KIMBERLEY CAMEOS: RIVER WALKS AND NATURAL HISTORY
At the Society's meeting on 18 January 1995, the audience heard cameo presentations on three individual topics. The first speaker was Dr. Mike Donaldson, a geologist who has been travelling in the Kimberley for ten yearsfive of those walking with a backpack down rivers looking for Aboriginal cave paintings. He has a special interest in photographing and mapping them, reporting to the Museum any which are not yet catalogued.
He showed wonderful slides of a July walk down the Drysdale River which flows into the sea 45 km North East of Kalumburu. The Solea Falls were only trickling after a dry wet, and 12 Johnston crocodiles were seen in one little pool. The 40 art sites found included dozens of much older "Bradshaw" figures.
Mike's second walk took him and his companions l00 km down the Charnley River (named and explored by his hero, Frank Hann) to the vast Walcott Inlet. This was a hard slog through 60 km of deep gorges, necessitating use of an inflatable dinghy in places where sheer cliffs afforded no foothold. The packs were floated across while the people swam after them. Here, the basalt on one side meets the King Leopold Sandstone on the other and the river runs along the contact point. An unusual rock formation of Columnar Basalt and Pillow lava tubes, formed 1,500 million years ago, was a fascinating find. The group averaged only l0 km per day in this rugged terrain and saw giant boabs, lazy crocs, stick figures and superb scenery all the way. Leaving the Charnley at the confluence of the fresh and tidal water, they walked across country to rendezvous with an aircraft at Munja airstrip. They had had to pay $1000 to have this mown before the plane could land! An expensive exercise to see such pristine country, and only the second white group to walk the river since Frank Hann saw it in 1898.
The following year Mike took another group back to establish a base camp on the river for 10 days, enabling them to do more research into cave paintings, botany, birds and other animals. This was most productive. Mike's interesting talk was illustrated with excellent slides of this magnificent area.
Our second speaker was the well-known naturalist and tour leader, Kevin Coate. Kevin was in the Kimberley in the 60s working on beef roads that included the famous Gibb River Road. He started life as a forester and is now a leading ornithologist. He spoke about the Seabird Breeding Islands off the Kimberley Coast, the main ones being the Lacepede and Adele Islands.
The Lacepede Islands are four low sandy cays 50 km west of Beagle Bay. They were discovered by the Frenchman Baudin in 1801 and named after a naturalist, Count de Lacepede. Rich guano from countless bird droppings was mined there in the 1870s and in 1877 Lord Carnarvon wrote to Sir George Ord concerned for the welfare of the birds. The rich food in the warm tropical seas support thousands of Brown boobies or gannets which nest on the islands throughout the year. They lay two eggs, but only hatch one, and take 45 months to fledge their young. Visitors must be careful not to frighten the birds off the nests for the Silver gulls are very predatory and will eat neglected eggs. Thousands of Least Frigate birds nest on clumps of Spinifex grass, laying one egg only and taking one year to fledge their young. Also nesting here are Caspian terns, pelicans, noddy terns and cormorants.
These islands are also the main breeding grounds for green-backed turtles which lay their eggs on the sandy beaches and provide an important food for Aboriginal people. The surviving eggs hatch in January to February and the young begin their precarious journey down to the sea, picked off by birds on the beach and fish and sharks in the sea. Very few actually survive this trauma to reach adulthood. The islands also have a bloody history of terror and violence because captured Aboriginal people were held there to be used as pearl divers.
Adele Island is a low, sandy islet of only 200 hectares lying 100 km north of Cape Leveque (both named by Baudin). It encloses a large lagoon used by many migratory waders. There is a sparse vegetation of Abutilon indicum, a hibiscus-like straggly shrub, the coastal bean Canavalia maritima and the usual coastal Spinifex longifolius grass. The island is home to thousands of Brown boobies, Least Frigate birds and three breeding colonies of pelicans. These massive birds lay two eggs and rear two young. There are reef egrets, light and dark phases, and night herons which hide in the spinifex. On recent trips, cormorant colonies numbering a few hundred were discovered and 2,000 Red-necked stints (transitory waders) were counted. The island also houses an automatic weather station and a transmitting mast.
Masked Boobies only breed on Adele and Bedout Islands where, nesting precariously on sand close to the sea, they are occasionally taken by an estuarine or salt water crocodile. Five hundred were estimated to be breeding, and they manoeuvre their young into the shadow of their own bodies to prevent them dying of dehydration.
The Red-footed Booby is the smallest and rarest. It was first discovered here by Kevin, nesting on small Abutilon plants only 1 metre high, and does not breed elsewhere in WA. The Great Frigate bird was also a first nesting discovery on this important island. It develops a bright red gular pouch which balloons out during mating, a most unusual sight. All these birds were illustrated by beautiful slides taken by Kevin.
Kevin Kenneally was the final speaker of the trio. He is a CALM botanist who first visited the Kimberley in 1975 and is now the world authority on the area and its flora. In 1977, he went 450 km offshore, on the Naval craft HMAS Attack, to the Ashmore Reef. Less than half that distance separates this atoll or sandy cay from the Indonesian island of Roti, and the Macassans visited it to collect trepang (beche de mer or sea cucumbers) and clam meat for food. They planted coconut palms to help their navigation, mined guano, sunk wells for water, cut firewood, built pens for their poultry and planted corn. They also dried shark and clam meat on racks made of sticks, dried the breast plates of frigate birds and collected sea bird eggs by smashing existing ones to make the birds lay fresh eggs. We saw slides of this destruction and of the Indonesian prahus and Taiwanese stern trawlers whose takings were checked by the Navy patrol boats.
Ashmore Reef is now a National Nature Reserve and the navy is determined to keep Indonesian fishermen off the island. The water was found to contain cholera organisms and, in the 1940s, Dom Serventy, a famous ornithologist, found rats predating the birds and their eggs, also a mouse plague and cats present. Quarantine is important to protect the fauna which is similar to Adele Island (also the same birds) with some larger shrubs such as Scaevola sericea, Argusia argentea and Sesbania cannabina.
Kevin's illustrated talk also extended to Cape Domett which is on the eastern edge of Cambridge Gulf separated from the mainland by tidal mudflats. The scientists had converged on this isolated place to count flat-backed turtles as they came onto the wide beach to lay their eggs. The careful digging of holes and the covering of the eggs to hide them from marauding dingoes must have been fascinating to watch as evidenced from Kevin's slides.
A sandstone platform used as a landing pad by the party's helicopter consisted of attractive Rainbow stone which is mined, polished and sold to tourists in Kununurra. The track to Cape Domett passes through the Ningbing Range of dark weathered Devonian Limestone, an ancient marine coral reef. This was a geologist's dream of karst eroded into flutes and pipes (rillenkaren) and Aboriginal art was seen in the caves.
Questions and comments followed, and the subsequent applause showed our appreciation for being taken to some little-visited but fascinating areas of the Kimberley.
