THE KIMBERLEY 2018

A road journey from BROOME, WA to DARWIN, NT

MAY 31 - JUNE 13, 2018

'I found myself drawn to the remote Kimberley region of Australia -

in the far Northwest corner of the country -

our last frontier'

-Brendan Fletcher-

In June, 2018, we travelled to Broome, Western Australia to attend a wedding. It is the 'dry season' in the top end, so our days were delightfully warm, which was a nice break from the Melbourne winter. Not wanting to see an opportunity pass us by, we decided to extend our trip by driving to Darwin on the National Highway. The road trip was an amazing experience. The scenery was spectacular as we drove from the west coast to the north coast. We saw millions of baobab trees and termite mounds, red rocks, huge lakes, crocodiles, and the mystical Katherine Gorge before arriving in Darwin. We also took a day drip from Darwin to visit the Litchfield National Park. Of course, no road trip is quite long enough, and a few more days in Kununurra and Katherine would have been good. 

DAY ONE: BROOME 

THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2018

Highlights: a funeral and a sunset

Total distance: 0 kms

Accommodation: Bayside Holiday Apartments, Cnr Hammersley & Anne Streets, Broome WA 6725

We had arrived in Broome yesterday ahead of a wedding to be held tomorrow night. This is our first visit to Broome, and my first visit to Western Australia, so I'm looking forward to exploring this northwestern region.

The coastline is amazing; our evening visit to Gantheaume Point, a promontory about six kilometres from the town, reveals outcrops of ancient red Broome sandstone. Deposited in shallow water about 130 million years ago, the sandstone exposes footprints of dinosaurs and plant fossils for those with the time to explore this raw landscape. Although it is very low tide when we arrive at the point, we don't see footprints, but we see many tiny creatures in rock pools.  Intricate patterns made up of tiny balls created by sand bubbler crabs extend across the wet, firm sand. When the high tide comes in, the patterns disappear and the whole process starts again. As the sun descends beyond the horizon, the colours of the clouds; grey upon a bright orange sky provide a display so breathtakingly beautiful that I cannot believe that perhaps I've never witnessed a true glorious sunset. 

We are trying to see as much of the coastal town of Broome as possible over the next few days. The June wedding of a friend's son in northern Western Australia, provides the perfect diversion from the cold Melbourne winter, and we enjoy feeling the warmth of the sun on our skin for the first time in months. Our hotel is probably about a kilometre from the town centre and the walk into the main shopping area gives us the chance to look familiarise ourselves with the town's layout. 

Broome has a long pearling history, starting in the 1880s, when mother-of-pearl was harvested primarily for making buttons and other fashion notions. During this period, indigenous women, Japanese, and Pacific Islanders had been indentured for pearl diving. Today, the industry is tightly controlled and pearls as well as tourism are the two industries that provide Broome's income. 

Sand dunes overlooking the bubbling mudflats entice us to walk to the peaks of the shifting sands for a better view. At low tide, the flats provide one of the best tourist attractions Broome can offer. The view over the mangroves and the Indian Ocean beyond is magnificent on this bright, sunny morning.

 

It's a perfect place for removing shoes and wiggling toes into the hot sand. But unfortunately we cannot. There is a huge amount of broken glass on top of and most likely buried beneath the sand. It's scattered with shells, stones, and driftwood and posing a threat to our feet. This should be a pristine area, because the views are magnificent. I feel disappointed that something as simple as litter can spoil the beauty of this place as we return to the footpath and resume our walk into town. 

The Pearl Luggers museum is a fascinating insight into the history of the pearl industry in Broome. We take a tour through the pages of history as our guide describes life during the era of human pearl divers. The fully-restored lugger inside the museum grounds provides an actual-sized view of the boats used in the industry. Tom tries on a diving helmet as the process of diving for the pearls is described, and comments on how heavy it is. We spend a short time inside the Willie Creek pearl store, oohing and ahhing over the magnificent specimens on show.

