I was born in a town called Bunningyong, approximately 20 kms from Ballarat in country Victoria, Australia. At the tender age of 3 my very brave pioneering parents, Mary & Peter decided to pack up our little family (at that point I was an only child) and head off in the search of endless sunshine over in the wild Wild West of Australia to a tiny little outback town called Paraburdoo in the Pilbara area of Western Australia.
My father had previously spent a few years in the iron ore mines in Dampier in the 70s before heading home to Ballarat and marrying Mum. His love for that area was so great that he somehow managed to convince Mum that uprooting our family to this far off distant place that no one in Ballarat had ever heard of was a fabulous idea. Go dad!!
Dad was from a family of 5, Mum was one of 12 kids (yes! Irish Catholics, obviously no tv!!). On my mothers side no one in her family had ever left Ballarat at that point, not even for a holiday so you can only imagine how that news went down. I’m sure there were plenty of wtf moments.
I remember vaguely the day we left Ballarat, our entire home packed up and put on a truck with everyone from both sides of the family gathering to see us off and wish us well on our new adventure, not knowing when we’d be seen next. So off we drove west towards the sun taking in north west Victoria, driving into south Australia, into Western Australia over the seemingly endless Nullabour Plain to Perth where we then turned the car north and headed up the majestic coast of Western Australia. Finally reaching our new home in Paraburdoo a very long 5 days later.
For those unfamiliar with the vastness of Australia a trip from Ballarat (an hour west of Melbourne) to Paraburdoo took us approximately 5 days of solid driving. And by solid driving I mean, only stopping the car for wee stops, a quick bite to eat or to rest our heads overnight. Ballarat to Perth is approximately 3300kms (or 2000 miles) and Perth to Paraburdoo another 1500kms (or just under 1000 Miles). Yep! Australia is large! That’s pretty close to 5000kms. My mum and dad are legends for doing that drive, one that our family did a few times after our move up.
We arrived in Paraburdoo tired and weary with a huge case of cabin/car fever. Only to find out that all of our belongings hadn’t made the trip and was stuck in Perth. There had been flooding at some part of the journey that we somehow had missed on our way up, so we literally had nothing except what we’d brought with us. The roads in that part of the country being quite unsafe when flooding occurred. The Paraburdoo community rallied together to welcome the newcomers (the fresh blood) and suddenly we were equip with all that was needed to start our new life in the sun.
That trip obviously I don’t remember much at all, you know, being a 3 year old and all so I’ve relied upon my dads memories to tell most of that part of this journey.
Paraburdoo is a classic outback Australian town built in the 70s for the purpose of the booming iron ore mines. The dirt is red. The deepest red you can find on earth, it’s the iconic colour of the Australian outback and trust me, it gets in everything! When it rained, everything was red sludge. We experienced the after effects of many tropical cyclones, the days were hot as hell and in winter, surprisingly the nights were cold. Well as cold as it can be that far up north. A huge contrast to our life in Ballarat!
We lived in Paraburdoo for close to 7 years and in that time my life as an only child ended as we welcomed the arrival of my brother Richie.
My grandparents on both sides made the trip up and we had visits from other Ballarat family. I remember vividly a visit from dads brother and his wife. Memorable for a trip out to a waterhole where us kids, mum and Aunty were happily frolicking around in the water and the brothers thought it a brilliant idea to throw rocks at a sleeping water snake! Well the snake got so pissed off for having its sleep interrupted that it dove into the water at high speeds at the unsuspecting water frolickers. I’ve never seen my parents move so fast!
Life in such a small (the population was approximately 2000 people) but tight knit community of people who had an adventurous zest for life and adventure was nothing short of incredible. We met many wonderful people in our time in Paraburdoo, there wasn’t a weekend were a backyard party didn’t happen, there were gutter parties, roof parties (I know, weird!) any type of party.
Pool parties were the best though. Our backyard upright pool was always a source of endless fun for our friends and our parents friends. you name it we had it! Our backyard was often transformed into a sea of 20 somethings of the tragic but immensely fun 80s. There was crimped hair, bright make up, singlet tops and thongs, endless dancing, singing, laughing and plenty of beer. Often we’d wake to a sea of empty bottles of booze and people camped out in our back yard or lounge room.
My bmx bike was my best friend. It took me all around Paraburdoo on mini adventures with my school friends or kids that lived in my street. I learnt how to make mud pies, my neighbours had chickens, I had a black cat who was the town tart (many litters of kittens that populated the town) and the value of the local swimming pool (champion swimmer at 6 years) was soon learnt as was the theory that certain patterns in the dirt meant that a snake had paid us a visit.
