Sunday, May 1, 2011


After completing a rather curly veranda over the space of a few days, with numerous "sh*t, f*ck, b*stard" moments that beset the beginner builder, I attached the guttering with some wire to a piece of wood on the roof and improvised a drainpipe of sisal rope. It is always a case of how many days I have out there. All I wanted to do this time was get the rainwater happening. Note the gypsyed-up rainwater tank - a thousand litre drum previously used for hydrogen peroxide, now painted camo and used for a completely different purpose that it was intended!

This whole time I was at Kundip a lightning storm hung over the Barren Ranges, snagged on the jagged edges. Nights there are always bright because there are no electric lights but the new gold mine infrastructure glows on the horizon. In my shack I can see the eerie orange reflection against the clouds. It is like driving a night time desert highway and seeing the lights of the roadhouse for a hundred miles before you get there. These Kundip nights too were lit up with consistent flashes, the 'sky sparks' coming from way out to sea off Hopetoun.

Daytimes were full of rain, blue skies, then the strange clouds announcing more rain, followed by rainbows - doubled and even trebled on the horizon and then more blue skies.

"The light is different out here," Dad said to me, on his visit. I was thankful for this comment. The light is indeed different to the south coast. It seems more diffused, gentler than the stark blue and white hues of the coast. He reckoned it is because trees on the horizon here part to reveal the sky behind them. It is not the solid scrub of the south. Of course light is different, in every country you enter. But I was grateful because the pictures I have taken of this country always turn out looking drab and grey and it is not like that at all. The earth is rich red or white with quartz and there is water all around and zany emerald native plants. The colours are almost too vivid for the naked eye but for some reason my photographs don't reflect that and I've been confused about this, until he said the thing about the light.

Anyway, after the sisal rope downpipe effort, I packed up my tools and my camp and hit the road, accompanied by a compilation CD of Joni Mitchell, The Pogues and Ella Fitzgerald. I was going 'home' to Albany. But on the way I wanted to stop in at the tip (always a good lurk in a mining town) and get a bit of a drive around the bush. These are some camels on the way ...

At the rubbish dump, I found some gorgeous bridge timbers way too huge and heavy for me to do anything with. After that I inadvertantly chased some emus down the road and got frowned at by the bloke behind me, when I stopped in the middle of the track with my camera hanging out the car.

Across the road from the town dump is the old cemetary.

I went through town and took the next left down the Cocanarup Road. The last time I went down the four wheel drive track to Cocanarup, I stumbled across the bush grave of John Dunn. Finding this was a bit unsettling because I knew fragments of the story. The tombstone's inscription says something akin to "You never know when they are gonna get ya." (Matthew 24:42) In 1880, this man was executed by spearing. His killing sparked a massacre by his brothers and others.

I come to land scoured by a century of farming. It is grim country indeed. Just stones on earth and no trees, punctuated with wire lines strung through holes in jam posts. The original farm buildings sit in stone on a hilltop, windswept, rock strewn. Dunn Country.

Drive down into the Phillips River valley, just across from the old farm and the country becomes salmon gum green. It is a whole different eco-system in the valley. The air is cooler, the light greener. It is here that John Dunn is buried and perhaps also here that a lot of the Old People are buried  - in a mass, hidden grave. People tell the story of survivors from that terrible day driven across the coasthills to Esperence and Bremer Bay. On their way home the horsemen poisoned all the waterholes so the Old People couldn't return to their country.

There is a report in the Albany Library on the Cocanarup massacre and Kim Scott's book, Kayang and Me also has a chapter about what happened there.

I forded numerous crossings of the Phillips River on that drive, to the strains of the Pogues, rolling cigarettes and pouring coffee from the flask. It took me several hours to crawl over sharp rocks and creep through huge forests. And those forests are big, almost like the karris, without the soft understory of leatherwoods. I saw where the now-dry river had pushed branches against the gums to almost three metres high in times of flood. Then I found the pool. Tracked with emus, snakes, bangaras and kangaroos was this waterhole. A remnant of bigger river days.

