Sunday, June 4, 2017

Exploring the Kimberley

We spent an amazing week in the Kimberley on a tour organised by the Wilderness Society. It was the last week of July in 2016 and a welcome escape from the Perth winter cold. Our first indication of the awesomely different landscape we were in for was the view from the plane as we came into Broome. The colours and textures of the desert rocks were so vivid they looked as if they had been painted on to the land and the blue of the ocean was so rich that it also looked like someone had let loose with a paintpot.

We camped the first night in Broome's relaxed Cable Beach Caravan Park after a sunset trip to Cable Beach to gape at its hugely wide white strip of sand and watch the camel trains pass. We knew it would be a good deal warmer than Perth but the heat was still a bit of a shock and took some acclimatising. We had dinner at Broome Convention Centre where we lined up for pub style meals while colourful art works depicting the local landscape were auctioned at the Environs Kimberley annual art exhibition. I was excited by the thought that the colours I'd seen from the plane were just the beginning of the adventure.

Next day our large group of enthusiastic environmentalists de-camped and set off in a convoy of sturdy four-wheel drive vehicles. First stop was Roebuck Bay where guide Bart Pigram from Narlijia Cultural Tours Broome showed off the stately rock formations sculpted by erosion and the coastal rock pools teeming with tiny sea life. We made it to Dr Anne Poelina's Majala Centre on the Fitzroy River in Nyikina Mangala Country by late afternoon. Anne and her family told us fireside stories of their lives looking after country. Next day we experienced a smoke ceremony on the banks of the river, a pilgrimage to a sacred boab tree and a tour of their education centre. We had a wonderful learning experience there. It was hard to say goodbye after the warm welcome we'd been given by these loving guardians of this serene part of the Kimberley.

Next stop was Windjana Gorge National Park near Derby, after an adventurous hiking detour through a nearby cave system. The gorge was stunningly beautiful and our first encounter with crocodiles in the wild. It was amazing to watch them lazily sunning themselves on the banks of the river just a few metres away from us. We also saw dozens of bats flying out of the trees at sunset further inside the gorge. We visited again early next morning observing the just waking up serenity of silent gorge walls clad in soft sunlight.

From Windjana Gorge we headed south along the Roebuck Plains to Micklo's shack in the part of the Kimberley he tries to protect from fracking. Staying with Micklo and Margadee was both an uplifting and sobering experience: inspiring to see how hard he was working to keep the gas companies away but sad to see how much damage the exploratory fracking site already there had caused to the land and wildlife. Micklo is a fantastic example of how much one dedicated passionate person can achieve in the fight to protect country.

Final stop was the coastal area at James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula in Goolarabooloo Country. This is the spot that then Premier Colin Barnett described in 2012 as 'an unremarkable piece of coastline', even though it has dinosaur footprints on the rocks at the water's edge (national heritage listed in 2011) and magnificent towering rust red cliffs. Here we had more fireside chats with custodian Phil Roe and his friends who fought for many years to keep this unique part of the world free of gas company invasion. The planned offshore gas pipeline would have meant covering the whole area with a huge concrete platform totally obliterating the dinosaur footprints and the multitude of endemic plant species in the vine thickets throughout the area. As we lay in our swag on the dunes gazing at the star-filled sky and listening to the gently breaking waves we shuddered at the thought that all this beauty might have been destroyed.

Michael and I have rarely camped before. We took a one-person swag borrowed from my brother that really tested our togetherness as once inside it neither of us could turn over. Luckily most nights were cold so we got the benefit of our cosy combined body heat. And no need to pitch and strike a tent so we were always the first ones ready (normally we're the last). Personal hygiene had to take a back seat as halfway through the week running water ran out. We were the dirtiest we've ever been. By the time we all got back to Broome we raced each other to the shower block at Cable Beach for the sake of our fellow plane travellers as well as ourselves.

Over a year later we still remember vividly our first full-on camping experience on our first trip to the Kimberley: the stunning country, the wonderful kindred spirits we met, the delicious vegetarian food, the fireside games and chats, the learning and inspiration.