Thursday, 18 July 2013

Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

? 4-7 June 3 nights 

The original station owner got the pronunciation wrong and so whitefellas have been calling this impressive gorge in the Balili (Napier) Range Windjana ever since – when it is Wandjina.  We drove across flat plains from Derby and then suddenly this limestone range grows out of the landscape like a big, solid, fortified wall.  It is impressive.

The campground was a big dampener to us as it was packed with fellow travellers and the ranger explained that this is what the Gibb River Road would be like for us. I just wanted to hightail it back to the less popular Pilbara! 

We booked a Bungoolee tour of Tunnel Creek the so-called spiritual home of Jandamarra, a freedom fighter who was killed in 1897 (the same year my great-grandfather was born and I also think the year that Simon’s grandfather was born). We are so glad we started this part of our trip, on the famous Gibb River Road, with a Bunuba-led tour of Tunnel Creek.

We had a smoking ceremony, our guide, Jack, called out to the spirits in his language before we entered the tunnel; and it fairly and squarely set us off on our journey knowing we were in Aboriginal Australia now. 

One of the highlights of the tour was seeing an elusive Pilbara Olive Python at the entrance to the cave - it was about 4 metres long and just mesmerizing to see).  Hugo and I scampered up the side of a cliff with our guide to find the cave where Jandamarra was born (our guide found the easier path once we reached it!) and from there you could look straight across at the rock where Jandamarra was shot from when he died.  Not many people are born and die within a few hundred metres of each other do they? 

Jack explained that they were still a few weeks off from having their campground set up for the tag-along tours they take into Bunuba country around Leopold Downs Station (owned by the Bunuba people, as is the neighbouring station, Fairfield). You get to stay in spinifex-covered shelters and they have gorges and fresh water springs and you get to hang out with nice people like Jack, Joleen and Clive.  Next time we’ll do that.

At Windjana Gorge we saw easily 50 or more freshwater crocodiles which was amazing.  The Gorge is pretty spectacular and it was the place where a major battle/stand off took place between the Bunuba and the police.  But this isn’t mentioned in any of the information you read about the national park.

It rained again, we caught up with our old Middle Lagoon neighbours Mark and Leanne and they told us about the highs and lows of the Gibb River Road and then we set off to Fitzroy Crossing. 

We saw the first and only cattle mustering on the road near Tunnel Creek complete with horsemen and women, helicopter and the bull jeep that everyone now uses instead of horses.  Glad we got to see it at least once!

PS We got to see it again when we came back on this road after we left Fitzroy Crossing. 

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