Day 7 – Wyndham and the Timor Sea

And on the 7th day we rested. Our first and only formal duty was to assemble at 07:30 to be given the once over by a pair of characters from Customs & Border Protection. The chances of any of us being an escapee from some civil or criminal enterprise being slim the checking off of faces to passports didn’t take long. This meant we were free to enjoy a long leisurely breakfast in the Constellation Restaurant instead of the aft Leda Deck since that space was now being used by the crew to off load waste and on-load fresh supplies.

The port of Wyndham and, of course, Wyndham town itself is considered the most northern coastal bit of organised civilization in Western Australia. It is not what you would call a scintillating collection of aged shacks lining a buckling wooden wharf. Instead we came along side a modern concrete structure with massive buffers, since the area experiences 7m tides. The road way ran in a circuit onto and off the wharf so that vehicle traffic was one way. Low nondescript metal buildings dotted the shore area along with some major liquid storage tanks. And although the hills were low, scrub covered and quite brown compared to what we had be travelling through, it is by some, considered the gateway to The Kimberley if you are on foot (vehicle). You are also close to the Ord River scheme, the fake Lake Argle and not fake mine as well as Kununurra and with a short flight the Bungle Bungles, so Wyndham has a lot going for it as a way station to more things to do and see. You could do worse than dig out a copy of Dame Mary Durack’s books; “Kings in Grass Castles” and “Sons in the Saddle” to get an idea of what this place is like through the seasons.

Promptly at 10:30 we had our Captain “Mike” come on the mike and announce our imminent departure. And once again and without the aid of tugs the Orion’s side thrusters threw us smoothly off the wharf as five wharfies ( 4 male, 1 female) watched as the last line splashed into the muddy waters. And again we missed the bass notes of the ship’s horn not giving that traditional “going to sea” series of blasts.

Almost immediately we found ourselves in the well appointed lecture theatre on deck 6 to listen to our fearless leader Mick expound on the early history of exploration of Terra Australis, with emphasis on The Kimberley region. It is somewhat to the shame of our history syllabus relating to the western side of Australia that has been delivered to countless students that probably the only names remembered are Hartog and Dampier. Whereas, in reality, the west coast was being visited on a frequent basis by boat loads of people from not only Asia but  Europe. Some more successfully than others. Mick also covered the extraordinary goings on of the Batavia and what was a grisly end to almost 2/3’s of it crew and passengers at the hands of shipwreck, thirst, disease and the greatest enemy of all themselves. It turned out that mutineers tried to take out any and everyone. Including turning on themselves. And reading between the lines I suspect not a few leg thigh steaks were also cooked up along the way.

There are about 5 well researched books on this greatest of all maritime disasters in “Australian” waters and one not so good one (leave the Peter Fitzsimmons one until last).

After lunch with, oh glory be, a delicious bottle of pino gris we again settled in for a presentation on the controversy surrounding the sinking and subsequent actions of senior crew of the SS Koolama. After Brad (another marine scientist had presented his take on it we watched a very interesting docu-drama “Malic or Mutiny: The Koolama Incident”.

For those passengers that wanted to find out how the 5 star meals arrived galley tours covered the next couple of hours but all three of us retired to our cabins and read instead.

But the learning didn’t stop there; “Cruising Asian Waters 400 Years Ago” made sure we appreciated the luxury of our current mode of transport. Back then a sea going ship was around 100ft length with a 25ft beam and around 400 tons. The Orion is 300ft, with 75ft beam and 4000 tonnes, plus stablizers if required. Cooking was done on the deck in a sandpit, if a hot meal was possible due to calm seas otherwise cold hard tack and something salty would see your vitamin C levels dropping fast. We have a grand total of 91 pax + 75 crew whereas the ships of that era had 130-40 sailors living on top of each other in nasty conditions below decks. By the time of the 60’s and with the Suez Canal in full operation 6 weeks was needed for a trip to/from Europe to Sydney. 10 months elapsed, if you were lucky, in those rather small ships.

The day ended with  reconvening for cocktails before dinner and then some more reading. Tonight’s activities was a sing-a-long with our resident musician/singer, Terry & Cathy and it would be fair to say that enthusiasm was the most obvious talent displayed by the assembled passengers. However, when our oldest passenger (96 years young) took the microphone and belted out a couple of crowd favourites he took the standing ovation as if he was born to it and shortly thereafter (the girls had beat a hasty retreat after John) as the rendition of a Tom Jones classic by the passengers brought tears to our eyes, just the wrong sort of tears.  Another passenger, Peter, took to the piano and after flexing his fingers across the ivories brought the house down again as he really was an accomplished jazz pianist and several of the audience seemed to be relieving their early days as duffel coated groupies. But the finale was yet to come, in terms of talented singers, as out of the shadows Captain Mike stepped up to the microphone and with his Irish heritage saw us all wondering why he took to the sea instead of crooning. The real finale of the evening was an execrable rendition of “I still call Australia home” that would have turned P. Allen straight it was bad. And finally at the unheard of hour of 2300 I slipped into our cabin to find Patti already well into the land of Zzzzs as we steamed at 14 kts to West Timor across what seemed like a placid lake.

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