The Kimberley region of North Western Australia is home to the delightfully named Bungle Bungle mountains and is famous for its breathtaking scenery. I had seen a lot of the area on television watching my old friend Les Hiddins the “Bush Tucker Man” as he traveled around the region. Now it was my turn to see it for myself. I had been particularly looking forward to this part of the trip. The vistas are like nowhere else on earth. The Kimberly region is uniquely identifiable with its deep red bluffs, green hills and mountains. On our way to Katherine we wound our way through the narrow valleys, seeing kangaroos, wallabies and parakeets in abundance.
We stopped for petrol at a small roadhouse operated by a local aboriginal community. While we waited for the attendent to fill the car up we chatted with one of the locals who told us how his tribe were lucky because aboriginal people in the Kimberleys had been able to keep most of their lands and so were still able to lead a relatively traditional life. He explained how important it was that the old ways were not lost although he was worried that the younger members of the tribe wanted to leave and head for the big cities where they would find life very difficult.
I will elaborate further on this later, but aboriginal people in Australia do face many problems in the larger settlements. I found that this was not so much the case in W.A. but certainly in Darwin, Adelaide and Sydney there are a disproportionate number of itinerant aboriginal people, many with serious alcohol and mental health issues. This is caused by a number of different factors such as the poor integration of “black fellas” and “white fellas” during the initial European colonisation of Australia, the forced merger of vastly different cultures and a natural intolerence of alcohol.
We continued for a few more hours before arriving in Fitzroy Crossing an eerie place in that it looks like any other small outback town but there are crowds of aboriginal people wandering around or just sitting in the shade but almost entirely in silence. Even the general store was virtually silent. And the dog food section was just a chest freezer filled with severed kangaroo tails. I shit you not.
Fitzroy Crossing and the lands and valleys around it were the home for a number of Aboriginal language groups. When Fitzroy Crossing was established the main group was the Bunuba People, their land stretching from the present day Brooking Springs and Leopold Downs Station to the Oscar, Napier and King Leopold Ranges. The Bunuba are the River and Hill people.
Another group in the area stretching on the other side of the Fitzroy River from GoGo, Fossil Downs and Louisa Downs Station and on either side of the Margaret River, are the Gooniyandi People. The plains Aboriginal people are the Nyigina and further south are the Walmakarri, the people of the Great Sandy Desert.
We had come here to visit the famous Geike Gorge, an ancient coral reef that had somehow ended up hundreds of miles inland, now overlooking a river infested with freshwater crocodiles.
Along with Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, Geikie Gorge is part of an ancient barrier reef that developed during the Devonian Period. The walls of the gorge are 30 metres high. The eight kilometer gorge was created by the flowing waters of the Fitzroy River, which still flows through the region.
We spent the day on a very informative and enjoyable boat trip along the river and through the gorge itself before retiring for the night on the campsite outside the Fitzroy Crossing Hotel. While there we met a very strange character from Brixton of all places. He had apparently turned up on foot having just bought some marijuana from somebody, (God knows who he got it from that far out in the outback) before panicking and jumping out of the car. He appeared to have left a part of his brain somewhere in a field in Hampshire but entertained us with anecdotes about his days as a punk in London in the 1970’s for the rest of the evening. I’m still not certain what he was doing in Fitzroy Crossing, and I’m not convinced that he was either. He didn’t seem to be a tourist, or a resident. It was almost like he’d come to Australia years ago and just got lost.
Maybe he is still there.