Daphne Choules Edinger.
THE RUSH OF '86
In February 1995, historian Cathie Clement spoke to Kimberley Society about the 1886 gold rush to Halls Creek, tracing its origins to 1879 when a geologist with Alexander Forrest's expedition suggested that the headwaters of the Fitzroy River might be gold-bearing. In 1882, Philip Saunders, a prospector from Pine Creek in the Northern Territory, found traces of gold around the upper Ord River. The government then sent Edward Hardman, an Irish geologist, to the Ord watershed with a survey party and he reported it promising. More prospecting occurred in this area but finds weren't broadcast until Charles Hall and John Slattery announced in Derby that they had found 10 ozs of nuggetty gold in 4-6 days at Halls Creek (named after Hall) on 14 July 1885. The government had offered a reward of £5,000 to anyone who discovered a workable goldfield within 300 miles of any declared port in the colony. For various reasons this reward was never paid, but word spread on the bush telegraph and other prospectors made their way to the Kimberley.
At this time Derby was a tiny town, with a police post, resident magistrate and some tents. Pastoralists were already in the area. Nat Buchanan had delivered cattle to Ord River station in June 1884, and the Duracks and Tom Kilfoyle had arrived. "Black Pat" Durack and August Lucanus foresaw the gold rush and each set up a store in Cambridge Gulf to supply the prospectors. Colonial newspapers cautioned people against rushing Halls Creek but, by January 1886, Derby people were taking steps to cope with a rush. By the end of February, there were 36 prospectors on the field. They came overland from the Northern Territory, by sea through Cambridge Gulf, or in through Derby, travelling 100 miles further than the Gulf route.
Charles Carlisle brought 56 ozs of gold into Derby on 26 March 1886, and 6 parties reported 150 ozs on 3rd April. The catalyst for the rush was a telegram sent from Derby, via Cossack, the following day by Thomas Henry Lovegrove, the Resident Magistrate. It was published in eastern colonial papers, reaching shipping circles as far afield as New Zealand. This started the rush that shouldn't have happened! Wyndham didn't exist at this time, so people booked for King Sound. Many were dumped on the mud there.
The Executive Council declared the existence of a goldfield on 12 May 1886 and on the same day The Melbourne Argus described the rush and the area. By June, hundreds of people, called Kimberley Diggers, were on board ships with no idea of what was in store for them, including the rugged terrain.
Already there was trouble in the Halls Creek goldfields. There were no police, and camps were small and scattered through men following new finds. At Spear Gully on Macphee's Camp, Aboriginal warriors fatally speared Fred Marriott and wounded one of his mates. The prospectors followed their tracks to the Mary River area and wiped out all the people they found.
The SS Triumph arrived off Derby from New Zealand full of diggers who, because they had a case of Scarlet Fever on board, were not allowed to leave the ship. This incensed them, causing much drama, and eventually they all went ashore anxious to be up and away to make their fortunes; so they thought. Some 10,000 people are believed to have joined the rush, but no more than 2,000 were on the field at any given time. By September 1886 there was an exodus and prospectors were fleeing. Few profited from going there. Neither Derby nor Wyndham had a bank and currency was in short supply. People had to use shin plasters, similar to money orders or cheques, instead of money.
Some of the characters Cathie mentioned were Tom Nugent, head of the Ragged Thirteen who came as opportunists and reputedly butchered stolen cattle for the passing diggers. Among the very few women were an alcoholic prostitute, known as the "Mountain Maid", and Sarah O'Neill, known as "Mother Dead Finish". She came over with her husband and, after his death, worked as midwife and washerwoman. Legend says she was killed over some gold sovereigns she kept in her bodice. Paddy the Flat, an illiterate Irishman, set up as a storekeeper and publican in the area. Russian Jack is known for pushing his sick mate part way from Derby to Halls Creek in a wheelbarrow.
The Kimberley had no newspapers at this time and Cathie's talk was based on snippets gleaned over the years from outside papers, police journals, private diaries and reminiscences. The rush to Halls Creek, although largely a disaster for those who took part, opened up the trail that ultimately led to the sustainable finds at Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. People are still looking for gold around Halls Creek, some with success. The town was moved from the original site, however, and today there are few signs of the feverish activity that once enlivened the area.
Daphne Choules Edinger
EXPLORING THE KIMBERLEY COAST
In March 1995, Kevin Coate spoke to the Kimberley Society about one of his expeditions, tracing the route out on a display map before he showed his slides. The expedition included visits to Broome, Lacepede Islands, Doubtful Bay, Koolan and Cockatoo Islands, Walcott Inlet, Isdell River, Montgomery Island, Llangi (an Aboriginal site), Slate Island, Kuri Bay, Augustus Island, Camden Harbour, Prince Regent River, Careening Bay, Prince Frederick Harbour, Anjo Peninsula, King George River and Cambridge Gulf.
The party sailed from Broome at the south west base of the Dampier Peninsula, an area of red pindan soil and vegetation, past the James Price Point cliffs and on to Cape Leveque. Here there is a lighthouse built in 1911, but now automated and no longer manned. The tidal range in the Kimberley is vast, up to 10 to 11 metres twice daily. This means that sea travel and landings are dictated by tidal knowledge. The basic rock is sandstone which makes for very photogenic photography.
The first landing was on the Lacepede Islandsfour low lying sandy cays that were used by pearlers and for the mining of guano. They offer excellent sea bird breeding sites and many birds were observed and counted here and on the next island visited, Adele Island, 100 km north of Cape Leveque. In 1990, Kevin discovered red-footed boobies and great frigate birds breeding here, previously unrecorded.
Nairs Point on the mainland opposite Cockatoo Island was remarkable for the folded sandstone and the high tide mark.. Nearby was Koolan Island, also in Yampi Sound, which has ceased iron ore mining (allowing the vegetation to return) and boasts the most scenic rubbish dump in the world. Kevin counted 38 white breasted sea eagles feeding there. The party called into Crocodile Creek on the mainland, where a recreation camp was established for the workers.
Next they entered Walcott Inlet through the narrow Yule Entrance where the tide races out at 11 knots or more causing immense whirlpools and requiring a powerful boat to get through. Three large rivers empty into this vast inlet, the Charnley, Calder and Isdell. Small boats were used to explore up the Isdell where there were flat grasslands and swamps rich in birdsbustards, brolgas, spoonbills and a pied heron, to mention but a few. Many crocodiles were seen (some freshwater Johnsons and a few "salties" or estuarine Crocodylus porosus sunning themselves on the banks), so special precautions were necessary in the small boats.
At the entrance to Doubtful Bay is Steep Island with spectacularly high cliffs of King Leopold Sandstone. Here they met the topsail schooner Willie and landed on the mainland with Aboriginal guides Donald Llangi and Neville Molluman to inspect the aboriginal cave paintings of Wandjinas and rock cod, a rare sight indeed. It necessitated a rugged climb to the top but they were rewarded with a superb view to the Glenelg River.
