In 1970, housing in and around Warburton was somewhat creative but without structure or substance. Indigenous Australians, for whom the settlement had been provided, did not actually live in the township. They lived in camps, to the north, east, south and west of the community. They roughly divided on the basis of family and clan boundaries, this taking account of compatabilities and incompatibilities. Avoidance requirements were taken into account but as the settlement was central to all, it followed that tensions manifest themselves from time to time.

Sometimes conflicts were fairly minor, confined to an exchange of language. On other occasions, conflict was more intense involving physical exchange. Traditional weapons were sometimes used, and spearing, usually for payback purposes, were not altogether uncommon. Some of these were ritualised. Generally, anyone suffering injury was attending to and looked after medically by the health clinic.

There were no houses, the camps being a construction of wiltjas, constructed of tin, hessian and other scrap materials. They provided shade, but very l;title else. There’s structures were blisteringly hot during summer and frigidly cold during winter months, when campfires became all important to offer warmth. Many of these structures had corrugated iron sheets used to builds light a barrier around the structure. These sheets of metal afforded some shelter from the wind.

Blankets were used to help create warmth and people also slept next to their dogs for added warmth. Locally, cold nights were referred to as ‘two dog nights’, ‘three dog nights’ and so on, these expressions being to indicate just how cold and shivering were these nights.

Some people lived in old cars and other vehicles which were no longer running. There was no housing for indigenous people, other than three units on the west side of the settlement. As people had become deceased either in or nearby, these houses had been effectively abandoned.

Community homes for staff were a mixed collection. There were some houses constructed of local rock, walls held in place by locally made mud matrix. Education houses were of aluminium with some metal lining. There were one or two places quite decently constructed, but most buildings for occupational purposes or for living were very basic.


I am concerned that we in Australia are going to confront major COVID-19 outbreak the like of which we have not yet seen. The lack of ability on the part of people to take a long term attitude on control measures is leading me toward this thinking. There are a number of factors causing me to think in this unfortunate manner.

  • Quarantine fatigue is breaking the resistance of people to countering C-19.
  • More and more people are breaching physical distancing rules. It has been proven unequivocally that distancing (along with hand cleanliness) are the best deterents to contacting C-19.
  • Return to the normal supply of alcohol and other relaxants will play out in a way that mitigates against physical distancing.
  • Crowds flocking to pubs, clubs, beaches, rallies, parks cinemas and elsewhere will bring people into a closeness that will spread C-19 through social contract.
  • The optionality of testing as a requirement for those in quarantine and lock down areas will mean cases occurring because of vtest avoidance.

*Foolish statements about safety of airline travel (compared to bus, train and ferry travel restrictions) guarantees spreading of the virus among airline travellers.

  • A continuing return of overseas travellers into quarantine situations is bringing cases into Australia.
  • The number of cases in schools, businesses and elsewhere will spike: Victoria’s revisitation to C-19 is only the start. Next may well be NSW and who knows where to from there.

*Thinking that C-19 is short term is unfortunate. This affliction is going to be with us into the foreseeable future.

  • I’d prognosticate that the opening of travel around Australia will generate dollars and bequeath C-19 cases.
  • It can be forecast that when C-19 gets into remote communities (and there is a 99% chance it will), C-19 will take off in a major way.

Am I worried? You bet I am.


Vehicles were very much a part and parcel of the Warburton Ranges scene. Most once purchased and returned to Warburton, did not last a particularly long time. They were driven and driven until they could be driven no more. Some, in fact many did not make it back to Warburton or if being driven from Warburton to other destinations, did not complete their journeys. The Outback Road (then much more of a track) was dotted with abandoned vehicles dumped and left adjacent to the road. Some were burnt out, most stripped of parts but all were left to weather in the heat of summer and the cold of winter months.

