Attif. Warmun, WA September 2009
Attif. Warmun, WA September 2009

This is Attif, who I ran into at the roadhouse in the small township of Warmun in the wonderful Kimberley region of WA a week or two ago.

Attif is riding his pushie from Darwin to Broome.

At night.

Attif is of German nationality and Tunisian descent and has spent the last year or so in Australia and one each of a wet and dry season in Darwin.

He escaped southwestward before the full effects of the notorious build-up descended upon the Top End.

We had a chat later in the day on the verandah of the Warmun Arts Centre – which I’ve written about here when I was there earlier in the year.


The Northern Myth: Here we are in Warmun in the heart of the Kimberley. It is hot and it is humid – what are you doing here?

Attif: I’m having a rest and waiting for the night to come – I started in Darwin and last night I came from the Dunham River north of Warmun. I’m going to Broome – I hope I make it to Broome and I’ll decide when I get there where I go next.

TNM: Are you religious? Do you observe Ramadan?

A: No. I’m not religious. My parents are Muslim but I’m not a religious person. Ramadan just ended two days ago – the crescent moon is up.

I like to enjoy myself, I think everybody does. I was working up in Darwin. I was traveling, left Germany – got to Darwin and didn’t plan to stay that long and got stuck in a good way…you either love it or you leave.

For the last two years I went to Garma Festival in north-eastern Arnhem Land.

TNM: Did you enjoy that?

A: Yes, absolutely. I was pretty new in Australian in 2008 and I had no certain idea about indigenous people and their culture. I had the opportunity to get out there, to the Garma Festival, and I met really traditional Aboriginal people – not the “westernised” Australian Aboriginal people that are totally involved in western culture.

There were some kids that I met at Garma who didn’t know what a cookie was, and had no concept of money and didn’t speak English – that was pretty interesting. At the same time I met young kids that listen to 2-Pac and all the stuff that other kids do as well. But just to see the range that…from the really traditional people to what I’d call the bi-cultural people was really interesting.

And no, I didn’t try to learn the didgeridoo! We had some dancing lessons from a family that was staying on-site at Garma. That was pretty funny. It started up with random moves and just jumping around on the sand. I looked pretty funny I believe, the Mum in the family had a good laugh.

But later when they explained to me what the dances meant and why they are having these dances and celebrating these dances it was really interesting. They told me that their dances and songs and ceremonies are always connected to hunting and their land, the animals, the country and their culture. For me it was a really good experience.

I think that is really special up here…or down here. It is interesting to realise and understand what it means.

You can read or hear about how people are really connected to their land and all that sort of story but you don’t understand it unless you interact and see what people mean and see how people live and that is just great.

TNM: You’ve ridden across from Darwin – how long did it take you to get here?

A: Is it Wednesday today? Yes? I think it is three weeks – exactly to the day. If I find somewhere nice to stay, I’ll stay a while. Sometimes I just ride. I spent two days in Katherine at the Gorge and two days at Victoria River.

I only wanted to fill up my water bottles but it was so beautiful that I stayed for two days just by the River. And I went to Kununurra and got a lift in a comfortable 4-wheeldrive vehicle and went along the Gibb River road- and now I’m back on the pushie!

TNM: You like to ride at night? But there is only a crescent moon right now – what is it like to ride at night?

A: First thing it is much cooler than during the day, there is less traffic.

People ask me about road trains and whether I get scared, but actually they usually give me enough space. There have been one or two so far that were a bit close but they don’t really worry me.

You can feel the first part of the truck push you and like at the end you have to be careful as they could suck you in. If you feel a strong push it means that the road train is really close and then you just pull over – but if it is not strong you don’t have to worry.

TNM: Is it scary – having 50 tonnes plus that is 50 metres length of truck right there, next to you on the road, and at night? How do you get used to that?

A: Absolutely! What choice do I have?

TNM: What do you see at night? How do you ride in the dark? Do your eyes get used to the dark?

A: Generally I try not to rely on electric light. Just on the the moon and starlight. Most of the time it is enough to see what you are doing. And it depends how you organise yourself at night…you get used to it.

TNM: What about on cloudy nights?

A: Like yesterday? It is very hard then – I really appreciate the lines on the road so that you can get your orientation.

Particularly when there are cars coming in the other direction – you are blinded. Last night I had to pull over twice.

I didn’t know if I was in the middle of the road – or on their side or on my side.

TNM: It takes a while to get your night vision back after a car goes past.

A: That is alright. I just keep looking down so I don’t have to look into the light from the cars. Andno, none of the cars stop- they just go past me.

TNM: What about animals?

A: Yes! I have had some very interesting encounters with animals! That is actually my biggest fear, that is the only thing that really scares me.

The headlight on my bike is just so that others can see me, rather than to actually see things on the road. I’m totally aware of wildife moving at night.

One time I nearly hit a cow, it was like really close and think I was looking up at the sky to see shooting stars or something, the things you do when you cycle along by yourself – a little bit bored.

All of a sudden I saw this something standing in the middle of the highway and just had the chance to brake to stop. I think I scared the cow.

And then there were cows on the road all of sudden they started running and I could see two more on the side of the road but I couldn’t tell if there was a bull or not and you you don’t want to get charged by a one tonne bull with horns!

Especially if I’m in the middle, with the bull on one side and cows and calves on the other!

You don’t always know how they will react. They wouldn’t normally harm you but in that situation you wouldn’t know how they would react.

TNM: What about horses?

A: I saw some some running along side the road one time. They started to run along as I passed them and they kept going for a while. I don’t know if they were scared or excited. No wild camels so far. I saw one guy walking along with two camels – that was interesting. And one time a wallaby ran into my back pannier…you get pretty pumped up with adrenalin and pretty excited.

TNM: Tell me about dead cows on the side of the road? There are a lot in this part of the country

A: It depends on the wind direction – if I have a headwind I can smell them much earlier. If it is a tailwind you might not notice it you do but it is not really annoying.

And I think by now I can distinguish dead cow, dead kangaroo, dead bird – by the smell (laughs). That is interesting.

It is not a very pleasant smell – but you get used to it. I went past some dead cows that were really smelly and the wind might make it worse…it get’s stuck in your nose. I see a lot of birds on the road – not many at night but in the morning they always wake me up.

TNM: Thanks for your time and stories about your travels.

A: Thanks to you and I’m looking forward to Broome.