In 2014, I (Sophie Marie from Lifestyle Queensland) did what a lot of 20 something-year-olds do and traveled solo to Australia to go backpacking. Fun? Yes! Best adventure yet? Not exactly a unique contender! However what I decided to do after just a month of living here was pretty adventurous, by most people’s standards…
Fed up with the typical backpacker partying lifestyle in Cairns, I decided I wanted to experience something truly unique and see a part of Australia that even a lot of Australians don’t get to experience! So I took a short term contract working in an isolated indigenous community, in the middle of the rain forest, in Cape York, and boy, was I in for a shock.
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One of my employer’s sons (Tim) happened to be taking the trip up to Cape York at the same time. He picked me up from the hostel and I waved goodbye to my travel mates, barely noticing the concerned looks on their faces. We hopped on the smallest plane I’d ever seen in my life at that point (20-seater but I’ve since experienced an 8-seater so that seems pretty roomy now). From cairns, it was a 2-hour flight to a small mining town called Weipa. Think searing heat and red dust everywhere and you’ve pretty much got the picture.
Waiting to meet us at the airport was my employer and his wife (Stu & Lynn) and I couldn’t quite understand why they were so excited that Weipa had a supermarket. I soon realized that we still had a long way to go and this was the last time I would see a supermarket in quite some time!
So Tim, Stu, Lynn, myself, and the insane amount of groceries all squashed into the car and we hit the road. Now when I say road I mean dirt track with a few sections of bitumen here and there. Four hours into the journey involving washouts and flooded creeks, as darkness began to fall, I was starting to get a little worried. Then we suddenly we slowed and turned into a gravel drive, it was too dark for me to really see much and I was very aware that I was in the middle of nowhere with a family I had just met hours before. On that thought, Stu’s other son (Mick) came up the path towards me to shake one hand and stick a cold beer in the other!
The First Day
When I woke up and ventured out of my room I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Green, the most intense green I had ever seen and it was everywhere! I knew what the rain forest was supposed to look like but this was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
Where I was staying was about 5km outside of the indigenous community so I was keen to go take a look and see exactly what I’d let myself in for. Lynn took me for a quick tour around the town and to look at the local beach, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes at first. Yes, a small town like many others but the differences were immediately obvious.
Wild horses roamed around the streets and on the road, stray dogs hung around here and there, local kids swam at the beach where crocodiles were common, the locals spoke a type of pigeon English that I hadn’t expected at all and had real trouble understanding. There was a stark difference to the sheltered, middle-class life I had known growing up in the UK but the biggest shock was the local people.
My trepidation was massive at first but, looking back, it’s hard to remember why! People were so friendly and interested to hear where I’d come from and why I was there. I instantly fell victim to the charm of the kids with all their questions about my tattoos and how far away England was and whether Lynn was my mum!
Getting to Work
I started working at the primary school as the front office and administration girl and the kids began calling me Miss Sophie. Not long after I arrived there was a special event which saw all the kids dress in their traditional grass skirts, paint their skin, and perform a traditional dance they refer to as “shake a leg”. It was hands down one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Everyone was so enthusiastic and it was hard not to get caught up in the fun of it myself.
Working at the school was hard, there were a lot of extra duties I had to take on because of staff shortages and the difficulty in encouraging teachers and other professionals to work there. There were behavior issues, kids who barely ever turned up, and lots of health issues like school sores and boils.
It Wasn’t All Work Though
This adventure included a lot of other firsts for me – the first time I dived the Great Barrier Reef, the first time I caught a fish, the first time I went spearfishing!
Cape York may be remote and miles from any major towns or cities but I was amazed at the number of activities and adventures to be had. Having one of the last untouched stretches of The Great Barrier Reef right on its doorstep, it was the perfect spot for me to learn fishing, snorkeling, diving, and everything else ocean-related. I also managed to go quad biking, blo carting, hiking, bird watching, looking for green tree pythons in the early evening, and camping at some of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen!
So I visited the Lockhart River for 3 months. 4 years later? I’m STILL here!!
The difference is – that guy, Mick, who shoved a beer in my hand on the first night? Well, he’s now my husband and we have a gorgeous 2-year old girl and another baby on the way.
Not exactly how I envisioned my year traveling around Australia but I wouldn’t change it for the world!
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