Not many people have heard of Fitzroy Crossing, a small outback town four hours north east of Broome in The Kimberley, WA. I certainly never had until I arrived here after a 20 hour bus journey from Darwin. Like most small towns in rural Australia, Fitzroy Crossing has a strong Aboriginal community with over 60% of the 1500 people who live here being Indigenous Australians. When Fitzroy Crossing was established the main group was the Bunuba People (the River and Hill people), their land stretching from the present day Brooking Springs and Leopold Downs Station to the Oscar, Napier and King Leopold Ranges.
I’m fascinated by stories of how the town once was, with one of the two local pubs being for Aborigines and the other for Caucasians. Once the Indigenous bar in the 1890’s, The Crossing Inn is one of the strangest bars I’ve been too. For starters, it’s a traditional outback cage bar where a trigger is pulled in the event of a fight or raid and a cage comes down across the whole bar restricting access to alcohol which is already locked way in a large fridge.
It felt odd being one of the only Caucasians in the whole bar but it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, even though I could feel a slight tension in the air. Signs with rules of behaviour cover the walls; no fighting, no hassling, no assaults, no racist taunts, no begging for alcohol etc., and there’s even trees with buckets of condoms hanging from them outside. It really is quite an experience!
On a recent trip to The Fitzroy River Lodge (the other restaurant-come-bar) the barman walked outside with a baseball bat, turns out one of the local Aboriginal folks pulled out a knife, a common occurrence apparently. I have to remember that all the tales I hear about local Aborigines are told by Caucasians so I’ve only heard one side of the story, which admittedly are somewhat racist. Racism aside, it is evident that there’s a real issue with Indigenous communities in the area. I often come across drunk Aborigines at the side of the road, high on drugs outside the local hospital and have witnessed huge bush fires lit deliberately as part of tradition.
Apart from two watering holes, the only chance of alcohol, Fitzroy Crossing has two stores; a small supermarket and a post office. To my surprise, the supermarket sells my favourite Melbourne-made chocolate, Pana Chocolate which I first tried at The Chocolate Festival. You won’t find anything but a UTE in the car park, as you can’t get around without one. Inside it’s the norm to wear a checked shirt and cowboy hat. I often wonder how the sweet Asian checkout girl ever found herself here.
Even after just a week here, I found it impossible to go shopping without engaging in an overly long conversation. It’s one of those places where everyone knows one another and if you’re new, everyone wants to know where you are from and what you are doing here. I’ve never met such a bunch of talkative locals.
We talk about dry season, wet season, the health of cattle, the state of dams, the blistering cold mornings recently hovering above single figures. Apart from a handful of fly-in-fly-out workers based in Aboriginal communities, the majority of residents work on cattle stations in the surrounding area. The distance between each neighbouring station can be over 100km away, which just shows the size of The Kimberly region.
There’s some tourists around too at the moment with Geikie Gorge and the Fitzroy River bringing people to the area. We went fishing there the other day and despite returning empty handed, I enjoyed watching the crocs at dusk whilst enjoying a cold beer on the boat.
Situated in the heart of The Kimberley region, the Fitzroy Valley boasts some stunning scenery. I never tire of mustering the vast countryside on my dirt bike. Every day I enjoy a breathtaking sunrise and sunset and come dark, the sky lights up with a million stars.
There’s some pretty spectacular caves in the area where I spotted some Aboriginal artwork and unique rock formations. I never tire of seeing wildlife dotted around the vast outback planes. Pigs, horses, snakes, wallabies, dingos, birds of prey. How can so many animals survive the annual dry season? Which reminds me, I have yet to feel a single drop of rain.
How different Fitzroy Crossing is to the bright lights of London, or even Melbourne, both places I’ve called my second home (home being where my heart is, which is with family in Portsmouth). It’s certainly an unmissable destination I’ll no doubt remember for years.
Coming soon….more tales from my job as a Jillaroo plus a local restaurant review from outback Australia!
Loving life, loving Fitzroy Crossing,