Before leaving Halls Creek this morning, I got a photograph of the cows on top of the local supermarket. I had noticed them the day before, but it was too busy to get a parking spot. The cows are testament to how important the beef industry is to the local area. The town holds a rodeo every July. Wikipedia said that in 2016 a mining company was exploring setting up in the area to mine iron ore. A population explosion was expected, and several stores and fast food businesses were planning to come to Halls Creek. There is no obvious evidence in town two years later, that this has happened. We did pass a small mine west of town on the highway but too quickly to see who or what it was. Halls Creek is on the edge of the desert and much of the land alongside the road is flat grassland with a few bushes or trees. Later on, some rocks did appear near the road and other escarpments were visible on the horizon.
Our destination was Fitzroy Crossing. The Fitzroy River (known as raparapa to the indigenous community who have inhabited the area for 40,000 years) has one of Australia’s largest catchment areas: 90,000 square kilometres. It has 20 tributaries and the water can rise up to 26 metres over the old crossing in the wet season. The area has flooded numerous times in the past and the town of Fitzroy Crossing was founded to enable an adequate crossing to be constructed. The first bridge was built in 1935 and the modern one in 1970. Today there was only a little water in the river but as it was hot, some of the locals were swimming.
Before checking into our hotel, we drove up to Geikie Gorge which is accessible with 2WD although one stretch has some pretty bad pot holes. One company and the parks service run river cruises in the gorge but today these were limited to 8am and 4pm which did not really fit in with our schedule. At other times they are hourly. There are some walking trails but as the temperature was the highest it has been so far on the trip at 39 degrees, we limited ourselves to a couple of the shorter ones and a peep over the water at a boat ramp.
I did solve one mystery here. The Kapok Bush (Cochlospermum fraseri) grows in the gorge. I had seen the yellow flowers on bushes and wondered what they were but had not seen any close up. Here, there was also an explanatory notice. The flowers turn into a pod which later splits to reveal the kapok. The indigenous Bunuba people (who call the plant Wanggu), weave the kapok with human hair to make thick belts called wanala. They also eat the tubers.
At the hotel I solved another mystery. On the east coast we had seen bushes or small trees in gardens and parks completely devoid of leaves, but the top of the branches had been pruned. Further north leaves and flowers have opened and they turned out to be rhododendrons. As a result of the flooding the town Fitzroy Crossing moved a little further away from the river. Our hotel had photographs of the most recent devastating flood in 2011 in the restaurant. Fitzroy Crossing has the oldest pub in the Kimberley Region dating from 1897: The Crossing Inn. It is still right down on the river bank as is the Pioneer Cemetery. The Inn has some indigenous art on display.
In the last couple of days, we have driven 220 and 215 miles bringing the total to 5541 miles.
The stretch of Highway One between Kununurra and the turn-off to Wyndham was a long series of road works but not too many traffic lights. The bush was a little greener here with blossom appearing on some trees. At the junction we joined the Great Northern Highway heading southbound. We stopped at the Doon Doon Roadhouse for a break. It has a little bit of everything you might need for your journey including some new and secondhand books. Further on hills appeared and the landscape became drier and rockier.
We passed the sign to a mine which my road atlas said was ‘Argyle Diamond Mine: no public access’. Most of the small creek crossings on this part of the highway are single track bridges. However, at Bow Bridge a new bridge and road access is being built. We stopped for lunch at a rest area and for the first time in the last couple of weeks, were not pestered by birds, just a few flies. Many of the trees surrounding the area had peeling bark and James suggested it might make and abstract painting. I only have a sketchbook and a few pencils with me on this trip and I might get started on some ideas.
Not long after the lunch break we passed this cow sitting by the road.
Halls Creek is the only sizeable town on this stretch of road. Its population was only just over 3,600 in 2016 of 70% are indigenous. On Christmas Day 1885, a prospector found a huge gold nugget here. The subsequent gold rush was very short-lived but the Visitors’ Centre still has a leaflet on tips for gold prospectors. The town is the administrative centre for the locals and the surrounding cattle farming region with a hospital and police station in addition to a school and some shops and churches. There is also an indigenous art centre but unfortunately this is closed at the weekend so I could not visit it. If you have a 4WD vehicle with high clearance e.g. A Toyota Landcruiser, you can drive the 52km from the highway north of Halls Creek into Purnululu National Park or drive 200km south of town on the Tanami Track to the Wolfe Creek Crater. Other options include rather expensive helicopter or plane flights over the National Park. We had decided to have a fairly lazy day so drove the 6km on the Duncan Road to China Wall. The last 1.5km is on gravel but easily accessible with 2WD.
China Wall is a vertical layer of white quartz which in places is 6m high standing above the surrounding land. The section near Halls Creek can be viewed from the path in the wet season but in the dry season you can walk right up to it across the creek.
There were a several wildflowers in bloom in the bush.
Heading back into town there was a long queue at the filling station as some of the pumps were out of order but the shops were open so we got stocked and prepared to continue our journey the following day.