 

After lunch, we enter a recently-constructed gateway built of Broome sandstone.  Stones in neat straight lines stand like sentinels, facing west; facing the ocean. A plaque, set in the local sandstone, tells of the history of the final resting place of Broome’s Japanese community, who had arrived in Broome in the late 19th century to work as pearl divers. Along with Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, and Aboriginal people, Broome had a diverse ethnic population, but it was the Japanese who are best known for diving into the depths of the ocean to collect the oyster shells for the early pearlers. Diving was fraught with perils; sharks, stingrays, and swordfish, which could easily pierce the breathing hoses connecting the diver to his trusted assistant on the boat above. The main cause of death among the divers, however, was paralysis or the bends, caused by rising from deep water too quickly. The first interment in this cemetery had been in 1896 and there are now 707 graves in which 919 people are buried.  I walk between the natural stones, all of which bear Japanese script. Some of the older graves are weathered, their stones tilted and the characters barely discernible, whilst others are missing altogether. There are a number of newer, black granite markers, which seem to be a little out of place here in this quietly reverent place. Beneath my feet, white pebbles mixed with shells from the beach beyond the scrubby vegetation, crunch beneath my feet. Loud squawks disturb the  quiet-reverence of the cemetery as a cloud of white cockatoos rise from a nearby gum tree. A sandstone obelisk bears the names of those lost during the cyclone of 1908. Despite the sad reality that many of these itinerant workers had been unable to return to Japan, the western outlook of the graves forever face the direction of their homeland. I hope that their descendants understand that the bravery of these workers is very much intertwined with the history of Western Australia and its pearling industry. 

Beyond the Japanese cemetery, a narrow path leads to the Broome general cemetery. Here, in Christian tradition, the graves are facing an easterly direction. In other words the headstones of the two sections are facing away from each other.

Up ahead, there is a crowd of people gathered in a small fenced-off section of the cemetery; the final resting place of the Sisters of Saint John of God. The Sisters of Saint John of God first arrived in Perth in 1895. They had set up a convent in Perth before setting up schools in the Kimberley, most notably at the Beagle Bay Mission, the Lombadina Mission, and the Wirrumanu (Balgo Hills) Mission, amongst others. The nuns are, without a doubt, some of the most respected missionaries in this region. 

A funeral is just about to begin. People are gathered around the freshly-dug grave as the Bishop and his young seminarian arrive. The brief graveside ceremony for Sister Veronica McCarthy concludes as her coffin is gently lowered into the ground. I expect the usual prayers and blessing before everyone departs, so I'm both surprised and intrigued at what happens next. A queue is formed and one by one, the attendees take a handful of the rich, dark-red soil from the adjacent pile and drop the earth into the grave. As the last person brushes their red-stained hands over the grave, an old lady starts to recite the first decade of the rosary. Men step forward, each picking up a spade, and begin to shovel the soil from the huge pile into the grave. At first I think this was a symbolic gesture, but it quickly becomes apparent that the men will continue to shovel, in tag teams, until the grave is filled and the earth replaced. Whilst the men work, the droning of the rosary continues in the background. After about twenty minutes and as the last spadefuls of red earth are flung onto the mound and to the strains of Hail Queen of Heav'n, the ladies move forward, reverently tamping down the mound with their bare hands. Handprints are stamped firmly into the soil before the children move forward with plastic flowers, which are poked into the grave as the Bishop recites the final prayer. Goosebumps rise from my skin as I witness one of the most beautiful and poignant burials in my experience. Here is an example of the love and respect offered a member of the Broome community; the last gesture they generously give to a beloved person. I later ask whether this type of ceremony is restricted to members of the church, but I'm assured that all burials are carried out in this manner. I look back at the brightly-decorated grave and feel privileged to have witnessed such a beautiful ceremony.

The sun is starting to descend as we leave the cemetery, so we decide to visit the famous Cable Beach to view the sunset. We arrive too late to see the camels take their evening walk along the beach, but from our vantage point in the dunes, we feel very much part of the landscape as the sun slips silently below the horizon. We all know that the sun sets in the west, but now that we are here in Western Australia, we can fully appreciate the daily display by the sun. 

There is another utterly magnificent natural phenomenon, which I will describe tomorrow, and which is unique to Broome.

DAY TWO: BROOME 

FRIDAY, JUNE 01, 2018

Highlights: A wedding and a staircase to the moon

Total distance: 0 kms

Accommodation: Bayside Holiday Apartments, Cnr Hammersley & Anne Streets, Broome WA 6725

Why has it taken us so long to visit Broome? This is the perfect break from the Melbourne winter and unfortunately we have a limited time here due to other commitments. It's also a perfect day for a wedding. 

Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral is probably the most understated cathedral we've ever visited. There's not a huge amount of information about this iconic church, but the current building, designed by Perth architect Stan Costello in 1963, replaced the much smaller timber church built in 1899. The standout feature of the church, apart from its unusual belltower, is the magnificent pearl inlay work on the altar.

