The People

 The local people of the Cape are as wide and varied as the rest of Oz with the big difference being a highly visible Aboriginal / Islander population.  All nations, creeds and colours coexist on the Cape and to outsiders like me, this polyglot population was a revelation.  Australians vary little in their approach to life from the top to the bottom of OZ (with the exception of Canberra) and perhaps our outlook on life is reflected on the Coat of Arms.  To the outside world we have funny looking animals and birds that we eat.  Neither animal is capable of taking a backward step which describes most of us and is often the reason for everything from minor disaster to complete catastrophe. 

If youíre stopped on the side of the road the locals will stop to see if you need help, provide advice and are really good at giving directions.    If they do, get a mud map because they know the place and we donít.  

Try to remember that most of the time on the Cape you will be on aboriginal land and this is their home.  I found the rules were quite simple.   With permission, you can travel over the land and you must get permission to take anything from it.  When this was explained at Mapoon, the analogy was quite simple.   The local land owners donít come into my house and remove food from the fridge without permission., so, don't do it to them.  Most complaints surround fishermen who bring freezers, and fish until the their freezers are full and leave.  These interlopers are aware that the locals donít really have the power to stop them and the Police are some distance away.   

Aboriginal / Islander people from the remote areas sometimes appear to be a little standoffish but I found most of them to be very, very shy.  Once the ice is broken all can become quite animated.  They are very astute and they donít need our sympathy or advice.   Most of them pity us because they know they live in paradise and we donít.  

Ask anyone on the Cape why they live there, and most will say they love the lifestyle and  talk of their love of the land.  As we drive through in air conditioned luxury, try to remember this is a harsh, dangerous and unforgiving place.  Early explorers like Kennedy perished. In fact, 10 of the original 13 starters on that expedition didn't make it.

 On the first trip I met a diver from Germany who lived and worked around the islands. He had settled in that well, that he drove a 60 series, used trees as brakes and his grasp of the English language had to be heard to be believed.  This man could swear in 15 different languages, and did so quite frequently.  He was also an absolute font of knowledge on the Torres Strait and the people that live there.

  The people of outback Australia are quiet achievers, scratching a living out of less than marginal country. The main impression I've gained on my travels is a commitment to  their part of our country and their efforts to make the outback a better place.  They endure  more hardships on a daily basis than we, the city dweller, see in a life time.  Fresh water is a precious commodity and ask before you take water from a tank or tap at stations as you just might use a families entire water supply to satisfy your daily needs.

Casual is the name of the game.  I've yet to see a black tie function on the Cape, but this is not to say people don't take pride in dressing up for an evening, the ladies especially.  I recently attended a presentation night at the Weipa Bowls Club and they party the same as everyone else, in fact the only difference being the 30 degree temperature in the middle of winter.  The fashions on the field were not all that different from home, but it seemed to me the ladies had gone to a bit more effort and they come up a real treat.

The outback abounds with artists, sculptors and story tellers.   There are a few other types, but they're hard to categorise.  So, the tourist is extremely well catered for and facilities are improving as the industry grows and money flows into the communities.  Legends or "warries" on the Cape usually revolve around the stupidity of Victorians and their hilarious / shocking / foolish / ignorant actions or inactions.   I found the best way to deal with it, was to give a bit back, they can take it.

In the winter months the Cape abounds with all sorts of tourists from all over the world.  Last trip we met one German, one Swiss, one Italian, one from Liechtenstein and a baby of mixed origin, five up in a short wheel based Nissan Patrol.   No air conditioning, minimal camping gear, no recovery gear and an esky that leaked.  They had studied maps prior to the trip and decided they could do the entire Cape and return to Cairns well within 7 days because it obviously wasn't that far.    As luck would have it, we kept tripping over these "expert tourists" for the next 3 weeks and came to realise these people had a thirst for touring strange lands and were actually prepared to get off their collective arses and do it.  Their English was appalling, my German consisted only of swear words and my French was only good for picking up "ladies of the night" so as to speak, but we got on well and had a great time.  It was strange , though, the English they picked up was heavily accented but towards the end of the trip they could say "f#*&!%# corrugations" perfectly, just like a local.

