September – October 2020
We arrived safely in Gove (muffler repair intact), anchored out the back of the harbour next to ‘Shebeen’ (away from the multitude of yachts and catamarans here for the regatta) and headed in to the Gove Boat Club for a meal and drinkies with the ‘Natsumi’ mob. A 4-week club membership and a shirt each and we were ready to settle into Arnhem Land life for a while.
We are here, at the end of the purple vegie knife (Darwin is out of the picture to the far left). Gove is in a very remote part of Northern Australia in Arnhem Land. The club shirt came in quite handy for showing Mum where we now were, and purchase of the shirt meant that we were eligible to crew for ‘Natsumi’ during the regatta.
The mining town of Nhulunbuy (pronounced null-un-boy) is 10km from where ‘Opal Lady’ is anchored in the Gove harbour. The town and harbour were established back in the 1960s when bauxite (aluminium ore) began being mined up here. The refinery (processing plant for the ore) was shut down in the early 2010s but the mine continues and the ore is now shipped overseas from the port of Gove. Nhulunbuy has a population of around 3000. The town facilities include a regional hospital (with a campus for Flinders University), schools, sports clubs, a supermarket, swimming pool, two hardware stores, bakery, cafes that serve good coffee and a solid light industrial area. The fishing tackle-come-camping store is well stocked and they give out good information freely. Unfortunately for Peter the newspaper delivery is unreliable (flight dependent). Nhulunbuy reminded Peter and myself of our early days living in the small mining town of Cue (without the ocean view) – all mining towns have a similar feel I guess – good if you are young, know how to save money and willing to get involved in the community. The other noticeable thing about Nhulunbuy is that almost every house has a boat parked in the driveway (the fishing is very good with plenty of options).
There are a few hazards in this harbour; this one is easier to see than most of the others. It is not an example of very poor parking, but one of a few that were left like this after a storm went through 6 years ago. There are another two yachts just under the water and two rotting quietly away on the beach – no one has bothered to move them.
‘XTC’ (the lovely, go-get-them Harris family) dragged when they dropped their anchor onto a piece of carpet (not great holding as it turned out) and another boat pulled a car tyre up with their anchor. We had excellent holding and felt very secure out where we were (we couldn’t be bothered moving in closer after the regatta boats left). It was a longer trip in on the tender, but there were only a few really choppy days when we had to get to shore and got wet.
We joined Oz and Nat on the flybridge of ‘Shebeen’ for the first race day of the regatta. I must admit I really had no idea what was going on. There were boats of different sizes moving all over the place, but once you grouped the different sizes together, they sort of looked like they knew what they were doing. The big boats disappeared for a few hours out of view, but the little Lasers and 420s were fun to watch and sometimes even fell over (excellent for spectating, not so good for the sailors). I’m pretending I know what I’m talking about here – Lasers, 420s – I asked a lassie about her boat and that is what she called them. The harbour did look lovely with all the boats flitting about on it like so many flocks of birds.
After the weekend of races, we hired a car and headed off to find a museum for a culture fix. We met Oz and Nat admiring the local art at the Buku-Larrnggay Miuka Gallery in the community of Yirrkala, 20km outside of Nhulunbuy. The prices are a bit hexy (but that is art for you). This is a not-for-profit gallery that pays directly to the artists; in fact, there were a couple of ladies painting while we were there.
The brush work detail on some of the memorial poles was breathtaking. Unfortunately, they are too big to fit on the boat (and we have an unexpected muffler bill this month). The gallery does do postage for these to anywhere in the world – but we don’t have an anywhere to post them to.
I bought a rather nice reed basket for storing my limes instead.