We're surprised to see the Bishop and the same assistant that we had seen yesterday at the cemetery today, but I find out later that despite this diocese covering 773,000 square kilometres, these are the only two clergy members in town, so it's not unexpected that they would oversee a funeral one day and a wedding the next.

The reception, held at the magnificent Mangrove Hotel, which overlooks Roebuck Bay, had been selected for its unhindered view of the Staircase to the Moon display, which is caused by a full moon rising over the exposed mudflats of Roebuck Bay at extremely low tides, creating a beautiful optical illusion of a staircase reaching to the moon. It occurs March to October for three nights every month. Apparently June 1, provides the best view of this natural display, which is why the wedding reception is held outdoors in this iconic hotel.

As the moon peeps out from the horizon, the plaintive sounds of a lone didgeridoo player reduce the hum of human voices to whispers as they turn to the bumpy mudflats. The moon rises slowly and silently, it's orange light reflected on the shiny mud, where the tide recently receded. If we had been closer to the mudflats, I'm sure we would be able to hear the sucking and plopping noises of the tiny creatures that live in this habitat. But from where we are, standing by the hotel fenceline, we could not ask for a better view. The sand dunes that we climbed yesterday may give a better view due to the slightly-elevated position. I'm not disappointed, though. The didgeridoo's sounds die away as the moon creeps up to a point where it's reflection disappears and the brief show is over for the night. It would be a shame to visit Broome and not coincide the visit with this magnificent display.

Tomorrow is our last day in Broome and we must visit the last of the attractions, like Chinatown and the Sun picture theatre before we being on our road trip to Darwin. 

DAY FOUR: BROOME TO FITZROY CROSSING  

SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018

Highlights: 

Total distance: 396 kms

Accommodation: Fitzroy River Lodge, Fitzroy Crossing, WA

Yesterday's low-key day had been deliberate, as our road trip to Darwin will see us driving through some of the most remote terrain in Australia. With towns located approximately a 'tank of petrol' apart, it is better to be on the road early, so that we have the luxury of being able to stop for photos whenever we see something interesting.

However, the sun is starting to descend by the time we leave Broome.

A mix-up with our hire car. 

A monumental stuff-up finds us car-less, despite having booked it some months ago. The weird thing about the whole situation is the apparent disappearance of the manager of Europcar, who had left a car-washer, a maintenance person, in charge of the booth. Heads will roll later, but first we must get moving as we have about four hours to drive before we arrive at our first stop, and I want to arrive before dusk. 

Not long after leaving the town, it becomes apparent that wide-open-spaces mean just that here, and there is a long distance between towns in this region. We must be vigilant with refuelling the car and ensuring we have plenty of water. We are not in Victoria or New South Wales, with relatively short distances between towns. Fortunately we had already planned on using the Great Northern Highway for this roadtrip, so the 2WD we ended up with after hours of wrangling with the car-washer at Europcar, will be adequate for the trip. We realise later that this mixup may work to our advantage as we have no time for side exploration on this trip. Our tight timetable is going to come back and bite is later, I'm sure.

Broome quickly gives way to scrubby vegetation and the red Kimberley sand extends to the horizon in front of us. Before long, we see anthills; small skinny spires, fat wrinkly ones that look like large Buddhas sitting in quiet contemplation, and everything in between. Jokers have personified some, dressing them in t-shirts and other human garments. There are literally millions of them, and they are the ones that are visible. Goodness knows how many are beyond what my eye can see. 

Termites live in communities, comprising kings, queens, workers, and soldiers. They spend their entire lives building these hard-crusted palaces from the soil, their saliva and excreta. The colours range from red to brown, depending on the colour of the soil surrounding them. I notice that many of the mounds are built at the base of trees. Perhaps this is done to provide shade during the hottest parts of the day. The outer crust is as hard as concrete.

Despite the sparse vegetation, the boab tree grows through the Kimberley region of Western Australia to Northern Territory. It grows in other parts of Australia, but I would be hard-pressed to find a place where so many of them are found in one place. The bulbous trunks of the trees store water, which sustains them during long dry periods. Obviously, despite being quite arid out here, there must have been enough rainfall as most of these trees are fat, although this is the dry season. Although baobabs are found in Africa, the adansonia gregorii variety is only found in Australia. Due to our late departure from Broome, we are unable to detour to Derby, where a huge and hollow boab tree had reputably been used as a prison. The boabs are deciduous, and whilst many surrounding me are leafless, I am able to see that gourd-shaped fruit are still attached to some leaves. Local aborigines use parts of the tree for food, water, and for medicinal purposes. Even the gourds have been used as water carriers; their watertight properties provide perfect vessels for carrying water. Some of these trees are so huge and knobbly, they may be over 1,000 years old, although I'm disappointed to see that many have been vandalised - even this far away from the nearest town. Like tattoos, names and crude drawings scratched into their trunks never disappear.

