A few weeks in tropical Cairns

Before I get into telling you all about my exciting trip to Cairns, let me just start by letting you all know that I am running in the Foxtel Lap as part of the ‘BCG Bolts’ on November 13th. It’s in support of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, so please donate if you can by clicking here.

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The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute discovers ways to prevent and treat conditions affecting babies, children and adolescents, helping them lead happy, healthy lives.

Now that I’ve said that, back to my trip. I got back yesterday (just in time for a work Oktoberfest party 😉 ) from 2 weeks up in Cairns. The trip was to do with my work with Indigenous Enterprise Partnerships, but there was a lot of fun involved – right from the start since I was upgraded to business class at the airport :-). My first week there involved taking part in the induction week for secondees from Westpac, IBM and KPMG going to Indigenous Organisations in Cape York and Cairns for a month. This included a full day of four wheel drive training, cultural induction, and some free time exploring Cairns. We had a few fun nights out, although my favourite night was at a little backpacker restaurant/bar called the Green Ant Cantina where we had some drinks and Mexican food.

For my first night there, only a few secondees had arrived, so we headed up with Rose (the Cairns IEP director) to Djarragun College’s (a local Indigenous School) new wilderness centre where we had a BBQ and stayed the night in the dorms by the river. It was a fun night and a good way to get to know the people who had already arrived and start getting used to the big Land Cruisers that we would be driving up to the Cape.

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On Thursday afternoon we set off North for our camping weekend on Cape York with a 3 hour drive to Cape Tribulation in the Daintree rainforest. It was a beautiful drive, although since the region has been quite dry, the river crossings mostly involved driving across dry river banks. At Cape Trib we spent the night in dorms at a little place by the beach called PK’s jungle village. It was a gorgeous spot because the rainforest goes right to the beach, but unfortunately the food in the restaurant there was disappointing and cold – I guess they weren’t used to dealing with a group of 25 people in 9 cars!

We woke up bright and early Friday morning and drove a little way along the rd for breakfast on the beach right at Cape Tribulation which was very beautiful, before continuing our drive to a community called Wujal-Wujal. At Wujal-Wujal, some local Aborigal ladies, Frances and Gloria, took us for a walk to a waterfall called Bloomfield Falls and told us a little bit about there culture which was interesting. We then continued on to lunch in Cooktown where we had some delicious grilled Spanish Mackerel and Chips. Cooktown was beautiful and on the water, but like everywhere else in the region, there was no swimming due to Crocodiles and Stingers! Cooktown is named after Captain Cook who stopped there for a few weeks to repair his ship in 1770. A lot of English words for Australian animals come from the local language there (Guugu Yimithirr) from the interactions during this time – for example Kangaroo which is how the word gangurru was written.

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From Cooktown we continued our drive further up the Cape to Lakefield National Park where we camped at the Kennedy River. The afternoon drive took us over some quite treacherous roads – it was serious 4wding! The camp site by the river was stunning (Despite not being able to swim!). We spent the evening sitting on our swags (little camping mattresses) chatting, and having a delicious camp dinner of steaks, sausages and vegetable stew all cooked on the fire by Vit, the Westpac Cape York Secondee Program Manager. Vit was a real bushman – despite his Albanian heritage! After dinner we cooked some Marshmallows on the fire and played a game of celebrity heads which was surprisingly fun! It was beautiful sleeping under the stars and I had a surprisingly good nights rest!

Saturday morning we had a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs before packing up camp – we weren’t having lunch that day because of our schedule so I made sure to eat heaps 😉 Once we were all ready to go we headed to Lama Lama country where we were fortunate to be getting shown around the Aboriginal land by some of the locals! It was beautiful and varied land – almost desert like, to rain forest, to beach! We even got a chance to freshen up in the ocean near Port Stewart since the beach had a large shallow area so crocs weren’t an issue! We did have a funny thing happen though. All the cars had UHF radios so we could communicate on the rd, and coincidentally we had been tuned to the channel that Lama lama used to re-broadcast over a wide area. On the long drives our radios tended to end up being used for games like I Spy and other silly conversations, so when we arrived at the Lama-lama station they had a chuckle since they had been listening to all our conversations!

That night we camped at a site that they called ‘safari camp’ that they were planning on doing up so that tourists could pay to camp there. We had a great evening there with another big camp dinner (including heaps of prawns) where we were joined by a lot of the locals. We then sat around the camp fire having more marshmallows before settling in to our swags. Unfortunately that night I barely slept because of mosquitos!!

Sunday morning we were up really early to get on the road for the long drive back to Cairns. Unfortunately my car had been the one carrying the prawns and ended up stinking of prawns, but the trip had to go on!! An hour in to the drive, the secondees going to Coen headed there separate way but there were still 8 cars that continued on to a little town called Musgrave for breakfast. The car of secondees going to Pormpuraaw, as well as Vit, then headed their separate way leaving 6 cars to continue.

About an hour after leaving breakfast however there was some unexpected excitement. One of the cars hit some soft sand and rolled! Luckily no-one was hurt (a miracle if you look at the photos), but it still left everyone very shocked. We got the 3 secondees who had been in the car to a nearby road station where they waited for an ambulance to check them out as well as the police. In the mean time I got everyone water and suncream and we got all of the bags out of the rolled car – apparently it often takes a few weeks to get a tow truck and by that stage everything including tires is usually gone! Having heard that, I also took the initiative to take the spare tyre from the crashed car and switch it with a flat tyre that my car was carrying since we’d got a flat on the second day 🙂

Car Crash

Once the police had seen the car and recorded the GPS co-ordinates, we got back on the road. 2 more cars headed to Cooktown, which left only 3 cars of Cairns secondees, Rose, and I to head back to Cairns. The accident had delayed us a few hours so we didn’t get to Cairns until 8, and still had to unload the cars and return them so it was a tiring evening. Overall however it was an amazing and eye-opening trip!

This week I’ve been working with Rose in Cairns on IEP’s Indigenous Employment strategy for the region. The CEO (Ralph) and Chairman (Ian) of a West Australian Indigenous Affairs Foundation called Wunan were also staying so I helped Rose with hosting them. It involved sitting in on lots of interesting meetings, such as with the Principal of Djarragun College, Jean Illingworth, and some local Aboriginal leaders. Rose and I also met with local Government representatives and the Djarragun transition to work manager. The Cairns secondees all started work, but we still caught up for dinner every night which was good fun! All in all a very productive trip – and I even managed to get a tan! 🙂

Last night I got back just in time to put on a silly outfit for the BCG Oktoberfest party at the Lowenbrau in the Rocks where I had a few Steins of beer and caught up with friends from work. Now I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend with Jacks who I haven’t seen for 2 weeks!

Have a look at all the photos in the gallery!
Hope you’re all well.
Ben

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