The Sale River was easily accessible by the large boat but they embarked in the dinghies to get further up river. The naturalists had sailed up here to camp in the 1980s on white sand amid high cliffs and waterfalls higher upstream. There were plenty of fish, sooty grunters, and good swimming and Stylidium muscicola in damp spots. They also found remnant rainforests up the creeks, with ferns and limpid pools. The colourful rainbow pitta was seen, extending the identified range. An almost tame water monitor, Varanus mertensii, seemed to eat anything offered it. The Woollybutt was in flower and sported a green tree frog, much admired and photographed. A new grevillea was discovered here in 1985 and called after the botanist, Donald McGillivray.
From Raft Point, Kevin's expedition party sailed across to Montgomery Reef where the tide traps water on top and creates many tumbling water falls. Here, there was much marine life to investigate, especially corals, giant clams, sea cucumbers and marine molluscs.
Donald was pleased to get back to his birth place at Llangi, an aboriginal spiritual area with Wandjina figures and several burial sites. The Warriors was a strange rock formation causing much comment. Large black lipped oysters were abundant and much sought after. Camping ashore was encouraged to get the people off the cramped quarters on the boat for a change and to observe any interesting plants and animals. Flat backed turtles are known to breed here but, not being the season for egg laying, none were seen. The Aboriginals use long poles to prod the sand looking for eggs, a great delicacy.
They sailed past Kuri Bay, the first cultured pearl operation established after the war, then past Augustus Island into Camden Sound to land at the ruins of the settlement of 1864. This was the first white settlement in the Kimberley. It was a disaster and lasted less than a year, with six colonists ending their lives buried on Sheep Island, their cemetery. One colonist, John Meade, was buried elsewhere and Kevin was anxious to locate his grave. Donald thought he knew where it was and, given that he'd last seen it as a small boy in the 1940s, they were overjoyed to find he could lead them to it. Many relics remain of the original settlement, and these were inspected at length. The party was able to show that Mt Lookover was in the wrong position on the maps, so that was useful information for DOLA.
Green ants were encountered on all trips to the mainland and Donald was happy to show how to make them into a refreshing drink by grabbing a handful, squeezing them into a container, and adding water. Passed around for everyone to sample, it was quite astringent and tasty, strangely enough.
Loisette Marsh, a marine biologist, was collecting corals throughout the trip and she found an unusual mushroom coral Fungia sp. They saw Humpbacked whales travelling up the coast on their annual migration. They called into King George Basin, sailing around St. Patrick Island and admiring Mt Waterloo in the distance. On reaching the Prince Regent River, they sailed up till they reached the entrance to Camp Creek where, five km upstream, a wonderful campsite is fringed with tall Melaleuca leucadendra at the confluence of the fresh and salt water. The limpid pools on the creek were covered in large blue waterlilies, Nymphaea violacea. It was a tranquil spot with waterfalls further up above a deep plunge pool. Small turtles were present in these pools, both long and short necked.
The next stop was made 15 km higher up the river at King Cascade, a famous waterfall named after Phillip Parker King who landed there in 1820 to refill his water containers, called barecas. The pool below the cascade empties at low tide and is home to a large saltwater crocodile. They sailed on to Amphitheatre Falls where there were paintings of fish in the caves and delectable barramundi in the water. The birding was good and they saw a blood finch, white quilled rock pigeons, yellow-faced partridge pigeons and Torres Strait pigeons. A Northern Native cat, or quoll, was caught in an Elliott trap set by the naturalists.
At Careening Bay where King careened his cutter HMS Mermaid in 1820, they found the ancient plants or Cycads, Cycas basaltica. Here, they were thrilled to find and photograph the 170 year old markings on the Mermaid tree, an ancient huge boab inscribed by the ship's carpenter to commemorate their stay. Was this the first graffiti in WA?
Next stop was where the Hunter and Roe Rivers empty into Prince Frederick Harbour. King was certainly a Royalist! Naturalist Island nestles in this huge harbour, named by the WA Naturalist's Club who camped there in 1985. The botanists were pleased to find a patch of rainforest above the beach and investigated it thoroughly, collecting the while. They found Ficus racemosa, a stem-fruiting fig, Brachychiton viscidulus and Clerodendrum with black and red fruits. Porosus Creek, named for the salt water crocodile, is a tributary of the Hunter and was investigated also. Up the Hunter they found a freshwater spring mentioned by Alan Cunningham in his diary and used to fill the explorers' barecas when they were desperately short of water. Lindsay Peet informed us (from the audience) that the Japanese landed in the Roe and Moran Rivers during WWII and camped for three days.
Many islands were visited including Laplace, Dice, Augustus, and Lacrosse in Cambridge Gulf but before this they called in to Bigge Island to view the many unusual cave paintings there. They show a European influence in that the men are smoking pipes and carrying water containers. Anjo Peninsula and the Truscott Air base were a must, to see the ruins and remains of the occupation of the 194446 Air Force war base. At Vansittart Bay, the fishermen pulled in Mangrove Jack and Spotted Cod for a sumptuous meal.
King George River, where there are miles of the deepest gorges in WA, was another must. Where they anchored, there was 150 metres of water under the boat and 100 metres of sandstone cliffs above. Tall falls where the river plunged from the high plateau added to the already spectacular scenery. More botanising here as people explored this fascinating area.
At Wyndham, at the base of the huge Cambridge Gulf, the memorable sea trip ended after they travelled down to the Gut where King had also explored. Kevin illustrated his interesting talk with superb slides of unforgettable scenery. Many thanks for sharing your travels with us. We look forward to more of the same later.....
Daphne Choules Edinger
KAYU JAWA: THE KIMBERLEY OF THE INDONESIANS
The speaker for the April 1995 meeting, Dr Ian Crawford, developed an interest in the topic of contact between Indonesian fishing parties and Aboriginal people after visiting a site near Kalumburu whilst traversing the Kimberley coast by lugger in 1963. He decided to focus on this contact for his doctoral thesis (written in London) and investigated the area known to the Indonesians - because of the species of mangrove that gave the beche-de-mer they found there a distinctive red colour - as Kayu Jawa. Of particular interest was the contact with the Aboriginal women, who did most of the trading.
Ian commenced his talk by reminding us that Indonesian contact on the Kimberley coast is occurring right up to the present day, and that the international law of the sea states that their fishing should be allowed to continue. It all started centuries ago with passing sailors seeking beche-de-mer or trepang, a holothurian or sea cucumber, as a food source. The coast is strewn with their favoured habitat - great sandbanks. By the 1750s, the Indonesians were trading with China. Beche-de-mer was regarded by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac. The British said, on the other hand, that one type, when dried, looked like a sausage that had been thrown up the chimney!
