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2007 - FCA

Foreign Correspondents' Association (Online), Sonja Goernitz, December 2007
 

Being Ancient Again

 

SONJA GOERNITZ, author and journalist from Hamburg, moved to Sydney in 2003. She travelled on The Wilderness Society sponsored trip to Cape York with three other FCA members from October 3 to 10. The tour began at Weipa and the group travelled to David Claudie's land, where they camped for two nights, did a day trip to Lockhart River, went up to Loyalty Beach and to "the tip", then to Bamaga and Cairns via Laura, stopping on the way to see Aboriginal Rock Art near the Jowalbinna Safari Camp.

 

Thirteen people fit into the 4WD bus with high tyres and a flat roof. We are six journalists (two Germans, one Swiss, one Spanish and two Australians), three employees of NECO, a firm promoting environmental solutions; Glenn Walker, Janina Jones and Lil Williamson from The Wilderness Society and Tom Treasure from the Wilderness Challenge.

Glenn chose Wilderness Challenge, because "they are one of the best in the Cape for environmental and social tourism - and they are friends."

Tom Treasure is our driver, first aid officer, tour guide, bush mechanic, chef, coordinator and singer (preferably Elvis). "No worries," he says again and again.

The 4WD bus has a bull bar that is stronger than a roo bar. These OKA models are built in Perth, weigh 4.5 tons and the trailer's 2.5 tons are pulled along. We mostly drive in High 4-mode, because nearly all streets are rough dirt roads.

Tom balances the bus around pot holes, drives small curves, so that the weight shifts. Over the microphone, he suggests sinking into the seats and going along with the bus, roving at an average speed of 90kmh on straight roads.

The vegetation changes abruptly. At times savannah, at times tropical rainforest, at times burnt landscape. The first impression: flames at the airport in Weipa, a mining town at the North East Coast of the peninsula with the biggest Bauxite mine worldwide. Two bush fires burn in the distance under the half moon. No one seems to be concerned.

Maybe to make us feel at home, we stop at the bottle shop. In the neon light, supplies come aboard. One carton of beer with 30 cans cost $51 and a two-litre-cask of wine (bottles are not allowed) $20. In northern regions, nine litres of light or medium strength beer or two litres of wine (no fortified wines) are allowed per vehicle. In the Kaanju land (470.000 ha), alcohol and drugs are prohibited. Two nights all of us spend "dry".

One morning, Tom refuels: 148 litres of Diesel for $245 in Bamaga, a village in the North with an airfield. In this one week, we drive about 2,200km; and Tom made about 3,000km, driving from Cairns to Weipa, to Lockhart River in the East, up to the "tip" (the most Northern point of Australia) and back down to Cairns.

We see plenty of Aboriginal Rock Art at the Brady Creek Circuit, sleep in the cosy cabins of the Jowalbinna Safari Camp, meet the painters of the Lockhart Art Gang, visit the Culture Centre in Leura, pick-nick under trees and swim in many idyllic spots. Crocodiles live all around here. It depends on the season and the water levels of the rivers, where crocs feel comfy. Warning signs with English, German and Chinese words stand at most rivers.

Surprisingly, we do sleep in tents near the salty sea at Loyalty Beach, even though guide books suggest a safety distance of 50 meters from the shoreline. And we swim in the Wenlock River, where a freshwater crocodile lies on a branch and yabbies nibble on our bodies.

One evening we look for the huge flat back turtles at Mutee Head at the Torres Strait. We search the sand in torch light. Crabs rush sideways, waving their claws like clowns.. A baby turtle makes it into the water. And in the dunes, two big and heavy looking females slowly shuffle the sand away below them with their hind flippers (right and left in turn). Glenn is impressed: "It does not happen everyday that you see giant turtles nesting!"

At the bottom of the former volcanic Mt Tozer (543 meters), Tom shows me how to get nectar out of Golden Parrot Tree blossoms. There, he also introduces the group to eating Green Ants. Too much for me, but others dare. Tom teaches us throwing a branch like a spear and a lasso over a pole.

Tom loves his job. He enjoys "working with people from all around the world, being in the bush and communing with nature". He sees the key to happiness in "enjoying what you have" and smiles: "Getting strength from nature - that's the way."

Cape York is three times as big as Belgium. Such wilderness sharpens lots of senses. One early morning I mention that I feel "like a part of nature" here, almost like an ancient human being - or even an animal. Most remain quiet, look at me, only Glenn steps forward and says: "I can relate to that. That is why I come here so often."

If Cape York was World Heritage listed then it would be - together with the neighbouring Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforests - the largest connected World Heritage area on the planet.
 

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