I remember the Docker River Truck. It was bought with money that had been part of a settlement by Western Mining toward a local elder, when he sold his promising chrysoprase mine to the company. The mine was about five kilometres from Warburton, located just off the track to the east of the settlement. The Docker Truck a brand new two ton vehicle, was so named because after purchase, it made several trips from Warburton to Docker and back.


This was prior to our arrival at Warburton in 1970. By then the truck, undriveable and beyond economic repair, was outside the southern fence of the school. It had resisted just over 3,000 miles on the odometer. The value of vehicles, once purchased, depreciated immediately. Lives of most were were very short.

There was an exception to this rule. Someone bought a yellow Holden FJ sedan. It went and went and went and went! It had an unstoppable motor, notwithstanding that oil used to top up the engine was generally second hand lubricant that had been drained from elsewhere. The engine mounting wore out from fatigue and from travel over bone shattering tracks and terrain. So the engine was held in place by green, forked sticks cut from trees that grew at some distance from Warburton.

They vehicle changed hands at regular intervals and each time sold for more than the price for which it had been purchased by the vendor. The Holden defied all odds and just kept on going. Obviously it had an end point in useful life but what a vehicle it was. It went far, far further than the distance ever travelled by the Docker Truck. It also offered a quite everlasting memory that shows what can happen when odds and averages are defied.


Until recently, Darwinians, Palmerstonians, Tourists and other comers thought that we were all part of a geographic area absolutely Coronavirus free. Covid-19 was a distant problem.

Not any more. That is not since a Victorian miner en route top the Granites Mine in the NT had to go via Brisbane and quarantine in a hotel between his RPT and charter (to the mine) flight. Queensland required him to quarantine for nine hours. He was put into a hotel, onto the same floor as repatriated persons from overseas who were recovering from the Delta variant of the virus.

He was infected while in that brief quarantine period while in the quarantine hotel, but unknowingly flew to the Granites. There he was associated with 700 people coming onto shift, 70 of them close contacts. And before his infection became apparent, 900 of his fellow workers left the mine for their R and R periods. Of these 211 flew to Darwin. And among the 211 was an infected miner who lives in Palmerston. He subsequently tested positive as (later) did his wife and daughter.

Darwin is now on Covid lockdown, for two days at first and now five and likely to stretch for longer. No more free and easy. Going out and going into shops is now like playing Russian Roulette. You don’t know if you are going into a place where Covid infectious people have visited. You may have have been in the shop at the same time as them, so you are under the gun. Not a nice feeling. A feeling that fills one with apprehension and fright.

This brings to mind the cases of the worker living in Palmerston who returned from the Granites Mine and then tested positive for the Delta variant of Covid. Why did the family of this man go out and about and roam as wide and free as they did, when they MUST have known there was a fair chance of them being infected, given they knew their husband and father’s situation? Their wandering has put a lot of businesses and scores of people into a situation of health endangerment.

How many people who were in the shops at Gateway during danger times used the Territory QR code or signed into the shops? I would bet any money that less than 5% of those entering shops used the code or signed in before entering the shop.

Covid. It is real and among us.

Educating About Covid


• We have by our slack attitudes and false ‘iron man’ sense of invincibility, brought this plague’s second Victorian wave on ourselves.

• We are all vulnerable to COVID-19. Our vulnerability is increased by the fact that more and more, fewer and fewer people are observing physical distancing rules. I note too, that supermarkets are now inconsistent and sporadic about providing trolley and basket wipes along with hand sanitiser. The number of people allowed into premises at any one time is no longer monitored.

• One aspect of the virus is that people are increasingly demanding that government carries the can and accepts full responsibility for what is happening on the COVID-19 front. The expectation that government should ‘keep’ people seems top be alive and well. When people are asked to accept responsibility and accountability for their actions, they can’t cope and stress out.

• NSW is saying community transmission of COVID-19 is at a ‘critical point’ after three more infections have been identified after an infected man went into a pub. Well, what do authorities expect as pubs, clubs and other recreational and eating establishments are open. Infection has to be an expectation.


