WELCOME TO GOVE AIRPORT the sign reads as I step off the plane. Mehali (Magnolia's manager) and I see a crow sitting above the sign, he tells me that there has been a black crow following him everywhere he goes, ever since he started working with Magnolia. He believes it's because Magnolia's grandma who "adopted" him has children who's dreamtime/dreaming is a black crow! We collect our bags and hire car and meet Magnolia for the first time along with her aunty Diane who would be our guide for the day. I jump in the 4WD, turn on the engine and hit the red dirt, hello NT!
Maggie (as her friends and family call her) knows everyone! She has so many family and friends. It's awesome. Even driving along she knows everyone's car! During lunch Maggie tells us about their family crocodile called Nike! Nike was named by the one and only Cathy Freeman herself and he has lived with them since she was 10 years old in Bawaka. Maggie tells us that if you are ever being chased by a croc "to run in zig zags because they won't be able to catch you". They have to roll to move sideways which slows them down. "Also, crocs kill you by drowning you so if you are stuck under a croc all you need to do is reach down and poke it in the bum and they will let you go because they will feel shamed!" Maggie says in a matter-of-fact tone. LOL. In Bawaka, Maggie hunts and goes netting with her dad Rowan. She gets excited as she talks about Bawaka, her face lights up when she speaks of her childhood home.
On the way to Bawaka, we get bogged twice and have to ditch the car and cram into aunty Diane's car. We all laugh and take it in our stride! Little do we know that this is just the beginning! After a bumpy, windy drive we reach a long stretch of beach where Diane tells us about the flowers that blossom on the trees and that when they are in bloom you know it's crab hunting season. Maggie tells us that her aunty is known in town as the best crab hunter in Yirrkala but wait for it - is allergic to seafood and can't eat crabs! We arrive at the house in Bawaka to make a pit stop to do Maggie's h&m when Mehali and I are unpacking, a black crow comes swooping in and lands on a palm tree! He shouts "did you see that?!", I said "yes!". The crow is here (we had driven for almost 1.5hrs and not seen another bird in sight). Diane said "yes, the crow is watching over us". This is crazy!
Meanwhile, here I am thinking Nike is going to be in some sort of enclosure, only to find he just wanders about wherever he pleases! Eeek. My eyes dart everywhere, checking there is no croc lurking behind me or underneath anything. Because we got delayed with the bogs, we have lost quiet a bit of time, so Mehali and Emma (hair & makeup artist) get to work on Maggie's h&m, while I steam the dresses and film. We get Maggie ready quickly and jump back into the car to head to Lonely Beach. We all for some reason decide to leave our shoes at the house saying "we'll be fine, we will be on a beach"... Hahaha wrong! Bindies, bush ants, twigs, rocks everywhere we all laugh wondering why us city slickers EVER thought it would be a good idea to wear NO shoes in the bloody outback! We jump out and instantly my breath is taken away, this place is magical! We scurry down the cliff side red sand between our toes, I cannot believe the beauty I am seeing. I find a tree to hang the dresses on, we set up quickly and fire away!
Once we finish, we climb back up the top of the cliff and cram into the car when a noise comes out of Emma's bag! She panics and screams in her thick irish accent "f***kkk, there's a snake in my bag!!!". We all scream and shout at each other, only to find - it's her electric toothbrush! We simultaneously burst out into hysterical laughter! Still, we are losing the light fast and need to get our last shot of the day. We reach the spot and jump out of the car, I'm still crying from laughter, I just can't get it together. Mehali is cracking me up, he's had his shirt off all day, pool boy shorts on and hilarious running commentary the entire day. We get the final shot, it is so beautiful and I am very happy. By this stage we are all filthy! Time to get back to the house and grab the rest of the stuff and a shovel to rescue our hire car.
We race back to the house and as we pull up, we see Nike!!! He is in the water!!! This is epic, sometimes they don't see him for months and literally as the sun is setting he swims up to the shore. Emma and I are freaking out, but so excited see him! Mehali races over and grabs a coconut to throw on the sand (Maggie told us earlier that they can feel the vibration and it will attract them). Mehali will do anything to get the perfect shot (like getting eaten alive it seems!) but Nike doesn't come too far up onto the beach. My heart is pounding he is HUGE! I try my best to soak this all in, as well as make sure no one gets eaten alive! Maggie and her aunty Diane are calm the entire time. Nike heads back into the water and we realise we need to get out of here asap because it's now dark and we still have a car to un-bog! We get to the car and start shovelling, I'm trying not to freak out about the thought of snakes, spiders, buffalos and critters all around me, in the middle of nowhere, with no phone reception! We all remain optimistic and get down on our hands and knees and dig!!! After 5 failed attempts, we decide to try and nudge the car back with the other one, when we get that one bogged too! This is quickly turning into a nightmare, it's touch and go and we are all minutes away from losing our sh*t!
