The 2006 Legendary Outback Expeditions (LOE) took expeditioners into the Kimberley in Western Australia. Read all about the trip in the following article, written by Ron & Viv Moon, which appeared in 3 parts in the January, March and April issues of 4x4 Australia magazine.
The Remote Kimberley - Part I
Part 2 Part 3
Following the signs of the early explorers Ron and Viv Moon head into the remote Kimberley on two separate trips. But no two trips into the Kimberley are ever the same, even if they are planned to be that way!
In just the course of three weeks the track into the Mitchell Plateau had changed considerably. Now it was rougher especially where it crawled up the sudden steep ‘Jump up’ sections, while the swamps that had seen water still spilling across the road had dried dramatically. On our first trip we had ploughed through a couple of deep sections of muddy water and while the water level had dropped considerably for our second jaunt, ‘Doc’ in his well set up Troopy had miscalculated the depth of one crossing and hit it a little too hard. The result? A leaking radiator where the fan had touched the core, but luckily it wasn’t too bad and a couple of jars of Bar’s Leak and we were on our way again. Still, it shows that in these remote parts of the country a minor misdemeanour can cause serious problems.
Elephant Rock, Kununurra
Our parties of adventurers had left Kununurra on both our trips and had followed the beaten path that is the Gibb River Road westward. Like most of the early explorers that had headed west into the vastness of the Kimberley, including - Frederick Brockman in 1901 and John Morgan in 1954 – two of the explorers we were hoping to find evidence of – had crossed the Pentecost River like every modern traveller still does; at the rocky shallow crossing of the Pentecost River. The rivers impressive backdrop of the escarpment ringed Cockburn Range has become an iconic image of the Kimberley.
No tracks had preceded Brockman’s party and when John Morgan left Wyndham he followed the recently made and rough Karunjie Track, built by Kimberley pioneers, Scotty Salmon and Dave Russ, to access their isolated Karunjie Station. This rugged hand built track climbed the New York Jump-up not far from modern day Home Valley HS, but from Karunjie Station only horsepads went further west to Gibb River Station. John Morgan’s expedition changed all that but the Gibb River Road, as we modern travellers know it, really didn’t get pushed through until the early 1970’s and by-passes the infamous New York Jump-up. Nowadays, the route is more like a good dirt road than a rough track and is being improved each and every year. Even the route north to Kalumburu is pretty good with just the odd rough patch to keep you on your toes.
Having gained permission of the new managers of Ellenbrae Station we had taken our first group into the little visited Durack River Falls. Brockman had crossed this river on his return journey to Wyndham but a little to the north and never laid eyes on these impressive cascades. During our visit they were flowing – but only just and we decided not to revisit them on our second trip as a dried up waterfall is … well … just a cliff and not all that spectacular!
North of Drysdale River station, once again with permission of the land owners, we headed into a more remote section of the Drysdale River. This time our route was along the very track pushed through by John Morgan’s crew in 1954 and now long abandoned as the main route north from the homestead to Kalumburu. Their early efforts though made the crossing down the sheer banks of the Drysdale River much easier and while we also knew Morgan had placed a blazed survey post near here, we weren’t so lucky as to find it! Still, our camp on a long shady permanent waterhole of the river was a beauty and we enjoyed the cool waters immensely.
Crossing the mighty King Edward River on its rocky fast flowing crossing (as well as the routes of both Brockman and Morgan), we stopped to explore some of the fine examples of Aboriginal rock art in the nearby area. For most modern day travellers these are the easiest examples of Wandjina and Bradshaw art they will find in the Kimberley. And I’m pleased to say in the 30 years I’ve been visiting these sites there has been no vandalism of the areas, even though some of the art has deteriorated over time. Even the burial sites that can be found here with a bit of dedicated searching, have only been ravaged by time and nature. Let’s ensure they stay that way!
Once at the Mitchell Falls carpark we settled in for a couple of nights. You may be on the tourist track here but it’s a place not to be missed. With the falls still running after a mammoth and late wet (the falls often dry by late September) and a helicopter flight booked for everyone, we knew we were in for a special treat. And so it was!
The walk into the falls is well marked and takes a leisurely hour or so passing along the way Little Mertens Falls and Big Mertens Falls as well as detours to Aboriginal art sites. If you have read the recent and controversial book, Lost World of the Kimberley by Ian Wilson, you might want to take a walk into these sights as they are well represented in the book. Once at the top of the Mitchell Falls you can enjoy the view and the cool pools of water at the top and seek out the sparse and scattered shade nearby.
The chopper flight is a must, even if it is a short transport flight back to the camp ground. We had opted for a longer one taking in the main falls and then a flight down the river to the Lower Mitchell Falls before cutting back across country to the camping area.
Pics below: Left to Right: Merten Falls; swimming in the pools above Mitchell Falls; view of the Mitchell Falls from a chopper.
