I am, we are all very small in the Kimberley. This natural world is so vast, so grand, it overwhelms and swallows us little humans. Incredible beauty of an ancient landscape with fossil records providing proof of life lived some billions of years ago. The landscape and it’s story is ever present and a constant reminder that this is a unique and wonderful part of the planet.
We’ve been in the East Kimberleys for over 12 months now and lived through the full cycle of drama that nature acts out. The wet built forming tremendous clouds and storm activity, heralding rains that failed and disappointed. The dry season was a delight and we were able to get out and explore more remote pockets in relative cool temperatures (although always avoided the hours between midday and 4pm). We were excited to host visitors; Francois, DLee, EdieK, and our 91 year old neighbour from Currrarong Connie Heap, and show them our favourite places. This is high tourist season and the town of Kununurra doubled it’s population. The car parks filled with 4x4s loaded with equipment to survive the wilderness and perishable food disappeared from the supermarket shelves faster than it could be restocked. Locals were forced to queue for a beer or coffee and to wait at the roundabout for the tourist coaches to pass.
This is also the event season when those in the Kimberley celebrate outdoor life again. Rodeos and horseraces, the Ord Valley Muster , The Wyndham Bastion Concert are the big events that draw locals and visitors. They all take place in the great arena of the Kimberley. We were thrilled to attend all these and observe the social interactions of the people, Aboriginal and others, of this remote world.
The unique flora and fauna of the Kimberley has evolved over millennia to survive the extremes of weather. Plants flourished in the Wet and tinged the red of the dry season in green. Boabs lost their identity in a covering of leaves. The birds that have so fascinated and occupied us during the year also have their seasons. The ever present whistling kites riding the heat eddies in the dry disappear in the wet. Bowerbirds disguise their ugly call with the songs of others to impress the females and lure them to the bower. The finches and honey eaters, unknown to us before, have been constant visitors to our tropical garden oasis. The numbers of frogs, lizards and toads dwindle during the dry and reappear in numbers with the rains.
We are preparing to leave Kununurra as the build up to the Wet one again starts. I will leave with a heavy heart. I have loved being here and having a rich Kimberley experience. There are very few of us humans in the vast Kimberley relative to other parts of the planet. We are very small, very humble in this grand magnificence.
Its been quite a while since we added a post to this Kimberley Blog. We’ve been liberated from the house by the relative cool of the season and have been out there exploring this incredible environment. As much as I love the landscape, I have also been captivated by the mix of the people here in the Kimberley. The faces are an historical mix of race and colour with the Aboriginal people of the Kimberley being the heart and centre of the communities. After 10 months in Kununurra I have started to become familiar with faces, the Aboriginal families, the accents, the stories.
The biggest event here in the East Kimberley is the Ord Valley Muster held in Kununurra each May. The Muster is a series of events over two weeks which draws the locals out of their Wet Season stupor and attracts tourist from afar. My favourite event of the muster was the Kununurra Rodeo. It is a celebration and demonstration of the pastoral roots and lives spread across the vast sprawling cattle stations of the Kimberley. As a townie I don’t get to see much of this life; a glimpse of an akubra hat in town stepping out of a ute en route to pick up supplies. Aboriginal people have long been involved in the cattle industry in the Kimberley ( since the hooves and long horns soiled their waterholes and displaced their native food sources). In the last few decades many fewer Aboriginal people are living on the stations. It was great to see so many Kimberley Aboriginal cowboys at the rodeo.
There was a broad cross section of people at the rodeo; big family groups, lots of kids who loved the spectacle and the freedom to explore. It was very cinematic with the charging bulls and pursuing horses kicking dust up into the light of the fading orange sun and the arena lights coming on.
While the spectacle of the Rodeo played in the arena, I was captivated watching the hard work and skills of the blokes in hats the behind the scenes. Men who looked to have spent their lives working with horses, cattle, fences and dust.
There are so many kids in the community that this small population is sure to burgeon in the next decades.
We ran into our next door neighbour Nicola and her two infants; 8 month old Lachlan and his older sister Amelia. Lachlan is a bruiser of a baby which a great disposition and constant smile. (Andre and he didn’t coordinate their outfits before the event I have been assured).
Francois came up from a chilly Perth to visit during the Muster….he also has a great disposition and had a constant smile the night of the Rodeo. He had as much interest in the social exchanges of the drinking area as he did of the main event in the arena.
Kununurra is a transient place. People come and go, staying months to years. They often come on contracts with Government or with the many organisations that operate here. It has a feel of an expat community, at least to us in our first year. We mostly associate with people I know from work and many of them are outsiders with a small history in the town. We pass on social tips and report on places we have been taken to or ‘discovered’ on a weekend. The photo above was taken on a recent trip to waterhole called Thompson’s Spring. Neil (L)was the only local in our group trek out to Thompsons Springs ( and even he is a West Kimberley man). Souxsie (centre) came to town in December with her partner Brett. Dawn (R) has been here two years with husband Paul and two adult sons.
One of the privileges of working with Wunan is that I do get out and involved in Community from time to time. Last year I was asked to Caroline Pools, outside of Halls Creek, to witness a baby smoking ceremony. It was amazing. I felt as if I had been transported back centuries. A large group of women and kids had gathered on the dry river bed to perform a ritual that has probably taken place for millennia. The eldest women of the four generations of women present conducted the ceremony giving instructions in language (Gidga, I think)
Peter arrived at Wunan earlier this year. His French wife Ophillie was heavily pregnant with their first born. We met them on the walk into the spectacular Emma Gorge. Ophille’s mum, Chrystal, was visiting from France to see her first grandchild. The introduction of the Gaul to the Kimberley.
In May we travelled across to Broome. It was a work trip and Andre came with me to once again smell the ocean. Our Broome office had organised a Job Expo for local high schools. Kids came from Broome, Derby and all the small communities in the area. The faces in the West include those with Aboriginal and Asian heritage. It is very exotic and distinctive. Nathalie works in the Office in Broome and seemed to be related to half those at the Expo…..except those two below!
We have been enticed to a number of community events, such as this St Patricks Day Trivia Night fund raiser for St Josephs school. We sat at the Wunan table with Dawn from England, Alena from Wyndham, Deb from Moree, Alex from Malaysia ( and not pictured Blessings from Zimbabwe and Musonda from Zambia). You get the mix idea now!
In January we held a camp for all our scholarship students who study in Melbourne and Sydney . This all Indigenous, good looking mob are from Halls creek, Kununurra and Wyndham.
One of the events of the Ord Valley Muster is the Corroboree. This was a great community night where the young and old danced and moved among the dust and the dogs and the playing kids. Elders on the sidelines shouted instructions to performers so that the performance could be remembered for this night and not forgotten in the future.
Long weekend, too hot for too long, had to get out of house, air con and Kununurra
Packed up, left house early before heat turned on
Took the Great Northern Road south to Halls Creek.. storm clouds building
Passed through spectacular Kimberley country saw brolgas
Arrived Halls Creek at noon…all fresh and washed from a storm the night before
…… mental note come back and visit Taylors Store
Both very excited to get onto the Duncan and head for Palm Springs – water hole oasis 45 kms away (The Duncan is 440 kilometres of dirt that runs from Halls Creek in the south to the Victoria Highway in the Northern Territory. Passes through some spectacular and very remote country.)
Andre forged ahead checking the depth of the creeks
Not far from Palm Springs we turned a corner to find that gravel and water had merged into a muddy flow
Andre pondered the situation, long and hard…river too deep and we can’t cross
What are we going to do???
Mob at river from community up road, Ringer Soak. All stopped.. no way to get home – maybe driving 800 kms all round – no petrol. Wait till river drops in one, two days maybe.
They enjoy the spectacle of the river in flood, take to the water to cool down and do some fishing….( what they gonna eat, where they gonna sleep, what they gonna do all this time?)
kids playing lots of fun – no school couple days maybe
We’ re ok. We can drive back to Halls Creek, stay the night in the hotel, sleep in the bed, eat at the restaurant. We copy the mob and sit in the river…cool down watch time flow past
Kununurra felt like a steamy soup when we arrived back in mid January. Continuous days of heat and building humidity. We lived with the hope that this was the ‘Wet Season’ – a weather pattern which would deliver storms and rain every day bringing relief from the constant temperatures. In late November and December we experienced a couple of spectacular storms which had me asking the locals ‘Is this the Wet yet’? This is the annual question when the build-up becomes unbearable and everyone seek reassurance that the first sprinkle heralds the beginning of The Wet. Storms are a big event in the Kimberley – they commence with a build in pressure as the cumulus clouds pile ever higher and darken to pitch. Its all drama in Act 1. when lightening begins to flash and thunder rolls and rumbles. In Act 2, enter the wind followed by the first heavy drops of rain. All is resolved in Act 3 when the rain buckets and the temperature drops bringing great relief to the overheated audience.
The locals say that this is not a normal wet season ( I suppose that locals everywhere are saying this about the climate). We are often being teased by the build to a storm which passes, leaving just a sniff of rain and no decrease in temperature. And yet the countryside is verdant and the vibrant red ochre of the mountains and plateaus in the dry season has been hidden under a carpet of green.
When we do have rain, the creeks and rivers rapidly fill and water again falls over escarpments. Too much rain, and the dirt roads turn to mud and all this beauty the wet sows becomes inaccessible (to us).
The hash beauty that we experienced in the dry season softens; frogs and lizards are in abundance and the distinctive boab, the symbol of the Kimberley, is lost under a wig of leaves and fruit.
And yet the abundance of nature in The Wet is not reflected with what we can purchase in the supermarket. In fact, the roads can become impassable and the shelves become empty …..no fresh food.Even the meat, dairy and bakery were depleted after the cyclone on the Pilbara Coast last week.
When we first moved into our Kununurra house , I thought that we had under floor heating and heated towel racks in the bathroom. This is the effect as the whole house heats up during the day. Very important to put the beer glasses in the freezer before use!
The early morning is often the best part of the day, we set the alarm at 5am so we can enjoy a couple of hours of relative cool on the veranda. During the day cooking and cleaning can be a challenge even with the aircon and fans on. I can recommend a bit of ‘windbaking’ after you’ve worked up a sweat. The kitchen bench is big enough to lay on and the aircon right above the bench cools you down. And because off all the sweating (I’m sure one of these days I’ll win the wet t-shirt comp in the gym) there’s a craving for salty things.
Often I wake up after a night’s sleep feeling as if someone has hit me on the head with a brick…..a lukewarm shower helps ( you never have to use the hot water in the shower). The highlight of the day is when there’s a good storm with lots of rain. The humidity drops and everything cools down. The storms are wild and the rain pelts down on the tin roof, coconuts and palm fronds fall from the trees and it is nearly impossible to hold a conversation.
Recently we had a fair amount of rain and changes were noticeable straight away. One day flowers are popping up, the boab trees, leafless all dry season, are getting leaves and suddenly there are millions of butterflies around (as well as mosquitos, but you can’t have it all!)
The constant heat means we can get a bit stir crazy having to stay inside, especially on the weekend. We have taken to jumping in the air conditioned car and go storm chasing. Huge cumulus clouds build up , thunder rumbles and lightening flashes and just when you are convinced the heavens will open, the storm passes on.
And there’s always beer to counteract the heat! Well actually Not always. Sometimes you can only buy low strength beer and no wine or spirits. Alcohol is regulated by the Kununurra police if there is a big event in the Aboriginal community about to occur. ….this is often a funeral. I was going to buy some drinks for Anthony’s birthday but to my surprise couldn’t buy any the whole week because there were two major funerals on. You could buy alcohol over the counter and the pub did good business that week.
I look forward to the big wet and to the next dry season when this hibernation is over and we can once again get out and explore more country and get back on to the water and have a drink with friends.
We often go to a place on the river to watch the spectacular Kimberley sunsets… and have a drink or three….
It was on the way home after one of these three drink nights that we had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting a crocodile crossing the road….. Can you believe it a crocodile crossing the road!
On a recent trip Charlie the Kookaburra wasn’t so lucky. After we collided, metal on feather, we were surprised that it was still alive. We took it home and nursed it and Charlie survived the night. The next day I took it to the Kimberley Wildlife Rescue but it was too injured to be saved. Such a beautiful bird.
We attract a lot of birds in the garden by putting out bowls of water…different types of finches; crimson and double barred and honey eaters. Sadly, the birds also attract feral cats. I’ve got a hose handy just in case. The other day I spotted a black cat on the front veranda and it didn’t move much so I managed to hit it full on , it ran through a drainage ditch and on to the road. And as fate had it, just at that very moment on the normally quiet road, a car was passing !
And since then we have discovered more stray cats snooping around and a litter of 5 kittens under the house. That ‘ll be another project.
Anyone wants some kittens?
Every night without fail the green frogs come and sit on top of the side gate. Who needs a dog when you’ve got guard frogs!
Landed in Kununurra and the East Kimberley 10 weeks ago……..some days it feels much, much longer than this. There is an intensity of experience here brought on by the extremes of nature; the heat…oh the heat!, the vastness of the land that spreads for thousands of unchartered kilometres in every direction….. and then there is the human! A town of 7000 or so inhabitants woven into a complex map of stories.. of indigenous families and those that were once outsiders, inter marriage and a long, long history of a culture that flourished, was attacked and has somehow survived. But that is an unfolding story and I am an outsider and after 10 weeks I know fragments……. interactions with colleagues at Wunan, the stories, the hearsay, the intrigue…
Perhaps as we pass through the ‘build- up’ period, experience the wet season and another dry season some more of these fragments will be revealed….
An isolated town where an airport makes it much easier for outsiders like ourselves to come and go and get involved for a while…. I remember Vince telling me before I departed for Kununurra that there are three types of people who come to stay…missionaries, madmen and misfits . I may be all three…
It is such a small community that your every move is noted as if under 24 hour security surveillance. ” I saw your car parked outside the pub last night” “I hear that Debbie was at your place for dinner on Saturday” blah blah blah
All but the most foolhardy tourists have departed. As the daytime temperatures reach into the 40s and the humidity builds, it is too difficult to have a life outdoors. In the early dry season the Saturday morning markets were a focus of social life. The 4 wheel drives of the travellers soon to head out on the road and Saturday morning shoppers congested the market car park and streets. Now there is but a trickle and many of the business in town that survive on the passing trade have closed until after the wet season.
WEEKENDS – My landscape muse
Now it is too hot for camping and going bush. Our weekends have been adventures as we headed out of town to explore national parks, stations and reserves. The natural world is magnificent and unique. The Kimberley’s themselves are incredible formations that tell stories of geological millennia in their weathered and titled formations. The colour constantly changing with the light and the season. The formations are of such a scale over such a vast area that I often feel but an insignificant (sweaty) dot in this landscape. The Gorges provide some coolness and are filled with birds seeking relief from the heat of the mountains and plains. There is still some water and taking a dip has been the reward at the end of a walk…mind the crocs!