…as I stood on the curb drinking my ridiculously rare and expensive remote mountain filtered-cold dripped-aerofrenchpressed coffee in a tampered glass keepcup in my rolled skinny jean and buy-one-give-one Tom shoes with unwashed hair and bangs in my hair and chipped nail polish and wayfarer raybans and I thought to myself – OMG I AM A HIPSTER!!
Yirrkala is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever lived in. I admit that Canberra was quite quiet but Yirrkala is so beautiful it’s hard not to fall in love with everything – the weather, the heat, the beaches, the smell (a combination of earth, eucalyptus and sea water), the friendly people.
The local beaches are all walking distance from my house and they are amazing. Because we are in protected indigenous land you’ll need a permit to check out these places and sometimes you need a 4WD as well.
Shady Beach is about a 10-15 mins walk past a banana plantation and it looks like its out of a travel magazine. There are no tourist – only local indigenous people swimming and picnicking and local white fellas fishing a bit further away. The breeze was welcoming on a hot day, the sand smooth and hot (!!) but the water was so refreshing – like the waters of Bali or Thailand or Malaysia but absolutely clear – you can see the fish swimming around you as you stand in the water ! The local kids kept inviting me to swim, “yappa (sister in yolngu matha) come swim!” But i didn’t bring any swimming gear. I live so close I will have to so next time. Others were spear fishing hoping to catch a turtle or so.
Yes I have no shopping centres, no restaurants, no cinemas, no coffee shops but I have the remote beaches of Arnhem Land facing the beautiful Gulf of Carpentaria.
How many people can say they’ve been there?
Je t’aime pour toujours, H.
Honestly the most I can do to write any updates is once a week on the weekend (if you’re lucky maybe twice). I am so exhausted working from 0800-1630 every day! I must say I’m not used to it. After all I have been a shift worker all my working life and this normal working times is something I still need to get used to.
Last week was the first time I had the chance to go out to the homelands. Basically what we do is we provide a service to indigenous people who live on their own lands in far remote places. There are a lot of services that the corporation provide and I work in health care.
So the first day we went to Wondewuy Homeland (I think I might have the spelling wrong) but it was a 2.5 drive one way..on a very rough surface corrugated road with a lot of potholes and water. This rough untarred road is the ONLY road out of town..so eyes, if you have no 4WD, it’s probably better not to drive to Katherine/ Darwin.
Central Arnhem Road…hold on to your spine!
The town was small…it had a few hundred people but when i went there with L* (one of the fabulous nurses) there was less that than. Apparently people have gone to town for a funeral. It was so small that the homeland’s aboriginal health practitioner could introduce me to every person in town! We went to every house and I shook hands with them, then i was introduced to every child in the local school! hehehe. Otherwise it was like any clinic with a bit of a language barrier and some customs that I learned on the way). It is quite a pretty and calming place and people were friendly 🙂
Second day we flew to Bremer Island. It is just across from Gove Peninsula and it is an absolutely beautiful gorgeous island.
Our ride for the day
Our kit of the day..See the mat at the bottom right ? We have to bring our own “tikar” because we either see people under the tree or in the abandon school and we sit down cross legged there
The weather was slightly threatening. Some small planes that were flying the opposite had to turn back because of the bad weather but we were lucky to be able to fly and made it to the island. We needed to go because of the cyclone we were not able to go the week prior.
It was the shortest flight ever – 10 mins tops plus another 10 for take off and landing. But definitely a very scenic one. I felt like I was on those planes back in Vanuatu. And its hard not to because it was a 6 seater plane with only 4 people on board! Very fun indeed. And…have you realise how smooth the landing is normally?
Where we are heading for the day.
Gorgeous Bremer Island!
Bremer Island is beautiful – the beaches look soooo inviting and it was such a small friendly population as well. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. As soon as we landed, we put all our stuff on a tractor and jumped on the tractor as well hehe. It was fun.
We saw patients in the abandon school as it started to rain and we couldn’t sit outdoors. It was definitely not the cleanest place I’ve seen people but honestly it is better than nothing.
Our “clinic” for the day.
Bremer Island “runaway”
It has been two exciting tiring visits. I will have more in the weeks to come and more things to write about. 🙂
There are pros living this far from everything. What is essential and what you want is different.
Want: a jumbo Chanel flap
Want: San Pellegrino sparkling water.
