24 June 2002
We woke as early as we could on Monday morning. Susan and I drove into town, where we picked up our hire car. It was a cherry red Toyota Rav4, a small automatic four-wheel drive. It was somewhat too small considering we needed to pack a tent and an esky, but we managed to cram all the gear we needed into the back. We then had to get the hire company to sort out the issue of a not-quite-full tank of petrol. This was no small concern, as we would have to keep close tabs on the fuel for the next two days, and we were in an unfamiliar vehicle.
We drove out of Broome to the Cape Leveque turnoff and soon hit the dirt. The driving was a large part of the adventure because we’ve never driven an off-road vehicle before. The distance from Broome to Cape Leveque is about 216 km and the road is mostly dirt and sand. Some sections are very corrugated and there are some twists and turns which have to be negotiated carefully, but mostly it is gun-barrel straight.
As we learned on the Leopold Downs and Gibb River Roads, it is more comfortable if you keep up the speed when travelling on corrugated sections of road, but this requirement was offset by the need to stay in control in sandy conditions. Sections of the road were like a deep groove cut into the scrub, with the red pindan soil banked up very high on either side of the road. When another vehicle was approaching, we’d have to pull up onto the left-hand bank and keep moving as best we could. We were advised not to stop to minimize the risk of getting bogged.
As well as being quite corrugated, sections of road rose and dipped, so parts of the journey were like a theme park ride. Occasionally we would become airborne as we came off a rise, and I once heard the kids’ heads hit the roof lining over the back seat. Even though the drive was only three hours, it seemed longer due to the strangeness of the road, the car, and the landscape, which was also stunningly beautiful. There were sections that were most definitely one lane only. Luckily we didn’t meet any large vehicles coming the other way on any of these. That might have proven very tricky.
Someone had removed the signs to Beagle Bay, so we overshot our first turnoff by about 8 km and had to turn back. We worked this out with the assistance of another motorist who had the sense to use his trip meter carefully. This was something we made a point of doing for the rest of our stay on the Peninsula. When working with mud maps on un-signposted roads, the distance between one turnoff and another is critical.
We pulled into Beagle Bay and paid the admission charge to enter the Aboriginal community (all of the Dampier Peninsula is Aboriginal land). We noted that the price of petrol was $2.00 a litre and hoped that we would not be forced to refuel there on the way back.
We drove into Beagle Bay and bought a pie for the kids at the one and only shop there. We then went over to a church that was being rebuilt after having been partially destroyed by a cyclone. The church is famous for its interior decoration, and it lived up to its reputation. The altar was a blaze of mother-of-pearl, and the whole thing had been carefully and artistically decorated using shells, many of which were set into the cement rendered walls.
The Stations of the Cross were depicted in a curiously macabre style. On reflection, this is quite fitting for a story which is essentially about death by torture.
Ruby and Clare enjoyed the shell decorations, and Clare was fascinated by the cyclone damage. The entrance to the church and its steeple had just been reconstructed using Bessa bricks in place of the old baked bricks made from local soil.
From Beagle Bay we pushed northwards towards Cape Leveque, paying close attention to any road signs. It was hard to turn around and backtrack on the deep sandy road. I remember seeing a huge python crossing the road at one point. It was the biggest snake I’ve ever seen out of captivity.
When we arrived at Cape Leveque, we went to the office and booked in. The camping ground looked quite cramped, but our accommodation was on Swimming Beach, which is located on the eastern side of the peninsula, past an attractive lighthouse that is positioned as you would expect on the highest point on the headland. We made our way along the sandy track to a beautiful shallow bay with aqua blue water in it, skirted by blindingly white sand. We almost got bogged in the deep sand near the beach shelters, but my recently acquired driving experience was paying off.
The beach shelter was a pole structure big enough to accommodate a tent, a picnic table, a small shower, and a barbeque. There was a toilet block nearby. The floor of the shelter was sand, and the walls and roof were fashioned from dried palm fronds lashed to a metal mesh. The front was open and looked out over the rocks and beach below.
We set up camp and I went for a swim with the girls. The water was cool enough to be refreshing in the dry heat of the afternoon. There were a few outcrops of coral where tropical fish could be found, and there were many black sea cucumbers which we picked up and admired. Poor old Susie retired to the tent with a migraine.
After our swim we went for a walk along the dunes along the beach. There were huge piles of shells which were obviously middens. Among the shells you could see rocks that had been sharpened as cutting tools. There were also many bones. We later learnt that we weren’t supposed to venture into the dunes, and so we didn’t venture back there.
In the late afternoon we drove across the headland to the aptly-named Sunset Beach, and had a drink while we watched the sun dip into the sea. The rocks that backed onto the beach went crimson red in the late afternoon light. They were so rugged and striking, that it might have been a Martian landscape.
That night we enjoyed a delicious meal of red snapper, which we had bought frozen in Broome. We had a sing-along around the fire, and eventually returned to the tent for a very sound night’s sleep.