Back in (the) black ...

Trip Start Apr 13, 2011
Trip End Jul 13, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It was difficult to leave our little palace in Denham this morning, as we had well and truly settled in, and I must admit, as quickly as I had earlier adapted to the life of a nomad, I had just as quickly settled back into having a home base, even if it was just one room in a tiny fishing village about as far away from home as we can get. Today, we are officially as far away from Melbourne in raw kilometres as we think we will get on this trip. Whilst we are heading further north, Carnarvon is so far out west that it's further as the crow flies (assuming a crow would ever be mad enough to fly in a straight line from here to our house) than anywhere else we think we can realistically reach. Our earlier plans of circumnavigating the planet have been well and truly trimmed, and now we are just concentrating on doing whatever we feel like doing at a pace that suits us (and leaving two weeks to get back home in time for work). If that means we have to come back and do it all again, well what a terrible shame that would be! We are not actually sure how long either of us will last back in the workforce in Melbourne anyway, or how we are going to readapt to the fast pace we got used to in Melbourne. Here, we get tired in the afternoon, then spend the rest of the day wondering why we are tired, as we have not actually done anything!

We have inadvertently chosen the wrong year in some respects, as a number of natural disasters and unpredictable weather patterns have conspired against us to create conditions that are unusual almost everywhere we go. Also, the fact that Easter was so late threw all the holiday periods out of whack, so we have clashed a couple of times with our WA counterparts when we may not have otherwise done so. We now know it would have been handy to be a bit more familiar with the tourist calendar before setting out as well, as even those who don’t want to follow the strict tourist trail are still bound by it in some respects. Whether you like it or not, it dictates how full or empty a place will be when you get there, and also determines what kind of neighbours you can expect to have. It sounds like our next destination, Coral Bay, will be the most challenging yet in that respect as EVERYONE wants to go there – internationals, nomads, random family groups who have taken their kids out of school for a while, you name a crowd, they will be there! That’s because every single tourist currently in WA wants to swim with a whale shark, and guess what? The travelling whale shark circus just arrived in town – from May to September, that is all anyone here talks about! We have no interest in swimming with them, but will still have to fight for a patch of earth somewhere, as the tourist boats leave from the same beaches where we want to practise our snorkelling, and just look at colourful fish in the water without too much hassle. Apparently people in the know book up to two years in advance for a campsite in Coral Bay – and we thought we were coming to remote WA!!!

The floods earlier in the year have also affected this area dramatically, so the fresh produce is not as readily available as it normally would be, and a number of roads are still blocked. There’s one spot we visited where an entire farm has vanished because the Gascoyne River decided to carve itself a new tributary during the floods, and did so right through the middle of this farm. The owners are just waiting on word from the government as to whether they will be bought out or simply left to fend for themselves, which means walking away from the place with nothing. (Scroll down to rest of the photos if you want to see how it looks now.) Apparently, Carnarvon used to supply 70% of Perth’s fruit and vegetable requirements, but this would not be the case just now, as the locals are struggling to meet demand while the orchards regenerate. There’s still enough here to impress and satisfy travellers who have been doing without for a few weeks, though, and everywhere you look in the caravan park, there are happy faces munching into fresh tiny bananas, crunchy sweet corn and handfuls of flavoursome grape tomatoes at two dollars a punnet. We’ve been paying up to $4.50 in some places and throwing some out as they are inedible, so this place is paradise. I never thought I’d mention Carnarvon and paradise in the same sentence, as my last experience of the place was quite different. It’s hard to tell when you’re just a tourist blowing through, and you’re only here for four days, but there doesn’t seem to be the same level of inter-racial tension that was here in the early 90s and there is evidence of people integrating a bit more harmoniously. We have, however, heard all sorts of hairy stories about drugs and crime along the way, so perhaps if you scratch below the surface, it’s all still here.

