Saturday 6th June 2015, warm 30 degrees
Derby to Fitzroy Crossing
Woody is complaining of bruised hands. From breaking the ice crust on his Techni Ice fridge whenever he gets a beer!
The highway is lined with treed grasslands. The grass is so high that we only see the cows when they pop out to amble across the road. It’s a cattleman’s heaven as far as the eye can see.
Fitzroy Crossing is quite small and a good way back from the river but we are later to learn that the town was moved when the bridge was built. We cross the river and stay at the Fitzroy River Lodge which is a charming resort style place offering glamour tents, hotel and caravan park accommodation in vast expanses of shady lawn.
Michael’s 3 Hour Tour
The Lodge offers a town and gorge tour and though a little dearer than the official Parks tour of the Geikie gorge we decide to take it and our lives are richer for it. For three hours we barely utter a peep captivated by Michael’s delivery. He spouts facts and figures in a manner akin to a Shakespearean actor and we all ooh and aah and rumble with giggles. It appears that most of the Pioneer Cemetery has been washed away by the ever widening river. After floods any newly uncovered bones are hastily interred at the new cemetery. In fact, some poor souls have been known to have drowned in the river and then been claimed by it a second time during floods.
The historic 1897 Fitzroy Crossing Inn is no stranger to being inundated by floods. The Fitzroy is WA’s second longest river but with a catchment area the size of Tasmania it carries tremendous volumes in the wet season. It is interesting that West Australians always compare catchment areas to the size of Tasmania isn’t it? Even the roof of the Geikie Gorge visitors centre has been two metres under water. It’s no wonder tourism shuts down in the wet.
Michael tells us of the work of June Oscar OAM (whose work I have been following after reading about her in The Australian newspaper last year). June returned to the Crossing for her brother’s funeral and decided to stay and clean up the town of its alcohol problem. She and other women of the town have fought to bring it back from the brink of utter despair and have put limits on the sale of alcohol as well as introducing meal programs to keep kids at school. The town embarked on a cash a can project raising enough money to build a sports pavilion and to send one of the kids to university to study medicine.
We tour the Geikie gorge by boat, the rocks are limestone and Michael gives us a sound geology lesson and has us all rubbing the rocks to ensure that we are well atuned for what we will see on the river. We see fresh water crocs and watch the gorge glow in the sunset. We assume that the tour is over and that we’ll be returned home, but no.
We’re off again at great speed down a red dusty corrugated road, Michael is clutching the vibrating steering wheel with white knuckles and shouting “this was once the highway between Broome and Darwin!” We pass through Old Fitzroy Crossing and smoke hangs in the air (it is burn off season) and kids play with small fires. Then suddenly we’re bowling down what looks to be a boat ramp and lo and behold we’re on the old causeway….THE Fitzroy Crossing and what a sight it is in the last of the light.
A few encounters with Pretty Face wallabies (named after Michael we’re told) and we’re delivered safely back to the Lodge. Three cheers for Michael what a performance! The gorge was nice too.
A bit more about the achievements of Aboriginal Health Activist June Oscar and the women of Fitzroy Crossing: The supermarket is not licensed to sell alcohol, the Lodge can only sell alcohol to bona fide travellers, which leaves the hotel and it can only sell alcohol lower than 3.5%. Thus, there has been a 45% reduction in hospital admissions, 27% reduction in alcohol related violence, 14% increase in school attendance and an 88% reduction in take away alcohol sales. Keep at it ladies you are opening the door to the future.
Travelling Kms: 261Kms