Where are we now?
We are now at Wyndham which is in the top right hand corner of Western Australia.
Fuel when driving in Australia
There is a website here called Fuel Watch which monitors fuel prices in Western Australia but we took very little notice of it because it would only be any use if you had a choice of where to buy fuel when you needed it.
When you are out in the bush, you rarely have a choice of where to buy fuel. Our policy has always been that if fuel is available, then we buy it no matter what the price. There is absolutely no guarantee that the next nearest fuel station will have any for sale, we have had experience of pulling in to buy fuel and told there is none left but they are expecting a delivery tomorrow or of it being rationed with just enough being sold to get us to the next station. Obviously the more remote the place, the higher the cost of fuel.
We have a 32 cubic ft Engel chest fridge in the back of the van. That is not very large as fridges go and has no freezing compartment, hence this affects how and what we can eat. Tinned and dried foods featured large in our first shopping expedition and regrettably (for a vegetarian), there is a limit as to the amount of fresh food we can purchase because it goes off quite quickly in the heat. Bread is a problem because it is bulky and goes off quite quickly. Milk is not so much of a problem because we store long life milk in the van and only keep the open one in the fridge.
Fresh food can be hard to get in some of the smaller towns because they may only have a delivery once a week and after seven days, most fresh food is looking very tired. We will always remember buying the last loaf of bread (still frozen) on sale in one town, much to the annoyance of someone behind us in the queue who also wanted that loaf.
Practically everything is more expensive in Australia than in the UK and because we have a large checked weight allowance (30+7 kgs each), we brought with us a number of items which are expensive here and cheap in the UK including cleaning cloths, herbal tea bags, coffee and a few other things. Most small places have an independent store (IG is a common brand name) where you can buy the essentials although you will pay extra for the convenience and isolation.
The two major supermarkets (Coles and Woolworths) always seem to have a promotion whereby if you spend enough on groceries, you get a coupon for money off the next time you buy fuel and one of their stations. 4c a litre on a 100 litres of fuel is worth having and hence we shop before we refuel. Woolworths also have a loyalty discount card which is worth using because of the additional "money off” which it gives.
Roadhouses are an Australian institution which sell fuel, sometimes offer a repair service, usually sell hot food of doubtful quality and provide overnight parking for trucks and other travellers. Often they have motel-style accommodation and powered camping facilities for people like us. I cannot remember one roadhouse we have stayed at which we have not found poor in some aspect, but you just have to put up with what you get or you could drive on to the next one which could be a few hundred kms away.
To quote how one sells itself: “XXXX Roadhouse offers a good range of supplies including ice, fresh vegetables & fruit, meat, fresh dairy produce, hardware, auto, souvenirs, whitegoods and tucker for the road. Fuel and driveway service with diesel and UL petrol. Open 8am-5pm Monday-Saturday & 8am-12pm Sunday."
Most roadhouses seem to have highflow diesel pumps as well as the standard ones. Highflow pumps are used by the big rigs which may refill with 400+ litres of diesel, an amount which would take a very long time to get from a standard pump.
We try not to use roadhouses unless we have to because everything will be more expensive. We had to use the roadhouse at Mount Barnett on the Gibb because there was nowhere else, but often with some planning when driving on the main highways, you can arrange to get what you need in one of the larger towns.
We completed the Gibb without using any of the spare days we had set aside for breakdowns or fantastic places which demanded we stayed an additional night etc. So with a few days in hand we decided to turn North rather than South when we came off the Gibb to see what Wyndham was like (and to visit a supermarket, get fuel and more).
Wyndham describes itself at the most northerly town in Western Australia (there are not that many towns to compete against), the deepest port between Darwin and Broome (there are no others) and is situated on the Cambridge Gulf and 3216 km north of Perth. It has an average annual temperature (note AVERAGE not maximum) of 35.6 C and a minimum of 23.2 C and in 1946 recorded 333 consecutive days when the temperature was above 32 C. So in summary, it is hot, humid and isolated.
It is a town which has a significant history and a struggling present. It is not on the road to anywhere other than back the way you came and it has few attractions but we thought it did have an indescribable charm and were pleased to have been there.
Wyndham is the Cambridge Gulf which is at the bottom of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and hence is quite a long way from the open sea. If the word “discovered” is the correct word to use since it has been aboriginal land for thousands of years prior, it was discovered in 1819 and selling it to others started in 1879 when a glowing report was written about its "Pastoral Opportunities”.