The immense heat meant that sometimes school was cancelled. Doors were never locked, there simply was no crime and sometimes things just didn’t work. Like air conditioners breaking down, or home phones not working. We only got the abc on tv so our viewing pleasure was very limited, and you had to rely on the school library for something to read. Needless to say there was a lot of just making shit up in my childhood.
In outback australia the night sky is absolutely stunning. In Paraburdoo you could witness such clarity and experience the vastness of the universe right from your backyard. The Milky Way, so vividly pretty and unobscured by light pollution, I even remember the famous Haley’s comet paying us a visit. Due to the immense heat of that part of Australia, many nights were spent outside star gazing and moon watching. I think this is where I developed my love of the night sky and Astro photography.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the wildlife in Paraburdoo. So here goes! Yeah there were the iconic Australian animals, the kangaroos, koalas, wombats and often loud symphonies of cockatoos. But the ones most overseas travellers are scared of, we had a plenty! Snakes, yes, and yes the deadly ones. I did watch dad kill more than a few (my hero). Spiders bigger than your hand, or those pesky little red back spiders that could do a lot of harm, those were the kind of spiders that could creep into your shoes if you left them outside or build a web under your bike seat. Always check your bike seat before you ride, no one wants a bite on the arse from a red back spider! Ouch. Cockroaches, omg! Big and black and let me tell you the sound of those little bastards being slammed by a thong is all kinds of gross! Crunch! And goannas! I remember a huge black one walking me home from school one day, he’d have had to have been at least 2 metres long. Seriously though, do not let all of that deter you from exploring this part of Australia. Most of them WONT kill you contrary to common belief.
On weekends, if the parentals were not partying we would go out camping at waterholes, dry creek beds, mountain areas and the like. Right out bush. Our we’d take longer time away from Paraburdoo and head to the coast to Exmouth or Onslow where the beaches are so beautiful, the water crystal clear and the sand so white sunglasses were a must.
Paraburdoo being such a small town with not many facilities and shops, we’d often drive and hour away to a town called Tom Price to hit up the Chinese restaurant where we’d either eat in or take away… yep, an hours drive home with that glorious smell playing havoc on your hungry stomach was pure torture. There’s nothing ‘local’ about an hours drive for take away food! Dad tells me that they used to gather a group of families together and order KFC to be flow in all the way from Perth. Now that is just crazy! We’d also have to drive to bigger towns for any kind of shopping that wasn’t food related, or head down to Perth (you remember how far away that was 1500kms) to buy things like clothing, furniture and even cars. We did buy a car in Perth once. Dad ordered it over the phone and a few weeks later it arrived. Our new car, unseen by us upon purchase.
We did the drive home to Ballarat once for a holiday, taking 6 weeks off work and school taking in the western Australian coast line, dropping into my Aunty’s farm in a small south Australian town called Lameroo before finally making it home to Ballarat. Unaccustomed to the coldness of southern Australia it came as a complete culture shock to us kids, hey we were too used to dry hot days, endless sunshine and outback adventures. Not many people I know got to experience that kind of life.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post. I can’t think of any one of my friends or family, except of course my brother, that had a childhood like mine. It was completely innocent and a lot of fun. Being brought up in a remote outback Australian community was honestly the best start in life I think we could have had. I believe that my early years really opened up my eyes to a life of adventure and not confirming to the ordinary when it comes to a life of exploration. It was a simple life in Paraburdoo but a diverse one where we mixed with kids from all areas of the country, some were born there, some were from other parts of the country, others were from indigenous communities from around the area. It was a life where we really had to band together as a family to make it, and to deal with life without some of the comforts others had in the rest of the country, but it was our normal and we loved it.
I’ve done a fair bit of travel since those formative days of my childhood and I honestly think that having that experience at such a young age endeared me to a life of experiences and expanding my world. Although my parents haven’t travelled overseas as extensively as I have, they are true pioneers of their generation and without them taking a chance on that life away from the comforts of home and the people that they loved I doubt that I’d have such a passion for travel as I do. Thanks Mum and Dad x
The Yinhawangka people are the native title claimants and traditional custodians of approximately one million hectares of land and waters including the town of Paraburdoo. Early Europeans in the area named a land lease ‘Pirraburdoo’ after a local Aboriginal word which was widely accepted as ‘white cockatoo’. Some sources claim that ‘piri’ means meat and ‘pardu’ means feathers.
Long before white settlers arrived, Ballarat was home to at least 25 Aboriginal tribes known as the Wathaurong people. Archibald Yuille named the area “Ballaarat” Some claim the name is derived from a local Wathaurong Aboriginal word for the area, balla arat. The meaning of this word is not certain; however several translations have been made and it is generally thought to mean “resting place”. .