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troublemag | July 6, 2022

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Greetings from Beyond the Pale – Balgo: the second most dangerous town in Australia

Greetings from Beyond the Pale – Balgo: the second most dangerous town in Australia

Ben Laycock


After crossing The Great Sandy Desert, we limp into Balgo belching black smoke. The funeral is in full swing. A string of fairy lights dangles from tree to tree. There is much wailing and moaning.

I make myself scarce. Balgonians are not so tolerant of itinerant interlopers. Balgo is a rough place, lawless even. Too much violence: murder, rape, that sort of thing. Not quite as infamous as Wadeye, where those in the service industries must live behind razor wire, but it does erupt into bouts of chaos and mayhem from time to time, enough to necessitate evacuation of all staff.

I try to stay ‘under the radar’, out of harms way. I make it clear l am just a random stray stranded on my way to somewhere else (the story of my life). Sunshine, the Council president, makes it clear he would prefer l was already somewhere else.

On a brighter note; Balgo is famous for its unique style of art: a beguiling mixture of traditional western desert motifs and chunks of the Old Testament. Babylon, Jericho, Jehovah, Jesus, Moses, rainbow serpents and animal totems all reign supreme. Even Ned Kelly gets a mention; as legend would have it, the tribe was lost in the desert (a likely story?) when Ned turns up and leads them to the Promised Land, where he delivers the ‘sermon on the mount’ then miraculously produces endless quantities of tea and damper. I am not making this up. This story has been told around the campfire for generations. I guess somewhere along the way the metaphors got a bit mixed.


Mabel Juli-Doo lalanggarrany doo darnal (the moon the crocodile and the turtle)

Mabel Juli-Doo ‘lalanggarrany doo darnal (the moon the crocodile and the turtle)’


Next morning l take a stroll to see the countryside. After wandering aimlessly amongst the spinifex l happen upon a ladder protruding from a hole in the ground. My natural curiosity impels me to descend into the unknown.I find myself in a cave or grotto, furnished with a rustic alter made of rocks, adorned with a statuette of The Virgin Mary herself. Very Biblical. I feel transported to the Palestine of long ago. Quite a mystical experience for heathen such as I.

The cave is in the side of a cliff, facing out onto a vast open valley that is studded with rocky outcrops and crisscrossed with dry creeks and serpentine riverbeds. Just like the Garden of Eden after a long drought.

I emerge from the grotto dazed and disoriented by the blistering mid-day sun. I am thirsty. I have no water. Stories spring to mind of being lost in the desert. Stories that don’t have happy endings. I have a feeling that my absence would go unnoticed. My loss would not be mourned. I see my bones bleached by the sun and scoured by the four winds. I find scant shade under a large shrub and dwell upon my fate. I am soon disturbed in my revere by a posse of concerned citizens who had no trouble finding me. Concerned less for my safety than for sacred sites exposed to the eye of the uninitiated.

I am delivered up to the mercy of Sunshine, the seemingly omnipotent ruler of Balgo. Alas, he is not in a merciful mood and gives me my marching orders: “Piss off and don’t show your hairy white arse around here again” or words to that effect. Despite the aforementioned blistering heat, l am unceremoniously dumped on the outskirts of town.


Balgo Hills © 2002 National Geographic Society. All Rights Reserved

Balgo Hills © 2002 National Geographic Society. All Rights Reserved


NEXT STOP Hall’s Creek, where your intrepid wayfarer inadvertently attends a meeting of The Kimberley Land Council, no less.


Ben Laycock grew up in the country on the outskirts of Melbourne, surrounded by bush. He began drawing the natural world around him from a very early age. He has travelled extensively throughout Australia, seeking to capture the essence of this vast empty land. In between journeys he lives in a hand-made house in the bush at Barkers Creek in central Victoria –


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