In discussing the history of Kayu Jawa, Ian told us that the Indonesians probably also took trochus and pearl shell, and perhaps iron ore from Yampi. They sailed first to Cassini Island as a fleet and divided into two, going north and south. The French captain Baudin made contact with several vessels in 1803 and during Phillip Parker King's survey in 1819-1822, Indonesian pottery shards were found on one of the islands. In the 1860s, a fleet visited Camden Harbour where a small European settlement had been established. The nature of beche-de-mer fishing changed in the late nineteenth century with the entry of white Australians into the trade. These men included Henry Hilliard and his son Robin, who worked from Kupang with Indonesian crews. We heard some details of their activities and how white involvement ceased with the Second World War, when the Japanese captured Robin Hilliard and beheaded him.
Ian's doctoral research involved excavations at Tamarinda in Napier Broome Bay where he recorded cave paintings and found tamarind trees which had been planted by the fishing parties. The tamarind trees remain the markers of their landings. They planted these to provide them with spices for their particular style of cooking. We saw slides of Ian's excavations on the beach where he found Indonesian pottery, musket balls, fish hooks and layers of ash and charcoal from their fires. This occupation he dated at 1821 from a brass coin located there. Tanya Thiess analysed the shards and estimated them to be from the island of Sumba.
Whilst carrying out his archaeological research, Ian found out that the staff of Burmah Oil Company had located Indonesian graves on Ashmore Reef. We heard how he landed on Ashmore Reef and counted 11 prahus in the vicinity which came from Ras, north of Bali, a 30 day sail with no navigation equipment. Instead the fishermen used the stars, birds, presence of seaweed, clouds and intuition. They also sailed down to the Rowley Shoals through very dangerous waters. Here there is no water and no shelter and many disappeared. They caught fish and collected trochus shell out of which they ate the meat. They used wooden racks to dry this meat and other meat taken from clam shells.
The Indonesian influence on the indigenous people included introducing the Aborigines to the dugout canoe, which enabled them to get further afield. Ian also found that some of the old Aboriginal people remembered a little of the language used to communicate with the Indonesians. A range of questions and comments followed the talk and it was noted that there is a prahu on display at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle.
Daphne Choules Edinger
GEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE KIMBERLEY LANDSCAPE
Dr Tim Griffin opened his talk on 17 May 1995 by defining the role of his employer, the Geological Survey of Western Australia, which promotes mining and assists with the general development of the State. Part of this role involves facilitating access to the land whilst paying due attention to environmental and Aboriginal concerns. Tim's work involves producing geological maps which are reviewed every ten to twenty years as new data are collected. His aim in delivering the talk was to kindle our enthusiasm for the more subtle aspects of the Kimberley landscapean easy task with an audience of Kimberley lovers.
Tim started at the beginning of time, stating that the earth is believed to be 4,500 million years old, i.e. 4,500 Ma and that some of the oldest rocks, at 3,500 Ma, are found in the Pilbara. The Yilgam craton of granite-greenstone is older than 2,500 Ma. The Survey uses chemical analysis and single crystals of zincon to date these rocks, which are known as Archean rocks.
We saw many slides of diagrammatic geological models and field examples as Tim explained that rocks determine the landscape according to their age, how they were formed, and how they have since eroded. Vegetation variations reflect differences in soils formed from the underlying bedrock.
The flat-lying sandstones and siltstones of the Kimberley Basin are Early Proterozoic in age (c. 1,800 Ma) and are generally undeformed. The whole of the Kimberley Basin is underlain by the Hart Dolerite that intruded as sheets of mafic magma up to 3 km thick. Uplift and erosion of these rocks has given rise to the open valleys and flat top hills of the Kimberley plateau country. The Hart Dolerite is characterised by black bouldery hills in the broad open valleys. To the east and west of the extensive area of Kimberley Basin sedimentary rocks are the eroded remnants of major mountain building zones known as the King Leopold Orogen and the Halls Creek Orogen. These areas contain slightly older metamorphic rocks and coarse-grained granites that form the foothills around the strongly deformed margin of the Kimberley Plateau.
Our trip through time allowed for a brief introduction to the Middle Proterozoicwith a discussion of the diamond-bearing diatreme (pipe) at Argyle, age 1,100 Maand some comments on the age of continents (which are old) and oceans (which are young). The information that the Australian continent is travelling north at the rate of a few centimetres a year prompted some speculative comments from members of the audience, and there were many intriguing questions posed when Tim finished his interesting presentation.
Daphne Choules Edinger
WORLD WAR II AND THE KIMBERLEY
In June 1995, Lindsay Peet tantalised the Kimberley Society audience with little known information about events that occurred during the Second World War. The combat period covered by the talk ranged from 20 February 1942, when the Japanese attacked the vessel Koolama, to July 1944, when the last Japanese aircraft over the Kimberley was shot down by a RAF (British) Spitfire at Truscott Air Base.
The Kimberley came under different commands, initially Java, then Perth, and later Darwin. The forces on the Allied side were the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force (including a Dutch squadron within the RAAF), three RAF fighter squadrons, and the United States Navy air arm (Catalinas) and Army Air Forces (Liberator Bombers). The RAAF had five significant air bases as well as an air defence headquarters in the Kimberley. There were eight radar stations, mostly on the coast, two American LORAN stations, and RAAF Marine Sections to look after the Catalinas. The Flying Doctor Service, based in Wyndham, provided a Volunteer Air Observer Corps communications network for the RAAF. Army activities included setting up guerilla groups on Kimberley stations in 1942 and providing them with uniforms and weapons so they would be ready to react to any Japanese landing. Another interesting army group was the Northern Australia Observer Unit ("Curtin's Cowboys") which had headquarters at Ivanhoe station. The signal traffic generated by this unit attracted the attention of Japanese radio intelligence teams in Timor and gave the impression that a large force was stationed in the East Kimberley.
Activities in the Kimberley constituted a vital link in the defence of Northern Australia, providing, amongst other things, an air garrison against the Japanese in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Enemy operations there were virtually paralysed by 1945, with the Japanese having insufficient ships to move their troops out. Earlier attacks had forced the Japanese to move their main air base northward from Koepang. Operations conducted mainly out of Drysdale, Truscott and West Kimberley bases created a threat perception which held enemy troops away from New Guinea where General McArthur's forces were advancing. In 1945, American Liberators flying out of Truscott attacked Japanese gun emplacements on Lombok Island, with the air crew competing for cases of Swan Lager as an added incentive to score hits!
The limited attacks mounted from the Kimberley against the enemy in Java included one successful Australian Liberator attack out of Truscott. Aerial mine laying also took place in Java and Borneo, with RAAF flying boats initially operating out of Cygnet Bay, then Yampi Sound, and lastly West Bay east of Truscott. The highly secret base at Cockatoo Island in Yampi Sound was code named "She Cat". These flying boats had to go in very low on a fixed path, taking high risks. Several Catalinas were lost.
The Japanese forces in Timor were only about 500 kms from the north Australian coast and, of the 22 air attacks they mounted, 15 affected the Kimberley. Five attacks on Broome resulted in the destruction of 23 aircraft and the loss of about 100 lives. More lives were lost at Kalumburu (Drysdale); Derby airport was strafed; and there were three attacks on Wyndham.
