West­ern Aus­tralia:

JANE WISHAW trav­els to a re­mote part of Aus­tralia to see an amaz­ing an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture, culi­nary arts and more.

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Contents -

An out­back event with a dif­fer­ence

The Kar­i­jini Ex­pe­ri­ence, staged in the heart of West­ern Aus­tralia’s out­back Pil­bara coun­try, hosts 55 events over six days in April, timed to co­in­cide with Aussie school hol­i­days and the re­gion’s best weather. The openness and gen­eros­ity of the tra­di­tional own­ers of Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park, the Ban­jima peo­ple, in shar­ing their cul­ture, their his­tory and their love of “Coun­try” is what makes this event so spe­cial. It af­fords a tourist like me the unique priv­i­lege to en­gage with daily life, up close and per­sonal, in the park’s beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. It’s an in­dige­nous ex­pe­ri­ence I be­lieve is un­sur­passed any­where in the world.

These re­mark­able peo­ple, who’ve lived here for over 30,000 years, don’t have books record­ing their trav­els through the cen­turies; in­stead, they have a rich cul­ture of sto­ry­telling told through their Dream­time of song, dance and yarns. An­cient gorges, wa­ter­falls, rock pools, moun­tain ranges and vast open plains formed over bil­lions of years is what I’ve come to jour­ney through – a spec­tac­u­lar wilder­ness.

The jour­ney

The near­est cap­i­tal city is Perth, 1,500km away, but it could be a mil­lion miles from here. It’s a land of ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­tremes and in­tense beauty, and it grabbed my heart from the minute I ar­rived.

Leav­ing a bustling metropo­lis like Sin­ga­pore, you’re trav­el­ling to an old-world ex­pe­ri­ence; in­ter­net con­nec­tion is lim­ited and you have to plan your day wisely in this re­mote coun­try.

Ar­riv­ing at the Pil­bara’s Parabur­doo air­port, I’m soon set­ting off in my Bud­get Prado four-wheel drive for the two-hour drive to Kar­i­jini, my bush hat on my head. Lift­ing my fin­ger just off the wheel, I greet fel­low mo­torists – not that there are many.

Pass­ing signs telling driv­ers to be­ware of kan­ga­roos, emus and cat­tle, I see a ma­jes­tic wedge-tailed ea­gle cir­cling in the sky; then my heart leaps as a mas­sive bun­garra lizard darts out from nowhere. White cock­a­toos flock above as the road weaves through the moun­tain range.

Af­ter a quick stop in a min­ing town called Tom Price, I’m back on track. The sun slips be­hind Mount Bruce, bathed in crim­son. One and a half hours later, I’m en­ter­ing the park, where vi­brant pink Ever­last­ing flow­ers line the un­sealed road.

At Kar­i­jini Eco Re­treat, Gen­eral Man­ager Garry Sul­li­van greets me with a torch and direc­tions. I drive to my deluxe tent, 29 Snappy Gum Loop. There are no keys; I sim­ply un­zip the front door and I’m in, awash with a feel­ing of free­dom. Un­der my steamy open-air shower, I drink in the moon’s magic.

Din­ner is wild-caught bar­ra­mundi paired with a fine drop of Aussie red; I’m con­tent! Propped up in bed, I see a mil­lion stars over­head, and I hear water cas­cad­ing over nearby Jof­frey’s Gorge. A mopoke calls – “hoot, hoot” – and I’m lulled to sleep by the sounds of na­ture.

In­cred­i­ble events

The Kar­i­jini Ex­pe­ri­ence big tent is lo­cated on the park’s airstrip, op­po­site the must-see Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park Vis­i­tor Cen­tre. The var­i­ous work­shops, per­for­mances, tours and so­cial events take place here and in other lo­ca­tions in the area.

Cook­ing demon­stra­tions by in­dige­nous celebrity chef Mark Olive (aka “The Black Olive”) were a huge hit – the kids es­pe­cially en­joyed the damper. His “bush tucker” high-tea treats and spicy kan­ga­roo Sin­ga­pore noo­dles with na­tive spices were de­li­cious too.

I at­tempted to play the didgeri­doo, and I held a huge wedge-tailed ea­gle in my hand. Watch­ing kids craft boomerangs and play in­stru­ments with a string quar­tet from the West­ern Aus­tralia Sym­phony Orches­tra brought smiles. Jose, a Ku­rama women, sang in her na­tive lan­guage and con­ducted a tra­di­tional smok­ing cer­e­mony. My feet were anointed with red earth and sa­cred oils, and I made an Abo­rig­i­nal pro­tec­tion charm with pa­per­bark and na­tive plants; both per­sonal firsts. My hands-on en­ergy “ac­ti­va­tion” and clair­voy­ant read­ing by Sis­tars Dream­ing was en­light­en­ing.

