The following extracts appear in Trevor Foote’s book ‘Kimberley Horizons: Life Transforming Experiences’, which explores his four years as a Minister in the West Kimberley Patrol, based in Broome WA, under the Federal Methodist Inland Mission from 1967.
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“Chapter 8: The Patrol Ministry
In my first year of ministry on patrol in the Kimberley I travelled 25,000 miles in the Holden station wagon I had inherited from my predecessor. The Mission Board in Melbourne wrote to me giving permission to sell the car and to fly to Perth to purchase a new one as the patrol work required a reliable vehicle. Therefore, on the 5th March 1968, thinking the wet season was just about over, I flew to Perth in a Burmah Oil company charter plane to pick up a new vehicle. The plane was a DC3 and took six hours to fly the distance at 180 mph. Rev. Lloyd Semple, Home Mission Director of the West Australian Methodist Conference, helped me get a good deal – another Holden station wagon – and the next day, after doing some shopping for groceries, and fruit, I began to make the return 1,600 mile (2,500 km) trip, a little anxious about weather reports of rain that had begun falling in the north.
I arrived in Geraldton at midnight after a slow trip running the new vehicle in. In those days, you had to keep on varying your speed up and down for at least the first 300 kms, and be careful not to maintain too high, or too low, a speed for any length of time until the engine of the vehicle was “run in”.
No garages were open for buying petrol, so I drove on another 55 kms to Northampton and parked in the driveway of a garage until a mechanic arrived for work at 6.30 a.m. After picking up a hitch-hiker outside Geraldton, I travelled on with an easier mind knowing I had someone to help me if I should get into trouble. Outside Onslow, we stopped to help some aboriginal men change a tyre.
That night, the road became a muddy stretch, and we found ourselves securely bogged. After a couple of hours, and the help of a passing truck driver, we had dug, pushed, and lifted the vehicle a couple of hundred yards, and believed we were out of the worst of it. The lovely new station wagon had been a beautiful ivory colour, with blue upholstery and trimmings. Now it was as red as the road, outside and inside. We pulled off the road, and slept that night mud-caked and exhausted. Every time I moved in the night, the drying mud would crack and ripple all over my body. I couldn’t help thinking about the ladies who deliberately put mud packs on their face to beautify their skin!
In the morning, when we woke, we found a track around the mud-patch, and guess what? There was our helpful truckie, also stuck fast, just down the road. We helped him out, and pushed on to the Mardi crossing of the Fortesque River, where about 30 vehicles were camped waiting to cross. Some had been there for two days, but we only had to wait eight hours before we were able to drive through, with water over the bonnet. We used the old “bag over the radiator” trick to get through that depth of water. We drove on through Roebourne and that night, got stuck again at Whim Creek, but this time, with the help of dry spinifex grass, were experienced experts at getting out of bogs. We camped just outside Port Hedland by the side of a swollen creek.
A short while after getting to sleep, I was suddenly wide awake, realising that something had disturbed me. Looking up I saw a big black face staring at me through the back window. “What do you want?” I asked, but got no answer from the man (or woman?) who just kept staring at me and my hitch-hiker friend, then kept looking down at all the groceries and fruit we had unloaded from the back of the vehicle and placed on the ground outside the car, while we camped. This person then turned and walked off towards the creek, so we decided to pack up and drive on – swollen creek or not – in case he (or she) was going to bring back any mates to collect a free feed. We crossed the creek and camped another 50 kms further on towards Broome.
In the morning we found ourselves near the Ridley, a tributary of the DeGrey River, which was a raging torrent, a quarter of a mile wide. There was a family stranded on the other side, and a fellow on our side waiting for the water to subside so he could help them. We left them some food and fruit, and turned back to see if we could make the detour through Mount Goldsworthy over the high level rail bridge across the DeGrey. This we were able to do, travelling very slowly, and driving very straight with both hands steady on the steering wheel, over planks on the railway line, with the water just lapping the bridge. We kept hoping and praying that there were no trains about to come from the opposite direction.
After informing the Goldsworthy police about the stranded family, we ploughed through another 30 kms of water and mud to get back on the Broome road again. It was a horrible experience. We made three attempts at getting through, and finally succeeded in coming out at Pardoo station. From Pardoo to Anna Plains was alternately good and bad – depending on the patches of white clay. At Anna Plains, the manager gave us a good feed and three gallons of petrol, and Jim and Charlotte Wright gave me some comics to take home to their school boy son, Peter, who was boarding with us in Broome.
Someone told us that Broome had received 13 inches of rain in two days and, as night came on again, we had to go slower and slower, and the road became worse and worse, especially around Roebuck Plain station, with wash-aways every few miles. Frequently we had to stop, and my poor hitch-hiker had to walk ahead to “test the waters” and see if the bottom was solid enough to drive through.
We could see a massive storm building up, but it held off until we reached Broome at 8 p.m. on Sunday 10th March, much to Dawn’s surprise, because she didn’t expect me home for some days. I was glad to be home, seeing it was also my 31st birthday. My friend the hitch-hiker flew out of Broome, back to Perth, on Tuesday 12th March, after staying with us for a couple of days. He needed the rest! But what a story he must have told about his holiday in the north.