Enemy personnel involved in operations relevant to the Kimberley were attached to submarines belonging to the Imperial Japanese Navy and to aircraft belonging to both the Navy and the Army. Submarine raids included the laying of 39 mines in shipping lanes in Joseph Bonaparte Gulf in January 1942. The Army was responsible for two surface incursions, one at Cape Leveque in August 1944 when an enemy ship, the Bandeong Maru was captured and one, which was never detected, at York Sound. The latter saw the Japanese land at the mouth of the Moran River for two days, in January 1944, looking for an Allied base. The hour-long 8 mm film they made at the time does not seem to have survived.
The slides accompanying Lindsay's talk included war graves and remnants of buildings and aircraft, particularly in the Truscott area on the Anjo Peninsula (classified by the National Trust). Of much interest was a series on the "Shady Lady", a Liberator that crash landed on a salt pan on the Peninsula in August 1943. After major repairs, made possible by assistance rendered by Aboriginal people from Kalumburu, it flew out again sporting a wooden nose!
BROOME’S EARLY DAYS
On 13 June 1995, the Kimberley Society held its second regional meeting. Organised by members from Broome, with Lotteries House as the venue, the meeting attracted a large group. The speaker, Dr Cathie Clement, a public historian, was visiting Broome on a trip related to heritage work. Her illustrated talk included coverage of early exploration, maritime industries, declaration of the Broome townsite, land sales, occupation, installation of the telegraph line, erection of “Cable House” (now the Court House), and the imposition of law and order.
SIXTH MEETING FOR 1995
This meeting was to have heard from Ross Chadwick of the Western Australian Museum on the topic “Kimberley Collection of the WA Museum”. Unfortunately, Perth had major power failures that day and the talk had to be cancelled.
ECOTOURISM AND BOTANY IN THE KIMBERLEY
The August 1995 speaker, Kevin Kenneally, described ecotourism as a term that embraces such things as getting back to nature, recreation and serious study; and he pointed out that the upgrading of the Gibb River Road will mean more people tramping around a fragile region.
Kevin, who leads some of the Landscope tours, presented these tours as one of the purest forms of ecotourismwhere participants pay to become volunteers and help scientists collect and interpret data, thus becoming involved intimately in nature conservation. Work in these remote areas is very expensive because it involves hiring boats and helicopters. The tours are non-profit, self-supporting expeditions, with any surplus money used for further research. CALM scientists lead them and UWA Extension Service administers the logistics and organisational side. Anybody can join so long as they are fit and healthy and their ages range from 15 to 72. The expeditioners get a full briefing beforehand and a full report on achievements afterwards. They benefit by being able to visit remote and exciting places they would not otherwise see, while the community and future generations benefit from the work that is carried out.
Kevin had prepared overheads to show us the National Parks and Nature Reserves (an area 51% of the size of Japan) that CALM manages in the Kimberley. National Parks are created more for their recreational aspect whereas the Nature Reserves are formed to protect plants and animals living there. There are CALM offices in Kununurra and Broome but none in the far north west Kimberley. In 1992, about 143,000 people visited the Kimberley. The number is rising, especially in the popular Purnululu National Park and on the Ibis Aerial Highway which was created by the Kimberley Shires and CALM utilising existing airstrips for tourism.
We saw wonderful slides illustrating a broad cross section of the Kimberley area, from the Derby tidal flats (shot out of a helicopter) to cultural aspects of Aboriginal life. There was a didgeridoo made out of a small gum tree stem piped out by termites and decorated by etching with fire. Aboriginal cave paintings showing Wandjinas were featured and Kevin noted that evidence of earlier occupation in the form of "Bradshaw" figures (thin elongated silhouettes) are less easy to find.
The slides showed how heavy rain of a late wet caused much damage to unsealed roads and, with vehicles then compounding this damage, how an expedition's OKA got bogged on Beverley Springs Station and never reached Bachsten Creek. Instead the group happily explored Grevillea Gorge and camped at Grevillea Creek. Insectivorous plants were plentiful in this area especially Stylidium claytonoides and Utricularia chrysantha. These trigger plants may give us a clue to speciation in the Kimberley. They are pre-Gondwanan with a highly specialised pollination mechanism. Banksia dentata is an attractive tree and is the only Banksia found in this region. It occurs as far north as New Guinea and the nearby islands, and grows in damp swampy ground in groves. Lindernia cleistandra is an unusual plant growing high up on cliff faces. When it flowers, and after pollination, the seed case grows back into a crevice and so gradually moves up the cliff face. It has large, deep blue flowersmost showy.
The braid fern, Platyzoma microphyllum is like a resurrection plant as it is dry and dormant in the dry season and comes to life with the first rains. The leaf unrolls from the tip in the typical fern manner, and the plant grows in an ever-widening circle. Another resurrection plant is Borya subulata. The Kimberley Rose, a Kurrajong, Brachychiton viscidulus, has huge pink flowers scattered over the leafless branches, much photographed. The seeds of this tree are important to the Aboriginal people as they roast them like peanuts (just as tasty).
Mangroves were featured showing their aerial roots, or pneumatophores, which are knee roots in Bruguiera and prop roots in Rhizophora. At low tide these special roots absorb atmospheric oxygen which is important for a plant whose roots are permanently inundated.
Eucalypts and Acacias dominate the Kimberley flora. They are the remnants of the wetter rainforests. Eucalyptus miniata, the Woollybutt, is outstanding with its bright orange flowers, and E. cadophora has red flowers equally attractive. Cycads and palms are also prevalent and much sought after by collectors. Livistona eastoni is common on Mitchell Plateau, and the fruits and young stems are eaten by the Aboriginals. On El Questro station is an undescribed palm that also occurs in Japan and China.
Mucuna gigantea is called the match box bean and is a liane in the rainforest patches. It has large pale green pea flowers which had not been collected before. It also has irritant hairs on the pods. Abrus precatorius is the crabs eye bean and has bright red and black seeds, very poisonous and much used in decorations. A mistletoe, Decaisnina biangulata is rarely found and is quite restricted. It was on a new host in Grevillea Gorge, Syzygium eucalyptoides. An introduced hibiscus, H. sabdariffa, or rosella, is now a pest spread by wild pigs. It was brought in by Asian people who use its fleshy epicalyx for making jams or preserves.
Other slides showed that Marlgu Billabong in Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve is a wonderful bird-watching place. It was covered with large blue water lilies and other aquatic plants, a naturalist's paradise. Flat-backed turtles were sought at Cape Domett and camp was made at the Needles, a fascinating sandstone outcrop. Turtles were tagged and counted at night and predation of their eggs by crocodiles and dingoes was observed.
Kevin spoke of forthcoming ecotours to Gibson Desert, Great Victoria Desert and Batalling Forest (this year) and four more to the Kimberley (next year). He then took questions from the audience, and there were many.
