On the map it looked like a coastal drive like any other. Out of the window of our hired air-conditioned 4WD, my two travelling companions and I were mesmerised by the uniformity of ochre soil, eucalypts and mulga scrub. The hidden gem of the Dampierland Peninsula, Lombadina is west of the Kimberley Ranges (200km north of Broome and Beagle Bay), on the way to Cape Leveque.
It also feels like zillions of kilometres from where I spent most of my life, on the east coast of Australia. Culturally too, this was the extreme opposite to my family’s European Christmas with snow-covered pines, roast chestnuts in front of an open fire and fat, red Santas trimmed with fake, white beards.
Lombadina-Djarindjin are two close-knit communities which comprise of 60 Aboriginal (Bardi) people, some of whom are the descendents of the first settler, Thomas Puertiollano.
In the late 1890s, Thomas sold the land to the Catholic Church. In 1934 the Aboriginal community built a place of worship. The humble church of mango wood, corrugated iron and paperbark still stands, and from it the most evangelical voices singing Christmas hymns can be heard.
Later in the day, a truck-full of excited children from the Djarindjin-Lombadina Catholic School jingled past us on the way to the mud flats to collect crabs – a sleigh of a different sort!
Basil, Caroline Sibosado and their family run Lombadina, and it’s their ventures which contribute to the community’s self-sufficiency. These include the general store, artifact and craft shop, a bakery and eco-friendly tourism such as fishing and whale watching charters, mud crabbing and bushwalking; as well as the self-contained cabins, which we found to be extremely comfortable and well equipped. No alcohol is allowed into the community and everyone is gainfully employed, many of them in initiatives similar to work-for-the-dole programmes.
The locals reassured us the venomous jellyfish which make parts of the coast impossible to swim in some months of the year were absent from Ninety Mile Beach and we swam and splashed in the crystal liquid.
The Indian Ocean was turquoise blue; pristine. We lay on the pearl white sand fantasising about our mouthwatering dinner of fresh trevally, or perhaps barramundi, which we would cook on the BBQ accompanied by a cool ale or bubbly. We watched the sun glow the most intense orange, then red, as it set over the western beach. At night in the absence of city lights we could see every star, every galaxy lightyears away.
One arm point
On the way back to Broome we took a detour to visit the curiously named One Arm Point. There we found some makeshift sun shelters of poles with shade cloth, torn by the wind.
A local arrived to water some plants next to the shade-cloth shelter. He came over and started chatting. This was the place where his people (the Bardi) would come to catch fish and oysters for as long as he can remember. “Over there,” he pointed, “is where they cook their catch, sit by the fire and tell stories.” We felt immensely privileged to have this personalised tour.
“Do you know money does grow on trees?”our friendly impromptu guide challenged us. We looked at each other, bewildered.
“Yes, look over there,” he said, pointing to a mangrove branch covered with open oyster shells which were washed up on the beach. “Over here oysters grow on trees!” We all laughed.
Our Christmas, far from the retail madness, turkey and pudding, was a wonderful experience thanks to the open generosity of spirit, friendliness and hospitality of the Lombadina community.