A Wonderful Family, and the Storm of the Year
It took me three days to reach Gero from Kalbarri. The first day I passed by some gorgeous coast, including the Red Cliffs.
Day 15: I took a late start and only cycled about 30km before setting up camp in the bush. The land was pretty scrubby, so it took me a while to find a proper camping spot behind a large enough shrub.
As I set up camp, I realized that I was camping in a kangaroo den! Their long, narrow tracks were everywhere, next to gouges in the sand created by their dragging tails. I brushed away some scat to make way for my tent, wondering if they’d return that night (they didn’t).
Day 16: I set out at dawn. I’d camped in a national forest, which was technically illegal, so I wanted to leave before the rangers started their rounds.
*As an aside. There are SO many restrictions on where travelers, whether in car or in camper van or on bike, can camp. This runs counter to what I’d expect, because there is SO much open space in Australia. The main reasons I’ve heard for these laws are: 1) preventing littering, and 2) generating revenue for public land maintenance. It’s annoying for me, a “Leave No Trace” camper, who has worked and paid tax in Australia, to have to pay for a plot of grass in he middle of nowhere which I’ll have evacuate before dawn. Free camping for all!*
My ride south that day (70km) was beautiful – warm, a nice Westerly breeze blowing off the ocean. I passed the pink lake, which is in fact Pepto-Bismal pink due to algae bloom.
But as dusk approached, I found myself in farmland. All the fields had been cleared for cattle. No trees behind which to set up my tent.
I resolved to ask a farmer to set up my tent on their land for the night. I was nervous. I’d never done his before – and it unnerved me that someone would know where I’d be sleeping. There was nothing for it but to ask.
The first farmhouse I knocked on gave no answer, and a nasty-looking Pitt bull chained in the yard convinced me not to knock harder.
The second farmhouse looked picturesque, an old-style building surrounded by a green, fnced-in yard littered with children’s toys.
When I knocked on the door, a woman about my age opened it. She had a smiling blonde baby on here hip, and two other little tow-heads behind her legs.
She refused to let me set up my tent.
Instead, she gave me my own room! I ate dinner with her – lamb chops from their own herd, washed down with a few glasses of bubbles.
Meet Chelsea, the most incredible woman! She and her husband, and her husband’s family, grow canola and wheat, and they have a small herd of sheep and cows. Her husband was, at the moment, working 16-20 hour days in the field with his brother and father, so I got to meet all the women in the family.
I learned heaps about agriculture in the area. Apparently, one of the main struggles in the area is the lack of rainfall. It’s become steadily drier over the past decade, and so local small farms have found it harder to turn the same profit. Consequently, large companies, especially foreign companies, have been buying up these farmer’s land, then employing many of the same farmers to work what was previously their own land.
On the one hand, this can be a great option for small farmers who see their profits declining to get a fair price for their land, and/or a somewhat reliable income. Farming is anything but reliable. The most experienced, hard-working farmer can find their crop yield nullified by unpredictable weather or market fluctuations. An unprepared, but lucky, farmer can find that an early storm validates their uneducated decisions.
On the other hand, these massive companies are taking this region from locals. And that changes the landscape dramatically.
A large storm was coming the next day, with nearly 100km winds. Yeah, I wasn’t going to ride in that. Glenda, Chelsea’s mother-in-law was heading to Geraldton, my next stop, and I decided to accept a ride. I had a homestay in Gero, and since I’d shown up unexpectedly on Chelsea’s doorstep, I didn’t want to overstay my welcome.
Day 17: I babysat the kids in the morning, then headed off to Geraldton with Glenda, where I got to watch the vicious storm from inside a cozy apartment.
Ah, back to civilization.