School Trippin’: Red Dirt & Blue Skies. (Dampier, Western Australia)

The Journal Continues… May 1987.

I was caught up in a veritable whirlwind of exciting events this month, I’m amazed I found time to write it all down (they really need to invent a sarcasm font). We won a school quiz night where we scored an Amcal Chemist beach bag, a movie rental voucher, and a pen and notepad! Unreal! (Also in sarcasm font). Went sailing at the yacht club, had a sleepover, won our first netball game 50-4 (Our team name? –Knightriders. Are you thinking of the theme tune right now?), had another sleepover at Boolathana, and I turned 12… was anyone else ever given a Sale of the Century board game and liked it?

THEN came the combined Year 6 & 7 class trip to Dampier, the highlight of our school year and possibly our entire school experience. (No, actually I don’t need sarcasm font for that because I’m being serious). Our first ever out of town school trip (we’d had a camp to Boolathana in Year 5 where we slept in the shearer’s quarters and Mr. Bettini used an axe to get a sheep’s brains out, thereby creating a whole new generation of traumatised vegetarians; and possibly a camping trip to the Blowholes but since they’re less than 80km from town they don’t count.) 40 or so kids piled into a Northland Coaches bus, then we turned off the main street onto the North West Coastal Highway and followed it through the vast red desert wilderness for the next 621km.

That’s six hundred and twenty one. Kilometres. That kind of remoteness is both alluring and terrifying. Arrow points to the airstrip. If you squint you can see it.
That’s six hundred and twenty one. Kilometres. That kind of remoteness is both alluring and terrifying. Arrow points to the airstrip. If you squint you can see it.
The ‘street view’ of Yannarie in 2008 – but could be from 1987, or even 2087. I loved how the photo had the disclaimer “address is approximate”… no shit!
The ‘street view’ of Yannarie in 2008 – but could be from 1987, or even 2087. I love how the photo had the disclaimer “address is approximate”.

A few hundred k’s down the road we passed Yannarie (an airstrip and roadhouse) and Mt Minnie… when the terrain for hundreds of kilometres around is almost entirely flat except for the occasional dune and a few million ant hills, a 55m high rocky pimple classifies as a mountain*.

(*Hell yes it does. This is an argument I have to this day with friends and a husband who happen to come from slightly bumpier parts of the world. Are we going to define a mountain’s worth solely by the height it reaches above sea level? Mt. Everest is a big snowy phony; there’s a mountain more than twice its base-to-peak height. A mountain so tall that if it didn’t start 6 kilometres below sea level on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, it would touch the upper reaches of the Earth’s troposphere. And… icebergs! What about icebergs! I say there is also more to Minnie than meets the eye. I rest my case.)

We stopped to stretch our legs and fling stones into the (dry) Fortescue River, then 140km later drove through the Dampier salt flats into the township. I’m surprised the teachers hadn’t hurled themselves under the wheels of the bus by this time, babysitting forty tweens for a 7 hour bus trip with no movies, smartphones or gaming consoles. Holy shit, that’s dedication.

Out of the 6 days my most vivid memories are from Day 1; we went rock scrambling over massive iron ore boulders and hills somewhere “around the corner from a beach”, and were stoked to find some Aboriginal rock carvings. I remember leaping between cliffs several metres from the ground and easily managing drops of over 2 metres onto rock – aah the invulnerable stupidity of youth. If I did that now with my dodgy granny knees I’d need heavy duty shock absorbers. Like maybe a Zorb on each foot.

Day 2 canoeing in Nickol Bay is also seared into my memory… not the canoeing part but carrying the canoes up the beach again afterwards. The tide had receded – a LOT – and our bare feet and legs got sliced to buggery lugging the canoes around and over exposed razor sharp rocks coated with razor sharp barnacles. I remember lots of blood; but no screaming, vomiting or fainting; being in agony builds character. Afterwards we went to the beach in town – “It was very rocky, so they fenced off the rocky part to make a cage to swim in.” Duh.

shark meme
Well we didn’t have sharkproof fencing for beach swimming in Carnarvon all right? Our sharks were 100% free range and organic.

I made a little note on a page covered with tic tac toe that we also went on a tour of Woodside Petroleum today…I don’t remember this at all. It must’ve been at the North-West Shelf Project which started up in 1984, now Australia’s largest oil and gas processor currently accounting for more than 40% of Australia’s oil and gas productionblahdeblah…*YAWN*. I can see why I don’t remember it, it probably involved lots of walking around gauges and storage tanks while being talked at about statistics and shit. If there’d been a massive tanker ship there, or a control centre that looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, or if they’d even ignited a little plume of natural gas for us I’m sure I would’ve remembered that, but… meh.

I do vaguely recall a day trip to Cossack, a ghost town! Cool. But with no ghosts – ripped off. For art we did headstone rubbings which I quite enjoyed – living in a small Australian town with a very short written history, seeing glimpses of people who lived even a hundred years ago is fascinating to me. Anyway this cemetery was small and only dated from the mid 1800s, but was interesting as it included a section marked by a torii gate for the many Japanese pearl divers who’d died on the job, and a large tombstone for the interestingly named William Shakespeare Hall. With the town gone and no Google yet, we had no idea if this was just a nobody with a famous name or a big deal who ended up in a small town… and now I finally know.

What was your first big school excursion? What do you remember best about it? How weird was it seeing your teachers outside of school? Did you have a Talent Show? Of course you did.

By the way, if your first school trip was insanely cool like skiing in Japan, I’m sorry but you suck and I hate you.

– Michelle

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Audrey says:

    we won 50-4?! =) I think I vaguely remember that now…


    1. Michelle says:

      Yeah it was memorable for all it was a verrry boring game – but at least we won it! I think Tracey and Libby were just nonstop running between centre and the goal with next to zero opposition!


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