On one occasion in 1970, a twin engine plane, from memory a twin engine Cessna 412, flew into Warburton. The airstrip, in those days a smoothed out dirt strip that was periodically maintained, was just east of the settlement. Fuel for planes was ferried down on a needs basis on the back of a utility or truck, and then hand pumped into plane fuel tanks by pumping from 44 gallon (120 litre) drums containing aviation fuel.

Fuel was kept under survelliance as much as possible because of substance abuse issues and also cost per drum to freight the fuel (usually on the Atkinson). On this occasion, the pilot and passengers after landing, did not leave the plane and walk up to the community, a distance of several hundred metres. Rather, the election was to taxi the plane off the strip, up an incline (not the steepest but quite apparent), coming as close as could be manoeuvred to the settlement buildings.

It turned out that the passengers were members of a ballet company on the way from Perth to Alice Springs. They were attired in a way that revealed their individuality as persons connected with the expressive arts profession. The locals were amazed, indeed gobsmacked by the revelations of these personages as they alighted from the plane. Their dress and gait held special appeal. The local young men could not match these visitors for dress, but they took them off perfectly for the way in which they deported themselves while out of the plane and on the ground. The mimicking was accurate and entertaining. It lasted for a long time after the plane was returned to the airstrip, fuelled and had taken off to continue its journey.

Warburton in 1970 was a quite isolated place. But we could always expect the unexpected and visitors turning up out of the blue was part of what made the unexpected a part of community life.


In 1970, there was little traffic on the ‘Outback Highway’ from Laverton to Ayers Rock (Now Uluru). Four wheel drive was standard for many vehicles. High wheel base 4WD especially constructed vehicles which could negotiate rugged outback terrain were standard for tour offering company “Outback Australia”.

On occasion, a convoy of vehicles would play “follow the leader“ all the way through from Perth to Alice Springs. The lead vehicle was generally well equipped but persons coming behind in ordinary conventional vehicles would have had some difficulty in many sections of the track. I’m sure they helped each other when the need arose.

There were often 15 to 20 vehicles in the convoys. They needed to pull in at Warburton for fuel. Petrol was dispensed through the store using an ancient fuel bowser which allowed the pumping up of five or six gallons of fuel at as time from the concrete underground storage tank. Pumping the fuel up from an underground tank was done by way of lever operated by hand. When the bowser bowl was full, the fuel was then siphoned by hose from the bowl into the fuel tank of the motor car.

Whenever these convoys came into town (and they were infrequent) they would generally arrive in the late afternoon when the school day was complete. I would head over and volunteer to pump the fuel and have conversations with persons whose vehicles are being filled. When fuelled, vehicles would be driven into a secondary line developed for those ready to continue the eastern journey.

On one occasion, a vehicle with a male driver and three female passengers was in the second line. The vehicle, a quite large tourer (possibly VW), had a large Perspex roof. Nearby, some boys were kicking an old and very worn football to each other. One of the kickers sent the ball in a high and misdirected fashion into the air. The ball came down, not in the arms of one of the other players, but square onto the Perspex roof of the tourer. The roof smashed, with large and small fragments together with the football landing among the three waiting ladies. It became a case of losing a roof and gaining a football – for the boys bolted before the three women became fully aware of what had happened.

Oner thing is for sure. The next several hundred kilometres of the trip would have been very dusty indeed.

Educate Sense in Covid Era, 2020 until ?


With the coronavirus, there is for us in the NT and Australia the ‘new normal’ but not ‘normality’ as we knew it. The COVID-19 virus is ever lurking and with our soft border options on the quarantining alternative for people from hot spots, the virus has every chance of outing itself into the wider community. Complacency is starting to take a firm grip in the NT and physical distancing (the best of all avoidance measures) is starting to become a past practice.

That Darwin Harbour view tranquility while a vision from high rise Darwin offices may offer a vista of false hope about what lies ahead in the not so distant future.

If lunching, make sure that physical distancing should be part of your eating methodology. You want this midday period to be long and not short term.

