Ord River - Western Australia


GPS 15 47 37 S 128 41 50 E








The river was discovered by Alexander Forrest in 1879 and he named it after Sir Henry St. George Ord, Governor of W.A. The Aboriginal name was 'Cununnurra' which was Westernised and became the name of the local town, Kununurra.

The Ord River scheme saw the damming of the Ord and the opening of Lake Argyle in June 1972. The project cost $22 million. At 741 square kilometres, Lake Argyle is the largest artificial lake in Australia.

The water is used both for irrigation in the Kununurra area and for power generation through two 15 megawatt generators.

The water passing through the turbines is enough to fill the average backyard swimming pool once every second.

The development of the hydro electric power source has reduced the burning of fossil fuels by 60 million litres a year, which means that 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide which were once produced as a by product of burning diesel have now been eliminated.

Lake Argyle at normal levels holds 10 times as much water as Sydney Harbour, and at peak levels holds 27,400,000,000 cubic metres or 50 times the volume of Sydney Harbour.

Surprisingly the shores of the lake look empty and barren. This is mainly because the local vegetation was used to the dry conditions that existed prior to the lake and many plants died when there was too much water.

Near the lake stands the Argyle Homestead. Some of the earliest settlers in the Kimberley region were the Durack family. In 1882 Michael Durack arrived and selected land in the Ord River Valley which was later to become Argyle Station. The Duracks are often credited with being the first to bring cattle to the Kimberley but in fact it was Panton and Osmond from Melbourne who were first to get cattle into the area in mid 1885. Victoria Downs and Cambridge Downs were also started before the Duracks arrived but these were stocked with sheep which were not suited to the area and both stations failed.

After driving 7,500 cattle from Mt. Marlowe on the Barcoo River in Queensland, a feat which took two years and eight months, the Duracks set about building a cattle empire which was to cover a massive 7 million acres. (Note: there are varying figures quoted about the number of cattle brought across in the first droving expedition, Michael Durack's immediate group (1) are said to have brought 2,200 cattle but other droving groups came across as well and this may account for the discrepancy in cattle numbers quoted.) During the drove from Queensland three men died of malaria and two shot themselves when in 'fevered states'.

The homestead was completed in 1895 and stood on its original location for the next 84 years. When the Ord Scheme was proposed the homestead was in danger of being lost to the rising waters of the dam so in 1971 a decision was made to move the house to its present location. As a museum the homestead now stands as a memorial to the Duracks and others like them who set out to tame the wilderness.

The graves of some of the family members were relocated from Dunham River. Plaques show that Vera Durack died in 1898 at only one year old, Annie Durack died aged 14 in the same year and J.J. Durack died in 1901 aged 48.

(1) - In 1885 5 droving parties set out from Queensland. The first was led by M.J Durack, next came J & P Durack then P. Moore with cattle owned by P & M Durack, then Kilfoyle and Hayes and lastly the MacDonald brothers.


(C) Allan Laurence YouTube channel.



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