Milniya is a roadhouse on the Milniya River. It is a rest stop for most travellers on the long journey between Carnavon and Exmouth. That is where we chose to pass the night. The trip from Denham to Exmouth is a 7 hrs straight drive but having stopped at Carnavon, there was no way we could make it to Exmouth in daylight hours, hence the reason we stopped at Milniya.
It was here that we met two attendants – they are partners, teenagers or just in their early twenties. On our request, the lady took us round the property to show us the room available for us for the night and thereafter we followed her back to the counter. It was there she started conversing with the young lad in a language other than English. I asked her what language she was speaking. Jewish, she said. That didn’t come as a surprise but the answer kept me worried for Australia.
Everywhere you look, across the continent, there are hundreds of working holiday makers in jobs that many Australians are unwilling to do or are in remote areas from the major cities. Australia needs these people but ,then, there is the ever present danger that these tourists may be spies working for their home government. We’ve come across these folks in tourism and farming. Our hotel manager in Denham, the attendant at Badgingarra are some of these. They also live with affluent families in major cities as au-pairs. There is a growing debate in parliament about striking a balance between the needs of Australia and the influx of working holiday makers. There are good arguments on both sides of the divide.
Our day had started at Denham about 8hrs earlier. We really have fallen in love with Denham that leaving it was painful. It is a little coastal city, thinly populated and naturally beautiful. The surrounding mountains interacting beautifully with the raging waves of the ocean while sheltering the bay`s calm waters was a sight to behold. Add to this the fact that life is really laid back here, which says a lot given that Australia itself as a whole is considered a laid back country. Some have said that WA, Western Australia, means Wait Awhile then one can say that Denham is Wait Awhile Longer. The people here are oblivious to the presence of humanity elsewhere, why should they bother? After all, in this little town, they have all they need for existence. Life survives on the bare necessities, the very bare necessities. Luxury is not a word that features frequently in the vocabulary here.
My wife has told me that the city ranks top in her choice of places to live and we will take this into consideration in our future move. There is a greater sense of security here. The doors to our hotel room was unlocked and as Clinton will explain to us later, he has never taken his car key out of his ignition! With a one road in and out of the town, it is easy to apprehend any criminal and being far away from everywhere, the population is small enough for every resident to know each other.
As we set to put our stuffs back in the Explorer we crossed paths with the lodge manager. He is one smooth talker. He told us that he is South African and had moved to Australia in 2012 calling the Bay Area home. He is nice and friendly and persuasive, he almost got us to change our itinerary and visit the Dirk Harturg Island. When that failed, he sold us an idea to go fishing in the bay waters for $150 and assurance of catching at least two giant red snappers to take home as souvenirs, we didn’t buy that either. Out of the generosity of his heart, he gave us a piece of fish to cook.
Well, setting out of Denham was not without its challenges. First, we’ve not booked a place to sleep for the night. I pulled the Explorer to a side off Knight Terrace, the main road that runs parallel to the coast, and got on the internet searching for an affordable space in Exmouth, nothing was available. This is very surprising for the nation isn’t out of Covid19 lockdown and the state borders are still closed to others. So who are the folks that have booked up all accommodation in Exmouth?
Gasoline price was steep in Denham and I took a gamble to refill the thirsty Explorer only on getting to Carnavon, being a bigger city I surmise that the price will be lower. With this we pulled out and headed towards Hamelin Pool. Just as we passed the turning to Eagle Buff on our right, the heavens opened again and it started raining but this was not for long. Once again, we crossed the marker for the 26th parallel but unfortunately I didn’t see it on time to make a stop for a picture opportunity. The 26th parallel is important in Western Australia as it provides for some tax concession, for example stamp duty is cheaper. On a different note, it also marks the point where the animals get more dangerous (snakes, cane toads, crocodiles, stingers etc) and cost of living becomes generally expensive arising from limited social infrastructure.
