Journal: 004, Up the Coast

Kalbarri NatPk Murchison Gorge2
Kalbarri Gorge, Murchison R.

My second trip, earlier this week, was to Karratha again, but with two trailers rather than three I was able to run up the coast road – so called though it’s sometimes 100 km inland – returning via the inland road, the Great Northern Highway, with old conveyor belts from the BHP iron ore mine Area C (I think they ran out of names) back to Perth (map).

On the coast road it’s desert or near desert country almost right from Perth with farmland shading quickly to hilly coastal heath, which will be alive with flowers in three or four months, to Geraldton (430 km), more hills through Northampton to the Kalbarri turnoff (100 km), 200 km of mallee scrub to Overlander Roadhouse and the turnoff to Shark Bay, then flat, open red dirt, anthills and straggly acacia scrub for the remaining 800 km, broken only by a few km of irrigated mango plantations around Carnarvon on the Gascoyne River, and gums in the river beds as we cross the mostly dry Minilya, Yannarrie, Ashburton and Fortescue Rivers.

Coming home inland is much the same, though with more trees, white trunked eucalypts as we cross the Fortescue flood plain to Munjina and then up over the hills at the edge of Karajini to Newman.

I’m just starting to learn the names of the peoples whose country this all is. The wheatbelt, which stretches up to and narrowly past Geraldton is mostly Noongar country, and the inland, centred on Jigalong near Newman, belongs to the Martu, a Western Desert people. But if you click on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ above, you will see that there are at least another two major groups on the coast between Geraldton and Port Hedland.

I get a clue from False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella who both grew up in Geraldton and its hinterland. Green’s home town was Mullewa, 100 km inland of Geraldton, a rail junction on the now disused Northern Line to the gold mining towns of Mt Magnet, Meekatharra and Wiluna, with lines south into the wheatbelt, to Toodyay and Northam and thence to Perth, and a branch line for the Mid-West iron ore mines –

I saw the rail wagons as a kid/Rolling on by Maley Street/Carrying Koolanooka iron ore (CPG)

And we as kids, outsiders,/jumping from one side of the tracks/to the other. The Mullewa,/train to Perth, discontinued/a few years earlier (JK)

I got distracted by ‘trains’. I meant to say Charmaine Papertalk Green is a Yamaji woman, as I guess were the (fictitious) Comeaways in The Fringe Dwellers (review). “Yamaji Country is in the Mid West region of Western Australia and stretches from Carnarvon in the north to Meekatharra in the east, to Jurien” south of Geraldton (Yamaji website).


As I drove I listened to two remarkably similar books, Philippa Gregory’s The King’s Curse, about Henry VIII, and Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord, about (the Old Testament) King David, inadequately separated by four hours of Raymond Chandler. Both kings are athletic womanisers who come to the throne as young men and become increasingly murderous as they age, but the most striking of their similarities is that they both  have fair, reddish hair! Brooks is a middle of the road American story teller with a better reputation in Australia, where she was born, than she deserves, but what is she suggesting here? That God’s favourite people couldn’t possibly be brown skinned north Africans? Hard to avoid the R word.

On the other hand I am increasingly impressed by Gregory. Although I originally came to her expecting light romance in an historical setting, she’s in fact an academic historian with an impressive grasp of the Tudor period, and as I said in my review of The Taming of the Queen, is clearly bent on highlighting women acting with independence and initiative. The King’s Curse is an account of Katherine of Aragon’s marriages to Henry VII’s sons Arthur and Henry as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole, the last of the Plantagenets. I recommend it – a fascinating account of Catholic opposition to the Reformation in England.

Recent audiobooks

Phillipa Gregory (F, Eng), The King’s Curse (2014)
Raymond Chandler (M, USA), Playback (1958)
Geraldine Brooks (F, USA), The Secret Chord (2015)

Currently reading

Green & Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – I wish I’d finished it while I was on holidays, it’s taking forever now and I’m starting to lose track.

Volvo, second load Yandi (Rio) (3)
Heading home (first trip) with used conveyor belt

16 thoughts on “Journal: 004, Up the Coast

  1. I wonder wheat they do with used conveyor belts? Melt them down? (Do we still have factories that do that?)
    On my one-and-only trip north in WA back in the 1980s I only went as far as The Pinnacles, but it was wildflower season and it was glorious. I have a photo of me with a black kangaroo paw!
    The Offspring then aged 16 and I took a one-day coach trip because I couldn’t face a drive of that distance on my own and it was great because I could actually see things properly instead of having to concentrate on driving. The coach stopped at various places on the way (including a wonderful CWA morning tea, at Gingin, I think) and because it was a tour pitched mainly at international travellers, there were stops to hear indigenous guides explain features such as goanna holes and water soaks.
    Safe travels!


    • Yesterday they appeared to be cutting the belts up and packing the pieces into shipping containers and a manager was showing a delegation of Chinese around. Make of that what you will. Next time I’ll ask.

      WA is rightly proud of its wildflowers, the season for which, with global warming, is getting earlier and earlier. A few years ago mum and dad came over in October and it was nearly over. I took them on a tour a few hundred km north – to include the Northern Railway of course – which is when I took that photo of Kalbarri Gorge.


