The north of the state of Western Australia is remote, wild and wonderful, one of the most isolated in Australia. The Kimberley region in particular is one of rivers, gorges, many caves with Aboriginal paintings and a coast that is largely inaccessible. Both Abel Tasman and William Dampier sailed past this coast in the 17th Century and both thought this continent didn't have much to offer! This is absolute adventure country. It is possible to sample part of it following the Gibb River Road, about 670 kilometres that was originally carved in this remote landscape to transport stock to the ports of Wyndham and Derby from the cattle stations that were established in this region after an overland trek by the intrepid Durack Brothers in the 1880s. By the way, this is now a bitumen highway; the photos were taken in 1977!
Following this Gibb River Road in the Kimberley brings many rewards. Travelling from west to east there is Windjana Gorge; this was the scene of the gun battle in which Jandamarra, a Bunuba leader who was known to the whites as "Pigeon", released a group of Aboriginal prisoners and shot a trooper while employed as a tracker. He became a leader of his people in the struggle against the white invading pastoralists in which the Aborigines engaged in guerilla warfare in this rugged limestone country until he was shot: by an Aboriginal police tracker.
Nowadays it is peaceful of course; the Leopold Ranges have wonderful scenery, clear waterholes and wide vistas; there are galleries near Mount Barnett and Manning Gorge with rock paintings from the Aboriginal people who lived here for millennia and the typical boab or bottle trees, close relatives of the baobab trees of Africa and Madagascar; it is thought baobab fruit may have floated to the Western Australian coast from Madagascar 75 million years ago. One of those, a squat, hollow boab tree near Derby, was used as a place to lock up Aboriginal prisoners in the old, darker days. Derby was established in 1885 to serve as a port to serve the newly established cattle stations, although its large tidal range and treacherous rips made it far from ideal. It ceased to be a cattle port in 1968 when it became just too difficult; the port saw its last commercial vessel in 1983. It is now a town of around 3,000 people. Located on King Sound, Derby has the highest tides in Australia, with the peak differential between low and high tide reaching almost 12 metres.
At the other end of the road is Wyndham, established in the late 1880s when about 5000 men landed here to work the gold fields near Halls Creek; this didn't last long, however; in 1919 meat works were opened here which gave the town a bit of a boost. Today its port exports live cattle to the Asian market. Further on, towards Kununurra, is "The Grotto", a natural depression with lush vegetation around its permanent waterhole, The strangely shaped boab trees are typical of northern Western Australia; its grotesque bottle shape and spindly branches give the impression it is stuck upside-down in the ground, which is in fact a legend in Aboriginal tradition. These trees store water in their trunk; the hard fruits are sometimes carved by Aboriginal people.
The remote north eastern corner of the State of Western Australia boasts Lake Argyle, an artificial lake created for the Ord Development River Scheme, an agricultural project that seems to have paid off. The town of Kununurra, the centre of this scheme, was founded in 1963 for this purpose, 100 kilometres from Wyndham. The farmers who use the waters of Lake Argyle, grow maize, peanuts, sorghum and sunflowers. Cotton was tried, but was not successful. Also fruit is grown, especially melons that are exported to South East Asia. Apart from the lake, the region has tourist potential as well, with just to the north of Kununurra Mirima National Park; also known as Hidden Valley, it used to be an important meeting place for the local Aboriginal people, with its permanent water. There are galleries of rock art here and nice walking trails in the sandstone gorges.