Carnarvon will stick in my memories of this trip as the setting for the finale in the increasingly stressful credit card drama, which was the inspiration for this entry’s title – "Back in (the) Black". Readers of past entries will know that Paddy’s credit card gave up the ghost before we even left Victoria, and we had a new one sent to Esperance, only to change our minds about going there and subsequently have it sent further up the road to Carnarvon. That was OK, as I had two credit cards, so it became my duty to look after the financial side of things. This was all working perfectly until I left my ANZ credit card in the ATM of the Kalbarri post office, literally as we walked out of town on our last day. At that point, we had a drama on our hands, but were confident we would both be getting our credit cards back in Carnarvon – Paddy in the bank, me in the post office. So, on our first morning in town, we headed out, confident that we would soon be splashing our cash freely on all manner of exciting things. We parted in the car park, and declared it a race to see who would return with their “new” credit card first. Paddy was the lucky winner, as it seemed that the postal system was even slower than we had given it credit for. There was, however, a reasonably plausible explanation – the post has to go from Kalbarri back to Perth before they send it up the coast to Carnarvon, and Tuesday was only the sixth working day since it had been sent, so noone was too worried about this time frame. Never mind, we had Paddy’s card, so we set off to acquire some fresh prawns and fish fresh off the boats and all was well.

We repeated this little drama every morning while we were in Carnarvon, so four times in all – and the joke was starting wear a bit thin on the Friday, especially as we were leaving the next morning. The staff in the Carnarvon office were wide-eyed and sympathetic, and we were all united in our displeasure at the guy from Kalbarri, who despite me leaving at least one (if not four) messages on his answering machine each day, had not bothered to ring and let me know if, when, whether or in what format he had despatched my card into the postal system. This meant we had no way of tracing what might have become of it. By this stage, I didn’t care so much about the card itself as the fact that he couldn’t be bothered making a quick phone call to let me know his side of the story. I was resigned to having to cancel the card by this stage, but was starting to wonder where it was.

We tried one last visit to the post office late in the afternoon before crossing over the road to the ANZ, where I started on my story and got taken into a little office niche to fill out the paperwork. Then the lady asked me my name. All of a sudden, there was singing and dancing, bright lights and music! Well, not really, but you should have seen the action! A man dashed out of an internal office, gleefully asking if I was Kylie Witt, as though this was something really amazing. I usually only get this kind of response from anyone when I show up in a Year 9 classroom with a bag of Haribo lollies. Apparently, I had been the source of great mystery for the last few days, as it turns out there was another Kylie Witt living in town. The idiots at the post office had seen the envelope with her name on it and, ignoring the fact that it said “c/o post office”, had simply posted it in her letterbox. Thankfully, she was an honest and sensible citizen, as you would expect from someone called Kylie Witt, and brought the card into the bank – on the Tuesday we arrived in town! So, after me abusing the Kalbarri man all week, and leaving quite a rude message on my last attempt at direct contact, it turned out that it was actually the Carnarvon lot who were at fault. We dropped in to tell them how the story had ended, and one of them had the sense to look a little shamefaced at not having followed their own rules properly, but it went over the heads of the others, who were clearly unable to imagine the implications for the person who is looking for the missing mail, especially when that person happens to be travelling. It was even weirder, as the other Kylie Witt had actually worked in the post office for a while, so some of them knew her.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I feel that I owe the Kalbarri postmaster an apology for the last spray I left on his answering machine, but by the same token, if he’d shown a little more courtesy one, two or even three days prior (or simply answered the phone once during the 10 days of the saga), it would never have come to that. They did not pick up the phone once in the entire period we were trying to contact them, and we had been in the shop long enough to know that “we’re busy at the moment” just was NOT likely to be true at any of the times we rang! The people in the liquor shop next door were much more helpful, taking messages and passing my phone number on, so if you are ever in Kalbarri, take your custom there and make a point of saying hallo to Rose. Ultimately, though, it’s a lesson learned – don’t leave your credit card in someone else’s hands!
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