THE RE­TURN

Tracks - - Curious Species -

More than 20 years on, we were headed back. 20 years since DC Green, An­drew Fer­gu­son and Mick Camp­bell rst ven­tured out here had done lit­tle to stem the ru­mours and in­nu­endo com­ing from Salt Bush. It was still out­side the bound, buried in an end­less ex­panse of red earth, ocean and ob­scu­rity. Too small for any­one to give a shit about and too in­hos­pitable for all but a se­lect few. And who were these few? What kept them here? What brought them here in the rst place? These were the ques­tions that hov­ered in our minds as we set out. This was sup­posed to be my coun­try, Aus­tralia, but Salt Bush was no coun­try I knew. It is a dif­fer­ent Aus­tralia. One you can hear about, or read about, all you like but won't be­lieve un­til you ac­tu­ally go there.

De­spite the ru­mours of vi­o­lence and in­tim­i­da­tion there had been some signi cant changes since those fate­ful early mis­sions. The surf in­dus­try for one had made in­roads here, some­thing be­lieved im­pos­si­ble as re­cently as a decade ago. Kelly Slater came here and broke ev­ery rule in the book by shoot­ing one of the re­gion's most ercely pro­tected waves. Bil­l­abong se­cured the help of a colour­ful lo­cal iden­tity to give their team safe pas­sage in the area. Dion Atkin­son scored a cover shot here and was banned for life.

Those small wins had been coun­ter­bal­anced by other signi cant losses, how­ever. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of meth-am­phet­a­mine here be­ing one of the big­ger ones. A vile drug con­ducive to rad­i­cal spurts of ac­tiv­ity, pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­evitable psy­chosis, it's hard to think of a sub­stance less suit­able to the bar­ren earth and gen­eral list­less­ness of Salt Bush. How it would man­i­fest when com­bined with our mis­sion and the erce lo­cal­ism was any­one's guess. As we set out the ru­mour mill was run­ning hot. Bull, the el­der lo­cal fa­mous for blast­ing shot­gun rounds over the heads of vis­it­ing surfers, was still around. Crazy Ed had just been re­leased from jail, again. And Ghost was a cer­tainty to show up on the cliffs the mo­ment a cam­era was pulled out.

We'd seen things we never thought we'd see from Salt Bush. Vi­sions of green splen­dour that the world now knows is very worth pro­tect­ing. But how long would this golden age of press free­dom last? The land re­mained as re­mote and law­less as ever. A place where a quick shove, or rock hurled from the top of a cliff, meant in­stant un­trace­able death. They say trends are a re­ac­tion to what came be­fore and with great se­crecy had come a need to know what se­crets Salt Bush held. Now that the se­crets had been ex­posed, who would be the rst to be made an ex­am­ple of?

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