“WHY WON’T YOU LET ME SPEAK???” I scream at Gus – our driver – as we hitchhike through the far north of Western Australia. Gus has been yelling at me for the last five minutes.
Gus, like a number of people who give us lifts in Australia, turns out to be a massive racist. He’s a doctor in an Aboriginal town, and he is one angry man. “I thought I could help Aboriginal people because I’m black, because I’m from Zimbabwe,” he says. “But they don’t want to help themselves.”
He goes on a racist rant, not letting us speak. The final straw comes when he spouts government propaganda: “they’re abusing their kids. Sexual abuse is everywhere.”
I start screaming at him that the best thing he can do is to leave the community that he says he’s “helping”. He yells abuse back at me.
We arrive in Halls Creek. I leave the car in tears, shaking. He gets out and calmly says, “well, it was nice to meet you.”
Halls Creek is a tiny, dusty town in the Kimberley in the far north of Australia. The area been inhabited by Aboriginal people for over 30,000 years and sits on the Great Northern Highway: a grand name for a road which has more tumbleweed than cars passing through. Locals lounge under shady trees, observing tourists filling up petrol.
“Tourists are scared of this town,” the woman in the tourist information office tells us. “They think it’s dangerous.” We look at her in disbelief.
Our next lift, some German backpackers, seem to think so. “That man’s looking inside our car,” they say suspiciously. “Let’s go.”
Western Australia, or WA, is Australia’s largest state. A vast expanse of land where the desert meets the sea. A place where whales, sharks and dugongs swim in the turquoise ocean, and where mining companies rip open the Earth.
Up here in the north, beautifully weird boab trees thrive in the heat. Tropical storms roll in, and lightning strikes the road in front of us with an almighty crash.
The Gibb River Road is a famous route through the heart of the Kimberley. Known for its red dust and potholes, it’s seen as one of Australia’s ultimate adventures. In reality, the Gibb has recently been tamed for tourists, and asphalt makes it an easy drive, aside from a few dusty side roads.
We’re in Bunuba country, and whilst visiting the gorges, caves and creeks, we learn of the Bunuba people’s resistance to British colonisers, and of the legendary Jandamarra, who led a guerilla war against the occupiers in the late 1800s.
Crocodiles, sly and ugly, lurk in Windjana gorge – one of the sites where Jandamarra was attacked by the colonising police force.
We walk deep inside Tunnel Creek – Jandamarra’s hideout where he evaded the occupying forces for three years – and where he was eventually murdered.
Finally we make it to the coast in the far north west of Australia. We’re dropped off on the outskirts of Broome, and we walk through dirt roads to get into the town. We ask a local man the way, and he warns us not to go through one area – inhabited by Aboriginal people – because it will be dangerous. Such is the extent of racism and fear in Australia.
Broome is a pleasant town with the most incredible white sand beach. We spend a couple of days swimming in the sea (locals guarantee us that it’s safe from saltwater crocodiles) and sleeping in the sand dunes, under the stars.
Our plan is to continue hitchhiking all the way down the west coast to Perth, stopping off in beautiful places on the coast along the way. At first it goes well, and we hitch with a man in his twenties, who’s going into the Outback, back to his country, for a corroboree. As he drives, he tells us of the medicinal uses for all the plants around.
But then we get stuck. It’s the height of summer, and there’s no longer many grey nomads around to give us lifts. Australia’s nomadic retirees tend to migrate south again when the weather gets too hot up here.
Standing at the side of the road in Fortescue River, there’s only a mine and a petrol station around. Road trucks pass, and miners drive around. But no-one picks us up. We camp at the river and wait another 24 hours for our next lift: our longest wait in the Australian Outback.
The friendly petrol station manager is from Sri Lanka. In order to get his residency visa he’s had to leave the coast and live here, in the middle of nowhere. He looks after us, giving us tea and food.
We camp at the river. Finally, the next day two men pick us up and we’re on our way again.
To read part 2 of hitchhiking Western Australia, click here. To read our experiences of hitchhiking central Australia, click here and here. To read my account of hitchhiking the east coast, click here.
To read my blog post Learning About Australia, click here.