A tour in the Kimberley

Sep 4th, 2010, 07:29 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2010
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A tour in the Kimberley

Not long ago, my wife and I went to Broome for a week. While there, we did two tours I'd like to recommend to all. One was with Chomleys and took us for the day to a remote and very lovely part of the Kimberley coast called Cape Leveque. While there we did a mud crab hunt - what we caught (a fair few) the local lads cooked for us - and what a feast it was.

A couple of days later, we did a trip to Mt Alexander, in the desert, to ride camels thru the outback. The trip report follows (a story I wrote for a local paper):

Ballan-gan, I was told by an elder of the Jarlmandangah people in the west Kimberley, is an evil spirit that makes people out in the desert go around in circles.

Well, Ballan-gan was obviously at work as our camel train described a wide circle around the red and grey mountain landscape near Mt Anderson, but I didn’t mind one bit. For two hours we swayed this way and that, immersing ourselves in a very ancient place. Rocks straight ahead of us had been fractured and worn to look rather like books stacked by a careless librarian. On our right a pointed boulder emerged from the sand as though it were the prow of a ghostly ship. To our left was a stand of fat, squat boabs. If Jenny Craig has a weight-loss program for trees, this lot needs to enroll, soon.

They call themselves Purely Unreal Kimberley Dreamtime Tours, but what’s so exceptional about this tour is how thoroughly REAL it is. Teenage Jarlmandangah lads accompany our camels along the track through the ancestral land they will inherit in a couple of decades, chatting with visitors, joking amongst themselves and quite genuinely enjoying the contact.

Camel trek over, we sit in the shade of a rock overhang sipping very real billy tea and chewing on freshly-baked damper. All the while a Jarlmandangah man named Youngguy is explaining the eerie and haunting images painted or carved onto the walls heaven knows how long ago.

“See the figures lower down?,” saysYoungguy. “They’re okay for the children to look at because they’re good. But the figures up above, not good for the kiddies.”

I’m fairly tall and I’ve been studying and photographing these R-rated upper human-like images with all the rays emanating from their heads. Fortunately, the last time I was a kid, Robert Menzies was prime minister and Eisenhower was president, so I’m probably safe from whatever nasty fate befalls those too young who gaze on the spirits of Jarlmandangah land.

And what a land it is. Nothing against the flat and featureless landscapes that characterise so much of central Australia. I suppose there’s a certain basic elegance to endless spinifex and dunes. But the west Kimberley 200 kilometres from Broome is punctuated with massive rock outcrops, imposing cliffs and genuine mountains with their attendant green valleys. Think the Flinders Ranges or Kata Tjuta and you have the general idea. This is serious drama.

Back at the settlement and a chance for one more chat with the elders. My wife Jill is originally West Australian and during World War II her father was stationed at Liviringa, just down the road. By any chance, she wonders, would any of the old people remember those days? She’s brought along a photo of dad that might jog a memory or two.

“Sure, I remember the boys from down south coming up here to lay signal lines,” Harry, the oldest man in the community says. “Yes, your father might have been one of them I saw marching in. They all looked so young. People said back then the Japanese might invade our Kimberley beaches, so I’m glad the soldiers were here with us.”

It’s very late in the day and after arriving at Mt Anderson by air, we are returning by bus. That’s good, really, because in just one day of going around in circles, I’ve become quite attached to this place and I don’t want the journey to end too abruptly.

Our bus passes an enormous rock face marked by vivid layers, the burnt orange of the earth interspersed with thin masses of green shrubs, all illuminated by the dying rays of the sun. Unreal, no. Unforgettable, definitely.

Steve Robertson

BOX: You can book one or two day journeys through the traditional lands of the Jarlmandangah people by calling in Australia 0447 214 681, by e-mailing them on [email protected] or by booking at the visitor centre in Broome. August and September offer the mildest days and best chance of sunshine. Sudden rain storms often appear in June and July.
AussieSteve is offline  
Sep 4th, 2010, 10:34 PM
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 149
I have been to Australia twice but not to the West Coast. The West Coast is definitely on my list. If I get a chance to go, I plan to do a combined Perth/Broome itinerary. The tour you took sounds wonderful.
yentakvetch is offline  
Sep 5th, 2010, 04:57 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
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Looks like a couple of really interesting trips, Steve.
Bokhara2 is offline  
Sep 5th, 2010, 05:12 AM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 2,644
Fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing about this part of the country that hasn't been on my tourist radar.
Songdoc is offline  
Sep 5th, 2010, 06:07 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 1,119
Steve...thanks for this report. I'd really love to go back to the Kimberley some day. Our 8 day trip to Kununnura, the Bungle Bungles, Gibb River Road and Broome, while being the trip of a lifetime, definitely wasn't long enough. When I do go, I'll keep this tour in mind!
RalphR is offline  
Sep 7th, 2010, 03:30 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 3,495
Cape Leveque -my favourite view in the world and in my own back yard!!!
northie is offline  
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