Day 81 – Saturday, 13 August 2022

Happy birthday to my mum who would have been 112 years old if she were alive today.

We left Fitzroy Crossing at 9:01am. The road to Derby is very flat, with open grassland in may places, bushes and small trees dotting the landscape, and very few hills to talk about along the 258 kilometres we travelled.

However, 34 kilometres outside of the Crossing it changed completely, something we have come to expect on our travels. We were back to seeing red soil with taller trees in the savannah grasslands.

A very long stretch of roadworks was encountered. The full extent was over 35 kilometres long, but they appeared to be actively working in 2-kilometre lengths. We were shepherded through the working area by a Pilot Vehicle on two occasions. They appear to be adding wide shoulders to the existing narrow road, although the road surface is in a very good condition.

We started to see more boab trees again. They were few and far between around Fitzroy Crossing. The ones today were much taller and bulked up. Some of them still had their covering of leaves.

By 10:30am the temperature had reached 32 degrees.

We had to stop for our leg stretch break at a truck parking area because the small vehicle Rest Area at Ellendale had been appropriated by the road crews. They had huge, heavy machinery parked there and they had transported several dongas as office and accommodation areas.

Today, there is not a cloud to be seen in any direction.

After we passed the turn off for Camballin Road the Great Northern Highway turned onto a north-westerly direction for some time, and the vegetation was also different once again.

The passing traffic are getting friendlier. It is the first time that the majority of those passing us in the opposite direction returned our waves (including drivers of cars without vans), and the overtaking traffic either waved or honked as they went past.

At midday we turned north onto the Derby Highway and passed the RAAF Base at Curtain. It was interesting to note that the predominant species of trees on this highway are Black Wattle.

We pulled into the Dumbari Burru Caravan Park at 12:30pm. Of particular note is the fact that they close and lock the gates at 8:30pm each evening, and they are not opened again until 6:30am each morning.

The town of Derby was founded in 1883 and named after Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby, who was the British Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time.

During World War 2 Derby was bombed by the Japanese because their air base and jetty was used by the Australian Forces. More recently, refugees were housed at the Curtain RAAF Base, but the detention centre was closed in 2014.

Derby has a population of 3,325 people – 47% of whom are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. Along with Broome and Kununurra, it is one of the only three towns in the Kimberley to have a population over 2,000 people.

It is located on King Sound and has the highest tides in Australia with the difference between low and high tide reaching 11.8 metres (39 feet).

Derby was famous in the 1920s as the terminus of the first scheduled aviation service in Australia, Western Australia Airways, which began with their first flight on 5 December 1921 and crashed near Geraldton.

At one time the Perth to Derby service was the world’s longest passenger airline route.

In 1968 a $900,000 beef road from Glenroy Station to Derby was completed to assist with the development of beef processing, an industry where many of the Derby population was employed.

A $2 million steel and concrete jetty was built in 1965 to provide adequate port facilities for the shipment of live cattle.

The Kimberley School of the Air is located in Derby and provides education to isolated Primary school-aged children living on cattle stations and in remote Aboriginal communities, scattered throughout the 423,517 square kilometre Kimberley Region.

There is oil in Blina, diamond mining at Ellendale, granite is quarried, and lead, zinc and iron are mined around the Derby area and provide employment opportunities. Tourism bolsters the local economy during the dry season, while during the wet season Derby can be affected by severe tropical cyclones.

The original Derby Wharf was built in 1894 and was a wooden T-shaped structure located at the northern end of the present-day jetty. It was linked to the town of Derby by a horse-drawn tramway, crossing the mud flats via a causeway where the present-day road is located.

In the early days wool and pearl shell were the major exports. The last passenger ship visited in 1975.

The Boab Prison Tree is located on the outskirts of Derby. The tree is believed to be 1500 years old and was used as a staging point for prisoners being walked into Derby is the early years.

The Prison Tree is a registered Aborigine site. Visitors are requested to respect the cultural sensitivity of the site and not climb into or approach too closely to the tree.

Boab trees are a protected species in the Derby Shire so you can find them located in some unusual places, and roads have been diverted around them.

The ice-cream van came around the sites and there was a line up to be served. Russ and I had soft serve sundaes, and they were yummy.