Well, you've all been clamouring for first impressions, no doubt shivering miserably behind your console as you type. With my stories from the Duyfken fresh in your mind, you're probably wondering how I'm coping in my first few days on the last frontier, in the far North of our beautiful State. The answer in short is that I'm alive and I'm not yet brimming with regrets - and as my mouth has been clamped shut for most of it while I let the new experiences soak in, I already have some stories to tell!
Settle in, and I'll fill you in as best I can.
While two men practiced in the art of big-noting themselves and pummelling others fight for supremacy in the bar downstairs, I have put fingers to keyboard to capture the silence of my surroundings for the first time. But for the incessant ramblings of the Japanese tourists outside my window, it is quiet at last.
Arriving feels like a dream. We fly over the beach, its colours and scope like the brochures had promised. I put down my trashy magazine to watch as we coast onto the runway, the vague thought playing in the back of my mind that I have done something phenomenal at last, at last. My heart stops in my throat as we land.
Xavier picks me up from the airport in his dusty Landrover, filled with the minutiae of country life - tools, fishing equipment, a battered esky - which he shoves to the side to accommodate my luggage.
We drive for miles and I stare. From the pristine sands of Cable Beach to the mangroves alive with skittering crabs, it feels like another planet. Gantheame Point, on the very tip of the peninsula, is otherworldly; the glossy beach against red, red dirt and striated rocks in stacked formations stunning and the sky so blue and cloudless it stings the eyes. I am so dazed I barely notice the first tentative nibblings of the sandflies.
After a whirlwind tour and truncated history it is clear that this is a land of contradictions ... of pure white coastline stained with a grim past. The lazy drift of paradise laced with the unease of disgruntled locals. The light and the dark, the luxurious and the poor.
I arrive at the hostel, which I quickly realise is a den of iniquity. Xavier helps me with my luggage and as the door to my room swings open we are both briefly lost for words. A rickety metal bed occupies most of the space, framed by mouldering walls dotted with smashed, bloodied mosquitoes. The ceiling boasts a wobbly, dusty ceiling fan.
"It looks like a prison cell, eh!" he says, and dumps my bag in the corner as I smile weakly.
I lie in the hammock with a book among the palm trees and make small talk with travellers, thinking Well, this isn't so bad. But I feel like an impostor among all these brown, blasé types wearing little more than bikinis and smiles and speaking in obscure languages. I am not in the mood to talk about where I'm going or where I've been, or to eat two-minute noodles straight from the pot, so I slink off to read in the corner. Everything about these people feels sexy and free and I feel suddenly shy.
Later, I submerge myself in the tropical pool, repeating I live here, I live here to myself like a mantra as I cut slowly through the water.
That night I locate Coles, buy groceries and return triumphant at my small victory.
I wake early to meet some of my new colleagues for breakfast. The office manager picks me up with her pleasantly innocuous husband their chirpy banter lulls me as we drive. By 7.30 we are sitting at a café at the port of Broome, eating over-priced omelettes and talking in that polite way of new acquaintances. Jenny is kind-hearted, bird-like, eager to please - and I wonder what she will be like to work with. I am fascinated as she tries four different ways to get Bob to order an orange juice with his breakfast, but he is quietly mutinous and drinks only water. She finally gives up and orders one herself. Trish-from-the-office has also turned up, a quiet type who is slow to respond to questions and impenetrable behind dark glasses. I think to myself that she seems like a hard nut to crack.
I am given the company car for the afternoon and am suddenly free. I take to the roads and get happily lost, eventually finding my way to Kanangae Estate where I buy freshly made mango chutney, suck down my first, delicious mango smoothie and eat my lunch among frangipanis and mosquitoes. That afternoon, I lie on Cable Beach for the first time for an hour, slow roasting under the bright glare of the sun. Suddenly aware of being solo, I awkwardly ask a woman in the change rooms to rub sunscreen on my back, tense with the notion of being touched by a complete stranger. But she is brisk, and I am soon lolling about with the tourists again, frying slowly and safely in the half-shade.
By this stage, my thoughts are beginning to scatter. Dulled by the heat, I can't string together a lucid idea and so I give up trying and succumb instead to the drift, reading Tim Winton's The Turning, which is so appropriate as to almost be a joke.
That evening, the hostel heats up with whiffs of weed, blaring music, endless drinks and a string of dodgy bogan visitors, hissing platitutdes at the girls along the lines of oi, c'mere ... nah? ...fuck off then you fucken bitch, all with the implicit support of the doggish owner who nods his bald shiny head and flexes his considerable bare-chested muscles as he plays game after game of pool with hapless Dutch travellers. Sick of hiding in my room, I head for the relative safety of the Mangrove Hotel to witness the famous stairway to the moon.
As night descends and the mozzies come out in full force, a stream of bats emerges from the mangroves and flies screeching overhead. It seems like hundreds, thousands, and it sends a shiver down my spine. I have managed to seat myself with a couple more travelling bogans who are intent on sucking down improbably pink creamy cocktails and chatting me up, but instead I talk to the nerdy scientist from Sydney on my other side about bird sanctuaries and bats. The sky darkens to black and then, to the haunting sounds of the didge, a bright golden moon slowly starts to climb over the horizon. As it rises, it casts light across the mudflats and there it is - a stairway to the moon. We all fall silent as if we'd never seen the moon before - but this time it's affecting and somehow deeply moving and ancient.
Afterwards, I finish my drink and escape before the bogans can ruin the magic of the moment.
And so begins my life as a REAL JOURNALIST on a country paper in the arse end of nowhere wrapped beautifully in paradise paper and tied up with string. So far, I love the job. Launching myself into stories on the first day is exciting and my brain complies by delivering great stories to the perfect length with the right tone and pitch and witty headlines ... you get the idea. On the first day I write a couple of boring business stories and a fun piece based on the adventures of a crazy man travelling around Australia on a one man mission to stop the privatisation of Telstra.
The next day brings a feature piece on the redevelopment of the Broome Visitor Centre, a story about prevention of child abuse and a few pictures ... and today I research the sandalwood industry in Kununurra, the arrival of a new fishing charter boat, the petrol sniffing issue in communities out east. So I love the work, the variety, the deadlines. I should have been brave enough to do this years ago, because I feel like I've come home.
My colleagues, for the most part, are wonderful and from another plane of existence altogether. We have already been to the pub a few times for editorial meetings and I have enjoyed every minute I've spent with them so far. Trish has warmed to me and is generous in her attempts to make me feel welcomed. In the interests of making friends I have accepted every invitation they have offered, so the next few weeks will see me betting a bob or two on the hermit crab races, checking out the sundowner at the local, going to the launch of JJJ, watching the Da Vinci Code (gasp - never thought I'd be lining Dan Brown's pockets!), playing ultimate Frisbee and trying to catch a giant fish on any number of little tin dinghies. We have already discussed the idea of a regular craft day. Trish's mum made her a handbag out of some canvas and embroidered corn plasters (yes,the kind you stick on warty foot-growings) so there's lots for me to learn.
It doesn't feel like home yet and I'm not sure it ever will. The food is appalling and grossly overpriced, the shops close at 3pm and some services simply do not exist. And I still don't have anywhere to live. Earplugs and my can of RID are my new best friends - in fact, my only friends.
But if I can just get used to being eaten alive by sandflies, the constant stench of bug spray and the poverty of being a journalist in this town, I think I'll survive for a while.
To sleep, to sleep, with the grim ministrations of the post-fight hyped bogans taking place below me and the sounds of bad pop music in my ears.
Love Flip x x