Derby is a tiny hamlet (“shire,” actually, according to the airport sign) on the northwest Australian coast. The town’s 4,000 residents, half of Aboriginal descent, are caught between the second-highest tide in the world (usually more than 40 feet) and the most expansive unsettled area of Australia (where I’m headed tomorrow). It was hot enough at 8:30 a.m. that sweat dripped down the back of my neck as I stepped on to the red dust.
I spent the day buying groceries (my last visit to a store for six months) and prowling mangroves. It’s nearly 100 degrees outside with little shade. Tomorrow, I’ll make the half-day drive on a single dirt road to Mornington with two other researcher-conservationists. It’s a grueling, desolate, and beautiful trip by most accounts, with nothing but bush along the way.
Last week, two guys attempted a creek crossing while driving the same route to Mornington. Their vehicle submerged in a flash flood and they both swam to shore, tried to build a signal fire, then walked 30 kilometers in 95-degree heat without water, slept by the side of the road, and reached help the next day. I sure hope we have a smoother trip!