Pancho and friends at K-Town, Exmouth

Pancho and friends at K-Town, Exmouth

Pancho Ridley back at K-Town and reminiscing about his time as prawn boat skipper for MG Kailis

Pancho Ridley back at K-Town and reminiscing about his time as prawn boat skipper for MG Kailis

We interrupted our stay at Warroora to spend a few days in Exmouth, a two hour drive north of where we were camping.

Exmouth’s annual Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival had been vaguely on our radar because our lovely friend from home, Anna Gare was the celebrity chef at the event and we knew we’d have fun catching up.

The deal was sealed when Gascoyne in May, whose rehearsals I’d captured at Warroora, asked me to photograph their performance on the final night of the festival.

While we were all having coffee in town one morning, we were introduced to a bloke by the name of Pancho. Pancho had been a prawn boat skipper for MG Kailis back in the day, and had recently written a book about that and a lifetime of other adventures (including a riotous weekend on Rottnest with Bob Hawke before he was PM). 

When I asked if I might photograph Pancho, Alex Kailis, now CEO of the business, suggested we did the photos at the Kailis HQ (‘K-Town’ to the locals), and Anna offered to cook us all breakfast there. Sounded like a plan!

Anyone driving up to Exmouth would have spotted K-Town near Learmonth Airport - an oasis of palm trees and bougainvillea amongst the dust and scrub. A few years ago, it was a thriving community with the processing plant workers and their families all living there. 

These days there’s only three blokes who still call it home as all the processing is now done out at sea on the boats. Without too much imagination it’s still possible to get a glimpse of what it used to be…the pool’s now empty, the bar’s locked up, and one of the old houses is now just a concrete pad with a loo following a cyclone, but work still goes on, including the task of fixing the nets.

Alex Kailis with Pancho Ridley, and his freshly signed copy of Pancho’s book

Alex Kailis with Pancho Ridley, and his freshly signed copy of Pancho’s book

Brad Norman at K-Town. Brad is one of Australia’s leading experts in whale sharks.

Brad Norman at K-Town. Brad is one of Australia’s leading experts in whale sharks.

Gascoyne in May in Exmouth

Gascoyne in May in Exmouth

Warroora Station, my happy place

Warroora Station, my happy place