What’s up Pussycat??
The big smoke of Katherine beckoned us on ahead. We were running low on supplies (including coffee -omg!) so really looking forward to doing a big shop in a large well-stocked supermarket. Shopping in the outback is a highlight on the social calendar for so many. People from the more isolated areas head into town once or twice a month. Others use the shady lawns and verandahs around the shopping centre as a daily meeting place – so it?s always good value people watching for me!
The poor driver had been suffering from that illness that washes over him now and then, usually caused by lack of fishing. The boat had also been feeling very neglected so they skipped off together to check out the local tackle shop.
When he returned to collect both wife and groceries he was proudly displaying a brand new set of shimmering lures. I commented that they should enjoy their life in the tackle box together with all the others he already had! He was also full of information about fishing spots and the best places to camp on the road ahead.
Amidst all this fishing fervour, my plan to cruise the Katherine Gorge seemed to have gone out the window as he had also learnt that we could not use our own boat there. But, I stood my ground as having read so much about this grand watery boulevard insisted that it was something we should not miss.
We got an early start the next day, well before first light and joined the tour group. The ranger led our way down through the dense bush accompanied by a loud chorus of unseen birds to the waterside pontoon.
The glassy water reflected the colours of the breaking day like a mirror. As we slowly cruised through the narrowing walls of the gorge the creeping sunlight expanded and contracted changing the tint of our view like a kaleidoscope.
Our young guide was very knowledgeable in his commentary of the gorge and all its inhabitants and welcomed questions from our small group.
When, after he?d pointed out a massive croc sunning itself on a shallow rock bank one little boy wanted to know, ?Why don?t the crocodiles don?t just go home?, he didn?t skip a beat and told the five year old that we humans were the visitors here in the reptiles? home.
The little boy was still unsure asking, ?What about aborigines then??
Our guide went on to explain the ways of the local people and their ancient understanding of the crocodiles? great spirit power. It was probably the most concise description I?d ever heard of indigenous beliefs. We returned to the visitor centre at the end of our two-hour cruise with a renewed appreciation for the inevitable cultural display.
We were equally enthused by the smell of real coffee being brewed out on the terrace caf? and took the opportunity to indulge in some culture of our own.
Eventually, we hit the road and headed due north. We had heard of a cheap and cheery campsite situated on an old bush racecourse called Pussycat Flats up near Pine Creek. The annual bush races were once the main social gathering for the Top End’s far-flung population and so held an important place in their calendar.
These days the disused racecourse has been revamped into a desert-style golf course (complete with roaming goats and giant ant-hill hazards) and a very relaxed campground boasting limited amenities, plenty of large shady trees, some fragrant frangipani and a massive bougainvillea draped across its clubhouse (really just a two walled tin shed with a bar).
However, as we?ve discovered before it?s not the place but the people that make a good campsite great!
The driver was soon happily chatting to some locals at the bar while I occupied myself reading the dog-eared club scrapbook back in the air-conditioned comfort of ol? bouncer. I had heard of the nearby town of Pine Creek and knew it was once a bustling gold rush town. It had also been the end of the line for ?Leaping Lena? the extremely unreliable old steam train that carried adventurous passengers all the way down from Darwin.
Apparently, as the township grew, the racecourse was moved a few times and eventually set up base out on this flat scrubland. There are a few unsavoury stories regarding nimble young lubras and those horny American GI’s about how it came to be known as pussycat flats. But I like the indigenous historical version. It was well known by the local people for its population of quoll (a native cat) that?s now almost extinct. And that?s how Pussycat Flats Racecourse began!
?As other weary travellers slowly rock up to the clubhouse looking for a campsite we settle in to enjoy a good ol? pub style meal of fish and chips while swapping travel stories. Some of us (not me!) party on till well into the night. Then, when the driver eventually climbed into his penthouse suite (the bed up above the cab) he carried on loudly for a while about the window not opening.
Lovingly, I yelled from my comfy perch below – ?Just go to sleep Ian!?
The next morning we discovered that the reason he couldn?t open the window was that it?s no longer there! It seems someone?(wasn’t me!) accidentally left it unlatched when we pulled out of Katherine in the dark that morning – it probably got sucked out by a passing roadtrain!