Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge are three of the best natural attractions in the Kimberley
. Found within the Napier Range, a limestone range above the Fitzroy River flood plain, these geological features are spectacular landmarks revealing ancient reef systems dating back to the Devonian period of 350 million years ago. Reached via the unsealed Fairfield-Leopold Downs Road, off the Gibb River Road
, these are highlights of the Kimberley
not to be missed.
Tunnel Creek flows through a water worn tunnel beneath the limestone of the Napier Range. During the dry season, this day use area is enjoyed by visitors walking 750m through the tunnel to the other side of Napier Range, wading through pools of water using torch light in the dark cave for navigation and watching for bats and marvelling at stalactites that descend from the roof in many places
. Some aboriginal painting can also be spotted just inside the cave entrance on the cave ceiling.
Spectacular camping with toilets and showers, coupled with a 7km return walking trail along the course of the Lennard River makes Windjana Gorge National Park an ideallyic spot
to setup base camp and enjoy the area. Access and camping fees apply.
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The ancient Devonian reef of the Napier Range
forms a chain of limestone ranges, up to 300 metres above sea level, which rise from 40 to 150 metres above the surrounding Fitzroy River
floodplain. Boab trees often grow on the rocky hillsides. The formation of the present landscape occurred in two stages. The reef was uplifted above sea level 250 million years ago and then eroded, forming some caves in the limestone. The reef was then buried by younger sedimentary rocks. The whole area was uplifted and eroded 20 million years ago - the limestone forming the reef being more resistant to erosion than the softer overlying rocks, so that the ancient landscape was exposed. The reef now stands above the surrounding plains, in much the same way it would have stood above the sea floor 350 million years ago. Cross-sections through the reef can be seen in the walls of Windjana Gorge
. Fossil sponges, brachiopods, nautiloids and some stromatolites may be found in the slope deposits. Around the reef, lies calcareous mudstones, sandstones and thin limestone desposits. Fossil ammonoids (shelled animals that are now extinct), nautiloids and more than 25 species of the prehistoric, armour-plated fishes, that dominated Devonian times, may be found.Windjana Gorge
is part of this ancient Devonian reef system rising above the Lennard River. The gorge is some 3.5km long and is a spectacular fissured grey
stretch of towering cliffs above the alluvial floodplain. During the wet season, the river floods in a spectacular torrent of raging white water but during the peak tourist season (the "dry") visitors can enjoy walking along its banks and sometimes its sandy river bed. The deep, moist soils of the riverbank support the tall broad-leaved leichardt tree, native figs and the paper-barked cadjeputs. These trees also provide shelter from the hot sun for many waterbirds, fruit bats and corellas. Freshwater crocodiles can often be seen in the pools.
Tunnel Creek, located 35km south of Windjana Gorge
, is protected by National Parks and is Western Australia
's oldest cave
system and is also Devonian reef. Tunnel Creek National Park
covers just 91 hectares however is a day use area with facilities limited to toilets and an information shelter. The Tunnel Cave
is the main attraction, being about 750m long and up to 12m high, although in some sections it is as low as 3m.
Whilst most people think of this region in terms of it's geological history, the most interesting story is that of Jandamarra, an Aboriginal man who gained a notoriety in the region late last century that rivalled that of the Kelly Gang in Victoria
. Tunnel Cave is famous as a hideout used by this Aboriginal leader who was killed outside the cave entrance in 1897.
This is an extract of Jandamarra's story with thanks to DEC WA.
Jandamarra led an organised armed rebellion by Kimberley
Aboriginal people against European settlers using the caves and surroundings of Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek
as hideouts. These activities prevented pastoralists from opening up a large part of the Kimberley
for some time. Aboriginal people in the Kimberley
were dispossessed of their land by pastoralists, deprived of their traditional hunting areas and forced to work on the stations. If they were charged with spearing sheep or cattle, they were chained around the neck and walked to Derby, where they worked off their sentences in chains. Jandamarra was a Bunuba Aborigine who lived in the Napier and Oscar Ranges for most of his life. During his early contact with Europeans, while working on stations and while in gaol for spearing sheep, he became a highly skilled horseman and marksman. However, the stint in jail interrupted his tribal education, and he was not properly trained in the Law. On his return home, he was effectively banished from Bunuba society because of having broken strict kinship rules that prohibited sexual relations with particular women. After befriending another loner, the Police Constable Richardson, Jandamarra became an unofficial tracker for the police. During a patrol of the Napier Ranges with Richardson, Jandamarra helped to capture a large group of his kinsmen and women. But over the next few days, while they were held at Lillimilura Police Post, his tribal loyalties gained the upper hand. He shot Richardson, stole some guns and set the captives free.
On November 10. 1894 Jandamarra and his followers attacked a party of five Europeans who were driving cattle to set up a large station in the heart of Bunuba land. Two of them, Burke and Gibbs, were killed at Windjana Gorge. This was the first time that guns were used against European settlers in an organised fashion.
In late 1894 a posse of 30 or so heavily armed police and settlers attacked Jandamarra and his followers, who had staked out Windjana Gorge in readiness. Jandamarra was seriously wounded and was believed to have died. However, the police then embarked on a military-style operation against Aboriginal camps around Fitzroy Crossing. Many Aboriginal people were killed, despite none being identified as rebels.
For three years, Jandamarra tried to defend his lands and his people against police and white settlers. His vanishing tricks became legendary. At one point a police patrol managed to follow him to his hideout at the entrance to the Cave of Bats (Tunnel Creek) when word was received that he had raided Lillimilura Police Post during their absence. Jandamarra was held in awe by other Aboriginal people as a magical person who could "fly like a bird and disappear like a ghost". They believed he was immortal, his body simply a physical manifestation of a spirit that resided in a water soak near Tunnel Creek. Only an Aboriginal person with similar mystical powers could kill him.
The tide finally turned in favour of the police, when they recruited a remarkable black tracker from the Pilbara
, known as Micki. Micki was said to possess magical powers and did not fear Jandamarra. Jandamarra was finally tracked down and killed by Micki at Tunnel Creek on April 1, 1897, finally ending the battle for Bunuba lands.
More about this story and others can be found by visiting the Lillimilura Police Station Ruins nearby Windjana Gorge. Originally built in 1884 as the homestead for the King Sound Pastoral Company, the stone ruins can be enjoyed via interpretive signage.