We are travelling in an easterly direction as the sun sets behind us. I have to stop to take a photo of the ​silhouette of the boab tree in front of the orange and purple sky. We arrive in Fitzroy Crossing in the dark, so we have no time for exploring the township today.

DAY FIVE: FITZROY CROSSING TO HALLS CREEK

MONDAY, JUNE 4, 2018

Highlights: 

Total distance: 290 kilometres

Accommodation: Halls Creek Motel , 198 Great Northern Hwy, Halls Creek WA 6770

Today's journey is a reasonable 290 kilometres and could easily be covered in three hours. We choose to start out a little later, because although it's warm enough, it's not too hot to travel during the middle of the day. 

The kangaroos lie lazily on the grass below the boab trees on the grassy area of the Fitzroy River Lodge, where we had stayed last night. We take a walk along the main road, back to the bridge, under which the Fitzroy River flows. The river bed is a little sandy, but I think we are still fairly close to the coastline and perhaps there is enough water here.

As we leave the township behind us, the boabs disappear and the landscape changes radically. The flat, red savannah-style grasslands are left behind as we head east towards the Great Sandy Desert. Before long, red monoliths appear in the distance. Tectonic movement is evident in the wave-like formation of these huge hills, while intermittent rocky outcrops of almost-black granite hoodoos show the ravages of wind in their deep crevices.

Tussocks of spinifex and grasses form the general vegetation species of the region, whilst the occasional copse of short-growing eucalyptus trees indicate that water is not too far beneath the surface. Some of these trees are in magnificent bloom.

Winter, or the dry season, coincides with the annual back-burn, which is done by dropping incendiary devices into selected areas from the air. One such burn has been done recently, and despite the denuding of vegetation from the small targetted area, we know that the Australian native flora regenerates quickly and that the burning is necessary for the dispersion and germination of seeds, which are encased in pods so hard that only fire can penetrate their outer shell.

We decide to detour to the Mimbi Caves for a look, but when the compacted gibber road is replaced by a red sandy track, we reluctantly turn back as our hired 2WD vehicle is not equipped for these roads. With a curse expelled into the direction of Europcar, we find a shady spot under one of the sparse trees and eat our lunch surrounded by the wonders of our natural setting. Now out of the car, with warmth from the day's sun soaking into our skin, I become aware of the tiny sounds of buzzing insects, whilst the calling of unknown birds are heard from a distance. Immersing ourselves in the sounds and smells of the natural environment provide an extra element to the magnificent scenery that surrounds us.

When you are standing, insignificantly, in the largeness of the landscape, it's easy to miss the myriad of colour and variety of the tiny native plants that thrive in the cracks of the gibber. Little soil here, tiny flowering plants struggle to bloom in this harsh, dry environment. The profusion and colour varieties is probably a result of recent rains. The gibber surface allows water to filter through to the layer beneath, providing life to seeds that have fallen through the cracks. Today, I concentrate on those small plants, which have adapted to this environment, yet providing the same level of beauty of any cultivated plant in a garden. 

We've taken our time today, stopping often and marvelling at the wide open spaces of this starkly beautiful landscape, whilst at the same time celebrating the tiny and colourful elements that make this region unique. The time we spend exploring is precious. It takes us twice as long to cover the distance to Hall's Creek, but nobody is complaining, especially me. 

DAY SIX: HALLS CREEK TO KUNUNURRA

TUESDAY, JUNE 5, 2018

Highlights: 

Total distance: 379 kilometres

Accommodation: Discovery Parks Kununurra - Lakeview Dr, Kununurra WA 6743

We are advised not to leave the main road with the car we have, so there is a level of disappointment as we join the main highway which will carry us in a north-easterly direction for the next four hours or so. I had planned on taking a detour to the Bungle Bungle National Park, but again, once we turn off the highway, the road is compacted sand and our 2WD is not suitable for the journey. I'm frustrated as it would be nice to be able to approach the National Park without these obstacles and I ponder upon the differences between the excellently appointed National Parks in the United States of America and ours. Australia-wide, we have too many so-called National Parks, which means that funding for parks, such as that of the Bungle-Bungles or Purnululu, is stretched very thin and unfortunately good road access is not a priority.

