Tunnel Creek, Devonian Reef National Park
Pointing my torch down into the murky waters of Tunnel Creek, buried beneath the magnificent Oscar Range in the West Kimberley, the light is reflected back up and onto the caverns of the tunnel wall. It’s pitch black in here and silent. The reflecting light projects a gentle shimmer onto the sculpted limestone walls. I am inside the Cave of Bats – as it was formerly known – at night, with only the bats and the occasional freshwater croc to keep me company.
Loaded with my backpack I have ventured into a very unique place just after the last day visitors head for the nearest designated camping, bad hotel, or luxury lodge. Here inside the 360 million-year-old limestone reef I am retreading my steps from earlier today to experience the 750 meter long tunnel after dark. As I wade through the chilly waist-deep waters and venture further into the tunnel my torch picks up beady orange eyes reflecting back at me from the dark. I remind myself freshwater crocs are not a threat – or so the locals tell me – as the eyes drop below the surface and I wade deeper into the black water. Stopping under a roof of stalactites hanging impressively above me, I am captivated as my torch catches sparkling water droplets falling around me, each one slowly helping build the stalactites from which they fall.
This is a very special place for both the white folks who come to marvel and the traditional owners of the land who view this as a sacred place. This was the scene of a final shootout between the Aboriginal resistance fighter Jandamarra and the first white colonists of the Kimberley. For a year Jandamarra hid out in this very place, using the caves and crevices to elude authorities while he recovered from wounds sustained during a battle at Windjana Gorge. Here in these dark caverns Jandamarra waited patiently, recovering, listening to the same sounds I am listening to now.
Further along the tunnel, next to the cave in which he slept, I look out at the night sky where the tunnel roof has collapsed and which now reveals a window to the outside world. During the day this opening brings welcome sunlight and heat but tonight it reveals a perfect night sky and a cacophony of nighttime noises – the sky framed perfectly by a jagged, silhouetted opening. Back inside the tunnel the outside worlds disappears. I turn my torch off. Surrounded by nothing but black and the trickle of water, bats swoop gently overhead. Occasionally there is a tortured screech or a snap in the water that reminds me the circle of life is ever present, even in this darkened, secluded corner of the Kimberley. Tomorrow the day visitors will return and the tour groups will arrive en masse to savour this special place. As the water trickles and the bats gently swoop I think of the man that was Jandamarra – a man caught between two worlds – an outlaw, a hero, a legend.