It’s unusual for me to mention coffee along the way. The only other shop in Gregory was Murray’s Coffee. Best coffee in Gregory we were told. Ha Ha. How could we resist. It was OK coffee. At the next table was a group of 4 older people (like us). John and I flicked through the local rag on the table and I noticed a photo of the mayor. I looked at the group next to us and there was the mayor and his wife. “What a shitty place to be the mayor,” I thought as we finished our coffee and headed to Burketown about 100 kms up the road.
We ponder what might be in Burketown and whether we will stay or head straight to Normanton. Burketown is tiny and about 40 kms off the coast. It is surrounded by rivers, creeks and waterholes which are inhabited by saltwater crocodiles. Not much there.
The road is good and deserted. John is driving. It’s hot. We approach a long curve.
“What the fuck!” I scream as I see the front left wheel of the car take off down the road in front of us. The car pulls to the left, John hits the brakes. He brings the car to a stop on the wrong side of the road. The wheel is still spinning down the road about 100 metres in front of us. I watch as it heads into the scrub.
We get out, shaken and examine the corner where the wheel should be. The wheel bolts have been sheared clean off. How does that happen?
I retrieve the wheel. It is in surprisingly good shape. I take a chair, a bottle of water and my book and position myself under a tree at the top of the curve. John does the same at the other end of the curve. There is nothing to do but sit and wait, and wait with all the flies. They are vicious. Of course there is no mobile reception and we don’t have a satellite phone. Yes, yes I know…..everyone said to get one.
An hour passes. It’s even hotter. Then a car. I flag it down. No, they don’t have a satellite phone either. They have come from Burketown so now we know we are 40 kms from help.
“You’ll need a tow truck.” They are spot on.
“You’ll need Paul. We just saw him, he’s in town and so is his RACQ truck. You’re in luck because he’s often not there. We will call him for you when we get some reception.” Luck has so been on our side. They drive away and then of course there is a constant stream of cars. They all want to have a look, offer advice and help. “Lucky you didn’t roll it,” they all say. I can only agree. John did a great job of keeping the car on the road. I wouldn’t have been able to.
Paul arrives with the tow truck about an hour later. Another car pulls up and out jumps the mayor with his wife. “Hop in. We will take you into town. Paul will look after the car.” So, not only do they take us into town, they give us a guided tour, a potted history and make sure we have accommodation for the night. They even go and collect our bags when the tow truck comes back into town. I can’t believe how wonderful they have been to us.
61. The RACQ
It’s Easter Sunday and the mechanic can’t look at it until Tuesday. There is nothing in Burketown. We chat to Paul. He’s got it all organised. Not only is he the RACQ operator, he runs the best accommodation in town (it was booked out), he is the deputy mayor and he also owns and runs Savannah Air, a small airline with 6 charter planes. Because it’s Easter and then ANZAC Day closely following, we have no idea how long all this might take.
“Why don’t I fly you out to Sweer’s Island tomorrow and pick you up in a few days?” So that’s what we did. Sweer’s Island is a fishing paradise. I like fishing, but John doesn’t. There is nothing else to to. so it’s decided. That night we stayed in town, we had the best fish and chips I’ve ever had and we saw the presentation for the barra fishing competition in the new, well-designed community space which functioned as the council chambers, sporting grounds, meeting area and playground. Everyone was there. And most surprising and heartening was that blacks and whites were there in equal numbers happily mixing and sharing the prizes. So I start asking questions about what we see.
The council commissioned a Brisbane academic, Richard Martin, to write a book about the history of Burketown. That in itself was surprising. It’s called The Gulf Country. It starts off by detailing the dispossession of the aboriginal peoples from their land, the violence, murder and enslavement that occurred. It was difficult reading. The book was only lent to me (by the deputy mayor) but they are sending one down to me in Sydney. I haven’t finished it.
The mayor, the deputy mayor and the local aboriginal elders have worked so well together to create this well functioning community. It has taken years of dialogue and consultation. It’s not been easy as many have a different view about what needs to be done. They talked alot about reconciliation and apologies. These things matter. The proof of success was a town which was clean, safe, respectful of all. So much for for my thoughts about what a shitty place to be mayor. When he found out that Alex was doing his Master’s in Economic Development he suggested Alex come up and do some work for the Council. “We could use young people with that education.” Truly inspirational.
63. The Uluru Statement from the Heart
64. A new government which will adopt the recommendations from this report (I hope)