The Kimberley is Burning!

The Kimberley is burning! A lightning strike on Ellenbrae Station in late September started the fire and it spread rapidly across 1.5 million hectares of land. Many of the places we visited had the fires come through. El Questro has been badly damaged and the tented cabins we stayed in have been destroyed.el-questro


It is the end of the dry season and the accompanying tourist season so El Questro had already closed for the winter and all staff had left so the fire was not immediately reported.

An Aboriginal community at Ngallagunda was threatened but was saved though the fires came very close.

The indigenous people have always used fire as a way of replenishing the grasslands and many of the native flora have adapted to fire as a way of stimulating seed growth. But controlled burning usually occurs in the spring when the risk of fires spreading is low after the wet winter. In October, the land is dry and waiting for rain and the risk of fire is correspondingly much higher.

Areas for controlled burning



In 2011 several long-distance runners were caught up in bushfires and severely burned in Emma Gorge. Turia Pitt describes her ordeal here and here.

But already, now that the rains have started and now that the fires are dwindling, new green shoots are appearing and soon, the Kimberley will once again provide fodder for the many thousand cattle which range across its acres and sustenance and homes for the wildlife in the area.

And rebuilding will begin almost immediately.




The Best Laid Plans…..

Not everything on the trip went as planned. We crossed many creeks, some barely wet, others with fast flowing water but one was very muddy. And stuck in the middle was a battered and well-used four wheel drive vehicle. The driver was standing by the roadside patiently waiting for someone to come along to pull him out and that someone was us.

Stuck in a boggy creek

In no time at all, ropes were attached, the bus was put into reverse and gradually the 4WD was dragged back on to firm ground. Then another problem showed up. The vehicle wouldn’t start. As the driver was the manager of the property where we were spending the night, it was deemed politic to stay and help. Anyway, the code of the Outback is to do just that. They tried jump leads but to no avail. Many were the suggestions offered by the males of our party but nothing worked. In the end, the driver joined us on the bus and we took him with us to our lodgings where he commandeered a new alternator and a mechanic and they drove back to get his vehicle going again.

And now it won’t start!

On another day, we were bowling along, or rather rickety-ricketing along when the tread came off one of the front tyres. Fortunately Gary had a spare so with all the men ‘helping’, it was changed in no time and we were on our way again. Half an hour later, the other front tyre lost its tread too, and this time we didn’t have a spare. Gary had to use the emergency satellite phone to contact the nearest property which had a tyre and we all sat down to wait. Tea and biscuits helped pass the time and we watched the sun set over the horizon just as the cavalry in the shape of two guys in a ute arrived with the tyre. We were very late to our lodgings at El Questro.

Another burst tyre

Bumps and bruises were not uncommon as we scrambled our way over rocks and stones on our walks into gorges or to Aboriginal art sites and the men in particular sported a variety of plasters over their cuts and scrapes. One guy tried an Aboriginal cure which consisted of spreading the red sap of a red bloodwood tree over his cuts. It looked pretty garish but he swore that they healed very quickly.

Hands, knees and boomps a daisy!

The worst incident was when MOH knocked himself out. He had been so busy watching where he was putting his feet as he scrambled along a path that he didn’t notice an overhang and gave it what Gary described as a “Glasgow kiss’. He was wearing his backpack which, as he fell backwards, prevented him from giving his head another knock. He appeared fine afterwards though I was told to keep an eye on him. From watching various medical programmes I knew you were supposed to ask them basic questions; Where are we? I didn’t have a clue. What day is it? No, I wasn’t sure of that either. Who is the Prime Minister? As we had left just as David Cameron resigned, we hadn’t heard who had taken over, being completely out of mobile phone and internet range for days. And nobody was sure who the Australian Prime Minister was either, due to their complicated voting system.

Fortunately, MOH was fine though if he had been badly hurt, the only option would have been to take him to the nearest airstrip and wait for the Flying Doctor to arrive. This is actually a charity which the people in far flung areas of Australia rely on to help them when taken ill or hurt.

Gary, our guide, is a very talented photographer and has produced some beautiful calendars of scenes from the Kimberley which he sells from his website to help the Flying Doctor service. If you’d like to buy one, contact him at