Daphne Choules Edinger
LT. GEORGE GREY'S 1838 EXPEDITION REVISITED
On 20 September 1995, members of the Society enjoyed a presentation entitled "My Journal of an Expedition of Discovery in Northern and Western Australia during the year 1838 by Lord Grey, Late Captain of the 83rd regiment, Governor of South Australia, New Zealand and the Cape Province of South Africa, describing many newly discovered, important and fertile Districts, with assistance from P.J. Knight, Esq. Gent. and H.E. McGlashan, surgeon to the expedition of rediscovery".
Hamish McGlashan, resplendent in formal attire, read from George Grey's Journal, recently republished by Hesperian Press, telling how Lt Lushington was Grey's second in charge and how Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies, had instigated their trip with support from the Royal Geographic Society. Glenelg's letter of instruction of 16 June 1837, stated that Grey and Lushington were to embark in HMS Beagle going to either Swan River or Cape of Good Hope where they would engage another vessel to take them to Prince Regent River. Once there, they were to explore the openings behind Dampier Land before riding parallel to the coast and investigating any rivers they crossed en route to the Swan River Colony. In the process, they were to explore all lands and familiarise the natives with British Traditions.
The tale of Grey's travels and traumas then unfolded, with Peter Knight stepping forward to take us on an illustrated walk. After sailing from Plymouth in the Beagle, Grey had engaged the schooner Lynher at Cape Town, where he collected seeds, including cotton, for planting. Unfortunately, the party reached the northern Australian coast at the start of an exceptionally wet "Wet", and Grey and several others almost expired trying to walk from High Bluff Point to Hanover Bay in the heat. Grey was only 25 years old; Lushington was even younger.
During the time Grey's party spent in what would become the Kimberley, they established a base camp, hoisted the British flag to take possession in the name of the monarch, and fetched ponies from Timor. These poor beasts were so small the party had to remodel their saddles to fit them. Exploratory jaunts brought the British explorers into conflict with local Aboriginal people and Grey was speared in the hip. This injury gave him trouble for the remainder of the expedition and contributed to the party not being able to cover more than about 100 km of the journey toward Perth. Grey still managed to demonstrate his potential as a leader, however.
Hamish then resumed the story in the words from Grey's journal, telling how they examined the islands at the entrance to Prince Regent River in St George Water on 13 January 1838 and found lofty paper barks, cascades, isolated pinnacles of limestone rocks, anthills and the "gouty stemmed" trees they called Capparis, meaning our boabs. They reached a noble river, 3 to 4 miles across and complete with verdant islands, which Grey named after Lord Glenelg. The flies were terrible and crawled into their eyes, nostrils and mouths. Exhausted, they halted on the bank of a stream dotted with water lilies, catching fish and a long necked turtle. The 'natives' were described as 'manly and noble' and the audience, totally captivated by the word pictures created by Grey, was taken completely by surprise when the accompanying slide presentation suddenly switched to the nine noble men from the re-discovery expedition standing in the pool with their manly parts strategically covered by large lily leaves.
Hamish and Peter became interested in Grey's expedition during a 1983 trip to Walcott Inlet. They knew that this first inland penetration of Northern Australia had led to the disastrous Camden Harbour Settlement in 1864 and that Howard Coate had rediscovered the Grey cave paintings in 1958 when he was working for Professor Elkin. Howard is an amazing man who studied three Kimberley Aboriginal tribes and their languages as well as translating the Bible into the Worora language. Dr Ian Crawford (WA Museum) had also led an expedition to try to find the paintings illustrated so well in Grey's journal. With no exact locations given, they were hard to find, but Peter Knight's wife, Glen, was the first to spot them. The party also took the first photographs of Grevillea adenotricha which had been found in 1988 by Kevin Coate, a cousin of Howard's, but never before photographed. Another triumph involved relocating the "head" that Grey had described as a carving. Never short of adventure, they also faced raging bushfire and menacing crocodiles during their 13 day walk!
There were many slides of the cave paintings they struggled so hard to find; including good Wandjinas, with one in a long red robe. After 150 years the paintings are in reasonably good condition. There were also excellent slides of all aspects of the modern expedition which was quite as gruelling as Grey's effort. Hamish and Peter intend going back to re-discover Grey's "Bradshaw" figures, next year if possible. We hope they are as successful.
Daphne Choules Edinger
EARLY EXPLORATION ON THE KIMBERLEY COAST
On 18 October 1995, the Society heard an interesting address by historian Ian Elliot who provided background to his story of early exploration on the Kimberley coast with a 1589 depiction of the unknown Southland (Maris Pacifici of Ortelius) and the Toscanelli map of 1471 which shows an Australia-like land-mass below Java, with what appears to be a well-defined Gulf of Carpentaria 135 years before the Duyfken voyage. Other interesting snippets followed.
Ian noted that the first known European contact with the Kimberley coast occurred in 1644 when the Dutchman, Abel Tasman produced a general outline of it. He then showed a slide of the Mar id India map by Janssonius (1657) as evidence that subsequent maps depicted the Kimberley coastline more or less accurately in shape, if not in its exact longitudinal position.
Englishman William Dampier careened his ship Cygnet on the coast in 1688. Professor Les Marchant's researches in recent years have led him to conclude that this activity took place at Karrakatta Bay, west of Sunday Island in King Sound. Dampier published the record of his adventures in 1697 and, two years later, returned to Australia's northwest in HMS Roebuck. On this voyage he noted pearl oysters south of present-day Broome and had a skirmish with Aborigines at Lagrange Bay. His 1699 chart did not show his landing on the Kimberley coast, and later charts showed little change. Much was now known about the west coast of New Holland, however, and Ian used a French chart of 1753 as a dramatic illustration for the benefit of anyone who was under the impression that Captain Cook discovered Australia.
There was little activity in the 18th century and, whilst the Frenchman St Allouarn skirted the Kimberley coast in 1772, he added little to outside knowledge of it. By comparison, the 19th century saw a lot of mapping and naming of places on the Kimberley coast. In 1801, Captain Peter Heywood in HMS Vulcan named Red Island which is off Camden Sound. In the same year, a French expedition undertook exploratory work that included using the Geographe, under Captain Nicolas Baudin, to examine coastal islands and identify great discrepancies in the way parts of the coast were laid down on contemporary charts. Other personnel on this voyage included Francois Peron and the geographer Boullanger.
Having noted that the initial results of the 1801 visit were inadequate and inconclusive, Ian told how Baudin and the Geographe returned to the Kimberley coast in 1803 accompanied by Sub-Lieutenant Louis de Freycinet in the Casuarina. This time the expedition named many coastal features but, because it did not come in close, the French names are restricted to the outer islands. Of note is that a fleet of Malay fishing proas was seen near the Institut Group of islands.