The gallery also had on display one of the bark petitions presented to parliament in 1963 (it looked quite odd with an official parliament correspondence stamp next to the painted border). This petition stated the concerns the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land had about the Federal Government excising 300km2 from the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve to allow for the bauxite mining (the reserve had been established back in the ‘30s). The bark petition was something of the start of change. The Suz condensed version of history follows: The Federal Government was obliged to reply to the petition (as it was a formally presented letter to Parliament) and had to state publicly that Australian Law couldn’t address any of the points listed on it because the law did not recognise aboriginal people as citizens of Australia at the time (that whole Terra Nullis thing). This led to the ’67 citizenship referendum, Aboriginal voting rights in ’76, the movement from the missions back to homelands in the ‘80s and Mabo’s change to the constitution re. Terra Nullis, in ’92. There was a lot of modern Australian history tied up in that little display.
Back at the boat it was gloves on and clean, clean, clean. And deal with the muffler issue.
I’m married to a chimney sweep – isn’t that supposed to be lucky? Peter is removing the insulation and possibly destroying the vacuum cleaner in the process (the cleanup is hideous). It seems that the insulation was all that was holding the rust-that-was-formerly-a-muffler together. It was packed into bags and ‘Natsumi’ took it back to Darwin to be used as templates for the new insulation blankets.
In between working on the muffler, Peter went fishing with Oz. They didn’t catch much but the scenery up the mangrove creeks was impressive.
After the races ‘Natsumi’ had to get the teenagers back to Darwin for school, so we had to say goodbye all over again. I will miss Dani and Michael; they are lovely people, good friends and have raised delightful children (yes, Cooper and Cookie, that is a compliment).
‘Natsumi’ Crewman Adrian, was inspired on the trip back and proposed to his partner Toni as the boat was going through The Hole in The Wall; Toni said yes, and they will be replacing the hose clamp currently on her finger, for a real ring when they get to Darwin – how romantic.
Today’s job is replacing the propeller on the dinghy as I may have hit a bit of reef while practicing my dinghy driving a few weeks ago in Port Essington.
Ok I did hit a bit of reef and it did take some chunks out of the prop (it looks like my Dad’s lawn mower blades). We carry a spare, but I think I may need a spare spare at this rate. (We can use this one in an emergency, it just doesn’t work as efficiently and can’t get the dinghy up onto the plane).
Worse still, I just hit a sandbar coming back from the showers – so the new prop isn’t as shiny as it was this morning – you have to laugh.
The first week of October arrived and ‘Shebeen’ had places to be, so we had to say goodbye and hope to meet them again down the east coast. Oz assured Nat that they would by fine in the 2m (6’) seas and 15-20knt head winds predicted (I think he was technically talking about the boat). I received a text from Nat a few days later, when they had reached the other side of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her text was long, and detailed and very, very not happy (she renamed it the Gulf of Carpenshitier). Oz sent a photo of him smiling, having caught a barramundi at Weipa (he and Peter managed not to catch any barramundi on any of the days they went out from Gove).
Peter brings me back a frangipani flower each day from his ride into town. I make contact with ‘terra firma’ twice a week. This is proving to be problematic as I get land sick and sometimes find myself holding the shelves to stop the world from spinning when we are shopping (it’s a very odd feeling). Peter is getting a lot of good exercise riding into town every few days, sometimes he brings the oddest things back on his bike; always carry a ball of string in your saddle bags for those awkward heavy items.
On Tuesdays we hire a car (cheaper than a taxi in to town) and do the grocery shopping, have breakfast at The Refinery café (near the Post Office) and take in a sight. The best times for shopping for fresh produce are on Tuesday and Friday mornings (the day after the barge comes in). If you thought the toilet paper wars were bad down south you should witness the vine-ripened-tomato standoff in Gove on a Tuesday morning.
I also come ashore on Fridays to do a load of washing at the camp site and for drinks and a meal at the club.
