Greeting from Beyond the Pale: Derby – City of Mud
We bid a fond farewell to Fitzroy Crossing and its quaint country pub and head for Derby (pronounced Derby), the once bustling capital of all the Kimberley, now but a faded replica of its former self. Derby has been eclipsed by the new kid on the block: Broome, with its swaying palm trees, its shiny pearls and its endless beaches. In contrast, Derby is not a pretty town, surrounded as it is on three sides by brown, smelly mudflats that are sprinkled with the occasional dugong carcass, but it has its charms (none of which I have yet discovered).
The tides are gargantuan in these parts, the highest in the world, up to ten metres, so the shoreline can be a kilometre away. The jetty is a kilometre long and ten metres high at the end, built by slave labour. At low tide the ships rest in the soft mud.
But the locals are not put off by the dearth of sandy beaches, far from it, they bloody love their muddy world. They feed on giant mud crabs. They love mud love-ins, which are very good for the complexion apparently. They have invented mud football. As luck would have it we arrive just in time for a game. It’s the Derby Derby, and it is not for the faint-hearted.
The mud is a foot deep and very muddy, so everything happens in slow motion. Pretty soon all the players are the same shade of brown. This does wonders for race relations, but makes it hard to locate your team-mates.
Next morning bright and early l wake with an inexplicable urge to explore the featureless wasteland of mud. A few short steps from the Post Office and l am at the edge. The mud looks deceptively approachable, but looks can be deceptive in the outback, as I soon learn. I have not taken more than a few steps before my thongs are stuck fast and must be abandoned. I continue barefoot, a decision I will come to regret later in the day, along with other decisions, but for now I am in bliss, the soft sensuous mud squishing and squelching between my toes.
Soon I am striding along, lost in the open space, infused with a joyous sense of boundless freedom, like an endless ad for Coke. I walk for hours, and presently come across a creek that seems fordable. It is, but on the far side the mud just gets deeper and deeper and deeper. I am soon bogged up to my waist in ooze.
I cannot stop my mind dredging up old Tarzan movies involving ‘quicksand’. I know I should turn back, but just like Johnny Wiesmuller, it is not in my nature. I manage to haul myself out and slither across the surface on my belly like a crocodile. I stab in my claws and drag my body forward. I am ‘in the moment’.
Lifting my head and sniffing the breeze for fresh meat, I have entered the mind of the crocodile. There is a gurgling sound behind me. It is only a little mudcrab but the spell is broken, I come to my senses. ‘I am fresh meat,’ I think to myself. ‘I could enter the belly of the crocodile. What the fuck am I doing wallowing around in their favourite habitat?’
I plough through the mud like a man possessed till I emerge on the other side unscathed. It feels good to be to be human again, standing upright on hard, salt encrusted mud. My relief is short lived. I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. The sun has reached its zenith, baking the ground to a crisp. My body is well protected in a casing of mud, but the soles of my feet are suffering. I cannot return to the soft cool mud of the creek where danger lurks. I cannot step out onto the hot ground.
I search the pitiless wasteland. There is nothing but hard, flat, crusty, salty, stinking, scorching, hot mud as far as the eye can see. The odd protruding cow bone or dugong bone is not a welcome sight. The distant horizon is a mirage. The icypole vendor is a mirage. The angel of mercy is a mirage. There is nothing to do but ‘hot-foot’ it out of there (literally).
I run full pelt to a tiny sliver of water some way off and cool my heels (literally), then dash to the next, then the next. At times the pain is intense. In a strange reversal of roles, every puddle becomes an island of refuge. Finally I reach the motley shade of a gnarled and twisted gumtree. The relief is palpable. In relative comfort I ponder the lessons of my ill-fated excursion. A.) Don’t go out into the midday sun without your shoes on. B.) Don’t play crocodile with real crocodiles. C.) Don’t underestimate the adventure to be extracted from a featureless plain of plain mud.
In the Next exciting episode: Your intrepid wayfarer is swept up on a wild ride into the beating heart of The Kimberley by gun-toting desesperados involved in a dubious scheme that is outside the law anywhere except Colorado U.S.A.
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 – benlaycock.com.au
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