It takes only a few minutes to realise that we are driving into a geologist's idea of heaven. We are now surrounded by a ring of rocky mountains, which reminds me of my travels through Utah and Colorado last year. The rocks are almost the same colour and again, I marvel at the way in which the elements have carved the rocks into unique natural sculptures.

We see the return of the boabs and the anthills today; the rocky gibber surface obviously providing more nutrients than in the southwestern region of yesterday.

We also see fauna; in the form of a family of brumbies sheltering beneath the shade of boabs, which have sprouted in the dry March Fly Creek bed. Quietly sneaking up for photos, I'm surprised to see that they are unperturbed about the subtle human intrusion as I snap them from a distance. 

Today's journey is a joy. The road is good, the weather warm but not too hot, and the brilliant blue sky provides us with perfect travelling conditions. So far, this journey has provided us with far more than we had expected.

We arrive in the larger centre of Kununurra in the late afternoon, and after making arrangements to take two tours tomorrow, we retire to our cabin by the lake and enjoy the purple and yellow skies of a Western Australian sunset over the lake.

DAY SEVEN: KUNUNURRA

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 2018

Highlights: Bungle-Bungles by air, Lake Argyle

Total distance: 

Accommodation: Discovery Parks Kununurra - Lakeview Dr, Kununurra WA 6743

Tours:

Click here to read about our Bungle Bungles tour by air.

Click here to read about our Lake Kununurra tour by boat

At just forty-five kilometres from the Northern Territory border, the township of Kununurra had been built as a service centre for those working on the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.

The Ord River is one of the fastest-flowing rivers in Australia during the wet season, yet it is reduced to a series of waterholes during the dry season. The idea to control the flow of the water to sustain the large cattle stations already established in the region and to perhaps set up fruit and vegetable farms in the north had been the catalyst for the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. By developing a dam on the Ord River, they could capture much of the 2500 gigalitres of water that flows into the ocean each day during the wet season. A grant from the Commonwealth Government had been granted in 1959 and today, the Ord River Irrigation Scheme is the end result of a bold plan to transform part of the nation's tropical north into an intensely irrigated and rich agricultural region.

As part of the scheme, the Kununurra Diversion Dam was completed during the 1962/63 wet season and the Ord River Dam was completed in 1967, making it the largest-capacity dam in Australia. The flow from both dams is regulated to maintain a stable level in the beautiful man-made Lake Kununurra, which is located just a few steps from our cabin. It is an amazing feat to, over the past sixty years, not only harness the water, but to turn a semi-arid region into a fertile and productive agricultural region. During the wet season, an enormous amount of water still flows to the ocean and this is the subject of many discussions about ways in which water can be diverted by pipeline to other areas.

Pilot farms, established on the now-fertile plains, have been created. Some have been successful, whilst others not so. The region has become a successful cotton-growing area after initial ventures had flopped. Fruit and vegetable crops are the mainstay, with produce trucked across the country to all capital cities. 

I have learnt from past experiences that when you have the opportunity to view something from the air, it is always worth taking it. I simply don't understand people who refuse to take a flight on the basis that they are frightened, then whinge because they have missed an opportunity. I know it's expensive to take a joy flight, but I'd rather skimp on other attractions than regret it later. We all have to to draw on hidden strengths to squash any fears in order to view something special from a totally different perspective. But that's just me! It's almost impossible to describe that sense of awe that I feel when a plane I'm sitting in emerges from a bank of clouds and reveals the peak of North America's highest mountain, Mount Denali, or the perfectly-formed geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines, or the Autumn colours of the sparse vegetation of the Grand Canyon. These experiences live with you forever.

As we rise above terra firma on this clear, cloudless day, we see farms below, a patchwork of shades of green interspersed with the blue water of the dams in an otherwise brown, but beautifully textured landscape.I am very surprised to see how green the countryside is below. We see the famous Argyle diamond mine far below us before reach the objective of our flight this morning, the Bungle Bungles or the Purnululu National Park

The Bungle Bungle Range was formed about 360 million years ago by sand and gravel being deposited by the rivers in the northeast and together with winds from the southeast, compacted together to form sandstone. Layer upon layer of sandstone followed by a period of uplifting and tilting, the towering beehive domes, which we are viewing from the air today, are the remnants of what was once a flat surface 600 metres above sea level. The spectacular 'tiger-striped' bands represent individual sandstone layers; the blackish hue contains a type of algae, whilst the orange bands contain orange-oxide, These coloured stripes form a protective coating over the sandstone, impeding further erosion by water and wind. The resulting view is nothing short of spectacular. Our flight is over but before we land, our pilot points out Lake Kununurra, on which we will be sailing later today. Click the button to read about the The Bungle Bungles.

