The sun is setting inside the magnificent Windjana Gorge and noisy flocks of Corellas follow the shadow cast as the sun sets, slowly making their way south through the gorge. This place is impressive at the best of times. At sunset it is simply magical. Standing 30 meters high the gorge has been hollowed out by the seasonal ebb and flow of the Lennard River. It’s like stepping back in time.
The air is warm and still. We are in the west Kimberley, 30km south of the Gibb River Road. Most of the area is now Aboriginal owned cattle stations, with this remarkable limestone reef rising from the surrounding flat plains. Inside the gorge freshwater crocs line the edges of the waterholes soaking up the last of the day’s heat. During the Dry Season the Lennard river comes to a halt, leaving in its place a series of billabongs that act as a lifeline for the crocs, freshwater fish, noisy fruit bats and abundant birdlife that call this place home. It’s hard to believe sitting here on a dry sandy beach in this serene sub-tropical paradise that these pools are replaced by a raging torrent 100 meters wide when the rains return. High in the trees is the debris from the Wet season floods. White gum trees and stately paperbarks follow the path of the river, with Boabs perched gingerly in the cracks and crevices of the sculpted limestone walls.
It is easy to understand why this place holds such significance with the local Bunuba people. It is another world; a paradise isolated from the fertile flat plains to the west and the rocky vistas to the east. It was here that the Bunuba evaded early European settlers, oftentimes hiding in these same cracks and crevices, where they waged a fierce armed resistance, led by the a young Banuba man, Jandamarra. The resistance was ultimately crushed and most of the land taken by the white settlers, but the heroic and tragic tale of Jandamarra’s resistance in the face of oppressive occupation lend this place an added reverence. It’s not just a unique geographical feature in a very striking Australian landscape but a place of huge cultural and historical significance.
The sun has dropped and the squawking Corellas can be heard off in the distance. I’ve got the place all to myself. Suddenly the mass squawking reverberates through the gorge and grows louder and louder. Silhouetted against the sky hundreds of Corellas appear, as if escaping an unseen threat, and fly directly overhead, north through the gorge. Ancient geology. A rich cultural setting. The day’s last light. And hundreds of Corellas. Simply magical.
The trick with places like this is to get in as everybody else is getting out. If you can figure out a way to be here when the day visitors have left – to savour the stillness and soak up the magic – you’ll experience the Kimberley at its very best, a natural wonderland that rewards those able to stop and savour it.