Well the big day has arrived. It was very exciting arriving at the Hobart airport and meeting up with Demi, Bella, Sean and Sophia and seeing their excitement. Mind you some of their families seemed even more excited and nervous than the students. Mr Dwyer arrived and calmly organized us through the check in process. Bella coped really well with all this and had even sent her mum home even before check in!
The flight to Melbourne was uneventful and Felt a little helpless when Demi started to develop an earache and an inability to clear her ears by the normal processes of swallowing etc., I have experienced this previously and it can be an excoriating pain. The landing was eventful in that most of us were talking and not taking a lot of notice of how close to the ground we were and all of a sudden the wheels touched down and gave a slight bounce and certainly lots of noise. More good fortune than self-constraint that a few expletives were not forthcoming! At Melbourne we wandered around looking at the shops and buying some lunch – your normal things like Subway and Macca’s! Feeling very relaxed at this stage.
Melbourne to Darwin
Our flight to Darwin took five hours but I kept occupied through addokus and then watching ‘The Diary of the Whimpy Kid’ – very enjoyable. Again Demi got earache and I tried hard to encourage her to get involved in conversation, TV etc., to take her mind off it but she was just wrapped up in her pain for a while. Then Sean invited her to listen into his Foxtel and she got talking and started looking a little better. She turned to me and said Gee it doesn’t hurt as much when I do other things and I don’t think about it! Yes Demi! Oh that’s what you were trying to tell me. Sorry. There was lots of cloud through the Centre but occasionally we saw great tracts of red soil. Closer to Darwin the cloud look like the pictures you see of icefields in Antartica then gradually we flew really close to huge storm clouds. The flight was smooth and the landing uneventful except for the excitement that was building.
When we disembarked onto the airstrip the heat felt great. It was around 6.30pm and the tem was in mid to late 20’s. There was a short trip to our Motel. This was funny because as the shuttle bus pulled up at the first place on its route, Bella said Wow wouldn’t it be great if this was our place. Then they spotted the sign and said Wow it is! We found our room, a 3 bedroom apartment which was very nicely set out. I found it strange that on the bus then in the apartment there was so much air conditioning that even for a Tasmanian it was cold! It was a pleasure to go for a walk to search out tea. Not much open so we ended up in a rooftop restaurant where the meal was probably more than Mr. Kelly bargained for! We were starved and realized we (at least the adults) needed a decent feed. A stark contrast to this morning when I had a coffee and two meat pies for breakfast on board the ferry. I really needed the coffee as I had a withdrawal headache as I had not had one since lunch the previous day. After tea we went back to the motel and went to the pool. Surprisingly the pools were cold but this was really nice. We were mostly settled into bed by 10pm and though I had a restless sleep it was sufficient to feel bright and alert in the morning when the alarm rang at 5.40am.
Monday – going to the Tiwi Islands
We showered and packed and met our taxi at 6.30am to the ferry terminal where we caught the Tiwi Island Ferry. Dawn was just happening and there were lots of birds in the many different trees along the way and around the motel. While on board the ferry we were speeding along with open seas on either side for most of the way. We saw a school of tuna and a few fish jumping. Lots of storm clouds were gathering on either side of the ferry but disappeared by the time we got to the island. Students were all happy and very excited as am I. Greg was talking to Jane last night and she had to go out for a drive as so many of her students were turning up at her place to see if we had arrived or if she had heard anything. The passengers on the ferry were a mix of tourists and Tiwi Islands returning to the islands. I talked to one lady with a small child and discovered her daughter was in the Gr. 6 class with whom we were linking. Most of the Aboriginal people do have really dark skins and all seem fairly friendly. As we neared the islands we could see long white beaches and the waters were clear with different shades of green. The ferry moored off shore of a small settlement on Bathurst Island and passengers had to board a punt in order to get to the island. It had a ramp at the front and just lowered the ramp and ran up onto the shore – a brown gravel! The barge then came back and took us and other people going to Melville Island across to a ramp where lots of vehicles were waiting. There is not a settlement on this part of Melville Island, people use vehicles to go to and from the ferry when needed.
At the Tiwi Islands – arriving and exploring
Jane, Bradley and about eleven of the class were there to meet us and they were very excited and welcoming. After introductions our gear was taken by the local policeman who was going to drop it at the school while we set off to explore the Eastern part of the Island. This was a great experience. The roads were this thick red soil with some muddy parts as a result of a storm late yesterday and they were lined with a variety of trees. I was a little surprised to see this red soil on the island and also to see lots of plantations. Some were a type of tall skinny pine and the others were a tropical tree that Bradley did not know the name of. We saw several frill necked lizards on the road and by the time we returned there were heaps out and about. We managed to stop and get a photo of one that had taken to a tree for refugee. Gee they can run fast. We were hoping to catch sight of wild buffalo but this did not happen today. We did see a number of wild horses – brumbies. Later we would see 5-6 that wander around the community. We went past the college which has about 30 students. It is seemingly in the middle of nowhere in relation to where everything else is on the island. A bit further on we stopped at the creek for lunch and a swim. There was this lovely waterfall which was a bit of a miracle really for a fairly flat island! It had quite a flow after yesterday’s rain. I was in the girl’s vehicle and was getting a little concerned that Sophia, Demi and Bella did not seem to be making any effort to interact with the Tiwi Island students. Mind you many of these girls were very quiet too. Bradely and I were having a great chat. Bradely is like a Teacher’s Assistant for the Gr.6/7 class. At the waterfall I had a bit of a chat with the girls and they all started making a bit more effort. Sean quickly made friends and was one of the first into the water for a swim or really a ride down the current and small drops. I think he had the advantage with being the only boy visitor thus not having a friend to cling to. All of us except Mr. Dwyer went for a swim though the three girls only got their legs wet.
