Ice capped mountains in the Kimberley? Well if you had been there 6-700 million years ago that is exactly what you would have seen.
At one time the Kimberley wasn't even connected to the rest of Australia and it collided with the main continent about 1,830 million years ago.
The landscape that we see today began evolving 250 million years ago with the last major uplifting taking place around 20 million years ago. Because we live in
such a short term time-scale, we see the Kimberley as ancient and un-changing but it has in geological terms, changed many times over it's long history.
The Kimberley region of W.A. is situated in the state's far north east. With a population of only 25,000 and an area of 423,000 square kilometres it is one of the
most sparsely populated places on Earth. About half of the land is covered by pastoral stations that are made up of over 90 leases. Over half a million head of
cattle are run in the area and unfortunately, being hard hoofed animals, they do a lot of damage to the fragile land.
The name originates from the British Colonial Secretary, John Wodehouse 1st Earl of Kimberley The Earl of Kimberley.
It contains the towns of Broome, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek,
Turkey Creek (Warmun) , Kununurra and Wyndham. In general it is a harsh time-worn land with
pockets of rainforest surrounded by arid desert. Its isolation and rugged beauty are what attract most people to the area. The main tourist towns are Broome and
Kununurra which lie at either end of the district. Although Broome attracts most of the attention due to its location on the coast, Kununurra should not be overlooked.
There are many places to see and your ability to reach them will depend greatly on the type of vehicle you have and how well prepared you are. Some of the most
popular places are: Bungle Bungle, Wolfe Creek Crater and the Gibb River Road.
W.A. is divided into different regions based on both climate and land use. The Kimberley is the most northern and sitting below it is the Pilbara,
Gascoyne, Mid West, Goldfields, Wheat belt, Metropolitan, South West and Great Southern.
The Kimberley appears to be ageless and rugged but it is in fact a fragile place that can easily be impacted by large numbers of visitors. The beauty that attracts
people there in the first place could end up being the downfall of the region if visitors do not treat the land and its flora and fauna with great care.
Access to areas that were once very difficult to reach has been improved by the construction of roads by pastoralists and mineral exploration teams. This has
allowed some very foolish people to gain entry to places like the caves of the Oscar Range. Here graffiti has been painted on walls and stalactites broken off. It
beggars belief that some people will do such stupid things but there is obvious need for the area to be better protected and managed.
People visiting the area and camping in remote areas only have to do a few simple things to avoid damaging the area.
a. Don't drive over terrain where no tracks already exist. This compacts the soil leading to lack of vegetation and finally erosion.
b. Don't camp in areas where campsites are not already cleared.
c. Don't use wood for fires that can be used as animals as habitat. Take gas stoves with you for cooking.
d. Don't camp too close to water sources as this can deter animals who need to drink.
e. Carry out everything you take in.
f. Obey all fire bans.
g. Leave all gates as you found them.
h. Bury all human waste in pits at least 50cm deep. Better still carry a porta-potty and empty it only at designated sites.
i. Take away only memories and photographs. Leave behind only footprints.
Best time to visit
The weather can be unpredictable so the information given here is ONLY a guide.
Generally people start heading north from early May. There is still the remote chance of cyclonic weather but most years, starting the trip in May will mean
you don't have to contend with the wild weather that can (and usually does) occur from November to April.
Early to mid-May can still be quite hot but after that the temperatures reduce substantially and from this time to mid-August days are warm and nights are mild.
While blue skies and warm weather are the norm from May to August there is still a chance you may get some unpredictable rain and it can be very heavy.
Tracks can be closed and people stuck for up top a week so you always need to be prepared.
First Settlement in the Kimberley.
F.P. Barlee headed the Roebuck Bay Pastoral Association which decided to send a party to the north west to begin establishing a sheep station. Martin and
Panter initially explored the immediate area around Roebuck Bay and in 1864 the Nile was chartered and sent north with a cargo of sheep. James Harding
was selected as the station Manager and Panter was to be Superintendent of Police.
A campsite was selected, wells dug and work begun on erecting simple dwellings. James Harding, Police Inspector Frederick Panter and Constable William Goldwyer
(spelled Goldwire in one source) went exploring on November 9th 1864 taking 2 weeks provisions with them.
When the party did not return as expected, L.C. Burgess (Jr.) took another member of the party and went in search of the missing men. Burgess was unable to
locate them and ran short of water and provisions before being forced to return to the campsite.
The barque Hastings arrived with another shipment of sheep and returned to Fremantle with the news that three men had gone missing.
The schooner Clarence Packet was chartered and a search party led by Maitland
Brown was organised. The ship sailed from Fremantle on February 15th 1865 - 3 months after the men had gone missing.
Stopping at DeGrey to pick up horses, Brown took time to go overland to the north east and learned from Aborigines in the area that three white men had been
killed by Aborigines further north at a place called Boola Boola (near Lagrange Bay.).
Having secured a number of horses, Brown proceeded by ship to Roebuck Bay and led a party out in search of Panter, Harding and Goldwyer on March 28th.
After seven days searching the remains of the three men were located and it was evident that they had been attacked and killed in camp while they slept.
Brown's party was itself attacked by Aborigines as they retreated towards Roebuck Bay but they managed to fight off their attackers without injury to themselves.
They arrived back at the main campsite on May 10th.
A punitive expedition was then organised in early April and eventually cornered about 25 Aboriginal warriors. After a brief fight the Aborigines fled into the mangroves
leaving behind 18-20 of their own number who had been killed.
Further north the ill fated settlement at Camden Harbour was to be abandoned in 1865 after just 11 months.
Tall tales and true: Atlantis, lost and found.
On May 14 1932 Pilot Hans Bertram and the mechanic Adolf Klausmann took off from Timor in their Junkers JU W-33 (called Atlantis) bound for
Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory.
During the night they were forced off course by bad weather and the following morning they spotted the Australian coastline but did not know where they
were. Running short of fuel they landed on the Kimberley coast near Cape St Lambert 200 miles south west of Darwin. They took off again heading north
west (the wrong direction) and were forced down as the fuel began to run out.
The pair walked back along the coast looking for fresh water but all they found were hungry saltwater crocodiles that tried on more than one occasion to
make a meal of them. They walked back to the plane on a more inland route and set about making a boat from one of the floats.
A storm brought some much needed fresh water and they set off to the north west. At one point they caught sight of the coastal steamer S.S. Koolinda
but the ship did not see them and sailed away.
After running out of fresh water they were forced back to the shore near Cape Bernier. Luckily they found a source of water nearby and then set off inland but
found the going too tough to continue. By the time they got back to the 'boat' storms had dashed it against rocks and holed it. They cut off part of the float and
moved further along the coast to what is now called Bertram Cove.
During this time Aborigines had found some items left by the aviators at the first landing site and an aerial search was mounted. The Atlantis was found on
June 15th and not long afterwards Bertram and Klausmann were found in a cave near Cape Bernier.
The men had been without food for much of the 40 days they had been stranded and the ordeal proved to be too much for Klausmann who never fully
recovered from the mental stresses he encountered.
In 1978 of the the floats from the Atlantis was found mostly buried in sand and in 1979 the remains of the float were recovered and after conservation work
was completed it was put on display at the Maritime Museum. A replica of the plane is housed at the Aviation Museum and a replica of the float is at the
Broome Historical Museum.
Bertram and Klausmann
Dennis Ford's Kimberley Slide Show
Our thanks to Dennis Ford for permission to display some of his wonderful photographs of the Kimberley.