The sky explodes with colour as it settles into night.
"Makes you ache, dunnit," says David, a Broome
local, as we sit by the hotel
pool counting our lucky stars. "It's God's country, you
know." Yeah, I know.
I've heard that.
Some journeys have been in the air, looking down on the
waterways and spinal ranges, and every subtlety of red,
brown, gold and
green, and the breathtaking blues and greens of the
To travel through this landscape is to time travel - to be thrown into a
timescale with almost too many noughts for a human brain to handle. But
forget how a sediment was deposited 350,000,000 years
ago. Forget the
geological timescale of it as you hunker down on rusty
earth, framed by
massive rock formations.
These places are simply old beyond our memory, and possibly our
These landscapes are the way the natural course of events wanted the world
to be, and the way it was before it was mostly reshaped by human endeavour
and activity. That's the point of these places. They remind us that there
was plenty going on around here long before we were even a
remind us of this, and make us simply human. They cut us down to size and
force us to touch the Earth.
The days camping out here in this encompassing wilderness landscape remind
me how simple that is. A flock of budgerigars flashes through
green one way, yellow the other, green again. A familiar
flag. Zebra finches
seem to discuss this wildly in a bush nearby. A lean-flanked dingo stops to
stare as it crosses the track, before jogging off, jaunty and
Living even a couple of days by a desert range can be a humbling
"It's alright here," drawls one old bloke I'm camped with somewhere in the
back-blocks. "Bloody alright," replies our
Western Australia: An Untamed View is a personal and intimate story of
journeys. My journeys. But now, in some way, they are yours
|Untamed View is available from West
Australian Newspapers Special Publications.
Call (08) 9482 3207 or email