The franjipani trees in the camping grounds at the Boat Club are huge and constantly dropping flowers on the lawn. Hayden, Sarah’s partner is dedicated to keeping the grounds green and welcoming so they drive him nuts. Sarah the club manager is dedicated to keeping the Pub clean, and the atmosphere convivial, with social drinking only. The meals are good pub grub and the Roast Pork is divine (the fat will kill you, but you’ll die happy). All the meals are large, but takeaway containers are provided at the counter for doggy bagging (and everyone does it). It is a really pleasant place to catch up with some of the other boaties here and is certainly popular with the young mining families.
The base of a fig growing in the camping grounds – perfect for kiddies playing ‘hide and seek’ or venturing off to Narnia. The playground in the Club grounds had another huge tree that had a horizontal lower branch with its own ladder up and slide exit down. We noticed that families from Nhulunbuy would camp over on the weekends; Mum and Dad could socialize at the club, the kids had the playground and no one had to drive home at the end of the night – perfect.
This is a photo of Peter-to-the-Rescue. We spotted one of the crew of ‘Brahma’, a prawn trawler, in a dinghy with a failed engine. Peter took our dinghy to tow them back to their boat and was asked if he would take some of the crew in to shore. In return they gave us a whole 5 kilo box of huge prawns. It took me ages to repackage them into ‘us’ sized servings and fit them all into the freezer – but never turn away a free prawn. We realised later that our dinghy bag must have gotten mixed in with theirs and was missing. It had our life jackets, flares, spotlight and my little red and green velcro running lights (for coming back from the club at night). I think the bag went out to the airport with one of the crew who was leaving, but it was left next to Peter’s bike two days later. It’s that sort of a place.
It’s now the end of October and the rain clouds keep sliding past to the south of us and here I am waiting with my broom to clean the red bauxite dust off my boat.
OMG – The wrong muffler arrived!!
The average daily temperature has been 350 (95F), with humidity of 60+%, night temperatures only get down to 250, AND we are going through another ‘buildup’. It’s more than a well furred feline should have to bear.
Removed old insulation and muffler and cleaned area ready for arrival of new muffler (helped by Paul, who lives on a very spartan catamaran in the harbour)
Replaced broken aircon pump impeller (a lesson in paying attention to new noises)
Replaced ever-so-slightly-dinted dinghy prop
Refitted electronic fuel pump on genset (had worked loose from rather dodgy fitting) and replaced manual fuel pump access with new stainless steel cover plate (thanks to Ian, a plumber staying at the camping grounds).
Anchored Gove Harbour (Inverell Bay): 3/10/2020,
12 12.046S 136 41.887E, in 5.5m, taking care to stay well clear of the big boats along the entry (this is a working harbour). Well-marked access to the small boat anchorage in front of the boat club.
good holding, although a number of boats anchored closer in, dragged when they dropped onto rubbish (a piece of carpet in one instance). There are sunk boats and reefs/rocks along the edges but the middle bay area seems clear. There is a barge sunk just east of the green marker to the boat ramp (it doesn’t reach surface but you wouldn’t want to drop your anchor on it). Many of the permanent moorings closer in barely show above the water, so watch carefully. It’s probably a good idea not to come in to anchor at night, and if you do, stay way out the back until you can scope it out in daylight. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, Marmatcla Publishing, pg.107]
Only make water after low tide, else the turbidity will eat filters. Good/potable water is available from a hose located on the careening poles to the west of the boat ramp. The beach is steep but it’s best to get water at high tide as the support poles are covered in viscous shell growth. There is a sand bar to the north of the boat ramp extending in an easterly arch in front of it. It’s only a problem at low tide; the arc doesn’t come above the water and is not easy to see. Know the tides before you go into the dinghy jetty; parking too far up the beach could mean a muddy, dragging form of exercise to get home (and there are crocs in this harbour).
Gove Boat Club: Well managed by Sarah and Hayden, $10 per person per week pays for an access card to the club and ablution facilities in the camping ground. Washing machine and driers need 2x$2 + 1x$1 coins, there is ample clothesline space (best to take your own pegs). The Club is open Thursday – Sunday (afternoon and evenings).