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postcard from laura

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postcard from laura

Down from 'The Tip' we say goodbye to our top end `adventure-4WD' companions Wendy and Al, and it's on to Laura... not to be confused with nearby 'Old Laura' or 'New Laura'... and we are here for the 2017 bi-annual ABORIGINAL DANCE FESTIVAL.

Laura is an outback town with a population of 80 - a pub with Chinese backpacker staff that serves barramundi and beer, with space for campers out back. There's a post office doubling as a general store, a caravan park and tourist information centre.

But it's just to the south of here that things get special... with the world-famous Aboriginal QUINKAN ROCK ART going back thousands of years, including striking depictions of emus, kangaroos, human figures and the ever-present spirit world. And further south there is a camping ground surrounded by a natural rock amphitheatre where the dance festival is held.

And this year's festival has special significance for us, being just back from 'The Tip', and now with some knowledge of the participating Cape York Aboriginal communities that include Mapoon, Bamaga and Lockhart River... isolated Australian Cape communities of which we were previously unaware.

Our favourites are the Lockhart mob, having visited the area on our way north to the tip of Cape York, and having been lucky to later meet 2-teachers considering leaving their current positions at a Brisbane school to embark on "more challenging, more rewarding roles"... at Lockhart River as it happens.

We are camped nextdoor at Elliot Falls when we first meet on the Old Telegraph Track, and after a swim to wash off the dust are kindly invited around to share their fire.

Steve is aware of the gravity of their decision, but they are both "looking for a change after almost 30 years in the system". He pauses to collect the right words, looks across at his partner Karen and adds. "We really would like to make a difference, and we think we can do that." He pokes at the fire. "I'm told the big thing is to get the kids to school in the first place, and then to create opportunities for them that make coming to school a more appealing option than not coming". He then adds " We hope to go there and be good role models for the kids." Steve looks pensive, and Karen nods agreement. We are impressed. Steve is a big guy, looks fit, and both Steve and Karen are eloquent and impassioned. We are sure they'll be a formidable combination, a great help to the Lockhart community and the school principal whom they have both known since the late 80's where they met in Canberra.

At Laura the dance festival is in full swing, with the LOCKHART RIVER MOB currently going through their paces. And it's obvious they are the favourites in our part of the crowd, especially with a woman in a wide-brimmed hat. She stands behind us, her shouts enthusiastic, loud and encouraging... and very biased.

We are struck by the age mix of these Lockhart dancers - tiny kids of around 2yo, teenagers and older dancers too. One Elder wears glasses and has an intercom unit strapped to his belt. Another is a middle-aged woman with wide eyes, wild grey hair and very animated... all have the traditional paint, grass skirts and the totemic moves of their clan. And we are struck by the rhythms and chants, the gasps and cheers of the mixed crowd... the hypnotic click of clapsticks and boomerangs.

Postscript - 13 July 2017 - We receive a message today from Steve and Karen. Yes, the enthusiastic Lockhart supporter at the Laura festival was in fact the current Lockhart school principal Siobhan. And Steve and Karen have accepted the offer to live among the Lockhart River Aboriginal community to teach and mentor the kids.

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Where to next?

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Where to next?

It's great to catch up with friends, but after 5-days BYRON BAY BLUESFEST is over... so it's back to the road for us. OK, so we often don't know where we are headed... not 'exactly' anyway. As always, our methodology is simple though, in this instance our 'plan' saying 'north'. And it is true our default setting is to follow the coast. For this leg it's Byron to Townsville, about a 15hrs drive if we were to head straight there.

But to beat the Top End Wet, we've allowed up to a month... so we are in no hurry. And on our last day in Byron, a friend asks if we'll be visiting Tenterfield and surrounds in Queensland. It's "beautiful country out there, and well worth a visit".

We look over our maps, then at each other. It's a minor diversion - only 250km to the west, and there is another wine district as it happens. So we change our 'plan' and head inland for now... just because we can.

Once on the road again, we check out 'WIKICAMPS' as per normal, finding a 'rest area' with 4-stars. After the festival, we are keen to keep today's journey short, and this place fills the bill - a rolling grassed site called 'Crooked Creek Rest Area'. It costs nothing to camp, allows campfires, has covered picnic tables and a toilet... all surrounded by glorious bush.

For dinner we share a Kerala coconut curry with salmon, a cask shiraz, a raging red campfire to warm the legs, the last calls of kookaburras and currawongs, then a lullaby of crickets, frogs and a gurgling creek. From our cosy bed in the top of the truck we listen to the intermittent rush of a passing breeze laden with damp bush smells and a hint of woodsmoke.

In the morning it's the last of Byron's best hot cross buns, toasted on last night's now flaming embers, surrounded by tiny wrens that dance and tweet at our feet... and we discuss nomadic life  with our only overnight neighbour.

Brisbane Bill wears sandals with socks, has a grey beard, blue eyes, and enjoys a natter. He and his wife are headed "whichever way the wind blows".

It seems there's another great camping spot not far from here -'Tooloom Falls' - also a free NSW State forest site as it happens. We look it up on Wikicamps - '50km NE from you' says my mobile phone app.

*****

A word about WIKICAMPS - an invaluable app for travellers and nomads of all ilks... dependent on public input and loaded with different camping sites, rest areas and points of interest throughout the country - with photos, lists of facilities, candid comments and prices of each.

Filters enable searching a current location, favourites or selected areas. New sites, comments and photos can all be added.

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Stopping by`The World's Festival'

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Stopping by`The World's Festival'

It is true we're on our way to Sydney... and Byron Bay beyond. But sometimes the stars are aligned, there's an opportunity and a choice to be made. 

As it happens, we are in the city of Adelaide, some Toyota tweaks planned for the truck... the last day of Womad 2017 - 'The World's Festival' - a festival we have wanted to see for many years.

There's been some rain, but the morning is mercifully dry, scattered clouds that billow, the temperature 27degC, the festival set in magnificent rolling gardens of giant Moreton Bay figs, Norfolk pines, wide oaks and ancient gums, an evening chorus of bat squeaks overhead.

The street food is Yemeni, Greek, Japanese and Spanish,  and everything in between. The smells are of free-trade coffee, and organic donuts coated with sugar - from Byron Bay of all places.

Korean drummers and big band Columbian salsa vie with rap and techno dance.

The crowds are couples, performers, families with lots of babies and toddlers... and singles, wandering grey nomads, teens in Thai-dye tees, young hippies in torn denim, old hippies with pony tails, greying manes and bald but hatted pates.

A Jamaican dude wears a Japanese Kimono, aviator sunnies and dreadlocks down to his waist.

In the cool of late evening patrons wander, in awe of a French concoction of burning urns and pots that hang from trees, the smell of burning paraffin, rusted frames of steel, giant ferris wheels that turn and burn, buckets attached, tipping flames into chutes.

Yes, we could have focussed on the Troopy truck repairs and headed off again, but sometimes travelling means stopping, pausing to take a breath.

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