By this stage, I thought I was probably right behind my block on the Hopetoun road. But still I drove for another hour, keeping the Barrens on my right. Finally I came out at a miner's road and true to call, a miner roared past me in a spin of dust and red flags, his face set purposefully at the steering wheel. I thought I would back-track him and so I turned onto the big road and drove for a while, checking out the silo's and any sign of a town. I could see both the Barrens and the Ravensthorpe Ranges, but after being in the Phillips River valley and the world of the Dunns for so long, I was quite disorientated.

Imagine my laughter and surprise, when I realised I'd circled a massive amount of that grim, stony country and ended up back at the tip!


  1. An outback 'lifestyle' post - but without the recipes! Brismod is still working on her veranda, and you've managed to build a house in a few days.

    "Executed by spearing" - at first, I thought you had left off the capital letter of a man called 'Spearing', then I realised what you meant...

  2. Would love to go for a drive with you one day, Sarah.

  3. Yes, the man was most certainly executed ... for crimes that give life to such sayings as "Necessity is the mother of invention and the father of half caste children".

    Dunn was lured away from the shepherd and into the bush, where he was killed. Everyone knew who did it but I don't know how many could forsee the payback repercussions.
    I saw policemen on horses tonight, on Stirling Terrace and somone commented on how nice it was to see policemen on horseback rather than buzzing around in pursuit cars. Back in those days, being chased across the country by armed men on horseback may not have seemed quite so nice!

    Despite all that historical drama, BT, it is a beautiful place to explore. So long as you can stand the Pogues and my smoking!

  4. PS ...and my swearing and telling stories.

  5. Excellent story ST. Great pics too. Having lived in tin huts in the bush I know it's not as romantic as you paint it, but from here......well, sigh......'livin' the dream'. Cos to me THIS is the Australian white-man's dreaming.

  6. The internet? It is all about perception and presentation really, hey?

  7. ...look forward to getting lost on the way to your fabulous shack ST - Can't be far off a party now...the tanks in!

  8. Speaking of getting lost, that's what I was reading this. What a fantastic series this is. Those grave shots are unreal. It's so desolate, so lonely, so rough. It's dry and sandy and you can almost feel the wind moving through the spaces between the trees and their long spindly branches. Big country, more easily traversed by motorised vehicles, but in the days of John Dunn everyone who wasn't a native was a very long way from anywhere. It's a shuddering thought, living out there with your bare wits, a couple of horses and a thousand sheep, in native country, with no rules and nobody to keep them anyway. Young native women, mostly naked, and a couple of men with no mother to stand over them, up high on their horses, carrying their guns, getting away with doing what they know is all wrong. And then, amongst the snakes and lizards, the roaming emus and silent kangaroos, a spear comes quivering through the air, its pointed tip aimed straight at your heart. Payback.

  9. Yes, the tank is in! WY. But it is the usual story ("Will Work For Land") and I won't be there a lot until mid year.
    That said, if ever you want to trek down that way, let me know. It is a gorgeous spot to camp. Maybe the housewarming could be around the Spring Equinox. Great wildflowers.

  10. And Ciaran, thank you for that narrative, for that is what it is, and you took me there, totally. I don't think the town was established when the brothers first farmed there, so they really were on their own, in a whitefella kinda way.

  11. Great picture of the emus!

    Just to expose my ignorance....what are 'bangaras' ?

    And, is that rainwater tank safe?

    Nothing better than a circular journey...a beautiful piece.

  12. Hi Sontag. Hey I'll still be in Lonnie for the first week of July, for the History on the Edge conference. I'd love to meet you. We'll try and get south somehow.

    Emus are great hey?
    Bangaras or Kardas are goannas.
    apparently Hydrogen peroxide is completely safe, once it converts to water ...

  13. Hello Sarah,

    I read with great interest your story about the Cocanarup site. Sarah, tell me, is the Cocanarup road easily navigatable with a four-wheel drive?



    1. Hi Paul, the flood last year has chewed a bit of the track out around the Phillips river. A four wheel drive could do it though.