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'I've built everything myself,' says Taffy, gesticulating. 'Houses, machines and computers. The road is closed during the wet and we're pretty much cut off for four months, but we work through it. I was welding a stand for the water tank in 45°C heat, and couldn't tell if the metal was hot from the welder or the air temperature.' As he talks, a number of galah birds squabble in the frangipani bushes around the cabins and flash their rose-pink underwings. 'I love the wet,' says Kim. 'I look forward to it - that solitude, that peace and quiet.' She smiles, stroking one of her tame dingos. 'Just... sanity.'

Broome, 1,417 miles
It's a long and beautiful drive to sleepy Derby - the town Pat Lacey used to visit for provisions twice a year. It's little more than a pit-stop: a shop or two, and a garage where barefoot Aboriginal kids sit eating ice cream on the forecourt. After Derby we hit tarmac for the first time in days and speed across a flat, featureless plain, dotted with termite mounds. The earth turns an almost purplish crimson and, suddenly, we find ourselves in town - attractive, laid-back Broome with its long, low streets of houses with verandas, flags flapping jauntily in the sea breeze, leisurely strollers and bicycling families. Rugged Kimberley suddenly seems very far away indeed.

We pass the last of Broome's pearl luggers - small, sailed boats that are a remnant of the pearling industry on which the town built its wealth - and head straight to the sea, the great white expanse of Cable Beach. Kids play football and catch crabs as the sun drops like a copper coin into the Indian Ocean. Back at the hotel, a few minutes in the shower washes off layers of orangered dirt. But it will take much longer for me to stop dreaming of that wild, red road rolling out before us in the outback.

 

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The article ‘The Top End’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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