While our first trip had headed from the Mitchell Plateau to places further south and west (you’ll find out where and why next issue!) our second trip pushed on north and followed the main road to Kalumburu.
It had been two years since we had visited this remote settlement but a lot has changed since we were last there. The cyclone earlier in the year meant there were lots of drainage and road works being carried out, while the town also has a brand new and very impressive police station.The important things hadn’t changed though and we headed out to Honeymoon Bay to camp just above the beach using one of the old shelters as a communal dining area that also offered a pleasant view, with a light breeze during the heat of the day.
Talking to a couple of the locals the fishing had been a bit quiet, but they were still catching a good feed. We opted to head for the nearby point at low tide along some sandy tracks and within 15 minutes had collected enough oysters for a big feast. That’s the sort of place it is!
Kalumburu owes its existence to the Benedictine monks who established Pago in 1908. Bringing religion to the warlike people was just one of the challenges faced by these early pioneers who struggled on at their tiny settlement just a few hundred metres from what is now Mission Beach. Abandoned in 1936 in favour of the new site at what was to become Kalumburu, during WW2 the old Pago mission and the Kalumburu airstrip was used as a defence base, which caused both to be bombed by the Japanese in 1943.
Brockman had explored this area in 1901 passing the spot that was to become Kalumburu, but then he headed along the western side of Napier Broome Bay and missed the area that was to become Pago. Morgan on the other hand used Pago as his final and one of his most important survey points. I wanted to find that bench mark!
It was remarkably easy. A fire had swept through the normal thick grass that hides the Pago ruins to most visitors and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours exploring around here and down along the beach where the missionaries had first landed. The ruins of buildings and the remains of the all important wells could easily be seen, along with a small cemetery and abandoned simple machinery.
John Morgan’s bench mark was a small cement marker located at the end of a large cement slab that was once the floor of the main mission building and was engraved, ‘188M7738 – JM - 8 Aug 1954’. It was the 188-mile peg from the survey’s start at Gibb River homestead to Pago on the north coast. I was elated at finding this historic point but better was to come over the next two weeks!
Our time in this far-off and idyllic spot was all too short lived and we turned south for the challenging drive to Walcott Inlet where we’d again cross the path of Brockman and begin to come into contact with the other great Kimberley explorer, Frank Hann.
The youngest members of our group enjoy a game with one of the oldest members of our expedition.
John Morgan – The last explorer
Led by John Morgan the last great horse-mounted expedition to be sent out to explore and chart unknown country in Australia left Wyndham in the middle of April 1954. The party consisted of 23 men, some horses and donkeys, as well as a few trucks, 4x4 vehicles, a grader and a bulldozer.
The party was split into reconnaissance, survey, transport and constructions sections and their task was four fold. They were to not only explore and survey the area north of Gibb River and Karunjie stations (then the most northerly cattle stations in the Kimberley) to the coast at Kalumburu, they were to construct the first road access to the community, classify all the surrounding country for its suitability as pastoral land and to accurately fix key points observed from aerial photographs (flown by the RAAF in 1948) to allow for the accurate mapping of the region.
John Morgan and his small group in the recce section were mounted on horseback and were often well in front of the other sections blazing the way. The comprehensive report, can still to be found in the Battye Library of WA. The expedition didn’t return to Wyndham until late October of 1954.
John Morgan went on to lead other major survey expedition including ones into the Great Sandy Desert as part of the establishment of the Woomera Rocket Range. He became the Surveyor General of WA in 1968 and retired in 1984. He now lives happily with his wife, Kim, south of Perth.
To continue reading about the LOE 2006 adventure, go to LOE 2006 Part 2, and LOE 2006 Part 3
Kununurra can supply all a traveller needs. For more info, ph: (08) 9168 1177, or visit the Kununurra Visitor web site at: www.kununurratourism.com/en/default.htm
Drysdale River Station offers bush camping as well as pleasant camping at the homestead where you’ll find all mod cons including a well stocked bar. Ph: (08) 9161 4326, or www.drysdaleriver.com.au.
Much of the Mitchell Plateau, including the area around the Mitchell Falls, is now a national park. The ranger can be contacted, ph: (08) 9161 4172, or www.calm.wa.gov.au.
A helicopter is based here during the tourist season, ph: (08) 9161 4172. Check out the web site of Slingair/Heliwork at:
Kalumburu has a small store, the historic mission where you can camp and get fuel (the museum tour is a must). There are a couple of camping areas out of town close to the coast. You can get an access permit and a camping permit once in the community, ph: (08) 9161 4300. You can also contact the Dept of Indigenious Affairs of WA, web site: http://www.dia.wa.gov.au/en/Entry-Permits/
The best guide for the area is, The Kimberley - an Adventurer’s Guide, by Ron and Viv Moon. The best map is Hema Maps, The Kimberley.
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