Emma and I get Maggie to shine the only light we have on the back wheels to dig the sand out when she spots something on the tracks further back behind us. It's Lawrence's camera and laptop bag! He accidentally left the back door ajar and when we drove the car forward to nudge the bogged car, his bag and shoes fell out. I cannot believe how lucky we were to have seen the bag, if we had have left that behind, we would've been royally screwed!!! Keeping in mind it is still pitch black, and we now have not one but two cars bogged, we all for some reason in the middle of the chaos stop and look at the sky. Maggie points out the Milky Way, Southern Cross and Mars! It is amazing. Then we find a gold beetle! My emotions keep jumping from scared and panicked to grateful and overwhelmed with amazement! We finally get both cars out after one big PUSHHH! We all cheer and jump up and down covered in dirt, sweat, bugs and sand. Hallelujah! Diane floors it in reverse (in the dark!) and revs through the sand like a machine! We all nervously laugh and shout "thank god for Diane!".
By now, we are all starving and dehydrated and just cannot wait to get back on actual road again. We make it all the way back into town and are so relieved. We pull up to our motel at 8:50pm and race straight to the restaurant to order dinner before the kitchen closes at 9:00pm. We all collapse into our chairs, filthy from head to toe with everyone staring at us like "where the hell have they been!!??". WHAT A DAY!
The next morning we get up at 6:30am for a 7:30am start on location. Red eyed and exhausted, but excited for the day ahead. We know what we need to do and where we need to go, I cross my fingers that today will run a little smoother than yesterday (haha yeah right)... Maggie is running late and doesn't arrive till almost 8:00am! Once again we rush to get ready, pack the car and head to our first location. We reach the track where we want to shoot and set up. Hot and sweaty already, we move quickly so we don't waste any time. But of course, every time a car drives past we have to stop and Maggie runs and jumps in the car so she doesn't get red dust all over her (I swear it felt like we did this 100 times!). Shoot, stop, car, shoot, stop, car, shoot, stop, car!
After about 40 minutes, we are confident we have enough (Maggie shimmered in this beautiful emerald green sequin dress) and decide to keep moving. Hustle, hustle, hustle, cram in the car and off we go again. Next stop, Yirrkala school - squeal!!! This is what I have been waiting for. Maggie's grandma and aunty are teachers and her grandma’s sister is the principal. They welcome us and we head to the first toddlers class, they are SO cute! Emma pulls out her lipstick palette and starts painting the children's lips, they are fascinated and love it.
We move onto the next class which is called "Stars". It's a girls only class where they learn all different types of things and even have a hair and makeup area where they can get all dolled up. It's so lovely! They are all very shy but are happy to see Maggie. We film, take photos and ask general questions, when their school bell rings. It's an Aboriginal rap song about "getting back to class", "it's time to learn", "lunch is finished", everyone sings and raps along! How awesome! Soon after we go outside and take some last group shots. We thank everyone for their time, while one of the girl pumps Justin Bieber on a portable speaker in the background.
On a huge buzz, we are very happy we have made up some time and are back on schedule, until... We walk outside, get back into the car, put the keys in the ignition and then nothing... The car won't start! It was Lawrence who bogged our car twice yesterday and now it won't even turn on. We all swear he is cursed haha. 3 attempts to start the car later, one of the staff members offers to take us in their car (a troopie) so we can get out to the beach where we need our last hunting shots! We cannot believe our bad luck, again try to take it in our stride and cram in the back of the car laughing at how comical this has all been.
We hit the red dirt road and I ask how far it is from where we are (conscious of the time!). I'm told "not far maybe 5-10 minutes". (In hindsight, I now realise that if someone tells me a time, it is probably going to take much, much, much longer!). 45 minutes later we are still not there yet! We drive through creeks and bushland until we finally reach mangroves! Mud, mud, mud!
Mud everywhere. Sand flies everywhere. Emma gets covered in welts, I thankfully don't get touched. I try not to slip over while rushing through sludge and murky water! "Are there crocs in here?!" I wonder as I shout "we have 30 minutes max to get this done! Let's move quickly please!".
Lawrence and I film and shoot, film and shoot and miraculously don't fall over! We get the shots we need and hastily decide to leave to make our way back to the beach for the last shot of Maggie and her father Rowan netting together. The clock is ticking and I am getting anxious. We must get back by 2:00pm to make the ONLY flight out of here! We speed through bush, mud and water again when out of nowhere a river has formed blocking our way back! Noooo... We have 10 minutes!
We have no choice but to head back and go another way. Trying to remain calm, I think to myself "just trust that we will make it back on time"! We drive for what seemed like FOREVER in the opposite direction and finally reach the beach. We scramble out of the car and I yell "we have 5 minutes to get this shot!".
Wind, harsh sun and hot sand, we battle the elements to get our final shot! Lawrence fires away and I clock watch, moments later Maggie jumps out of the water, she has been stung by a jellyfish! Mehali leaps out just after shouting "I've been stung too!". I say "that's it we are done!". I decide to accept that what we have is enough and that it's not worth missing our flight for!
We madly pack up, wash the mud off of us and say our goodbyes. We race for the airport, once again we arrive dirty and sweaty but we don’t care, we are grateful for air-con and that we have just made our flight!!!
As we take off I stare out the window (slumped in my chair) looking over the vast red landscape, laugh and think, "THIS IS AUSTRALIA!".
To read more on this story, pick up a copy of this week’s New Idea, on sale now!