Day 80 – Friday, 12 August 2022

We set the alarm for 8:00am and woke up when it went off. We had a bit of a scare last night when kangaroos raced past the van outside but made a heck of a racket in the fallen leaves as they did so.

Before we left the caravan park, I booked a vet visit for Solly to have her nails clipped as they are clicking when she walks on the tiles. I also asked them to make a note on her file that I would ring them in the later part of the day to pay for the service as we are unsure of when we will get reception.

We arrived at the Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park, which is 21 kilometres out of the town, with plenty of time to spare, so we were able to have a good look around at the displays in the Reception Centre.

The motto for the National Park reads “Danggu Geikie Gorge is Danggu Geikie Gorge-ous!”

Dan͟ggu Geikie Gorge was carved by the Fitzroy River through an ancient limestone barrier reef. It’s mind blowing to think that around 250 million years ago much of the Kimberley region was an ancient sea.

The limestone rocks derived from the ancient barrier reef have been sculpted by rain, flood, sun and movements within the Earth’s crust.

Spinifex grasses find protection here from fire. Their cylindrical, spine-like leaves reduce water loss, and the hummock growth-form mulches the ground.

Rock figs send their roots down into crevices for moisture. Kurrajong trees, boabs and kapok bushes lose their leaves to avoid water loss in the dry season. Birds of prey and insectivorous bats roost in the range.

The short-eared rock-wallaby, sandstone shrike-thrush and some lizards restrict themselves to the range and forage for seeds, seedlings or insects among the rocks.

Adjacent to the range are extensive savannah woodland. The grasses attract seed eating finches and pigeons, native rats and mice, which in turn attract predatory birds and the Black-headed python.

Parrots and nightjars nest in the hollows in the scattered eucalyptus trees.

The Devonian Period in geological time extends from 410 to 350 million years ago.

Around 350 million years ago a large area of sedimentary rock known as the Canning Basin was covered by a tropical sea that extended inland from the current Western Australia coast near Port Hedland almost to the Northern Territory border and then back to Derby.

In the warm shallow waters, marine life flourished. Over time, reef-building algae, and the now extinct coral-like stromatoporoids built a remarkable “Great Barrier Reef” over 1000 kilometres fringing the Devonian mainland of the King Leopold Range and the Kimberley Plateau.

Torrential rivers flowed from this ancient mountainous area, carrying huge amounts of sedimentary sands, rocks and boulders.

Over the next 50 million years, with the changes in the sea level and the subsidence of the ocean floor, reef building organisms accumulated to establish a reef nearly two kilometres deep.

Within the tropical Devonian sea was a remarkable diversity of fish species, and other marine life evolved. Today, this is an internationally significant Devonian marine life fossil study region. Kat mentioned during our tour that one of the fish fossils discovered had begun to develop limbs.

The eastern bank of Geikie Gorge is a wildlife sanctuary where access is prohibited unless you are lucky enough to be invited to enter by one of the traditional owners.

The Devonian reefs are prominent today as a series of limestone ranges in the eroded landscape because limestone is more resistant to weathering than the ancient shales and other soft sediments that were laid down in the ocean basin in front of the reefs.

The Napier Range, Oscar Range and Geikie Range are all part of these ancient reefs. The Brooking Gorge and Geikie Gorge Rivers have continued to cut through the limestone range sculpting them even further.

Bunuba Aboriginal people are the traditional owners and are joint park managers. Their connection with this land goes back to the Dreamtime. The Bunuba call the gorge Dan͟ggu which means, where the water is very deep under the cave. The towering white and grey walls of the gorge are breathtaking, and the white rounded sections of limestone are aptly called the meringues!

The national park covers more than 3,000 hectares of land and is also home to a riverine forest of river red gum trees and paper barks. Some areas are covered with wild passionfruit vine (a weed).

Geikie Gorge National Park is the most easily accessible national park in the Kimberley and is situated at the junction of the Oscar and the Geikie Ranges.

When the Fitzroy River is in full flood during the wet season it covers the whole national park. The floods rise over 16 metres up the gorge walls and the continuous rise and fall of the water has left the bottom of the walls bleached white, an unusual sight very popular with photographers.

Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park is a day use park only. Camping is not allowed, but there are picnic shelters and barbecue facilities, water and toilets.

There are three walks in Geikie Gorge National Park.

The Reef Walk is the longest and takes you about 1.5 hours to follow the trail across the floodplains to the point where the western gorge wall meets the river, and to return along the riverbank.

It’s apparently the only walk that allows you good views of the bleached eastern gorge walls.

The Rarrgi Short Walk is a short loop walk, branching off the first part of the Reef Walk, and takes you up into the limestone rocks and through a different habitat and vegetation. It’s about 20 minutes long and can be done while waiting for your cruise to depart.

The third walk is called River Walk and also takes about 20 minutes.

It leads down to a sandbank on the river where you can have a fish, maybe spot some freshwater crocodiles, and if you’re brave you can even go for a swim. (Freshwater crocodiles are harmless as long as you don’t threaten or annoy them according to the people who are supposed to know these things.)

One person who writes a blog about the Kimberley said, “The main interest on these walks is supposed to be the riverine vegetation and the abundant wildlife. To someone who doesn’t know the Kimberley the thick greenery may seem appealing, but I was shocked.

I know that the Fitzroy River has serious problems with infestations of noxious weeds along its banks. I know that introduced weeds are one of the big environmental threats the Kimberley is facing, and that it’s a

battle that we are losing. But it’s one thing to read about it, and quite another to see firsthand a place where the battle was lost years ago.”