The bush

Ban­jima el­der Mait­land Parker led a morn­ing cul­tural bush walk, to­gether with his brother Trevor, and Ban­jima Rangers Al­lan and Heidi. Point­ing out a cork tree, he ex­plained how the dark bark is used to pro­tect the skin; there were edi­ble plants too, in­clud­ing mus­tard bush leaf used to brew heal­ing tea. Sit­ting amidst golden spinifex lis­ten­ing to sto­ries about tribal law, I looked at the bush through dif­fer­ent eyes.

Gu­rama crafts­man Wayne Stevens demon­strated mak­ing Yandi bowls, boomerangs, shields and dance sticks used in cor­ro­boree. He also hosts rockart tours. We drove along a bumpy, all-but-hid­den track with Wayne, be­fore stop­ping to walk through high grasses and streams. Di­rect­ing my gaze up­ward, he pointed to a draw­ing of a lizard; “That fella ex­tinct,” he said; then, point­ing to an­other, “He still lives”. See­ing an­cient artis­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of hu­man fig­ures, tur­tles and sym­bols sig­ni­fy­ing spring­wa­ter was mind blow­ing.

I was also starstruck by an evening of so­lar as­tron­omy and nightscape pho­tog­ra­phy. The sky here is un­be­liev­ably clear, with no man­made light to in­ter­fere. As I peered through mas­sive tele­scopes, The Milky Way and The South­ern Cross ap­peared so near. Kids lay on their backs nearby, squeal­ing at the blasts of shoot­ing stars.

Sit­ting on sun- warmed stone in a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre of cliffs, bush­land and run­ning streams was a breath­tak­ing po­si­tion to take in Opera in the Gorge, and the un­for­get­tably pure voices of in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed in­dige­nous per­form­ers.

Top T tucker

One of the real high­light nights came cour­tesy of Fer­vor, a gas­tro­nomic pop-up din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence fea­tur­ing na­tive Aus­tralian cui­sine, and led by Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Paul “Yoda” Iskov. Din­ner was served on a white­clothed ta­ble adorned by can­dle­light, with spinifex grass shap­ing our bush din­ing room and a gal­axy of stars as our ceil­ing.

Maître d’ Steph Pronk pre­pared an ar­rival G&T (per­fect!) as I lo­cated my place on the ta­ble set for 30. Na­tive lemon­grass and wat­tle seed for­aged by Ban­jima Rangers were in­cor­po­rated into our lav­ish eight-canape, 10-course feast. Na­tive limes, bush tomato and river mint fea­tured too, with tan­ta­lis­ing tastes of mul­let, emu and croc­o­dile. My hero dish was the kan­ga­roo, wat­tle seed, sand­pa­per fig and san­dal­wood-nut miso. Salt­bush fudge with riberry nougat proved a won­der­fully sweet fin­ish for a Miche­lin Star-qual­ity meal.

Di­verse vis­tas

I was lucky to meet pro­fes­sional canyon guide Sven Borg, and jumped at the chance of a mid-morn­ing tour to Han­cock Gorge. Once there, I swam fully clothed,

boots and all, down the nar­row gorge and through the nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre to a fea­ture known as Spi­der Walk.

We also hiked up and over to Weano Gorge, be­fore de­scend­ing into more mir­rored pools shrouded by white gums, pa­per­barks and fig trees. Back up at the top, at Oxer Look­out, we saw banded rock for­ma­tions glow­ing in the set­ting sun. Look­ing down to the gorge, I was struck by a pro­found sense of achieve­ment; I had sat all the way down there, closer to the earth’s core.

An­other dream come true was float­ing in the bil­l­abong oa­sis of Fern Pool un­der a bril­liant blue sky, and sud­denly see­ing the iri­des­cent flash a king­fisher’s wings. Fruit bats chat­tered and an olive python hung out close by, hope­ful of a feed. I swam across the cool fresh­wa­ter pool, climbed un­der a ledge and let cas­cad­ing water fall over my head. Chil­dren played, nat­u­ral, fresh and free.

On clos­ing night, Mait­land Parker called out to the au­di­ence, “Tharn ar ru”, and spir­ited the crowd to call back to him with the same greet­ing, which we did. It means “wel­come”, “hello” and “g’day” in the Ban­jima lan­guage. Tears tum­bled down my cheeks when Ban­jima el­der Alec Tucker sang with gui­tar in hand, and he was fol­lowed by a stel­lar line-up of Abo­rig­i­nal tal­ent; Archie Roach, Mark Aitken, Seth Lowe, Gina Wil­liams and Guy Ghouse, amongst oth­ers.

With dusty pink clouds of pin­dan sand set­tling on the nat­u­ral stage, the evening’s cor­ro­boree came to a close. Mait­land rose and, with arms open wide, in­vited the crowd to join the dance. To­gether, we mim­icked emus and kan­ga­roos, mov­ing to the same song un­der the moon.

Then I heard Mait­land’s words to me, again in Ban­jima: “We never say good­bye; we say, ‘Un­til we see each other again’.”

A truly re­mark­able jour­ney, and I can’t wait to hear more of Kar­i­jini’s song.


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