Australian-born Phillip Parker King, sailing in HMS Mermaid, began to fill in the gaps in what was known about the coast in 1817. Also on board was John Septimus Roe, later to be WA's Surveyor General. In 1819 King visited Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, explored Cambridge Gulf, and then rounded Cape Londonderry to Sir Graham Moore Island. An examination of Vansittart Bay involved contact with local Aborigines and King also visited Admiralty Gulf and Port Warrender. In assigning names to islands and other features, King used Freycinet's chart and retained the French names where he could recognise the relevant places. In 1820, he resumed the survey of the coast at Cape Voltaire, charting Montague Sound, Scott Strait, York Sound, and Prince Frederick Harbour. His crew repaired the hull of the Mermaid in Careening Bay and the famous inscription "HMS Mermaid 1820" was carved onto a boab tree. Excursions were made to Bat Island and Mt Knight and, after repairs were completed, the party examined Brunswick Bay and St George basin, rowing up the Prince Regent River as far as King Cascade.
King returned the following year in HMS Bathurst, revisiting Careening Bay and the Prince Regent River before clashing with Aborigines at Hanover Bay. Survey of Port George IV and Rogers Strait followed before King sailed from the Camden Sound area to King Sound, Cape Leveque and Roebuck Bay. A fourth and final voyage took place in 1822 when King again used the Bathurst and examined the area around the Buccaneer Archipelago and King Sound. At the close of his survey, three geographically important openings had not been examined and there were conflicting opinions as to whether these openings were passages that led to other parts of the coast.
In closing his comments on King, Ian identified an interesting link in that his next command took King aboard HMS Adventure where he came into contact with midshipmen John Lort Stokes and John Clements Wickham. These men arrived on the Kimberley coast aboard HMS Beagle in 1838 and explored Roebuck Bay, King Sound (including part of the Fitzroy River), Collier Bay and Secure Bay. They named many more coastal features but missed George Water and the mouth of the Glenelg River. This river had been seen by George Grey whose land exploration was discussed at the September meeting of the Society. The name Doubtful Bay recorded the incompleteness of the examination and the mystery attached to the area was not solved until Kenneth Brown led a party into Camden Sound 25 years later.
Ian noted that the Brown expedition of 1863 can practically be said to have ended the true exploration of the Kimberley coast. The first pastoral settlement in the Kimberley took place shortly afterwards at Camden Harbour but added little to the known outline. Further Royal Navy hydrographic surveys were undertaken and Ian named some of those that preceded the work under Commander F.A. Reyne (1913) which named such places as Rice Rocks, Wilson Point, Buckland Point, Viney Island, Comber Rock and Nicolle Reef.
Ian's talk was illustrated with many slides of old maps, the ships and the places explored. Altogether the audience found it very enlightening to hear how mariners gradually built up knowledge of the details of the Kimberley coast.
JACK BOHEMIA AND THE BANJO AFFAIR
Although Dr Bill McGregor is a softly spoken gentleman, members and guests at the third regional Kimberley Society meeting hung on to every word this well known and respected linguist uttered at the Spinifex Hotel, Derby, on 22 November 1995.
Bill, a Research Fellow in Linguistics at the University of Melbourne, is currently on a field trip in the Kimberley where he is continuing his research. He has recently had published, in collaboration with Jack Bohemia, Nyibayarri: Kimberley tracker, which is Jack Bohemia's autobiography. Bill's interest in Kimberley history was sparked primarily by Jack, one of the Gooniyandi men who taught him the language, as well as telling him numerous stories about the history of the region, and his role in it.
Jack was born around the turn of the century at Old Bohemia Downs Station, near Fitzroy Crossing. His mother was a Gooniyandi woman; his father was a Jaru man. From age five, Jack began to learn about stock work, ending up becoming head stockman. When his mother died, he moved away from the station, going into the Fitzroy Police Station to ask for another posting, but ended up working as a tracker for the Fitzroy Crossing police. Ultimately gaining the reputation as the best tracker in the Kimberley, he was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1970 for his 32 years of service to the Western Australia police and the community.
Bill gave the audience an extremely interesting breakdown on Chapter 2 from the book, from both Jack's stories of his experiences with the police in the days before motorcars when cattle were droved, rather than trucked, and also from the perspective of the white historian, which dates the affair, discusses motivations and reactions.
Early in September 1922 an Aboriginal man known by the gardiya name of Banjo allegedly shot dead two white men, Joseph Condren, the station manager and Timothy O'Sullivan, the cook, on Billiluna Station. Then, before walking off the station with his wife, Banjo allegedly raided the homestead and storeroom, sharing out the contentsincluding rifles and guns and a substantial quantity of ammunition as well as foodto the Billiluna Aborigines.
Contemporary sources are not entirely consistent in their accounts of what actually happened. Constable Jack Flinders of Halls Creek took pursuit and, after losing the tracks entirely at one stage, the patrol intercepted fresh tracks three weeks later. The subsequent killing of Banjo was not attributed to anyone in particular in Constable Flinders' official report, and it was not until nearly half a century later that a written source first attributed it to Jack Bohemia.
Bill's in-depth remarks gave the audience some understanding of the historical context in which Jack Bohemia lived and worked. He then turned the topic of the evening's talk to the episode in which Jack Bohemia was involved as a tracker, and also discussed the substantial body of relevant written material in the police files at the Battye Library. In closing, Bill bought forward many questions which he felt were not quite answered about the story, setting off many thought-stimulating conversations from some of the "old timers" in the audience.
Carolyn Ann Jones (Derby)
Ron Johnstone, Assistant Curator of Ornithology at the WA Museum, addressed the Society in November 1995. Ron has worked at the museum since 1969 and, with the late Glenn Storr as his mentor, studied Kimberley birds and their migratory patterns. The Kimberley was a great unknown at this time. The first observations of birds were carried out by John Lort Stokes in the Beagle in 1838, Julius Brockman, Knut Dahl who worked in Broome and Derby, and the naturalist Dr House around the turn of the century, but not much since then. Ron mentioned J.P. Rogers who collected in southern Kimberley and around Wyndham in the early 1900s, and J. Tunney who used a horse and cart!
In the 1970s the museum, often in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, began its great series of biological surveys in the Kimberley. When the first expedition ventured into the Mitchell Plateau during the wet season of 1973, the party collected 29 new species of vertebrates. These surveys help build a large data base and collection of Kimberley birds including specimens called endemics. Study skins were prepared by gutting them, filling the abdominal cavity with cotton wool, noting the stomach contents and mounting the lifelike final products on sticks. Ron had sample study skins on displayWhite quilled rock pigeon and Bee eater to name a fewand one occasionally strayed across to serve as a screen pointer while Ron showed his many beautiful slides.