There were enough tempting attractions on the road for us to take a detour, hills from where one can take a look at the surrounding landscape, different bays with clean turquoise blue waters and similar but time was a precious commodity to us. We kept on and a hour and a half later, we arrived at the diversion point on the N.W. Coastal Highway or the World Heritage Drive and took the turn left. Our trip to Carnavon has started.
As we crossed the 26th parallel once again, we stopped to take some pictures. It was a little from here that we started seeing goats, stray goats in groups of three and more chewing cuds near the roads. It seemed they were there every few kilometres we travel, yet as far as we looked we did not see any farm settlement or homestead. There was nothing preventing any vehicle from stopping and picking one or two of them. Nothing, except conscience and such an act being a deviant behaviour not widely accepted in the Australian fair dinkum way of life. Then, we started seeing cows, fat cows. Unlike the sheep, these were well contained behind dividing wires so they could not get to the roads. The road signs still warned us to beware of cows crossing the road and I think it was an appropriate warning.
Mr Bako, remember him? This was the gentleman who instilled a sense of adventure in folks of my generation. It was him that took his two children, Biola and Alade on a visit to all states of Nigeria. As we continue our trip northwards and the odometer continues to increase xcfgits count, I could only think of how the story of that family as told in the New Oxford English Course for Primary Years 5 and 6 had shaped my life. I also thought of how such a trip will look like in today’s Nigeria or any other African country for that matter. Here we are, covering hundreds of Kilometres with no fear of attack or any untoward incident happening to us. In fact, since leaving Perth, we have not come across any policeman for that matter nor check point on the road. I concluded that the modern day Mr. Bako will not dare to go on a similar journey as, in the words of the late Oliver de-Coque, he will “be committing suicide”.
We eventually arrived at the turning into Carnavon. The sign says we had only 5kms to go and at the end of this short drive, we came to a T junction. The Airport was on our right while the city centre, well situated at the banks of the Gascoyne River was on the left. As we turned left, we soon came across the office of the Aboriginal Legal Service, it was the earliest indicator that we are now in areas with some population of first nation people. I pulled the Explorer into a parking spot, from here we could see that this is a thriving city, nearly all the major banks are here. To our left was the Visitors’ Centre and there are a host of other businesses clustered near the round about, a few yards away from us. Just in front of us, we could see an Indigenous Elder crossing the street and behind our car was another indigenous woman seated in her car, exchanging pleasantries with another person. All the way here, we’ve not come across the Indigenous population. Even in Denham where the flags were flown at half-mast to commiserate the death of an Indigenous Elder, the first nation people were not seen.
The main street that runs through the town is Robinson Street and at the intersection of the street with Olivia Street is Carnavon’s Fascine, a great place to take in the sight of the Gascoyne River as it flows sea ward into the Indian Ocean. The Fascine is lined up with Palm Trees and ,as if to announce our arrivals, the numerous white galahs there were in a state of frenzy and making loud noises. At 865 kilometres (537 mi), it is the longest river in Western Australia. Unlike with the Murchison River in Kalbarri where we could not notice a visible delta , the delta of the Gascoyne has created the Babbage and Whitlock Islands.
We found a spot, next to a children playground, and settled to have our lunch. Looking at the playground, it was visible that there is still no real mixture of the races in Australia. The playground was full of Indigenous kids having fun but there was a marked absence of Caucasian kids. Why is this so in a city that has great Caucasian population? One inquisitive kid came to us and wanted to know what we were eating, we explained to him and offered him a piece which he declined.
Following lunch, we split into two – Saf to take a walk on the foot bridge while I went to refuel the Explorer. Pulling right behind me, at the Shell Station, was a lad whose appearance was that of a Texas Cowboy. His boot were steel toed, a cowboy hat and a big buckled belt. He was a little scary too. His Landcruiser ute had seen better days and surely will do with a little clean up but I guess he doesn’t care a hoot. At the back were two fearsome dogs, they look all bit ferocious, constantly barking. I kept the Explorer door open with the plan to jump into it at the slightest movement from any of the two dogs. Anything and all things are possible in these “Black Lives Matter” days.