It does make you appreciate every little thing that you do have. I came here with only 29kg of stuff. If you minus the weight of your bag(s) – lets say around 8kg in total, then you minus the weight of your laptop (2.5kg) and iPad + phone(s) + ereader + all those damn cords =4kg, you basically only have 14.5kg of things left. thats around 2kg of toiletries and a few kg of shoes and then clothes and a couple of books. its not much at all. but honestly it has been okay..despite the cyclone (meaning: i haven’t managed to go to the shops as much as I liked to).
So, if I tell people I live in Australia – NOBODY would believe me. It doesn’t look like the part of Australia most people know (read: Sydney Opera House). Where I live it is hot, humid and dusty. I’ve just spend the whole morning sweeping and mopping the floor and the water was red.
(picture courtesy of http://www.bbc.com.au)
My humble abode. Ignore the rope.
I work in an Aboriginal Homelands Corperation. It’s very interesting how different the whole place is. If I tell people I was working in Africa, I’m sure people would believe it. I swear, I am several shades darker just from walking to and fro from work!
(picture courtesy of laynhatechie.blogspot.com)
As someone who doesn’t care how fair or dark their skin is, I honestly don’t mind being here. I know some people whinge on how they cannot stand the heat or the sun despite them being Malaysian (God, cry me a river!) I actually adapt to any kind of weather quite well. It was cold in Canberra – I put on more layers. It’s warm in East Arnhem Land – I wear cotton & linen. It was freezing in Paris – I wore cashmere and wool. It was humid in Darwin – wear breathable loosing clothing. Easy! And honestly, if you like someone by how fair/ dark they are, you should probably take a good look at yourself in the mirror and be ashamed of yourself..really!
And things are slightly different because of how things were historically. One of the difference was the “power card”. So you buy electricity and water on a prepaid -then you “feed” it into your meter. I am feeling very amazed here (or as the Malays say: jakun) – this is amazing! Until it’s 0200 in the morning and you wake up from sleep because it’s boiling hot as you forgot to topup your power..hehe
20 dollars worth of power and water
And you feed the card – I am a paranoid android, so I’ve actually overfed the machine and now I have 50 dollars worth of power. I mean, what if I want to turn on the air-conditioning? Thats going to cost a lot of power! I also found out if you watch tv non stop for 48 hours that actually drains a lot of power too..so is forgetting to turn off the lights for err…5 days.
Other difference are: you might go to the local supermarket (Woolies) and find there’s no milk or bug spray. It’s because it’s not “barge day”. The Woolies in Nhulunbuy is the most remote Woolies in Australia (I read this on Facebook) and things get shipped here from Darwin on a barge once a week. Apparently it comes on Sunday and by Monday they will start to restock things. I find Monday the WORSE time to go shopping..so is the day before the cyclone..oh and also the day after the cyclone (read: today). It’s a super small Woolies and there’s like shopping carts everywhere!
So things last longer – the “fresh” milk seems to have an extended expire date (WHY?!) and everything else that’s “fresh” are either frozen or frozen then thaw (thawed?).
“fresh” frozen bread!
Coming from a family that refrigerates EVERYTHING and freezes ALMOST everything fresh, I’m pretty cool with this. Really: look into the freezer back home in Ipoh: durian, rambutans, blended chillies, etc and the fridge: EVERYTHING except the kitchen sink.
Enjoy the weekend!
Wow..it has been a long time since I wrote anything here. And honestly a lot has happened – too much actually. Some good, some bad and a lot is sad. Hmmm…I don’t really know how to update anyone about it without sounding cold and emotionless about it. I suppose as I continue to write about my ongoing life right now I will tell a bit more what has happened and what will happened as well.
This year I took a position in general practice – so now I’m in GP land. But instead of being stuck in an office somewhere where there are proper sealed roads or a friendly postman saying hello to you as he delivers your most recent internet buy, I am not in such place. I work in a place call Yirrkala..where is that? where is that? don’t worry if you don’t know where that is..most Australians don’t anyway.
(picture courtesy of Google)
I am about 700+km from Darwin. If you don’t know where Darwin is, wow..you really need to brush up on your geography. The northern territory is not like the other states I’ve lived in. It’s vast, it’s dry and it’s hot. Where I am, we’re pretty tropical – meaning hot and humid and sometimes it rains..and when I mean that it rains, it pours.