Back Packers also infest the area. They work where and when they can and, when they are financial they see the sights.  These people are on limited budgets and want to see as much as they can in a short space of time.  They are gullible and believe everything they are told by "experts" so please be very careful what you tell them.  They have done their homework and come in all shapes, sizes and ages.  They save for years, plan their trips in infinite detail and head off into the wild red/brown yonder.  I might add, that on arrival, those plans go right out the window. This year we managed to run into 8 of them at the Lync Haven Rainforest Retreat, 4 Irish girls, 3 Poms and an Austrian and our friendship developed from there.  These fools followed our advice and headed off up to the pointy bit in a totally unprepared 60 series.  They had adventures that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Two of the Poms and the Austrian stayed with us in our home for several days and toured Victoria.  Be mindful if you set out to feed them they eat, anything and everything put in front of them in the largest quantities.  If you let a Pom loose near a bath he will take over the bathroom and splash away happily for a couple of hours, especially    having not seen one since Yorkshire.   Another myth down the gurgler.  I find it incredible that an Austrian Environmental Engineer knew far more about Northern Australia than most, and in fact, sometimes more than the locals.

Occasionally you will run into people who travel for the wrong reasons and it is quite apparent that they are not enjoying themselves.  Some people should not be allowed outside the metropolitan area under any circumstances.  I sometimes wonder what is the purpose of their travel.   Is it to say they've been there?- because they don't seem to look at the place. It seems to be a mad dash from one air conditioned haven to the next.  They often drive too fast and in doing so miss the very essence of the country they travel. There is no outward appearance of enjoyment, they often argue and bicker amongst themselves and are intolerant of others.  Considering them to be lesser beings and not having the same social or economic status as themselves.  Their most usual method of transport is a hired 4 wheel drive 

Those who travel and can't find the services of a capital city and complain mightily when the price is too dear,  the bed too soft and other little short comings. Perceived or otherwise.  People who cannot come to grips with the fact that due to cool room size restrictions, the pub stocks VB, XXXX and Gold and there is no room for James Boag and Cascade Premium let alone the imported beers the toffs prefer.  Food is limited mainly to what comes locally, that is beef and fish, and prepared in the best possible manner.  I find it annoying when a suitable dish cannot be found on the menu and specific time consuming dishes are ordered.  The giggle comes when it is reflected in the bill and their absolute outrage at the price.  The outback and the Cape have a growing tourist industry that as yet doesn't support the top Chefs of our nation but the standards are very high.  You can bet your bottom dollar when they have a dish they reckon they're good at it will be nothing short of excellent and priced below most flash city restaurants.  

If you consider yourself the ultimate erudite traveller, connoisseur of all things fine and not enamoured by heat dust and flies then perhaps outback travel is not for you and you should try one of the five star resorts on the coast.  You will usually find yourself among your social set and you can bitch about all and sundry for the entire trip then tell the world how good it was when you get home.  If you should run into one or more of this type on your odyssey - get away from them.  They're toxic. They will ruin it for everyone  within  their range. I find after meeting this type, a refreshing conversation with a backpacker, or first time traveller, restores my will to live and off I go again.

Last but not least all over the Cape you will find people just like you, they are everywhere, it's like Bourke Street.  Visitors from the southern states abound.   They're using the most diverse range of vehicles and all want to see as much as they can.  Some try too hard to see too much and suffer the consequences.  Travelling fast and for extended periods on this landscape is dangerous and you will miss something.  You can drink the water if you take basic precautions. 

We all make mistakes, we all do stupid things on the odd occasion and believe it or not, some of the funniest things  happen to  the "experts" you will meet along the track.   Cape York, north of the Wenlock River, really isn't such a big place when all the above mentioned are touring around.  So, remember the dangers of fatigue.  The all Aussie Bloke who can't drink the water because it could kill him,  is  a  beer fuelled missile out there, and  he is probably the most dangerous predator on the Cape.  We haven't seen a croc for the last two years but plenty of drunks litter the landscape.  Everyone want to maximise their enjoyment, so relax and have FUN.


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