Also enjoy and appreciate your own company. There is value in quiet contemplation and being alone with your own thoughts and those shared in concert with your family.

Those who tempt danger by betting their lives against

COVID- 19 are playing a very dangerous game of Russian Roulette


Beyond the school day, life at Warburton in 1970 had a good deal to offer. There was always something going on in the community an d the dynamics between staff could be interesting. There was a strong mission element, with some non mission staff connected with education and some aspects of welfare. I used top attend some of the religious functions organised by mission staff, for this was the only way of really keeping abreast of trends about what was happening within the community.

The Warburton Store was basic in terms of the goods available for sale. Our diet was strictly limited, with tinned food (including meat, fruit and vegetables) providing a staple diet. PMU Braised Steak and Onions was my absolute favourite. Forest fruit and vegetables were rare. Flour, sugar and tea were staples. The store had a bakehouse connected, with bread being a significant element of the local diet.

The locals would buy bread and put it up on posts or other structures out of the reach of dogs. When it dried to quite bone hard proportions, they would break it into pieces, dip it in billy tea and eat it in moistened state.

Tea and sugar were purchased in made up lots. It was customary to place the whole amount of tea and sugar into a billy can of boiling water and drink it (or use it to soak bread) until the container was close to empty. The billy can was then filled with water and reboiled. This process was repeated until the tea and sugar flavour was totally depleted.

Fresh meat was a rarity and management somewhat unusual and possibly bizarre. Periodically, mission management would organise a group who would go into the Warburton hinterland, select a cow from among what was a semi-wild collection, kill it, dress it and bring it back to the store on the tray of a utility. The beast was then taken into the store and hung in a section that was semi dark and serviced by a hanging hook attached to a stout beam. Beneath the beasts was a wooden floor, made somewhat slippery by congealed blood that had dripped onto it over time.

People wanting meat were given a sharp knife and invited to cut off portions they wanted. This method of self service had limited appeal. Although the area was secluded and not as hot as general surrounds, the meat went off quickly. This butchery method became less practised with the passing of time.

Locals paid for goods from the proceeds of welfare checks cashed at the store. Staff ran accounts on credit, paying them down when pay cheques arrived.


For the greater part of my professional life I kept a diary. This is a habit continued into my retirement years. There are a few years missed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s but I have records otherwise. I kept copies of letters duplicated and sent to friends and relatives and have various other documents. (However, from 1982 onward, a diary has been kept of each and every year. Some contain more detail than others, but the value of keeping a diary for all sorts of professional and personal recall needs cannot be overstated. My Father always kept a diary and it is to him I owe thanks for this becoming, for the most part, an ingrained personal behaviour.)

My first diary was in 1970. It was a foolscap size diary with a page allocated to each day. The first ever day of my full time teaching experience turned out to be pupil free, by accident rather than by design. It is a day now over half a century old I will never forget.

Warburton Range School Headmaster, Bruce Goldthorp, an educator with seven or eight years of teaching experience, was on his first day in the role of headmastership. As he lined the students up, a kerfuffle with beginnings outside the school yard, quickly entered the school precinct. It transpired that one of the older students (1) had told another that her Father had snakes in his legs. Her Father in fact had very visible and prominent varicose veins in his legs. This ‘observation’ was part of an altercation that had occurred some time prior between the two students.

This comment was relayed to her Father who took umbrage at the deep insult. With his weapons to hand, he and his family came into the school yard, seeking retribution on the utterer of that comment. She took off, into the school and up the classroom connecting passage, being chased by the offended father and family. The family of the girl who had made the comment became alerted to the dispute and with appropriate weaponry (no firearms were involved) began chasing after the offended family.

The end result of this situation was a scatter of all students, first as spectators to the event, which rapidly moved from the school yard and into the community, thence into the distance. There was no school that day: Our first school day of 1970 at Warburton was the second day of the school year.

(1) Names and identities withheld.