A map of how the town might look was produced and plots of land sold to speculators who had never seen the place. Hence much of the new town never materialised - in fact most of it never materialised. This is rather similar to the process we came across in New Zealand where town maps were produced by planners back in the UK according to what they felt should exist but were never built out in the colonies.
The fact that the town is in two parts, the port area and another area known as Three Mile (for obvious reasons) is because at the Port, development space was severely restricted due to salt marshes and other useless land direct behind the Port.
The discovery of gold in Halls Creek (a few hundred kilometres south) led to over 5000 miners passing through the town in the late 1800s and cattle rearing in the region led to the building of the Wyndham Meat Works in 1919.
Google Earth gives some clues to the town that might have once been but now certainly is not. A current satellite view shows streets which do exist (there are houses on them and we have driven up some of them) and streets which do not exist any more. Of course they may have been figments of a planners imagination but one of those in the satellite picture above is called Anthon Street. In the Wyndham of today is Anthon’s Landing which is a pier going out into the river and therefore I assume that Anthon was someone of note and a street named after him must have had houses on it once. Ghost streets are very common and I remember in Coolgardie (a few weeks and many kilometres ago) that the Ghost Streets there still existed albeit they had no houses on them.
Both of these are now history although now the port is where Nickel from a mine near Halls Creek is currently exported to China and also where some live cattle are exported.
On the way into town is a memorial to the role of the Afghan Cameleers who played a significant role here (as elsewhere in Australia) transporting goods across the Outback on the backs of camels. There is a cemetery for the Cameleers in town and it is said that the reason that the graves of some of them are very large is because when they died, their lead camel was buried with them so they could ride to the afterlife.
There is also a monument to the Crocodile - a rather large oversized crocodile which reflects amongst other things, the role of cement in the area !
The area having been “discovered” then attracted many pioneers, a lot of whom died in the process.
The Pioneers Cemetery is a typical example but what is memorable is that the dates of the deaths of these early pioneers is in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This really brings home how relatively young a country Australia is to Europeans.
The town museum is in the old court house
and is full of odds and ends related to the development of the town.
We liked this 1954 calendar with the Queen on it,
this push button A and B phone (anyone under 60 reading this will have to ask their grandparents how the system worked)
and a horrific photograph dated around the early 1900s showing Aboriginal Prisoners in neck chains which the explanation in the museum said were still in use in the 1940s. As the colonising country, the UK has a lot to feel guilty and ashamed about.
I was amused to see this poster for the Royal Flying Doctor Service
because as a child, I used to listen to stories about the Australian Flying Doctor Service on Children's Hour on the Home Service. The phrase “Flying Doctor to Wollumbulla Base” is etched in my memory.
Along the old High Street, some original buildings are still standing. This is the Old Wyndham shop “Lee Tong’s” General Store.
and next to it is a building straight out of the 1950s
and opposite is a newer version of the Town Hotel (this again looks 1950s) which replaced a typical double storey with large veranda hotel of the Victorian period.
The town is overlooked by “The Bastion” (named in 1819).
There were controlled bushfires burning on it when we were there
and this is the fire at night.
To start them a helicopter flies over the area dropping incendiaries and the objective is to burn off the dead scrub before it gets too dense. It is also the case that a lot of native species need to be in a bush fire before they will germinate.
Going to the top of The Bastion at sunset is a tradition and this is the view of the old town and the salt pans at sunset. This picture also shows the and directly behind the port upon which the early planners in London theoretically built the town of Wyndham - salt pans and marshes are no good for houses, factories and shops.
This view looks south to where three of the five rivers flow into the gulf, the five rivers being the Durack, Pentecost, Ord, King and Forrest.
this looks north out of the gulf where the other two rivers flow into the gulf but are still a long way from the open sea
and this of course is the sun setting to the west - quite a reasonable sunset.
We are staying at the Wyndham Caravan Park in the centre of town which surprised us because it really was very good.
We had a shady pitch with water
and nearby was a very large Boab Tree (25 metres in circumference) said to be 2000 years old. I suspect this is a guess but it certainly is large and old.
Now we are going to Kununurra for a couple of days R&R, then to Lake Argyle for some more R&R (we deserve it after The Gibb) and then we will be driving to Katherine in the Northern Terretories. In theory we are now under 1000 kms from Darwin where we will be returning our rather grubby but much loved and respected van in just over one week’s time.