In 2019 whilst executing the 52 English shotgun makers shoot, I became interested in attending the August Freedom Day celebrations in Kalkaringi, Northern Territory of Australia.
This commemorates the courageous walkoff led by 'Vincent Lingiari' of his people, the Gurindgi of Wave Hill Station, for payment of work, equal work conditions, etc, etc! To be fair it was also motivated by an interest in the history of the 'Kookaburra' aircraft that landed in the desert on 10th April 1929, south east of 'Wavehill Station', previously owned by Lord Vestey.
The two aviator's were Kieth Anderson and Bobby Hitchcock who were on their way to a search mission for Charles Kingsford Smith who had gone missing in the Kimberleys. The two aviator's sadly perished of thirst before they could clear enough scrub to get the bird into the air again and fly to Wavehill Station, after successfully repairing the engine.
Whilst I made preparations to conduct this expedition east of Halls Creek and into the Northern Territory, I was sourcing whatever material on the 'Kookaburra' that was available. I had extra spare wheels, and I ran 14-ply tyres for the toughness of literally cross-country travel, plus bog treads, spare jacks, extra water containers, satellite phone, solid state engine starter, etc, etc.
On the Freedom Day weekend I invited a young Aboriginal, DeVaughn who periodically hunts with me, to come along. It is a commemoration of the start of 'Aboriginal land rights' in Australia. We were travelling to be independent and carried swags which are convenient roll-up beds which can be setup in a camp in a minute.
This weekend I had elected to hunt with a 'John Marson' special pigeon gun, and also took the Westley Richards 'Explora' with a small quantity of 12 bore bullets to suit. Departure was on a Thursday after work and we left Halls Creek in daylight, heading eastwards on the Duncan Highway to the 53rd Freedom Day celebration and march.
Travelling almost due east we soon ran out of daylight and were travelling at night We crossed the border to NT before midnight and promptly lost one-and-a-half hours; making it almost midnight! Australia is a vast continent with incredibly isolated and remote regions, even today in the 21st century, with three time zones to contend with.
We continued onwards until just after midnight and then parked in the bush, setting up a quick camp for the night. Each of us cleared some ground to roll our swags out and set our beds up, then we collected firewood for a campfire on which I cooked a hurried dinner and went to bed.
At dawn we arose and stoked the fireplace and had a hurried breakfast with copious amounts of coffee, packed up and continued eastwards along the Buntine Highway to Kalkaringi. Unfortunately, we were out on our timing and caught the tail end of the march from Kalkaringi and walked to the riverside memorial, which I found to be very moving.
We were to link-up with a long standing friend, Lloyd from Darwin, who had likewise travelled down on Thursday, also on the Buntine Highway from the north east. Lloyd had travelled 777 kilometres from Darwin and Devaughn and I travelled 408 kilometres from Halls Creek in Western Australia, the key was to linkup.
Mobile phones, which many modern generations take for granted are a wonderful communication device. After fruitlessly searching the memorial event, we returned to the Troopcarrier and rang. Somehow, in the couple of thousand people at the memorial we missed each other, but were in contact now and Lloyd stayed at the Kalkaringi Karungkarni Art Centre until we arrived.
"Sir Winston Churchill once addressed a boys' college and said, 'Boys, never, never give up!."
I made enquiries of the 'Kookaburra' site & was dismayed to find out that there wasn't even a two-wheel bush track out to the site, and furthermore, we didn't have the GPS coordinates! (or a GPS). Further enquiries led us to some old Aboriginal men with great local knowledge; Jimmy Wavehill of Kalkaringi and his friend Paddy Goolyuck of Daguragu.
After extensive talks with these knowledgeable men, I made the decision to abort the 'Kookaburra' expedition with a sadness of heart; giving up is not my style! However, The truth is that I had seriously underestimated the challenges of the proposed expedition to the historic site of the 'Kookaburra' where a memorial now stands.
I wrote in my Rigby diary, "Sir Winston Churchill once addressed a boys' college and said, "Boys, never, never give up!." and sat down. We won't give up, we'll regroup, research, re-equip and in General MacArthur's words, 'We'll return".
As I sit here writing, there's the emerging possibility of a fresh attempt at leading an expedition out to the site of the 'Kookaburra' in August 2023 coinciding with the 57th Freedom Day memorial weekend. Devaughn and I were fortunate to pick up a young footballer walking back to Daguragu and give him a lift home, this act of kindness opened the door for Denzel to become our local hunting guide for the rest of the day.
This country was different to Halls Creek region, but the basic's were the same, late afternoon hunting near the water produced native game. The 'John Marson' special pigeon gun performed well and bagged a Crested Pigeon and Agile Wallaby which were both field dressed and put onto ice for Denzel's family in Dargaragu. (bush tucker is highly prized).
We drove back into Dargarugu in the night and dropped off our new friend with the meat, and headed through Kalkaringi to our regular campsite with cleared ground and fireplace with wood. The next morning we again had an early cooked breakfast, again with coffee, the aromatic smell and warmth of the campfire is a joy on a cold morning in the bush.
We broke camp again for the last time time and took an exploratory trip down a dirt track where we had heard Donkeys braying in the distance. I had the Westley Richards 'Explora' ready with a handful of 12 bore bullets, knowing that an opportunity would be need to be capitalised on quickly because of previous culling and alertness!
We'd only travelled over two ridges, approximately two kilometres and came upon a 'pair' of Donkeys; a Jack Donkey with his Jenny Donkey. Without hesitating I turned the Troopy quartering on and shot the Jack as he turned to depart, the Jenny was now moving off and I shot her with the left barrel at about 45 metres, also going down.
Upon inspection the Jack was stone dead but the Jenny required a mercy killing shot, whilst the first shot was good enough to flatten her, she was not dead.
Devaughn took photo's of me with the dead pair, the Jenny Donkey having the crucifix stripes down the shoulder and dorsal, which Aboriginals call 'Jesus Donkey.' I removed the Jack Donkey's head to bury for retrieving the skull later on, to join a group of skulls collected using the 12-bore during the 52 English shotgun makers shoot.
Just for context, Donkeys in Australia are a feral pest, no different to foxes, cats, or pigs! They are all doing vast environmental damage and contributing to Australia's abysmal extinction rate.
We headed westwards and soon came across the fresh smell of rain, it's such a contrast to go from hot dusty highway conditions to cool, frsh air, cleansed by rain and no dust!
We crossed the border into Western Australia in daylight and bagged some native game for Devaughn's family along the way. Just on dark we experienced cutting out of the engine, a problem that was intermittent but plagued us all the way home. I'd estimate that we had cutouts about 50 to 60 times before Halls Creek, each time having to manually pump up the diesel to the pump. 'Trying' was an understatement!
Sometimes it would cut-out before driving a metre, other times 50 or 100 metres, and on good times maybe 15 kilometres or so. Through perseverance we made it home and the meat didn't spoil.
My mechanic in Halls Creek diagnosed it as the rear diesel tank solenoid switch being faulty and allowing air to enter the fuel line. All up it was a good expedition even with the cautious abort; it's not often one shoots a double, a brace, and a pair of sizeable animals with a 12 bore!
I look forwards to catching up with Jimmy Wavehill, Paddy Goolyuck & Denzel for a future expedition into the wilds of the Tanami Desert & reaching the 'Kookaburra' site.
By Stephen Barnes
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )