The West Kimberleys

Derby to Kununurra

I cannot understand how it has taken me 72 years to visit the Kimberleys! The scenery here is simply awesome. If you haven’t been here, jump on a plane soon!

Winjana Gorge

Winjana Gorge

I rode to Derby (pronounced Derby, not Darby) from Broome where I pitched my tent under the most beautiful Boab Tree. Lovely as the tree is, it still didn’t help me sleep!

There was a white peacock wandering around the camp site making a nuisance of himself!



The camp sites are full of “Grey Nomads” and by 7.30pm you could hear a pin drop…. it’s deathly quiet as they have all gone to bed!

I did the sites of Derby…there aren’t many but its a clean well kept little town.

There is a very long pier as the tides are huge. There is a 1000 year old Boab tree called the Prison Boab. This wonderful old tree was used as a holding spot for Aboriginal prisoners who were marched from as far away as Fitzroy Crossing some 250 kilometres away. They were marched in chains.

Prison Boab where Aboriginals were held

Prison Boab where Aboriginals were hel bu

From Derby I visited Cape Leveque on the Dampier Peninsula, then I visited Winjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek (just off the Gibb River Road) then I took a flight to the Horizontal Falls.

On the way to Kununurra ar Turtle Creek I took a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungles

I’ve been very busy!

Cape Leveque

The road to Cape Leveque is a shocker but luckily I had left Azulo in the camp site and was on a day trip in a big bus!


First we stopped at Beagle Bay. There was a Mission here that was started by the French Trappist Monks in the 1880’s. They lasted 10 years and the Mission was taken over by German Pallotine Fathers. They were joined by Irish St John of God Sisters.

The Monks built this impressive Church in 1918. Totally out of place here…



The mission “educated” the half caste children who were removed from their mothers.  They are now known as the “stolen generation”

The Sisters apparently gave the children loving care and genuinely believed they were helping them to a better life. There is a documentary with some of the children of the “stolen generation” who grew up at the Beagle Bay Mission talking about their lives on the Mission.

They say it was a happy place to grow up in and the whole place was one big family…but THEY were NOT the children removed from their parents; they were the second generation and were there with their mothers and fathers….. It is all is so misguided and wrong to our 21 century attitudes isn’t it?

Next we visited the Cygnet Bay Pearl farm. There are only three farms left now in Australia. In 2004 there were 17 but there has been a collapse in the industry after the recent financial crisis. Mind you….the pearls still cost s fortune. Japan had the monopoly in cultured pearl production until WW2.

There was an Aboriginal artist, Bruce Wiggin carving Mother of Pearl shells into beautiful pendants. He is a senior Bardi man from the coastal Kimberley community of One Arm Point. He is a renowned carver and has works in many collections including the collection of Mr Kerry Stokes. Take a look at this!

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These cliffs in the photo below, at Cape Leveque, were used by Qantas for their famous TV advert which featured the Australian Childrens Choir. I must be a grumpy old man but it strikes me as a huge waste of shareholders money (even for Qantas) to fly a large choir up to this remote spot just for a TV ad! Surely they could find other suitable cliffs much nearer at a fraction of the cost!…It was a great ad though!


Ok, you’re right. I AM a grumpy old man!….but  now I’ve got that off my chest!

My next trip was to Winjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek which is nearby.

Again the photos fail to capture the magnificence and feel of these amazing places. They are all sacred to the Aborigines and you can understand why.

Have you heard of Jandimarra or Pigeon (his nickname)….?

He was the Aboriginal equivalent of Ned Kelly. It’s a sad story and it all started in Winjana Gorge and ended at Tunnel Creek ….Here are some photos first….

Winjana Gorge

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Tunnel Creek

As the name implies Tunnel Creek is an underground river. You need a torch as there is no lighting in the caves and also you have to clamber over rocks and through water. It’s quite a walk.

Inside the caves there are Aboriginal paintings thousands of years old high up in the cliffs. How they got up there to paint these images is a mystery to me and also to our Aboriginal guide. The Aboriginal painting was near the roof of the cave. The photo was taken on maximum zoom.


Briefly, here is the story of Jandamarra.

In the 1880’s the first pastoralists arrived into the West Kimberleys bringing first their sheep and later cattle. Soon the land was all divided up into Sheep Stations. The white settlers had no regard for the Aboriginal land which to the Aborigines was sacred.

Also, the Aborigines soon got a taste for roast lamb and started spearing the sheep…… In 1889 some 4000 sheep were speared which was not appreciated at all by the farmers!

It was a recipe for conflict.

Jandamarra was brought up on a Station and became an excellent horseman, marksman and spoke good English but he returned to his Banuba tribe and himself became a sheep spearer. He was soon caught and sent to Derby but because he was an English speaker and a capable horseman he was enlisted into the Police force. He obviously thought being a policeman was better than being in jail.

He was assigned to the Police Station at Lillimooloora near Winjana Gorge …don’t you love the name?

Anyway, the problem started when a group of Aboriginals were arrested and brought to Lillimooloora. These turned out to be Jandamarra’s blood brothers and his own Banuba people….. He couldn’t put up with this so he shot and killed the Police Captain, Bill Richardson, and released the prisoners and escaped with them to Winjana Gorge.

Ruins of Lillimooloora Police station where Jandamarra shot Bill Richardson and released the prisoners

Ruins of Lillimooloora Police station where Jandamarra shot Bill Richardson and released the prisoners

It all got worse when a cattle drive entered Winjana Gorge. Jandamarra and his gang killed the stockmen and drove off the cattle. This led to the Battle of Winjana Gorge where Jandamarrs gang had a gunfight with 30 or so police. Jandamarra was injured but escaped to Tunnel Creek which became his hideaway.

Over the next three years Jandamarra and his gang created mayhem and attacked some of the stations and generally played hide and seek with the police.

Eventually it all ended when Jandamarra was shot and killed near Tunnel Creek.

I haven’t done justice to this story at all. It’s worth reading about. I believe there is a movie being made of Jandamarra’s life by his tribe, the Bunuba people.

Horizontal Falls

On a much lighter note my next trip was a flight to the Horizontal Falls where i had a boat ride through the falls and a helicopter flight over them. They are spectacular.



Horizontal Falls from the air

Horizontal Falls from the air


Essentially the Horizontal Falls are two gaps in the cliffs between waterways. There is a big tide and water builds up on one side as the tide goes in or out creating a waterfall effect. The height difference is up to 5 metres.

Tourists clamber into a big speed boat and zoom through the gap. It’s good fun.

In addition to the falls we went on a lovely boat trip around the area and witnessed the feeding of the sharks. They have a cage where you can swim next to the sharks and watch them eye to eye. i accidentally touched one of the sharks through the grill but luckily it wasn’t it’s mouth!



.The road to Kununurra


It’s about 900 k from Derby to Kununurra via Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.

I stopped in Turtle Creek (Warnum is the new name) at a roadhouse. I was parched and looking forward to a drink….shock horror it is a DRY area and so water and orange juice had to suffice!

I took a flight over the Bungle Bungles which was great but I think it would have been better to also visit by road. The problem is that its a four wheel track and Azulo loaded up doesn’t like these roads at all!

I think seeing the Bungles from the ground and well as the air would give more perspective.


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Bungle Bungles

Bungle Bungles

I then headed to Kununurra where i decided i had done enough camping for awhile and booked into a motel for three nights!

Thanks again for your comments. They are company for me and it makes it worthwhile doing the blog if i know you are along for the ride!

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