There was a mix up on the way back from the waterfall. Our vehicle was ahead and when Bradely could not see at the college he went on back towards the school. We realized after a while that the other vehicle was not behind us but he was not concerned. Apparently we were meant to stop at the college and have a tour. The others did this thus we were back at the school almost an hour before they arrived. We were introduced to some of the other staff and students and then just lazed around till the others arrived. After school finished we came back to Jane’s and organized our sleeping etc., Greg and the students went for a walk on the beach then swimming at the pool across the road while I had some time out. My energy soon returned and when Jane came back we tried a few of the local fruits. A pink passionfruit which was delicious, the fruit part of a cashew nut which is a bit like a persimon - juicy to start but then dries the mouth out. There are coconuts and mangoes trees but they are not in season.
The blue light disco at the school was an experience. After a slow start things livened up with the arrival of lots more families and the djs running some competitions with prizes. they had a barbecue, icy cups and an amazing range of glow accessories. The children were great dancers and knew the words of lots of songs. I danced a lot too, some close to the dances at my Monday Zumba! Also spent time talking to the adults, all very friendly apart from one or two who did not seem to have english. Asked Jane later and she said they probably were not able to hear me due to hearing problems rather than lack of English. Back Janes it was shower and sleep.
After a leisurely breakfast and organizing our day packs for the few things we needed for our campout we wandered up to school and most of the class watched a DVD called 10 Canoes while others helped with the packing of the trailer etc., We had lunch at 10am with the rest of the school then set off on a 40mn drive to a beautiful spot on the north western part of Melville Island. At least three quarters of Melville Islands coast line is beautiful white beach and this particular beach was the site for an Eco Tourist business but unfortunately the kitchen building got wiped out in a cyclone and the owner ran off with some of the funds. It had been a thriving business giving employment to many islanders. The remaining buildings are owned by islanders and we had use of the verandah and toilet of one with both hot and cold water. These were on the top of a 2-3 metre sand bank thus giving protection from crocodiles coming up onto the beach. We pitched small tents without their flys on a small grassy patch but one without any shade. My Guiding skills came in handy as several of the tents had pole problems and they needed sand pegging in the persistent wind that was blowing. After setting up we packed up our second lunch supplies and went up the coast about a km to the Love Shack – an open shelter set in the shade of the trees. We hung out here for a while then went for a walk along the beach. It was exciting to find what seemed like a fresh turtle egg nest but when poked with a stick the stick did not come up wet and the sand seemed quite hard so we think the turtle had found the sand too hard and gave up. The next morning there was another set of turtle tracks and a depression but again it did not yield eggs. If it had we would have eaten them or at least had a try. There are some beaches where eggs can be taken and others where it is prohibited to ensure turtle populations continue. I was sure I saw a turtle swimming in the distance at one stage and we saw some dolphins playing around about 200 metres from the shore. But alas no crocodiles as yet. The rest of the afternoon consisted of some more beach walking, a treasure hunt and free time. Oh we went for a short drive to another beach that is a camp area that was given to the stolen generation and their children as ‘Their country’. Many of the islanders are descendants of the stolen generation. While there Kate, Shania and myself went for a short walk to a small cliff and while the two girls were clambering over it they saw a diamond headed python and soom came scampering down. I had just started to climb up to them and they almost beat me down! Back at camp I got the chance to set and light the cooking far while Jane and Greg went off with the kids. We cooked potatoes in foil, steaks a made a salad. Sean mixing in really well and Demi, Bella and Sophia now making more effort and occasionally splitting up though they are sharing a tent together. Mitch and Irene came out and Irene showed us how to bake a damper in hot sand. Some of the other elders who had said they would come did not turn up due to the draw of the club being open! This was disappointing but just part of life on the island. It did result in our campfire being a bit aimless as we did not have the guitar or the lead singers and by this stage many of the children were overtired and going a bit hypo! I led a couple of songs I knew from Guiding that I thought they would enjoy and these seemed to go down okay.
Sunset was pretty though not spectacular as I know they can be. It took a little while for the children to settle to sleep and it was really nice with the adults just sitting around the fire in the warmth of the evening. I was feeling very relaxed but for some reason my brain would not slow down and sleep took a long time to come. During the night I was awoken with the two camp dogs barking as they chased off dingos. It was great just lying on my back watching the stars through the netting.