This morning's flight leaves us breathless. The sheer expanse of the land and the contrasting beauty of the landscape has provided us with a completely different view of the land we covered by road yesterday. I feel that our stay in Kununurra is rushed and we're trying to fit too much into the day. However, this afternoon's trip by boat in Lake Kununurra provides an opportunity for us to bask and immerse ourselves in the sounds and smells of the beautiful lake. Did I say bask? I even doze for a few minutes.

Despite being told that the only crocodiles that live in Lake Kununurra are freshwater ones, I am wary. I'm not a great believer in the benign nature of man-eating creatures. Except that even I can see that there is enough food for a crocodile without them resorting to eating human flesh.

Excellent wetlands provide a haven for birds and fish, such as barramundi, which is a favourite for anglers. There is not, I believe, a more relaxing way to spend an afternoon than drifting by boat along beautiful surroundings in the bright sunshine. Today is exceptionally wonderful. Click the button below to read about our boat trip along Lake Kununurra.

DAY EIGHT: KUNUNURRA - KATHERINE

THURSDAY, JUNE 7, 2018

Highlights: Ivanhoe Crossing, Durack Homestead, Lake Argyle

Total distance: 535 kms

Accommodation: Knotts Crossing Resort, Cnr Giles & Cameron Streets, Katherine NT 0851

Checking out of our cabin this morning, we head straight to Ivanhoe Crossing; a concrete causeway built over the Ord River and that was originally part of the main road through to Wyndham. Since the Ord River Irrigation Scheme was built, the river flows all year round. During the wet season, the road is impassable, but today, we are able to watch as cars take the crossing slowly through the water. Warning signs advise that estuarine crocodiles inhabit the area, so we are very wary of our surroundings as we gingerly get out of the car for a closer look.

Today's journey will take more than five hours to drive, but we have a couple of places we need to visit before we refuel the car and take the road to Katherine.

Back in 1975 at my Brisbane boarding school, we had been most excited to welcome a visitor for an entire weekend. A relative of one of the students, author of Kings in Grass Castles amongst other Australian classics, Mary Durack had made herself available to all of us. Just a couple of years before being honoured with a Damehood, Ms Durack was not only a surprisingly friendly woman, but one who genuinely wanted to share her knowledge and her family history with a group of girls, themselves a long way from home. Kings in Grass Castles is the story of Mary Durack's grandfather, Patrick, who migrated to Australia from County Clare in Ireland in 1853 with his parents and siblings. Ambitious and relishing in a large, mostly uninhabited country, Patrick made a lot of money from driving cattle through the centre of Queensland. Durack and his brother Michael trekked across the north of the continent from Thylungra in Queensland. They left in 1879 with 7250 breeding cattle and 200 horses, heading for the Kimberley region of Western Australia near Kununurra, arriving in 1882. The 4,800-kilometre journey of cattle to stock Argyle Downs and Ivanhoe Station is the longest of its type ever recorded. 

As we approach the Durack homestead near Kununurra, my school-time experience meeting Ms Durack suddenly becomes a very significant memory. As I recall the special meeting and snippets of our discussions with Ms Durack about the book, which we had dutifully read as part of the prescribed texts for school, the main details of the story fall into place as we step into the homestead, which is now a museum.

The homestead wasn't always in this location; it had been moved here in the 1970s after Lake Argyle was created as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. I am glad that this piece of Australia's history has been preserved so meticulously. Before we leave the property, we visit the small family cemetery, where the family's graves and memorial plaques are placed. I'm surprised to see Mary Duack's grave included, but somehow it appears to be appropriate.

Before we leave Kununurra, we drive to Lake Argyle and walk along the spillway, admiring the views and wondering where, under that huge expanse of water, the original Durack homestead was actually located.

It's time to leave Kununurra and face the five-hour journey to Katherine.

We arrive well after dark and are happy to know that the restaurant is still open, should we want to eat there. We decide to walk over and are surprised to see members of the press, including channel 7 reporters rushing into a rear room, mobile phones stuck to their ears.

I'm not sure what is going on and as we are shown to a table, we walk past a table filled with notable characters, including the member for Broome, Pat Dodson. Clearly, we had busted in on some pre-election dinner; Dodson sitting so close to Bill Shorten that they were almost joined at the hip. I sit down, deliberately choosing to have my back to the activity in the table behind. Tom, however, had Bill Shorten's beady eyes drilling into him, as he rather uncomfortably tried not to notice what was going on at the next table.

