From Melbourne to Mungo to and north-west to Kimberley

Apologies for my tardiness in writing to you all. I’ve been out and about. Namely Lake Mungo in NSW and the far Kimberley in WA. What an extraordinary depth of experiences. At Lake Mungo, I joined the Vice Chancellor’s Executive (VCE) on a 3-day indigenous immersion, which was really remarkable. We were accompanied by Jock Gilbert and Christine Phillips from the School of Architecture and Urban Design: they acted as academic guides, cicerones, ‘interpreters’, drivers, but also they were the crucial points of contact with the indigenous elders, their families and rangers. Their insights over the three days was really effective, compassionate, informed and at times very moving. Over the years they’ve run successful partnered studio projects in the region. The impact of these staff-led, student-centred events has been really profound.

In addition to touring the lunettes, the ‘lake’ and the features of the Lake Mungo NP we met indigenous elders, workers and their families in Mungo, Culpra Station, and the Mildura / Gol Gol area. The rangers and families entertained us to an evening barbeque with live music and rich fireside conversations; on another day we visited some highly contested historic sites on the banks of the Murray and had lunch with members and family members at farms and homesteads. The outwardly becalmed terrain around the Murray concealed some dreadful acts ‘visited’ upon the original custodians of these infinite lands.

This is our 3rd annual VCE immersion event. As ever, we left the region deeply moved by all that we saw, felt and experienced but also deeply committed to realising RMIT’s vision around reconciliation and a shared future.

I’ve also been on leave in NW Australia; on an 18 day road trip across the Kimberley, from Broome eastwards to Kununurra, taking in the Woolfe Creek Meteorite Crater (avoiding hitch hikers), the vast bloated Boab Trees (unique outside Africa) the deep chasms and beehive domes of the Bungle Bungles (quite unique in the whole world). What our rather ancient Land Cruiser camper lacked in refinement and luxuries it certainly made up for in character – by ‘character’ I mean the unfailing ability to attract red dust, black termites and blue-tongued lizards.

After Hall’s Creek, Wolfe Creek, the Bungles, and the oasis of ‘Palm Springs’ we took on the 660 km ‘Gibb River Road’; described fondly as one of the country’s great 4WD adventures. It was also described by me on one occasion as: ‘You mean we’ve got to drive across that river? And there are crocodiles in it? Are you serious? Yes, I think you are…’. And so off we went, even when the water (but not the crocs) leaked into the footwell.

There’s not much in my UK Driving Test that equipped me for this epic journey, where Petrol Stations are 300kms apart and the [rather] few food shops decided to close for Easter and then again for ANZAC day. It didn’t help either, when, on Easter Sunday, after a rather severe stretch of corrugated ‘road’ one of the back-wheels shed two nuts, shredded the hub, and spectacularly burst the tyre. After quick running repairs in circa 37 degrees we took refuge in a hospitable homestead run by the most thoughtful owners. The truck was recovered, repaired and we went fearlessly back up the road again, clocking up an additional 460km.

We arrived back in Derby after 5 days of wild camping and numerous dips in the most stunning pools and falls at Manning, Lennard, and Bell Gorge.

By any standards, it was quite an adventure really. Certainly beats a Sunday afternoon drive around the Cotswolds, although we did find a homestead at EllenBrae (230 kms from the nearest other building) that served rather fine scones with cream and homemade jam. Apart from the crocs, the heat, and the dust it made it feel quite like home from home.

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