Thursday, September 9, 2010

Trip to the Wild Mid West

I’ve recently done some travelling around the Midwest region of Western Australia.

We got onto the Great Northern highway early in the morning.  The only reason the call it “great”, is because of the massive distances that you travel – not the size of the “highway”.  It mostly consists of a normal 2-way bitumen road that looks similar to the Trans-Kalahari highway on the way to Swakopmund on the Namibian coast.

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An interesting concept around these parts is what they call a “road train”.   It’s not a freight train that crosses the road; it’s a massive long truck that can pull up to three trailers, all trailing behind each other.

Road Train @ Mt Magnet

I saw heaps of kangaroos lying dead next to the road.  Over a distance of 60 km l actually counted more than 100 roadkills strewn around the place.  (The road trains don’t brake for anything…)

The first part of the route was through the Chittering valley.  Once we got closer to a place called Payne’s Find, the region was looking extremely familiar.  Payne’s Find is pretty much just like Kalkrand in Namibia – a petrol station with a garbage can next to it.

On the way there, probably about 50km before we reached PF, the area reminded me a lot of the road from Rehoboth to Windhoek, with the Auas mountains in the background.  I had to pinch myself a few times just to remind myself that I was not driving in Namibia.

I was expecting a kudu to jump over the road at any moment.  All I saw, however, were emu’s, dead skippies and feral goats all over the place.  It was a weird experience.

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At Mount Magnet I saw two local indigenous people sitting at a table.  They got up later, and I watched as one of them walked over the road with one foot totally bare, and the other one clothed with just a dirty sock.  With this irregular footwear he was merrily walking across the dusty road.  Once again I had this weird feeling of familiarity – I’m not sure why…

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There are quite a few of them folks around. There were two blokes standing around the public phones – they just never seemed to be able to get away from the phones.  Another bloke was crossing the road every now and again.  I have no idea what he was trying to achieve.  All of this was happening while we were waiting for our local contact to arrive.  I therefore had a lot of time to observe some of the things going on. 

One of the defining moments was when I saw an indigenous lady come out of the BP shop, and as they left the shop she gave her poor kid a smack that made the snot fly.  I then heard someone in the vicinity saying something about “bloody coons”.  Obviously the inter-cultural love runs deep in these parts.

A local bloke told me that in one of the towns in this region, they still had the “black and white bars” until a few years ago.  This meant that “black fellas” and “white fellas” did not drink at the same bar.  Interesting. 

We finally ended up in Sandstone, and holed up in a place that my colleague cheerfully described as a “dog’s house”.


I met quite a few interesting locals at the bar.  All of them were wearing leather hats for some reason – even long after the sun had set.  One bloke looked like a mix between crocodile Dundee and the Terminator, with a little bit of country music thrown in.  I was just waiting for this bloke to present a banjo and start singing country songs, but fortunately this didn’t happen.

I even met a South African here.  Yep, out here in the sticks, I walked into a saffer.  You can’t go anywhere without running into one of them.

Around these parts people like to dress like cowboys. At the BP in Mt Magnet I saw a bloke who looked like a miniature version of Bob Katter.  These two blokes were driving in a Land Cruiser, and when they stopped the driver got out wearing a bright red shirt, black jeans, boots, and of course a massive leather hat.  When his hat-wearing buddy got out of the car, I suddenly noticed that she was a pregnant lady, although she looked a lot stronger than the skinny driver.  And her hat was bigger.

Well, back in the bar in Sandstone, I met this friendly fella who was wearing a footy shirt with the words “adventure tours” written on it.  I asked him about his adventures, and he explained that he took people on all sorts of adventure tours around Sandstone.  He’ll do anything you want to do – you can shoot roos, go camping, 4x4 driving, or just sit drunk around the fire – whatever your fancy.

I liked this idea about roo-shooting, and he explained that he provides the weapon and a little bit of training - and live targets, of course.  You can start out on tins cans, and once familiar with loading and cocking the gun you qualify to take out some live targets. 

I like this guy.  When I explained to him that I’ve done a wee bit of hunting myself, he responded enthusiastically by telling me that he recognised my horrible Souf Efrikuhn eksehnt, and that “you guys kill anything over there!”

I decided not to get a quote, cause I might have ended up shooting roos instead of getting the job done that my company sent me over here for.  But I’m still keeping it in the back of my mind.  Maybe a little team-building exercise?

I love these country towns.  They have an atmosphere that you just can’t get in the city.  And I enjoyed not having to stop at traffic lights or having to sit on a freeway for half an hour on the way to the office.  And I love seeing animals roam around, even if they’re just boring emu’s and skippies.  I also saw millions of sheep, feral goats and cattle.  Awesome.

The restaurant was another abnormal experience.  The chef, who also doubles as the waiter, is a classic.  He walks around in shorts and thongs, with an apron covering his stomach.  He nearly threw a fit when one of the ladies in the restaurant requested veggies.  He handles his guests in a very informal manner, and everyone inside the restaurant was talking to each other, even if they were not seated at the same table.  Great atmosphere.

I ordered some dead kangaroo, and he made a good job of it.  He mentioned that his roadkills are normally scraped off the road in the early morning, so that it’s still fresh.

The food was really good.  This place is great, although the rooms look a bit like a jail on wheels.  I had to share a bathroom with the couple next door to me. 

How will I sum this up?  It felt like a trip to Otjiwarongo , with a detour through Kalkrand and a quick stop at Mariental.  I had no idea where I was, but it sure felt like home…

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