  2. So much enjoying your descriptions of the landscape Bill.

    Was interested in your thoughts on The Secret Chord – I’ve read a few of her books and some I’ve enjoyed more than others, but Chord has never appealed. I’ll certainly be leaving it off the list now.

    While you’ve been driving WA, I have been listening to Tim Winton’s Breath, as a refresher before the movie comes out next week. Not sure how you feel about Winton’s stories, but I love good writing about the ocean and in Breath, the West Australian coastline is alive on the page.


    • I really, really hated Caleb’s Crossing. I’m actually tempted to re-listen to it, reprise the notes I made for a young friend studying it in year 12, and write a review saying how much I hate it.

      Tim Winton I merely dislike. He seems to write the same immature book over and over and besides everyone in WA loves him. But he certainly knows his south-west coast. Of his books – and yes I listen to them all – I like The Turning most and Cloud Street least. I may even have a Winton in the audiobooks for my next trip, if so I’ll try and say something intelligent about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t like Caleb’s Crossing either. I hope your Year 12 friend also didn’t like it – I’d love to think of a student going out hard against a book!

        I space my reading of Winton out over many years. Have heard good things about his latest from a variety of readers.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember when all my book blogger friends who enjoy historical fiction were going nutty over Phillipa Gregory’s books. I, too, assumed that she had written fluffy romances set in the past, but from what I’ve read, it’s accurate stuff, making the plot more engaging.


    • Yes I think that’s true. The blockbuster success of The Other Boleyn Girl didn’t do Gregory’s reputation any favours – of course she laughed all the way to the bank – and she has or had a fairly light style of writing, derived from historical romance. I get the impression that part of her mission with her more recent books has been to lift the tone, to highlight more serious subjects. It’s possible she was miffed by the more critical success of Mantel with the Wolf Hall books covering the same material.


      • I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. She’s got a dry humor, and so far I like it, though I’m not sure where it’s headed or why.


      • If Mantel’s memoir gives any insight into the books she’s written I’d find that interesting. I have two memoirs by Patrick White which I really should have read by now. Thinking about it, I think I have a preference for fiction which is at least partly autobiographical, and that runs into good memoir.


  4. I see I’ll have to give Phillipa Gregory a try – I’ve looked at her books but always passed them by. 😦 I’ve read the other two you mentioned. (And although I’m from the US, I’ve read quite a lot of Australian lit for some reason – as well as some history.) Thanks especially for the post and the link on Aboriginal Australia –


    • Thankyou Becky for dropping by. My US friend Melanie of Grab the Lapels (who commented above) makes sure that my ‘localism’ is understandable to everyone who might read me and not just to Western Australians – we’re pretty remote over here from other Australians, let alone the rest of the world.

      And, while we are behind North Americans in recognising the place of First Nations peoples, we, we bloggers, we Australians generally, are doing our best to promote recognition and fair treatment. My next post, today or tomorrow, is the poetry book I quoted from which has just that aim.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyed this post immensely Bill, so much as that I don’t know where to start:

    1. I hadn’t realised that the Noongar extended that far North. (I know more about the Martu, though, because of my work on their digital archive)

    2. I think you’re a bit hard on Brooks, though I must say I haven’t read this book and am not planning to. I really enjoyed her Nine parts of desire, Foreign correspondence, and her first novel, Year of wonders. I also found March intriguing. I didn’t mind Caleb’s crossing, but was less enthused about The people of the book (mainly for the contemporary thread). At this point I feel I know what she’s about and so probably won’t read more of her. However, I can’t imagine, from what I know of her, that she’d consciously present a racist point of view – if that’s what you meant by the “R”?

    3. I haven’t read Gregory and don’t plan to. I saw the adaptation of the Boleyn girl one, and that’s probably how I’ll consume her. One of the members in my reading group, who is a historical fiction fan, likes Gregory but, comparing her to Mantel, she described her as Historical Fiction Light. With my limited reading time, I’d prefer to read something heavier, or, if I’m going to read lighter, it would be Australian! Does that sound too nationalistic? I think it makes sense! (BTW, I appreciate that with your long drives, what is suitable for audiobook listening can be quite different to what is suitable for reading.)


    • To start at the bottom, I would only listen to classics if I could get them, I’m calvinist enough to regret the time I waste listening to light fiction. My ‘thesis’ with regards to Gregory is that she is getting ‘heavier’, that she obviously has the background to write seriously about the middle ages, and that she is more and more assertive about the part played by women in the history of the Tudors.

      Yes, I meant Racist. And yes she was probably just thoughtless, but you don’t have to be blonde to be attractive. And my memory of Caleb’s Crossing – well you know how I feel about white people writing Indigenous stories.

      If I wasn’t clear, Noongar country is all the southwest of WA from Jurien, 250 km north of Perth, to Esperance, 800 km SE of Perth. This includes most of the wheatbelt, but the wheatbelt extends up the coast for another 200 km (and not very far inland) into what I now know is Yamaji country


  6. I really like your “Journal” series.

    Have you ever read Amin Maalouf? His books like The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, Leo Africanus or Samarkand are wonderful historical books seen from a non-Western side.


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