After we got through, the road was closed for several weeks, so it was just as well we had pushed on when we did. When I had left home five days previously, there had been no inkling of such a down-pour, and damage, in such a short time. It was a reminder to me to heed the advice of the experts when they say “Don’t travel up here in the wet season!” but it was
certainly an interesting experience, if you don’t think too much about the danger. At least I knew that, in the future, I had a reliable vehicle which would probably get me wherever I needed to go in the Kimberley. The task of cleaning the vehicle to get it back into pristine condition after my trip took all the next day.
Chapter 8: Going On Patrol
Many of the Kimberley stations covered an area of over a million acres each. Most of them had a manager, his wife and family, a mechanic, stock men and a cook. Sometimes there were jackaroos, a gardener, a book-keeper, and a governess. Some, like Noonkanbah and Fossil Downs, had large communities of Aboriginal people living on the station, while others had just a few Aboriginal stockmen and some women for the house work and gardens. I sometimes was a little upset, but tried not to show it, as I sat at a meal with the white staff and we were waited on by an Aboriginal woman who was summoned to the table by the ringing of a bell or the clapping of hands.
We felt that the Holden station wagon was quite adequate for most of the work, as well as being more comfortable for the whole family, when they could travel with me. I travelled an average of 2,000 miles (3,200 kms) a month and tyres wore out very quickly on the sharp metal sealed roads, and often fractured on the rough station tracks. Petrol was delivered to me at the manse in 44 gallon drums which I pumped into the vehicle with a hand-pump. I usually used a drum of petrol every two or three weeks.
There were many people, men (sometimes women) hitch-hiking through the Kimberley in the 1960s. We (and they) had no sense of danger in those days. I enjoyed picking up people; they were good company for me, and sometimes a great help when I broke down or had flat tyres. Some were foolish, travelling without water, so I always carried spare water to give them a bottle to take with them. Twice I met “Walking Jimmy” Wadsworth on the road – walking from Darwin to Perth – once I had to give him water and passed on some tomatoes that someone had given me.
The average number of stations I was able to visit each year was about 40. Being equipped with a transceiver, connected to the Flying Doctor Base in Derby, enabled me to advise people that I was on my way in from the main road to visit them. Thankfully, I never had to use it for an emergency, but it was always comforting to know the Transceiver was available, if necessary. Sometimes, as many as 15 stations were visited in one trip. My average time spent away from home during the dry season was two weeks each month.
One November I remember attempting to get to the stations in the rough country up over the King Leopold ranges, north of Derby. I say ‘attempt’ because although I had seven stations on my list for that week, I was chased home by storms after visiting only three. Knowing the road ahead would soon be impassable, and already having experienced three flat tyres, I was reluctant to go any further.
At this time, Mt. Hart was owned by Thiess Bros. The manager, Peter and his wife Ann – originally from Beaudesert, Queensland – were very hospitable and helpful, but when there are 60 creeks across the 30 miles of mountain track between you and the main road, you have no spare tyres, you are nearly 500 kms from home – and it begins to rain – you reluctantly say goodbye! Sometimes, of course, it was very necessary to stay longer than planned at a station so my flat tyres could be repaired. It only happened once or twice, but whenever I had to drive home with no spare tyres I would hum that old war time song, “Coming in on a wing and a prayer”.
Chapter 4: History of the Kimberley Patrol
From 1913 to 1934, Broome was home base for the Presbyterian Church’s Australian Inland Mission pastoral patrol to Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Wyndham, an area of approximately 100,000 square miles. The patrol padres followed Flynn’s motto: “For Christ and the Continent.”
Perhaps to warn them, frighten, or prepare them, some of the early quotes that were made to ministers who contemplated a call to Broome and the Kimberley Patrol were:
You may go to Broome, but will you ever come back?
It’s a place with mangroves, swamps and malaria, isn’t it?
Are there any white women there?
Fancy being a 1,000 miles from a doctor!
I suppose you’ll be living with packing cases in a tin shanty?
The Aboriginals are cannibals in that part, aren’t they?
But, despite such not-so-subtle threats, ministers still heard the call and perhaps surprisingly found: “The moonlight evenings still repay the perspiration of the day.”
From 1942 to 1962, there were no A.I.M. or Presbyterian appointments to Broome, but the Methodist Inland Mission Kimberley Patrol was based in Wyndham and the patrol padre travelled to Broome and conducted occasional church services. During the war, the only resident Medical Officer in Broome between Port Hedland and Darwin was Dr. D. J. Oldmeadow who was also the Magistrate and Army Flying Doctor. He was a Methodist Local Preacher from the age of 18 and, because there was no resident minister, he held services each Sunday night in the Anne Street building. Dr. Oldmeadow shared a deep friendship with the Rev. Ray Noble, the Methodist Inland Missioner of the Kimberley Patrol, based in Wyndham, whose ashes and memorial cairn stand at the crossroads of the Kununurra and Wyndham roads.
Rev. R. Ellis Bramley was the Methodist Inland Missioner who succeeded Ray Noble in the Kimberley. From Wyndham, during 1947 and 1948, Ellis travelled through to Derby, Yampi Sound and Broome. He had a library ministry, and – although he had no qualifications – acted as a dentist. Once, at Yampi, one of the workers asked him to pull his teeth. Ellis asked: “Which one?” The man replied: “The lot!” Ellis had a book of Cliff Lanham’s (Flying Padre at Mount Isa) on anesthetics, so he had to refer to the book for the right dose of nerve block. The man must have been satisfied with his work because he went away and brought back a mate for the same treatment! Ellis (at the time of writing, 95 years of age) says he pulled about 70 teeth on that patrol.”