We are literally 'in the middle-of-nowhere', yet today's totally unexpected turn of events, which starts with a memory of a meeting with a beloved Australian icon, Dame Mary Durack, whose family had overcome extreme odds to become one of the most prominent pastoral families in our history, finishes with an almost-encounter with a would-be-if-he-could-be Prime Minister, and his bunch of cohorts who have little idea of the challenges facing our rural Australians and who are here simply for vote-collection.

 

I'm tired and we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow - not driving, thank goodness.

DAY NINE: KATHERINE

FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 2018

Highlights: Katherine Gorge

Total distance: 

Accommodation: Knotts Crossing Resort, Cnr Giles & Cameron Streets, Katherine NT 0851

Australia has far too many National Parks. In fact, we have 681 parks bearing the title of 'National Park', compared with the United States of America, which has 61. Clearly, the criteria used to define a National Park in Australia is far too broad and it's too easy to nominate a place of beauty as a National Park without putting it through rigorous scrutiny. But one National Park that absolutely nails all National Park attributes for me is the Nitmiluk National Park near Katherine, Northern Territory. Also known as Katherine Gorge, we drive into the parking area and enter the Visitor Centre, where we purchase tickets for a boat tour into the gorge.

Carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River, Nitmiluk Gorge is made up of thirteen gorges with rapids and falls. The flat-bottom boat is skillfully steered by our guide, who provides us with an insight into the fauna, flora, and original inhabitants of this area. Since it's the dry season, the two gorges that we're exploring today are separated by the low water levels. This provides us the opportunity to wander along the base of the huge cliffs and view ancient rock art.

The natural vegetation along the sides of the river include the usual eucalypts and some rather exotic palms; spiky fronds that make up a ball on the end of a very tall and skinny, woody stem. From where I stand at its base, it looks like an exotic, but huge dandelion.

We walk between the two gorges, passing shallow billabongs that haven't yet dried up, yet marvelling at the thought that in six months time a boat would be able to carry its passengers along this narrow section between the gorges. Although we are told it's safe here, I do keep my eyes peeled for crocodiles. Despite the only crocodiles in this region being the more benign freshwater variety, I would rather not see any here.

A boat is waiting for us at the end of the path and we embark and quickly settle into our seats for the continuation of our tour. No photo can properly capture the sense of awe I feel as I watch the huge cliffs of this deep gorge pass us by. The waterfalls are dry at the moment, but it's easy to imagine the force of the water tumbling over the high cliffs when there has been enough rain in this region.

After a most relaxing two hours, we return to the visitor's centre, much more refreshed and with a better understanding of the local region. Katherine Gorge is a beautiful National Park to visit, and I would urge anyone travelling though the Northern Territory to make the effort to visit Nitmiluk. 

DAYS TEN - THIRTEEN: DARWIN

SATURDAY, JUNE 9 - TUESDAY, JUNE 12, 2018

Highlights: 

Total distance: 317 kilometres

Accommodation: Ramada Zen Suites Quarter, 6 Carey St Darwin NT

Our destination of Darwin is just three hours away, so we have a late start and slowly make our way up the highway towards the capital city of Northern Territory without stopping. Our journey over the past six days has been long, and we probably could have shortened our time in Darwin, thus providing a few extra days in both Kununurra and Katherine. We'll know the next time!  But at the moment, I look forward to relaxing and exploring Darwin at our leisure over the next few days.

This is our first visit to Darwin, and we find it to be a lovely, modern city. Of course, it wasn't always like this. At 3:30am on December 25, 1974, Cyclone Tracy crossed Fannie Bay with winds gusting at 217 kph, killing sixty-six people and causing substantial destruction of the city. All communications out of Darwin were no longer operational and due to its distance from other Australian cities, news of the disaster did not filter through to other capitals until the afternoon on Christmas Day. For five days after the cyclone hit Darwin, all communications in and out of it were handled by Morse Code. Since all essential services had been destroyed, a total of 35,362 people were evacuated, leaving 10,638 (mostly) men in the city to work on the massive clean up. By February, 1975, the Darwin Reconstruction Commission was formed, and it was under this commission that my father and elder brother, Paul, worked on Darwin's reconstruction. Today's city is vibrant and exciting and the building codes that have been introduced since 1975 are instrumental in providing ongoing peace-of-mind for residents that their homes will now withstand high-velocity winds - not that they have been tested in real life, since a weather-event of the magnitude of Cyclone Tracy has not manifested since.