We heard the Sahul Shelf was uncovered 8,000 years ago and that, with New Guinea having been linked to Australia, the island of Sumba has Banksia dentata, eucalypts, limestone and laterite in common with the Kimberley. Sabu and Roti are also very like the Kimberley, with similar birds and vegetation. This colonisation occurred via the island chains but some birds are reluctant water-crossers, like the pheasants. Many are confined to the sub-humid zone in the mangals or mangroves which is the most species rich area in the world. Twenty-four species are confined to the mangals alone. Ron showed us slides of the zonation of mangals along the coast and pictures of the bright red fiddler crabs which provide food for the birds, especially the Mangrove Heron. The Shining Flycatcher and the Mangrove Kingfisher are also confined to the mangals but other Kimberley birds occur right down into the arid Sturt Creek region of the south east Kimberley.
Speaking about the sea birds, Ron mentioned the Leeuwin Current which begins in the Lesser Sundas and is low in salinity and warmer than other water. It has a huge effect on the avifauna of the Kimberley islands, where some seabirds are residents and some migrants. Masked and Brown Boobies, Frigate birds (Lesser and Greater) and the rare Red-footed Booby breed in profusion here, and Pelicans in eastern Indonesia. The Bridled Tern breeds on most WA west coast islands and, although it was rare up to the 1940s, has now expanded its range into South Australia. The Lesser Noddy, which breeds on the Abrolhos and Seychelle Islands, has also been recorded breeding on the Ashmore Reef. Also of interest are huge numbers of migratory waders found at Eighty Mile Beach on the mainland. They breed in the Palaearctic zone and spend the northern winter in Australia, and they can build up their body weight by 30-40% prior to migration.
The sandstones and Vine thickets are important habitats for many and varied birds such as the Black Grass Wren, Torres Strait Pigeon, Great Bower Bird, and the Peregrine Falcon which has a nest on Mt Trafalgar. Rose-crowned Pigeons, which can be seen in coastal areas and feeding on wild figs, also occur from Timor to Sabu and across to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The White-quilled Rock Pigeon favours the rugged sandstone cliffs.
The savanna woodland consists of tall grasses and eucalypts, and here we find the same birds as the Northern Territory: Partridge Pigeon and Gouldian Finches to name but a few. The latter breed at Beagle Bay and into the Northern Territory and are a spectacular little bird. In the Napier Range area and south, the bird population alters, becoming more like that of the Pilbara with more arid adapted species.
In the South Kimberley Flatlands around the Fitzroy and Ord Rivers, the large trees harbour Blue-winged Kookaburras, Treecreepers and Pheasant Coucals. The birds of the Ord changed as the damming of the Ord River caused the wetlands to rise sharply and attract more waterfowl, especially ducks and egrets.
In the more arid areas are magpies and galahs, which don't penetrate the wetter areas. The Edgar Ranges and desert on the southern edge of the Kimberley sees the last of the Kimberley fauna. This inhospitable area supports only 10 to 12 species in a 20 mile patch. The adjacent Great Sandy Desert has sparse vegetation of Desert oak and spinifex and it supports only a few birds including the nomadic Budgerigar, Crimson Chat, Pied Honeyeater and the Bustard.
Ron also described the storage of 45,000 specimens of birds in shelves in the museum. Little is known still about many species, for instance their distribution, food, breeding behaviour and incubation period. We also heard that, because the bones of birds are too light to be preserved, very few remain as fossils. Ossification of the bones of the skull does, however, enable the age of the birds to be estimated.
The Kimberley as a whole is a hard country in which to do research, and the mangroves are especially difficult and dangerous areas in which to make collections. Although small by world standards, the WA Museum's bird collections are an irreplaceable source of information on our bird fauna. Researchers also take soft tissue from specimens that is frozen and used for modern genetic and biochemical studies. Ron concluded by stressing that there is still much research to be done on many Australian birds and, after the usual questions, joined the members in socialising over a cup of tea.
Daphne Choules Edinger
On 20 December 1995, Kevin Kenneally introduced Allen Lowrie to the assembled crowd of 46 members and guests at the Old Observatory. Allen and Kevin have spent much time together in the Kimberley searching for carnivorous plants, especially Stylidiums. These Trigger Plants are not quite so obviously carnivorous; insectivorous is a better word to describe most of them, though the Utricularias, with their underwater bladders, can entrap all types of tiny aquatic creatures.
Allen has written three volumes of Carnivorous Plants of Australia and is an expert in this field. There are over 500 different species in the world, of which 150 are in the south west of Western Australia. We also heard that more and more new species are being discovered and described, especially in the Kimberley and northern regions, making it a very exciting field of botany.
Allen showed excellent slides of these unusual plants, beginning with the largest of them all, the Pitcher plants of Borneo, Nepenthes. But we do have one of our own: the famous Albany Pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis. It grows around swamps and streams where water is continually moving through the soil. The pitchers contain a watery liquid in which insects easily drown and later decompose. It is the only member of its family and was photographed at Two Peoples Bay in a swampy area.
The talk then moved to the Droseras or sundews with their sticky tentacles on their unusual leaves. These tentacles secrete a colourless mucilage which attracts and entraps small insects so that they can be broken down by a digestive juice and the simple proteins absorbed by the plant. These plants invariably grow in areas of poor nitrogen content and this is how they add this vital element to their diet. Some are very tiny, and hence called Pygmy Droseras, and all 42 species of these are endemic to the south west of Western Australia.
Of a different family but somewhat like the large Droseras is the Byblis gigantea. It grows up to 45 cm tall and is found in profusion in ephemeral damp herb fields in the Kimberley. Next came the tiny Utricularias or bladderworts, the most colourful of which are the Red Coats, Utricularia menziesii of the southern areas. All of these live in water or very damp situations and have bladders attached to their roots. These attract and entrap tiny aquatic creatures of all kinds, again to be digested and absorbed for their nitrogen content. The plants are common in the damp ephemeral herb fields of the Kimberley where U. chrysantha can form carpets of bright yellow.
Allen spoke of many new species that are still in the process of being described and of a Drosera petiolarisoriginally collected by Banks on Cook's expeditionwhich he had sighted and handled in the Sydney Herbarium. This is a thrilling experience for a Botanist but Allen also mentioned how difficult it is for a collector in the Kimberley during wet times, which is when these plants are at their best. Many boggings have to be endured, but then there are such exciting finds as Allen's recent discovery of Aldrovanda vesiculosa at Mitchell Falls. This is a Venus Fly Trap which has whorls of spoke-like leaves but no roots. It floats on water, and flowers at the nodes rise above the water to enable pollination to take place.
Allen's real love is clearly the Trigger plants or Stylidiums, which he described as part-time insectivores. The column or "donger" works on a hydraulic system. It contains the stigma and anthers and is triggered to spring forward when an insect alights on the flower seeking nectar. The pollen is thus deposited on a specific part of the insect's body and when it visits the next flower, the same process occurs and pollen is transferred via that part of the insect's body. Cross pollination is thus facilitated. This fascinating process was well illustrated by excellent slides. Allen takes superb photographs, many through his microscope since these flowers are quite minute, as well as doing all his own drawings. He and Kevin Kenneally are describing many new species at present, and research in this field is gaining momentum.
Daphne Choules Edinger