How do you come to be in the Kimberley?
I had come to the Kimberley a number of times to visit my Uncle Bill who was a drover in his younger years up here in the Kimberley. His stories started me thinking about coming up here.
Prior to moving to Derby to start the charter business in 1997, I had several extended visits to the Kimberley of 3 to 12 months duration. My first Kimberley adventure was with my best mate, Joe, in 1987 when we left Perth for Derby towing a 6.5 metre boat (Yellow Boat), so we could spend 3 months exploring the Kimberley Coast.
We put the boat in at Derby jetty and headed off up the coast. The boat was really just an open dinghy with a big fishing net that I had borrowed from a local barramundi fisherman. I had already organised fuel drops at strategic points along the coast. We managed to get all the way from Derby to the Prince Regent River, I’d never been along that coast before. There was no room in the boat to store much other than fuel, so we pretty much had to catch what we needed to eat along the way. Apart from fish, food was getting scarce by the time we got to the Prince Regent River and we were wanting a change of diet. We ate whatever we could – bats, snakes, whatever we could catch. Fortunately, Joe had taken his gun and was able to shoot a “killer” (cow) up at camp creek. We lived of that for weeks.
We repeated the adventure again in 1992.
Did you do any training before you came north?
Whilst living and working in Perth, I spent all my spare time doing bush survival courses, as well as caving, abseiling, rock climbing, with a great bunch of guys with a company called SABRE. In 1997 I did my coxswains certificate prior to starting the charter business and then in 2007, I did my Master V certificate prior to have the Kimberley Explorer built.
You met some colourful characters on your journey?
I have always wanted to meet the real bush characters as their lives and their stories are so out of the ordinary. On one trip to the Kimberley, I lived with a fox shooter working out of a place called ‘useless Loop”. Horrible Ron was his name and a real hermit. He took me under his wing and taught me fox shooting and how to whistle them up. We’d go out catching the foxes and skinning them to take them down to Fremantle to sell the skins.
What did you do when you first lived in the Kimberley?
When I first got to the Kimberley, I lived for a while with old Helmut Schmidt on the Fitzroy River. Helmut was a barramundi fisherman who built his house out of beer cans – four cans to a brick. It had two levels, so when the river flooded in the wet season Helmut would just relocate up to the 2nd level. The you just had to step out of the opening straight into the dinghy to get around.
To learn more bush living skills, I decided to find an aboriginal community and learn what I could from them. My uncle suggested I go to Mowanjum. So I went and had a big meeting there with old David Moajelly. He said, “Righto, you can go and live with Jomery and Violet in Barnett’s Basin. That was a great experience for me and I did learn a lot.
You met Malcolm Douglas, the Croc Hunter?
I ran into Malcolm Douglas at Kalumburu when he was taking the crocodiles out of the old mission and relocating them to his crocodile farm in Broome, as they had gotten too big for their enclosures. He offered me a trip away with him where we spent 3 months filming “One Wet Season” in Arnhem Land. It was an amazing experience with numerous highlights.
Can you tell me a little about staying with The Cusacks?
Sponsored by the Australian National Geographic, Michael Cusack and his wife Susan lived in the Kimberley for a year in 1987 at the abandoned Kunmunya Mission (see “Our Year in the Wilderness). Joe and I were their first visitors. They were in about five miles from the coast in the bush at Kunmunya. I remember the first meeting with them. There were flies everywhere and there’s Sue with this mosquito net over her head. I just went up and said, “The Cusacks I presume.” That got a bit of a laugh. We stayed with them for a week, taking them to Jackson Island for a few days before saying goodbye to them and heading back down the coast.
What do you love about your job?
Derby and the Kimberley really are the last frontier. Once you head up the King Sound to the Buccaneer Archipelago, adventure and excitement awaits. I love the diversity of the Kimberley coast and the impromptu opportunities that are continually presenting themselves while on charter. You make a lot of friends and you give people a great time. People I’ve taken out come up to me at the camping shows and say, “It was fantastic.” That makes me feel good.