Red dirt country

This land, this raw-edged end-of-the-world where frills of habitation unfurl, has history. It broils with stories and lore, it is speckled with the patina of the past, and its callous beauty slams the senses.

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This is the red-dirt country of The Kimberley, splayed across WA’s northern reaches with ferocious pride. Beyond Broome, on the northern extremity of the Dampier Peninsula, Cape Leveque succumbs to the ocean in a fit of bleeding intensity, blood red rocks leeching into bone white sand strewn with ragged rocks, a pirate’s curse in paradise…

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Up here The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) represents the traditional owners of the land, with the aim of assisting Indigenous mob in ‘getting country back, caring for country, and securing the future’. The council is charged with the responsibility to do everything in its power to protect traditional land and waters as well as to protect, enhance and gain legal, social and political status for the customs, laws and traditions of the traditional owners. And its doing its job well – parts of the Kimberley have recently been awarded Indigenous protection and have been heritage listed.

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From where I am standing, bathed in the last rays of a setting sun, this country has a greater glory, swathed as it is in the care of its people. An ancient magic settles around me, and, for a landscape so starkly lunar, the Cape has an embrace that is wholly peaceful, almost loving.

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With time at a standstill we could be in any era – past or future – the slough of foaming waves and the ticking of the rocks as they cool our only constants. Fat slabs of black volcanic rock break the sea into splashing frivolity, salty debris litters the sand and as the sun blinks out in a fiery exchange with a bruised horizon we are bathed in pink, a surreal glow that is almost nauseating…

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The notorious Cape Leveque road, a gun-barrel of dirt that borders on mental instability is the reason the peace is so intense. A mere 90kms of back-jolting chassis-smashing pain divides the Cape from the rest of the world. And while we are not afraid of a little dirt, many are. Hence the quiet.

This maniacal streak of red trammels into the distance, insistent, demanding and as vitriolic as a vicious teen. It is littered with wrecks and exploded tyre treads, the rubber curled menacingly in the powdery bulldust as dire reminder, and on the odd occasion you meet a fellow traveller the casual outback wave carries the tremulous quiver of a hope not yet lost.

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Tumbledown joints sit waiting at the end of yet more dirt, protected from visitors by Locals Only signs, corrugations the size of small cars and deep sinks that swallow vehicles whole.

But deep in this primordial spirit world, ringed by bushfires, Middle Lagoon is safe water, a local fishing spot veiled in spicy eucalypt smoke,

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It is prehistoric, an ancient place that begs investigation. After a quick bear hunt – an obligation on empty beaches that howl for the cries of delight of a four year old at play – the Tin Lid and I go in search of shells and fill our pockets and hats and shoes with treasure washed in from the deep.

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The Cowboy meanwhile, after ploughing lines in the sand with glee, gets out the rod and a Burmese fishing skirt:

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He catches nothing but a thirst, though the Tin Lid is most impressed, asking why his dad is throwing back the tiddlers…

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“They’re too little mate, we gotta throw  ’em back in and try and catch a big one”;

There is a pause, a whirring of cogs in a bright little mind:

“But I’m only little Dad, I could have that one for my supper…”

Later, beneath a crinkled moon, we settle in for the night, the sift of the surf and a beach fire our only companions.

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