For many who’ve travelled throughout Australia, the highlight is a little-known beach-town on the North-west’s remote Kimberley coast. 1,871 km from Darwin and 2,240 from Perth, Broome is literally one of the most isolated places on earth, and, with the possible exception of the Nullarbor, getting to Broome constitutes Australia’s longest and most remote drive. But it was worth it, because waiting for us was one of Australia’s most experimental breweries…and Sarah.
After Kununurra, we cracked out our “solar shower” and got naked at the roadside. Of course no-one passed. The closest person in any given direction may well have been two-hundred kilometres away. Probably not, but that’s how it feels out there.
Not even backpackers and tourists tend to take this road – most who make it out his far opt instead for the more challenging and scenic Gibb River Road (and for the very brave, the Kalumburu Road too).
Over another 1,200 kilometres, we battled the monotonous, boab-besieged roads, “prepare to stop” single-lane bridges, wandering stock (cattle) and bush-fires, passed the Wolf Creek crater on the Tanami Road to Alice and got free coffee and fuel in Halls Creek. Also in this region are the Mimbi Caves, Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles) and the “friendly trees“, but I’ve never been one to focus on the “sights”, as I’ve said here and here and plenty of other times.
Some clever person in the police had decided that signs which read, “LOCAL POLICE ARE NOW TARGETING…” can be easily adapted to add “…DRINK DRIVING”, “…SPEEDING”, etc…but hadn’t expected people to furnish them with the likes of, “...CINDY“, “…GAYS“, “…DONUTS” and so on. How did they not see that coming?
Other than Halls Creek, the only “major stop” on the road from Kununurra to Broome is Fitzroy Crossing. Both are essentially Aboriginal towns in the middle of nowhere with a bad reputation – in other words, my kind of town. Fitzroy Crossing is also home to another of Australia’s historic Outback pubs, the Crossing Inn.
The Crossing Inn is the oldest Kimberley hotel still on its original site – the banks of the Fitzroy River – where it’s been since 1897, when a guy called Joseph Blyth acquired a “wayside house license” for his “shanty inn and trade store”. The Crossing Inn also has an Aboriginal art gallery, selling only works by local artists. According to the tourist leaflet, there’s also “the Gallery Bar where you can sit and enjoy a relaxing beer in comfort and style”…
…So it was with some surprise – actually, after living next to Arnhem Land, I completely saw it coming – that we walked in at 1.30 on a Wednesday afternoon to find hundreds of people – all Aboriginal, save the bartender – already mad drunk and yelling, loud music pumping. The place was wild! It was one hell of a party!
One woman took us and led us to her table. “We were drinking here, when the water was here!” She pointed to the stacks of bricks and watermarks, some higher than the seats, where people had scrawled lines in chalk and marker and signed them and dated them and written other unintelligible nonsense. In the Wet (season), the river can rise to 13 metres above the old crossing. And the water comes through at approximately 30,000 cubic metres a second. At times like this, the pub can only be reached by boat.
“We even caught a barra!” She laughed.
Another guy tried to convince us to stay for another beer, said he’d been to England, London, not very convincingly, told us about Tunnel Creek, once hideout to Jandamarra, up 83 kilometres of unsealed dirt road. “You’ll make it bro!” He said.
The rebel Jandamarra was a Bunuba man who led one of Australia’s only armed rebellions against the colonials. He was able to cross the spinifex and hot, jagged rocks barefoot while it tore up the boots of his pursuers, and his mysterious disappearing tricks at Tunnel Creek led people to believe he had superhuman abilities. (Only later were his hidden trails discovered. His real power was his knowledge of the lay of the land.) Aboriginal legend said he was immortal, a spirit residing in Tunnel Creek, and that only an Aborigine with equal powers could kill him. This seems to me like one of those “legends” furnished after the fact, since it’s a big coincidence that he was killed by Micki, another famed Aboriginal (non-Bunuba) tracker, at Tunnel Creek in 1897 – yes, the same year the Crossing Inn officially opened its doors. There’s a lot more to Jandamarra’s story. Look him up.
Writing about the Outback (here, here, etc) it seems I’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else: I’ve described the few “things to do” along the road, rather than the hundreds of kilometres between them – the experience of being on the road itself – the time spent daydreaming, thinking, writing poetry, watching the road go by, re-assessing ourselves, our dreams… In this respect, as a chronicler of life as it is really experienced (which is how I see myself) I’m afraid I’ve failed you.
That night, at Nillibubbica Rest Area, we were settled in for a night of Madras lentils and rice and writing when some French guys pulled up and came over to say hello. It turns out our ‘Patisserie’ van acts as a magnet for French people, who wander the wilderness in search of fresh croissants and, instead, settle for a beer or two. We joined Vincent, Sébastien and…the other one at their camp, drank and shared stories long into the night.
There’s also Derby, a short detour off the main highway, if you really like boabs, or if you think that the “Horizontal Waterfalls” are actually horizontal waterfalls.
