Suzie Eisfelder
October 10, 2016
Penelope Bungles to Broome - Tim Bowden
Penelope Bungles to Broome – Tim Bowden

Tim Bowden, Australian journalist, born in Tasmania (but we shouldn’t hold that against him). I remember him for two things. Backchat was a wonderful programme on the ABC which was full of correspondence to the station, it was only a few minutes but was pure gold, he was the presenter. And the other is rather more nebulous, I must have seen him in passing as a journalist as I knew his name and face long before Backchat.

This book is the story of his journey to and around Western Australia with his wife, Ros. They’re both avid campers, enjoying camping with only a few luxuries and mostly being self-sufficient so they can find a small track and pull over in a suitable spot. This can lead to such interesting encounters as having a bush shower when a busload of tourists arrive.

Some of the roads they travelled were very quiet. Bowden was able to demonstrate this by placing his chair in the middle of the road and having a leisurely cup of tea there, he’s even put a photo in the book to show us this event. When you look at the photo you see a really wide and unsealed road, made out of the beautiful orange soil from that district.

They took their four wheel drive, attached a camping trailer and were able to travel hundreds of kilometres including some off road driving where they’re told they should reconsider taking the trailer. The trailer was fine, they got out with some wonderful photos and stories.

Bowden often gives Indigenous information and details his obsession with the Indigenous rock art. We get some history and debunking of myths such as Captain Cook being the first white discoverer of Australia. He has plenty of evidence to back this up, evidence happily provided by the Indigenous rock art.

He also relates a story about Olive Pink, I’ve provided the Wikipedia link for you so you can read about her yourself, from what Bowden writes she sounds like a colourful character. Pink had a hobby of planting trees and naming them after federal politicians, if she disagreed with them she stopped watering them. Apparently Paul Hasluck felt he was doing well when he visited in the 1950s and found his tree surviving nicely.

They did their travelling in the earlier days of the internet when you needed to plug your computer into a phone socket. Bowden happily packed his laptop, making daily diary entries and writing emails getting them ready for sending next time he was online and every so often booking into a motel room for 10 minutes in order to send and receive emails. I remember those days… He mentioned this in an email to a friend along with the challenges inherent in explaining about the need for a 10 minute booking, this email went astray as he made an error in the address. The recipient was kind enough to bounce it back with the added message:

Sent to wrong address…try a new medication if you can only last ten minutes in a motel room. Regards…

Bowden’s quite comment on this was “Quite so.” He has a rather laidback style of humour.

I loved this book. It was rather laidback but it gave me much of the information I wanted about his trip. It included many camping details, and thoughts about correct tyre pressure. It helps give a picture of what it’s like to camp with just a few luxuries while going totally away from the track. Bowden talks about being respectful to the Indigenous, their culture, lifestyle and their need to be asked if we might enter their land. This last is something we would do for anyone’s house, we don’t just open the door and barge in but we knock and ask politely, leaving if we’re not given permission.

I do recommend this book to everyone wanting to get some idea of what an alternate lifestyle is, or for people wanting to get a flavour of being in the west without being able to go there, or for people wanting to get some idea of the distances involved in travel in Australia. We have a very big country and in their three month trip they only covered some bits around the western edge.

Who is Penelope? The car. They decided the camping trailer was big enough for a manor so they named that the Manor and the car Penelope. Those of a certain age will remember the BBC TV series of To The Manor Born starring Penelope Keith.

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