Broome is a long way from Darwin on the route we are travelling. We are to get there in 9 days. Another interesting fact is that Broome is closer to Bali than Perth. I can’t quite get my head around that !
We set off at about 7.00 to move deeper into the Kimberley region (Broome marks its west edge). We crossed the Fitzroy river
which runs deep into the outback and our first stop was 175 Km’s at the Willare Road House where there was another of those indicator boards telling us how far we were from everywhere. Seen he with Jodie…… the Wonder Woman!
It was not far from there that we turned off the road by a windmill and visited the Prisoner Tree.
This was a large Boab Tree, reckoned to be 1500 years old.
The Boab is a naturally occurring tree and thought by the Bunuba people, who inhabited the area to hold the spirits of their ancestors. However the first explorers came and started to destroy the trees by carving into the bark. They also set up cattle stations on the Bunuba land, utilising their water holes and destroying the Aboriginal food sources. The Bunuba people were effectively ousted and retaliated by spearing the white man’s cattle. This led to arrests and the Aboriginal prisoners were shackled together and collected at the Prisoner Tree before being marched off to prison at the coast.
The Boab tree has a large seed pod and looks as though it has been planted upside down with its roots in the place of leaves and branches. It is an odd looking affair but we became very fond of them!
It is thought that the indigenous people inhabited the land for at least 65,000 years and evidence has been found to this effect. When Captain Cook arrived in Australia there were 250 Aboriginal countries within it. All spoke different languages, had different elders and laws. Each country could communicate with other countries around it. All of the countries had an oral culture and nomadic existence. They moved around to reflect the seasons, respectfully crossing borders. The white man came and took the land and did not respect their culture, indeed viewed them as nomadic savages. There are now only 25 of the Aboriginal languages left that are deemed to be healthy, ie being passed on to young people. The Aboriginals had no written language, but passed on information by drawings, songs or stories. These told of food sources and water holes, but also how to behave. Aboriginal children were also taught that it was rude to ask questions! A world with no ‘why’!?!
On the way to the Prison Tree we were introduced to the little red Crab Eye Seeds, said to be 12 times more poisonous than arsenic…… we also came across the wonderful Ghost Gum.
Leaving the Prison Tree behind, we set off up the Gibb River Road. We are now in a different world. The roads are unsurfaced, there is no reception, we are in Kimberley country. We drove for perhaps another 1.5 hours, heading for the Windjana Gorge, stopping first at Tunnel Creek.
We pulled off the road and made lunch. It was then time to don the water shoes, we were off to walk the tunnel under the cliff behind.
First we heard the tale of Jandamarra. To cut a very long story short, Jandamarra was born unto the Bunuba people but lived very close to the white man during his early life. . However, when he came of age he was initiated into the rites of the Bunuba and reverted to his origins. Eventually being arrested for cattle spearing with his Bunuba people, his early time with the white man as recognised and he became a tracker for them. He was well thought of and nicknamed ‘Pigeon’.
However, when the situation arose when he had to choose he chose his own people, murdered his white colleague and be became a renegade, leading the Bunuba in raids on the whiteman. He was hunted down once and escaped, but the second time he was tracked down and his head was chopped off. (His Head was subsequently shipped back to England to show Victoria that he was dead. I can’t believe it travelled well…..). This was a significant point in the relationship between the native Australians and those who came after and to a large extent reparations are still being made……Jandamarra was beheaded at the end of the tunnel.
It was time for the Tunnel. The rocks at the entrance once formed the edge of a coral reef when water covered the area. An enormous upheaval in the earth’s surface caused a fissure in the earth’s crust and the sea receded leaving the reef exposed. Over time the coral died and the limestone rocks were formed. Now the great boulders stand proud, sometimes grey, sometimes white, sometimes red.
The Bunuba people lived here.
After scrambling over these early boulders, we will entered the initially shaded but then dark interior. Headlights turned on we walked over the sandy cave floor and through water thigh high to me. It was cool but not freezing. Careful of submerged stones we came out onto damp sand and came to an area where daylight came through a hole in the rock ceiling.
Further on we could clearly see flying foxes looking bat like suspended from the ceiling.
White stalagtites thrust down from the ceiling and I was fascinated by the root of a fig tree above the tunnel whose roots had battled their way down through the ground to the rock ceiling of the cave, continued down through the space that was the the tunnel and was busily channeling its way into the damp floor. Determined or what!?!
We continued. Around a corner the ceiling had disappeared allowing sunlight in and the rocks showed their colour again in the brilliant light. It was beautiful. Further along and more water wading brought us to more water and the dark shadow of a fresh water crocodile on the opposite bank. An eye picked up the headlights we were wearing. More sand and shallow water followed and we were at the end. Trees lined the route from the cave.
This was apparently the point where Jandamarra met his end. Today it Is a peaceful spot. The sound of trickling water and the occasional bird call. No sign of the violence of his passing or of the water torrent that must pass this way when the water forces its way through during the winter.
We returned the way we came. Picking our way back through the water and sandy tunnel floor.
Back on the truck we headed back on the unmetalled Gibb River Road, to the site of our overnight stop Windjana Gorge. On the way we stopped at the Mount Barnet Road Station where wonderful cold drinks and ice creams were purchased. Phew! It gets very warm on those long sessions on the road.
Arriving at the campsite we unloaded the truck and went off to see the sunset Ver the Gorge. We first went through ahold through the rock and then along a tree lined gorge bottom by the waters edge. The water then billowed out to become a large pool where herons and spoonbills stood statue like staring at the water. There was a wide beach area. Keith and I sat be the river watching the crocodiles in the water and the reflection of the sun on the Gorge steep sides.
It was another night under the stars, but this time in swags. No tents. Jodie gave us a quick ‘how to use and roll a swag’ lesson, before she ran through the next day’s activity, as we sat round the camp fire. It was also an early night when we learnt that breakfast was to be at 5.00 the following day, ie a 4.30 start.
I think it might be a good time to talk about the weather, one of the main reasons for the early starts. The weather is getting noticeably hotter. By 9.00 am the temperature is well into the 30’s. By setting off on a walk or activity by 6.00am we are able to get going before the real heat sets in. The other reason is, of course, the number of miles we are having to cover each day. The majority of road in the Kimberley are unmetalked and often adversely affected by the water which gushes along them in the winter season. It is a rough ride.