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Dirty Work: Discovering Cape York

By John Rooth, 15 Oct 2015 Opinion

Dirty Work: Discovering Cape York

No matter how many time he’s been to The Cape, Roothy is still discovering new and exciting places.

Talk about ‘working away from home’.

This kind of writing certainly isn’t what editor Matt had in mind when he dialled me in for this column-writing caper, but I had no choice – I’ve been up the Cape working on LowRange DVDs for the past month. Tough life, huh? 

Actually, it has been kind of weird this season because there has been rain most nights, so the old canvas bag has been getting packed up wet, as has the bunk. This is good gear, of course, because there is no point mucking around when you use it for a living. But while it keeps me dry, the gear usually gets pretty wet.

Roothy low range cape york 2We have spent most of the past fortnight braving gale-force winds on the east coast. Most Cape veterans know to expect occasional big winds at places like Chili Beach and Captain Billy Landing, but the constant gusts that rocked the old truck for a couple of nights on the Usher Point headlands were more frightening than my mate Glen after a big night on the chilli prawns.

I like to take a quick bucket shower most nights – my old Cruiser gets dusty inside – but rather than towel-dry afterwards, all I had to do was step around to the back of the truck to get the full blow-dry treatment. Same with the gear – it was wet one minute and dry the next. All I had to do was catch it before it blew away, and then pack it up.

This year marks a personal anniversary. In 1975, I made my first trip up the Cape. I had followed a girlfriend to Cairns after she’d scored a job working at a bar, and after a few days of lust our relationship ended with a bang, err, so to speak.

So with no job and no plans I looked at the map and figured that the line north was a road and the dots with names were towns. I had a 1959 BMW motorcycle, a bed roll and some tools.

Roothy low range cape york -1The line turned out to be a track, the dots were cattle stations and if some blokes floating a Land Rover across the Jardine River hadn’t showed up, I would have never made it any further. The trip took four months because I kept picking up jobs in return for food and fuel. I’ve never managed to stay still since. Yep, the Cape and I are old mates.

Years later I did tour-guide duty up on the Cape, worked the gold and tin mines, and had little luck fishing. During the past 15 years, my old green truck and I have been back up and down so many times we have both lost count.

And guess what? The Cape still has more mysteries and new places to explore. Heaps more! I feel like the more I learn up here, the more there is to learn. I only have to read Ron Moon’s guidebook to realise how much more there is to learn if you’re a serious scholar of the Cape. I feel like some sort of cowboy who has ridden past all the best bits without even noticing them.

I might see you up here sometime, eh? Just don’t ask me for directions.