Packing up and leaving camp
The dogs did their barking act again at 6am and most of the camp stirred and slowly started to rise. We packed up the tents (couldn’t do this in Tasmania !at 7am), had breakfast, packed the trailer and then went down to do sand sculptures on the beach and ended up walking up the love shack and back before departing the site. Sophia feeling sick but the worked out that the milk was full cream and this was the likely cause and it soon passed. On the way back we dropped into several other beaches. On one of these we had a feed of oysters. You just use a rock to knock the top of them as they are fairly small but delicious, quite sweet but salty at the same time. The boys again had the spears out and got a large sand crab. Yesterday they got a couple of small sharks. We saw more plantations and also the log plant but unfortunately the whole business is not operating at the present time – gone broke! We had a view of the large wharf which was part of this operation but again a cyclone badly damaged this a few years ago. Most things that get cyclone damage don’t seem to get built again – too expensive and probably disheartening for outside operators. Rather hungry by this stage – they don’t seem to eat a lot and the food supplies ran out by the time the adults got to the front of the line! We went into the swimming hole but with rumours that a croc had been spotted here a few months ago Jane was cautious and reluctant to let us go in even though she doubted these rumours due to the position and lack of food suitable for crocs and also that it was fresh water.
Back in town
So we went back to the school arriving about 12.30 where sandwiches awaited us – yea food then everyone dispersed to go home and have showers. Fortunately Mitch who had brought the trailer back with him in the morning had unloaded it and we didn’t have to do much at all. Back at Jane’s we unpacked, washed bedding and clothing, showered and relaxed. When the pool next door opened at 2.30 Sean, Demi, Bella and I went across for a swim. This was fun and several of the younger children kept coming up and grabbing me and chatting and playing. The girls found this too though they attracted small girls while I attracted small boys! Sophia who was fine just wanted some quite time. Mr. D went off with Jane to return one of the vehicles. After some down time I went down to the beach and had a chat with one of the locals and some visitors she had from Adelaide – the tide was too high to go for a walk as you need more beach space with the threat of crocodiles, They can come out of the water at 25km per hour! We will finish for now and go and check out tonight’s sunset. Doesn’t look like there will be an afternoon storm though Jane thought the humidity would have indicated this.
went for a swim in pool across road and this refreshing and fun. the smaller children kept swimming up, clinging on and chatting away. several wild horses went past being chased by local dogs! The sunset tonight was short but spectacular! Beautiful colours while I stood on the picnic table at back of beach hoping to catch sight of a crocodile but no luck. Mitch, Irene and Bella came around and had tea with us. Spag bog which the girls helped prepare. A reasonably early night and a much better sleep than last night. Sean very tired but Bella, Sophia and Demi still alert and chatty mind you they were all asleep very quickly.
Thursday around town
Am excited about today. all in town and exploring the cultural centre etc., Sophia still really tired so is having an extra sleep till it is time to go to the centre. I have stayed at the house
with her thus having time to catch up my blog cum diary. We caught up with the others around 10.30am at the school and went to the women's centre where we were able to buy bags and tee shirts. Great watching the women do the etching out of tiles then using these to print onto material. At the art school the students were having a go at drawing and painting on a piece of canvas and some of their work was very impressive. Our guys each produced something which they were able to bring home. a number of artists were at work and words do not really relate the great work they were doing. Most works took about two days.The art centre itself was a tin shed but with lots of art work on both the inside and outside walls. Today we received Tiwi School shirts and wore these proudly most of the dy. After school Greg, Sean and Sophia went to meet the weekly barge, a real community event. Demi and Bella went across to the pool for a swim while I contacted Stuart and parents re permission to go out in a tinny to try and see crocodiles. while they all agreed the wind picked up and ruled this out as all the signs were for an impending storm but this did not happen in the end. just as well as Sean developed an earache and Jane and Greg took him off to track down the community nurse and get something for it. I stayed chatting with two of the locals and this was very informative and interesting. the girls were off walking. it turned out to be very safe for them to do this in daylight as long as they stayed together. Another spectacular sunset then we has a party at Janes with some of the staff as a farewell thank you. This was very pleasant with lots of fish and crabs to try. Patrick had his guitar and we had some singing. Tiwi singing is beautiful. He sang the students a farewell song before they went to bed. Now just chatting with Jane before heading to bed. already packed as we have an early start. it will be hard to leave.
Friday heading for Darwin
At the 8am muster at the school the TIwi students somewhat reluctantly did their skin group traditional dances for us as a goodbye. I Think they were embarrassed as there were only 3 or 4 doing each dance. after thankyou's and goodbyes to the staff we were driven to the airstrip while most of the Tiwi students walked or rode bikes. The plane trip was uneventful and little to see as it was cloudy though I did catch sight os several of the rivers just as we left Melville Island and they were surprisingly long and large. It was disappointing not been able to get a bird's eye view of Darwin to Tiwi to Timor and islands around this area. after disembarking inDarwin we threw our bags into the motel room then hit the town. LUnch and souvenirs shopping (and clothes) in the Mall then a walk down to the waterfront to have a couple of hours fun in the wave pool. THis was great as I had a not been in one before. We headed back to town to the Crocosaurus Cove via the esplanade walk.