Our boat guide, Kat, also spoke about the problem they have with weeds. Before the wet season begins everything in the park is packed away above the flood water levels. By the time the rangers arrive back for the dry season the weeds that were so assiduously poisoned and removed during the previous dry season have then returned.

The wildlife eats many of the fruits from the weed species and thereby spread seeds over the whole park. It is an ongoing problem and a mammoth task in front of the Rangers.

The Fitzroy River has 20 tributaries, and its catchment occupies an area of 93,829 square kilometres, of which half is above the township of Fitzroy Crossing within the Canning Basin and the Timor Sea drainage division, extending from Halls Creek and the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges in the east through to Derby and King Sound to the west.

It often floods extensively during the wet season and is known as the major remaining habitat for the critically endangered sawfish.

Three shires, Wyndham-East Kimberley, Halls Creek and Derby-West Kimberley are found within the catchment area. The catchment area of the Fitzroy river was in 2012 found to be extensively pegged by mineral exploration companies

Most of the land is under pastoral lease holding with about 44 mostly cattle stations operating within the catchment area.

Extensive flooding during the wet season created a need for an adequate crossing. It was because of this that the town of Fitzroy Crossing was founded.

Flooding occurred along the river six times from 1892 to 1903. The 1903 flood washed away telegraph lines and “great numbers of cattle and sheep were drowned”, with bodies of animals later found hanging in trees. The heavy rains experienced in the area were the remnants of a cyclone.

In 1935, the Fitzroy got its first bridge – a low-level concrete structure, which was built up into a wider structure in 1958. This bridge could be closed for several months at a time during the wet weather and travellers were then forced to use a flying fox, which operated about 200 metres south of the crossing.

When a new bridge was erected in 1974, the focus of the town grew away from its original site. The current town of Fitzroy Crossing is one of the fastest growing in the Kimberley region and over 80% of its population are Aboriginal.

The river flooded after heavy rain events in 1949 and 1954. The 1954 event came immediately after a drought and the swollen river washed away stock from both Noonkanbah and Liveringa Station. At the height of the flood the river level was 3 metres above the low-level crossing. The mouth of the river was estimated at being over 11 kms wide as it discharged the floodwaters.

Record floods occurred in 1983, 1986 and 2002 with a height of the river approximately 13 metres of water over the old concrete crossing. The flow rate down the 15 km-wide flood plain at Fitzroy Crossing was estimated to be 30,000 cubic metres per second, which must be an awesome sight. In flood, it is possibly the largest river in Australia, and is believed to be the second largest in the world after the Amazon, in terms of the volume of water that passes through it during the wet season. At this time during the wet season, it would fill Sydney Harbour in just six hours!

The Fitzroy River was diverted in the 1950s as part of the failed Camballin Irrigation Scheme to store the water to irrigate crops of cotton, sorghum and other feed crops. This part of the river covers an area of 12 hectares when full.

The Fitzroy has been called the “world’s last stronghold” for the critically endangered sawfish. In December 2018, the largest mass fish deaths since the monitoring of the fish in the Fitzroy River occurred.

Associate Professor David Morgan of Murdoch University said that the fish had died due to heat and a severe lack of rainfall during a poor wet season. They also become more vulnerable to predators such as crocodiles when water levels are low. This raised concerns about plans

by Gina Rinehart to divert water on her Liveringa property, but I cannot find any other info on it.

Our boat was only about half full of tourists, so we had a good chance to move around while we travelled. It would be one of the quietest boats I have ever been in. I was thinking electric motors, but Russ assures me they weren’t electric but inboard ones and very powerful.

The Gorge is exceptional, and very different to all the others we have explored. The water erosion on the limestone cliffs is an incredible sight. We saw a few freshwater crocodiles, some birds (but we already had them), but overall, it was a very interesting tour.

Our boat guide and Ranger was Kat and she told both the Dreamtime story of the River along with the current scientific thinking, so no-one could take umbrage about anything.

An amusing account was of the “Old Man” of the river – two rocks which from particular angles look like an old man relaxing in the water with his knees raised. It is said that when you arrive in the area at the Park to work you should collect a small rock, rub it under your armpit to gather your essence, then you go to the cliff top that overlooks his position in the river and throw the rock to him while you introduce yourself. In this way you become part of country and the Old Man looks after those under his care. I thought it was a lovely story.

Of interest:

We had to travel down Russ Road to get to the National Park;

Crocodiles, like dogs, breath through their open mouths to regulate their body temperature;

Geikie Gorge is 14 kilometres long with up to 60-metre-high limestone walls partially polished by floodwaters; and

The Kimberley pastoral industry depended on an indentured (think slave) labour force of stockmen and station hands until the late 1960s

and into the 1970s. I’d have liked to see how the Europeans would have coped with that. During the time of the establishment of the early pastoral stations there was systemic slaughter of the local Aborigine people. In current times the remains of over 300 people have been found in mass graves.

The Fitzroy Crossing Inn is the oldest pub in the Kimberley region, opened by Joseph Blyth in 1897. It is nestled on the banks of the Fitzroy River and close beside the original low-level crossing for the river.

The road that leads to the original crossing is now closed, and the pathway is heavily overgrown on either side. This was the one and only road in and out of the town, also originally established at the crossing point, but now several kilometres away.

With flood levels from bank to bank the only way to get supplies to the other side of the raging waters of the river was a flying fox.

It felt quite prosaic to return to the caravan park after the tour. However, tomorrow we move on and there was washing to complete, photos to be combed through for some gems, and a diary to be updated!