The butterflies start landing on us when we go into the alfresco dining area at Roebuck Roadhouse, 30 kilometers from Broome in The Kimberley. It gives a beautiful topical taste to our first foray into Australia’s far north. That, and the sticky heat that makes me feel like a light dress was heavy.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but there is a je ne sais quoi about Broome that really appeals. The town is casual and relaxed, though well watered and tendered, despite the semi-arid environment it really does have a tropical feel.
We book into a caravan park on Town Beach and get a waterfront site. The tide is in at the moment, though there are huge tide variations here. The tide goes out 10 meters, exposing the mud flats. Apparently you shouldn’t swim in the ocean water if it’s the temperature of a warm bath or above, because that’s when the stingers are more likely to be out. Irukandji Stingers can be mild for some people, though for others they can be serious including seizures and agonising pain. Despite that, plenty of people are swimming and fishing in the ocean here. Susan finds a few hermit crabs on the beach while she’s looking for shells, much to all of our delight.
We head into the China Town, the main part of town. We like the statue display as a tribute to the pearling industry that the town is founded on. The noise of a commercial aeroplane landing at an airport not far away startles us all. Several more go over head, and it feels like they are so close that we are on the tarmac at the airport rather than in the main street.
There are pearl jewellery shops up and down the main street. At the far end is Pearl Luggers, which also has a museum and rebuilt pearling luggers.
We pay to do the pearling tour, and enjoy looking around their displays and the old luggers first.
The presentation is in their museum. We try on the old diving suits used by the pearlers, and hear that 1 in 4 divers died on their first dive. The suits were so expensive that the next diver had to wear the suit that previous divers had died in.
We get to try pearl meat, which is apparently a delicacy. It’s nice, but not fabulous.
We wander if there are any other tours and check www.escapetravel.com.au but can’t see any in the region. The other tours we see advertised around town are priced highly; boat and helicopter cruises around the Kimberley that seem to start in the low thousands and go rapidly north from there.
The weekend market is small and expensive. It’s much the same as a weekend market anywhere else in the country we’ve been. The kids head to a big tree to climb. Two Aboriginal boys, who are both about four are playing there with a little girl who looks like she’s only just started walking. Suddenly, the boys push the girl to the ground. I wait for their parents to come over and comfort her, or tell them off. No one comes. I can’t stand seeing such a little kid crying, and no one comforting her. I pick her up, thinking that she’ll probably struggle to get away from a stranger. Instead, she buries her head in my shoulder and cuddles in.
I’m worrying her parents are going to materialise, and not understand that I’m trying to help. I ask her where her parents are. She doesn’t answer. She doesn’t speak to us at all. She just clings more tightly to me. When she seems OK, I try to put her down, but she clings tighter to me. After a few attempts, I manage to put her down, but then she grasps my hand tightly and clings to nine year old Susan’s hand for good measure. I’m trying not to be judgemental, but it’s like she’s never known any affection in her short life. I ask a stall holder, “Where’s the lost children’s tent?”
He laughs and scoffs at me. “You aren’t from around these parts, are you? You’ll get used to it plenty soon enough. The black kids just wander, their parents might be anyway.”
I’m feeling at a loss, and I want to cry for the little girl. I just don’t know what to do. Susan is looking at me pleadingly, and I can’t just leave such a little kid to wander around. Surely she’s lost. Her parents must be frantic. I would be. Nope. When we finally found her parents about 30 minutes later, they don’t even acknowledge her presence, let alone ours. I’m disgusted.
Jarrad comes back then (he’d gone back to the caravan park to get the hats and sunscreen we’d so carelessly forgotten). Susan and Peter quickly fall over each other to tell him what has happened. He looks at me sadly and rolls his eyes. “Amy, you better get used to it. You can’t keep acting like that. It’s just the way it is.”
“But, I can’t just leave her!” “She wouldn’t let my hand go!” “She was so little!” Peter, Susan, Lucy and I are indignant, not to mention horrified at Jarrad’s matter of fact attitude.
“Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is up here. It sucks, but it’s true. You can’t put yourself in the middle. Someone is going to accuse you of kidnapping their kid if you do it at the wrong time.”
I walk off, clinging even tighter to Edmund. It seems wrong. I think Jarrad’s probably right, but it just seems so wrong and topsy-turvy that such a little kid is left to drag herself up. I hate the political correctness that refuses to intervene. I feel like crying, thinking of how grateful I’d be if one of my kids were lost that someone helped them. I hope our whole time in The Kimberley won’t be like this, because seeing kids uncared for is not something I can stand.
The next morning we wake up to a display of three dolphins swimming in the water close to the sand. One comes straight towards the sand and we watch it catch a fish, before it heads back to slightly deeper water. It’s my birthday, and it feels like a special display just for that.
The seafood platter at a restaurant over looking Cable Beach to a mango beer and ginger beer at the locally brewed Matsu Brewery and tapas. What a great day!
The only thing that would have made it more amazing would have been if Staircase to the Moon was as spectacular as it is famed to be. Instead, it was more like a single step than a staircase.