Drysdale, a million-acre property on the Kalumburu Road, is virtually a mandatory stop when you head for Mitchell Falls or Kalumburu.
Sixty kilometres north of the turnoff that is halfway along the unsealed section of the Gibb River Road, Drysdale has fuel and cold beer (sorry, no takeaway), hefty hamburgers and, if you are staying overnight, fine showers and two of the most popular washing machines in the west.
We triumphantly slapped our washing into both machines when we arrived relatively early in the day. By late afternoon the cluster of Laundromat wannabes was sorting itself into an unofficial but fiercely enforced queue that stretched to 9pm, as one startled bloke was told tartly when he turned up hopefully near sunset with his load.
When we arrived at Drysdale, sparkling, shrewd brown eyes gleaming in a frame of bushy grey hair, bushier grey beard and battered Akubra greeted us in the shop. Introducing Otto Weysenfeld, 67, a former merchant navy seaman.
Originally from Holland, he says he sailed the seven seas until settling in Cairns and working on the smaller commercial tourist and service vessels on the Barrier Reef. He had a stint crewing for a seismic survey ship on the North West Shelf for a few years before he retired and went exploring inland.
Eight years ago he called in to see a mate at Drysdale. “I’m still visiting.”
He’s busy serving in the shop and pumping fuel for the steady tourist trade.
“So are you retired or not?” I asked.
His expressive eyes widened and his shoulders shrugged slightly. “Some people think work is a dirty word but I sit around here (he gestured to the shop and bowsers) and people come to me all day. In the wet, nobody comes much so you get time to talk to the other people here.”
He paused for a philosophical stance: “What is work? That is the question.”
Otto flies home to his daughter in Cairns for a few weeks towards the end of the year after the tourist trade dries up and before the wet sets in for the Kimberley summer.
“How long will you stay here?” An eloquent shrug and raised eyebrows retorted that was a dumb question. Obviously he will stay as long as it takes, as long as it suits him.
Drysdale is one of only two family-owned stations left in the North Kimberley. The other is the neighbouring property of Mt Elizabeth, which also has an accommodation and camping side business on the cattle property.
Like Otto, former stockman Wayne Matthews, 69, from Armstrong Beach near Mackay also became attached to Drysdale Station after calling in to visit a mate.
“I went to leave and they asked if I would stay to give a hand,” he said. With the exception of one year, he and his wife Pam have travelled back from Queensland annually for 15 years to help out in the dry season. That proved fortunate for the NSW and Queensland campers at Drysdale the night we stayed because the Matthews’ camp was well equipped.
Wayne is one of those dry characters from who has spent most of his life in the bush and has an arsenal of pithy comments. Life a true Queenslander he calls Mackay Mack-ay, not Mc-High, knows regulation is stuffing the country and has a healthy disrespect for Cockroaches.
He spent most of his life working as a ringer, mostly on remote Inkerman station in the Gulf. His first few years at Drysdale were in the saddle mustering. Now he looks after the tyre servicing (flats are more common than high heels on the rocky Kalumburu Road) and “anything else that needs to be done”.
Drysdale used to have a mechanical repair sideline too but that went west when a couple of people sued over repairs. “That’s what wrong with the bloody world today. Too many people suing everyone else. Now everyone has to pay to get a truck from Kununurra to cart their cars back.”
In the afternoon blokes started hovering around Wayne’s caravan, looking around hopefully to see if the occupants had returned. The attraction was the satellite dish set up beside the annex. Several travellers from the east had headed for Drysdale that night in the hope that the second State of Origin match would be broadcast at the station bar and restaurant. It wasn’t.
Wayne, it transpired, had the only avenue to the live broadcast of Origin 2. After scoffing high-priced stubbies and burgers, we all gravitated to the annex where we could hear the sounds of Gus, Fatty and groaning Cockroaches, given the score was 4-nil in favour of the Canetoads.
Wayne magnanimously welcomed Blues and Maroons to his jammed annex and didn’t kick the NSW crew out when they took the game and the series 6-4 in the second half.
No longer did Cockroaches groan. Instead we listened in delight to our ringer host directing some of his pithier comments at the ref, Daley, Haines, Gus and anything else blue.
The NSW blokes buggered off to crow and the Queenslanders consoled themselves by saying a NSW win after eight years was good for the Origin series. As Laurie Daley made a gracious victory speech, Wayne found great amusement in Tony’s comment that NSW had won only by a nose.
For a couple of hours, Wayne had been more popular than a washing machine at Drysdale.