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But times have changed, even in remote Kakadu. 'The old people like to eat bat and wild crocodile,' says Jenny, laughing. 'But it's too smelly for me! You start to smell like a bat yourself if you eat too much of the stuff. Our old people love it, but I'd rather not eat that stinky bat.'

Bullo River Station, 621 miles
Southwest of Kakadu, huge views of the Gregory National Park open up and there are more road trains than cars on the highway - rumbling juggernauts pulling double-decker cattle trucks, taking stock to market. 'Hurt me good' invites one, in an arc of steel letters over its cab.

We drive up to Bullo River Station in the late afternoon light, disturbing a flock of white corella birds and dozens of hopping wallabies on the way.

In the 1880s, the first cattle farmers rode into this part of East Kimberley, having driven their herds of shorthorn cattle all the way from Queensland, more than 600 miles away. Their epic struggles to make a living in the Top End were depicted in Baz Luhrmann's film Australia. For all its panning by the critics, the film seems like understated realism after a few days at Bullo. We drink beer late into the night around the barbecue, hearing stories of life on Bullo's half a million acres of virgin land (the same size as Luxembourg) - tales of discovering new pieces of rock art, fishing for barramundi, trapping crocodiles. 'There's a lot of variety,' remarks Franz Ranacher, who runs Bullo with his wife, Marlee. 'It's not like you're walking down the same city street every day.' The old stockman, Evan - bow-legged, leathery, courteous as a prince - tells me there's a muster on tomorrow. 'You can help with the sorting, if you'd care to.'

The station's 8,000 head of Brahman cattle live wild and are only mustered once or twice a year - no longer on horseback, but with helicopters and quad bikes. The next morning a herd of about 60 thunder down the airstrip, kicking up great clouds of dust, and we hurry to the pens. Marlee is already there - a short, smiling blonde woman who does the work of several men: branding and castrating, driving the heavy machinery to mend the roads, rounding up the cattle on her quad bike with a shotgun beside her. 'Marlee doesn't hesitate,' Evan says proudly. 'She'll shoot a dingo down in 30 seconds.'

The cattle must be sorted into different pens, according to whether they are ready for market or need branding. Those that have never been in the yard before are feisty, clanging their horns against the rails. Irish stockman Sean is forced to scramble up to the top rail, where he teeters like an acrobat as he tries to whip a furious young bull into the central hub. The rest of us stand back watching and roar with laughter. 'It's not a bad way to live,' says Marlee. 'Not a bad way at all.' Gibb River Road, 777 miles It's a drive of several hours from Bullo to the prosperous mining town of Kununurra, after which we turn off the tarmac onto the start of the Gibb River Road. It's little more than a gravel track, but it still forms the only route through the centre of the Kimberley - the gigantic, barely inhabited wilderness that forms the northwest corner of Australia. Closed during the wet, the 370 mile-long Gibb has a formidable reputation for challenging driving: its dozens of river crossings, many of them attended by hungry crocodiles, its slippery corrugations and its remoteness - with no mobile reception anywhere should you happen to slide off the road - can seem pretty daunting.

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