(link from https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2229/2136891686_93b1ce9931.jpg)
I flew into Gove Airport (are you confused yet? the whole place is called Gove Peninsula. The biggest “town” which is about 20km from Yirrkala is Nhulunbuy) last Sunday and it was wet. It rained and rained. My lovely manager came to pick me up and told me it is literally IMPOSSIBLE to get lost when driving if I stick to the road as there is only ONE road..yup ONE road. A few kilometres on the road there was a turning left to Yirrkala and I found myself in a town of a few hundred people, mainly indigenous. I can see the ocean from the edge of town but am slightly hesitant to go get. Some parts of town may be ceremonial and only an aboriginal person can go into. As someone who holds dearly to her own culture, I am determined to respect and follow others culture too. Plus some beaches need permits which I still haven’t had a chance to apply yet.
My manager (“JC”) turned into a non-tarred red road (have i told you how red/ orange everything is here?) and we came to a house that looks like is made out of tin..but looks can be deceiving (we’ll get to that more after this) – there was air conditioning in every room, washer, dryer, microwave, tv..it was fully equipped. Best thing was he showed me how to “buy” power – you buy a ‘Power Card” and insert them in slots at home so that you will always have enough electricity and water. Thats just wow. Though now I’m worried if I suddenly run out of power in the middle of the night or on a sunday arvo when all the shops are closed.
You know how you picture remote towns are? a few houses scattered around, 4WDs, everything (including your clothes) are red from the dirt, a gorgeous beach, aboriginal children running around? Yirrkala is exactly like that. There’s a footy field (very important) and a small IGA. It’s a “dry” town – meaning you’ll never find any drunks on the street but some kids may try to steal petrol from your car. No one seems to lock their doors either. So it’s very safe.
(picture courtesy of http://www.sbs.com.au)
The drive to town (Nhulunbuy) was about 20kms of straight road the opposite way of the airport. Again, you CANNOT get lost. Unless you decided to make a turning somewhere else. Just beware that most of them are aboriginal land so unless you have a permit, don’t think of doing so.
Nhulunbuy was famous for Rio Tinto (mined boxite). They closed the refinery recently so it’s definitely quieter that what it used to be. Honestly I haven’t explored much. I found the main “shopping centre” (really..yes) but couldn’t find the beach as the weather was not that good for any exploration.
(picture courtesy of abc)
People do outdoorsy stuff like fishing…and fishing…you can’t really swim because there are crocodiles but people go spear fishing and hmm….surfing.
The weather didn’t get any better as the week went by. The rain got heavier, the wind became stronger..then it became apparent why – tropical cyclone Lam was in town.
It was one of those weird situations. Everyone at work knew I was from Malaysia (I was one of the rare non-Australian born person in town) and people expect me to have gone through some “typhoons” back home. I must say us Malaysians are quite lucky even though we live in such a warm area prone to tropical cyclones we are quite lucky to be protected by other islands.
I have to admit I did not know what to do. Everyone tells me to have an “emergency kit” put together (which is stuffed my toothbrush, toothpaste, a rolls of toilet paper, a set of clothes and my laptop..to the nurses’ chagrin) and i was sent to town to buy enough “food” and “water” . And whoa I have never seen so many cars or people in town before. Everyone had the same idea – buy can food and water. Here’s a tip: if you have a bath tub, clean it and fill it with water – you can drink tap water and that saves you some money, too.
(pic courtesy of http://www.news.com.au)
Obviously the shelves were empty. I took tuna (lots) and chickpeas (don’t ask why). I could not find any batteries or matches or torchlights but had a gas lighter and some candles. Drove home filled my tub and every pot I can find with water and waited.
It was windy, it was wet. I checked BOM every hour..it was dire – dangerous/ shelter opened/ DO NOT GO OUT/ gale winds/ storm surge/ high tides. Everyone called me – from my boss, to my training provider, to H and his family in Morocco. Was I scared? hell yeah. It did help that the nurses where I work lived a couple of doors down and I knew I could run to the shelter (which is where I work) if things become bad. But I was reassured by everyone that the house I lived in was cyclone prone and I should be safe.
I was stuck at home for a few days – i spend some time with my neighbours but otherwise a lot by myself trying (the operative word is “trying”) to read my EMST manual, drinking a lot of tea and washing the dishes at home. I must say being alone is slightly boring but honestly there is always something to do to occupy yourself.
(Picture courtesy of http://www.abc.net.au)
We were lucky – Cyclone Lam never really passed us – we just had strong wind and rain. Elcho Island (look it up, geography poor person!) wasn’t so. They lost electricity and had no water supply. I must say I was glad things were not that bad for us in Yirrkala.
First 5 days in The Territory has been interesting.
Come and read more remote adventures soon!