Once the lad was done with filling up his ute with diesel, I picked up the nozzle and gave the Explorer’s all that it needed to quench her thirst. Thereafter I headed into the station to pay for my fuel. I had a group of indigenous teenage mothers and their kids ahead of me, making payment for some small chops they had purchased. They didn’t have enough money to pay for their purchase and were in the process of returning a few with a dejected look on their faces. I offered to pay the difference and they were glad and thankful for this little gesture. The same was acknowledged by the attendant as a good one, thereafter. As I got back into the Explorer, I wrestled with understanding why the indigenous mothers could not go into Woollies and buy packed frozen chicken and cook, they obviously will get better value for their money. I also wondered why the attendant knowing what was right refused to oblige the mothers such courtesy? Now I am sure that when I get to heaven, I will be seated on the right hand of the father for this simple act of human kindness that anyone could have offered but no one else did.
When I returned to pick my wife, it was then I remembered our planned to visit to the Carnavon Space and Technology Museum. By that time, the museum had closed for the day and will reopen the next morning by 10 am. We had to decide whether to sleep in Carnavon or continue our journey further north up to Milniya. We chose the latter and drove out of Carnavon, destination Milniya. As we depart, we met the first set of policemen on this trip so far. They were on the other side of the road, testing drivers for alcohol. I thought what an easy life that Australian Policed Officers have. Their folks in other climes have bigger societal problems to contend but in Australia, binge drinking is the social problem that continues to be on the top of their radar.
As we move out of Carnavon township area, we started seeing different plantations on the roadside. Bananas, Papaya (Pawpaw), cabbage and other vegetable. There are a few greenhouses as well. Not very far from this, we came to the left turn to visit the blowholes, a diversion that will take us 40 kms to get there. We had seen blow holes before at Caiguna on an earlier journey on the Eyre Highway so these were not of interest to us.
We trudged on and now we needed to make haste, Milniya is almost an hour ahead of us and the sun has gone down. The fear of the Kangaroo, I must say, is the beginning of wisdom. A Nigerian Doctor based in Geraldton had told me of our his car was wrecked by an encounter with a Kangaroo that jumped across the road while he was travelling at night time. I don’t want to tell a similar story so we needed a balance between haste and safety. We finally crossed the Milniya River, or what seems to be it and immediately right after the bridge is the roadhouse. The river bed was dry and sandy and it looked more like an unpaved sandy road than a river bed, not a single drop of water anywhere in it.
We were shown our room for the night, a portacabin shack costing $90 for the night. Well, our beggar had no choice , we happily took it. There were a couple of Aussie bloke who had arrived earlier and they were engrossed in the Aussie past time, beer drinking to stupor. They were extremely noisy but on seeing us settling to our room they, on their own volition, promised to tone it down. And they did. Saf went into the bathroom and took her shower and reported it to be one of the most refreshing she has had in ages. I followed suit and thereafter settled to mark our sojourn with a bottle of Vanilla flavoured Irish Rum. I bet we were becoming Aussie too, just a little with the drink.
Tired but with a mission to accomplish 10,000 steps a day, Saf pulled me out of the room for a walk in the neighbourhood. I was grumpy all through but this didn’t bother my Margaret Thatcher of a wife, she remained firm and I followed. Out in the open, we quickly agreed that this was an exercise in futility as the whole area was dark, except the frontage of the roadhouse. Yet, we walked to the road and thought to continue thereon. Just to put some fright in her, I reminded her that Australian snakes are venomous and they are known to seek the warmth of the roads at night and as such we shouldn’t be walking on the road this night. She bought it, hook, line and sinker and we made it quickly back to our shack. The TV flickered and she made for the downloaded films from Netflix to keep her occupied.
Me? I fell on the bed and slept off.