Finally, we arrived in the pearl of WA. (Broome has a long pearling history. So, yes, that’s a pun.) Broome is home to many beaches from dirty, orange Town Beach – the best place to watch the “Staircase to the Moon” – and immaculate, surf-washed Cable Beach – 22.5 kilometres of flat, white sand that you can even drive up and down (with a 4WD) and which, north of the rocks, is clothing optional. The Roebuck Bay Caravan Park turned out to be $28 per person (not per site – thanks again Lonely Planet) so like many backpackers in Broome, we spent our days jumping waves, sunbathing and taking advantage of the free beach showers at Cable, then parking up for the night on Carnarvon Street, where in the morning we were perfectly placed to enjoy the cheapest eats in Broome, at Coles in the Paspaley Plaza shopping centre.
Chinatown, including Johnny Chi Lane, and the cemeteries shed light on Broome’s Asian and multi-cultures and tragic pearling days. Sun Pictures outdoor cinema is the world’s oldest picture garden and a registered historical building (which looks exactly the same as every other building in Broome – corrugated tin). Movies are $17 per person and show at 7 pm. (We saw Gone Girl.)
Further out of town, at low tides Gantheaume Point (Minyirr) boasts tracks of dinosaur prints that are over 130 million years old. From Gantheaume, the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail – an 82 km “songline” – runs north up the Dampier Peninsula, a large, isolated area of Aboriginal lands, red cliffs and pristine, empty beaches. This is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting journeys in Australia, and Sarah had just made it. You’ll require plenty of water, spares (tyres, fuel, etc) and the necessary permits from both the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (apply at www.daa.wa.gov.au at least three days in advance) and usually also from the community itself (on arrival). You can take the Cape Leveque Road for about 14 km, then take a left on Manari Road up through Barred Creek, Quandong Point, James Price Point and – if you have a 4WD – Coulomb Point (Minarriny). You can also take Cape Leveque Road all the way up the peninsula to, you guessed it, Cape Leveque. Roads and communities can close at short notice for “sorry time” so check with the Broome Visitor Centre before you set off.
The Matso’s Brewery
At Matso’s we ended up getting through a couple of tasting paddles, several bottles and more. Here are my findings:
- Mango Beer – Their finest work
- Chilli Beer – A real kick, but think twice before you order a jug
- Chango – Literally they mix the two finished products (Chilli and Mango Beers) for those who can’t take the heat of the chilli or the sweetness of the mango. It’s not best brewing practice, but the outcome is good.
- Hit the Toad lager – Not their area of speciality
- Pearler’s Pale Ale
- Session Pale
- Smokey Bishop – A delicious dark lager. Smokey, malty and toffee-y.
- Ginger Beer
- Lychee Beer
- Desert Lime Cider with Wild Ginger
- Mango Cider with Desert Lime
- Amber Wheat Beer – The best wheat (and amber) beer I’d ever had. A five-star beer!
- Saison – I believe I missed this one, but I hear it was a firm favourite.
[I later came across a recipe by Matso’s Head Chef, Sebastian Schacher, for “Chilli Mussels with Matso’s Mango Beer” which included such steps as, “Open the beer and take a big swig from the bottle…”]
A text from Sarah said to meet at “the Roey” on Dampier Terrace…only, when we got there, there were two bars – the classier Roebuck Hotel and the Roey, where the barmaids walked around in their underwear – a phenomena known in Australia as “Skimpies“.
“Okay, I feel like, from what we know of Sarah, this is either not her kind of bar or really her kind of bar…”
We text her for confirmation.
The answer came simply, “the Roey”.
We asked in both bars if we were in the Roey and everyone said yes.
Eventually Sarah found us and the drinking commenced. It turns out she works for the same company who own Matso’s and spends her breaks there. What a life! She was now living in a shared house of wild Irishmen and women, who had been out last night (and the night before and the night before that) so weren’t going to go out again tonight…and then promptly showed up anyway. We met Aine, Johnny and Teddy, a great bunch, and a fierce debate commenced about ordering tap water on a night out.
“What’s the f’cking point of buying a f’cking drink if you’re gonna dilute it with f’cking tap water? We drink to get drunk!”
In the end we all agreed that drinking water on a night out is only acceptable in the following cases:
- Before the night
- At the end of the night, before going to sleep, to avoid a hangover the next day
- In certain other, rare situations, for the express purpose of tactically prolonging the night and in order to consume more alcohol later
Aine and Teddy disappeared, photos were taken, we got chatting to the bartenders and barflies, Aine and Teddy re-appeared, we crossed paths with another contingent of the Irish house, then all ended up in Skylla (Lounge Bar), which it seems is also part of the Roey and bills itself as “Broome’s premier nightspot” and “the hottest party destination in Broome”, where we danced the night away. Poor Teddy was the first man down, I don’t know what happened to Aine, me and Ruth crashed in the van, parked conveniently just round the back, and Sarah and Johnny presumably walked off together into the sunrise. It had been one hell of a night.
On waking, craving once again the simplicity of the road, we made a hungover exit, Perth bound…