As the sun begins to descend, we arrive at the Mindil Beach. Finding a vantage point on the sand dunes, we sit and watch the sun slowly dip below the horizon, throwing orange rays into the sky. This is a popular place for families to gather. As children run around on the soft sand, quite unaware of the lengthening shadows, under the watchful eye of adults, we are instantly reminded of the carefree days of our own childhoods. I'm glad that there are still places where children can freely play and enjoy the fine weather without too many restrictions. As soon as the sun sets and the skies darken, we leave the beach and explore the market. With all sorts of resort-type goods on display, we enjoy wandering through the stalls and soaking up the atmosphere as crowds from the beach converge upon the market. There are musicians and people singing and dancing, adding a happy vibe to the atmosphere. But my nose detects something delicious being cooked in the foodvans not far away and we move closer to see what they have on offer. Here there is a delightful mix of fresh seafood from one van, chillies and pork from another, whilst the strong smell of Cumin emanates from a van serving Indian curries. We settle on locally-caught grilled fish fillets with chips and find a park bench to sit, enjoy the flavours of our dinner, whilst observing the comings and goings of this beautiful place. 

After a journey of 2,000 kilometres, and with no or few things planned, we enjoy our slow and steady exploration of Darwin. We probably don't take real advantage of what Darwin has to offer, but our road trip from Broome has provided many wonderful adventures, ones that we will look back upon with fond memories and it's more important to absorb the atmosphere rather than kill ourselves trying to 'fit' everything in.

DAY FOURTEEN: LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 2018

Highlights: Litchfield National Park

Total distance: 230 kms (round trip)

Accommodation: Ramada Zen Suites Quarter, 6 Carey St Darwin NT

It's our last full day in the Northern Territory before returning to Melbourne, and after weighing up between visiting Kakadu or Litchfield, the National Park closest to Darwin won the toss.

Litchfield National Park, at first sight, is probably a little underwhelming. That is, until we see one of the largest anthills I've ever seen. Getting out of the car to investigate further, I'm dwarfed by the huge Cathedral termite mounds. Standing up to seven metres tall, these mounds are located through the forest on flat, open landscape. Looking closely at one, which is surrounded by a boardwalk, providing a platform for a better view, we see thousands of tiny, busy red ants swarming in and out of the holes in the sandstone-like structure. As fascinating as these mounds are, a boardwalk takes us through a grassland, where termite mounds, flat and narrow, and 'tomb-like, are scattered across the plain. Like something out of an American cowboy movie, the magnetic termite mounds resemble a desolate graveyard.

With their thin edges pointing north-south exposing less surface to the midday sun and broad backs facing east-west to maximise the warmth received during the early morning and evening, magnetic termite mounds are designed to remain at a relatively stable temperature and high humidity. The mounds can live for around 50 to 100 years, and the queen lives for the entire life of the mound. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of termite mounds we've seen since our journey started in Broome, nearly two weeks ago, these are the most fascinating.

We return to our car to explore the park further and stop a little farther down the road in the designated carpark for Florence Falls. A short walk takes us to a viewing platform, where we enjoy a perfect view of the top of the waterfall and the waterhole below. There is plenty of noise below as visitors and locals enjoy jumping off the cliffs and into the cool water of the billabong. From the dry sandstone plateau with its scrubby vegetation, the path and stairs take us into a shady, green monsoonal forest that provides instant relief from the Northern heat. A stream meanders away from the falls, water crawling slowly over the rocks during this dry season. The excited noise of the swimmers attracts us to the main attraction of this sheltered gorge; twin waterfalls.

On our return journey, we take the slightly longer walk through the rainforest until we reach the hotter, drier savannah woodland area. Here, I see strange orange flowers on a tree almost bare of leaves. Deciduous at this time of the year, the red-flowering kurrajong blooms whilst the tree is bare. According to local legend, the flowers bloom at the same time as the crocodiles lay their eggs. 

It's time to return to Darwin to enjoy the view of the sunset from the balcony of our hotel one last time before we return to Melbourne. 

We've had an very interesting two week holiday starting in Broome, Western Australia, for a friend's wedding, and finishing in Darwin after a a long drive through the northern remote Kimberley region. Our country, Australia, is vast and full of extreme contrasts. It's good to drive out into the back-of-beyond from time to time, simply to remind oneself of how challenging this land is for those who live here. I'm glad we've taken this journey; we've learnt a lot about this region and we've seen sights and visited places that have far exceeded our expectations.

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