Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Kimberley Region WA 1 - Introduction

In my last post Getting the local gossip - ABC Regional Radio I mentioned Kununurra in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. I thought that I might follow this up with a few posts on the region itself, in some ways one of the most romantic and interesting regions in Australia.

One of West Australia's nine regions, the Kimberley is located in the northern part of the state, bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea, on the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts, and on the east by the Northern Territory. It covers an area of 424,517 km2, which is about twice the size of England.

The first settlers arrived in the Kimberley around 40,000 years ago from the islands that are now Indonesia.

While the Dutch may have visited the coast on their way north to the East Indies, the first recorded European visit was by the Englishman William Dampier in 1688 and then again in 1699. Many of the coastal features of the area around the modern town of Broome are named by him.

In 1879, Charles Harper suggested that the pearling industry that had begun in the 1850s could be served by a port closer to the pearling grounds, and that Roebuck Bay would be suitable. In 1883, John Forrest selected the site for the town, and it was named after the Governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Broome. Then in 1889, a telegraph undersea cable was laid from Broome to Singapore, connecting to England. Broome

Broome grew quite quickly because of pearling, attracting workers of many nationalities and especially Japanese. However, the riches from the pearl beds did not come cheap, and the town's Japanese cemetery is the resting place of more than 900 Japanese divers who lost their lives working in the industry. Many were lost at sea and the exact number of deaths is unknown.

Pastoral settlement started around 1885, when cattle were driven across Australia from the eastern states in search of good pasture lands. Mary Durack's book Kings in Grass Castles tells the story of this period. Many other Europeans arrived soon after, when gold was discovered around Halls Creek.

Despite this initial growth, economic development in the Kimbererley struggled because of remoteness and high costs. The pearling industry was reduced to a shadow of itself because of collapse in the price of mother of pearl. Then during the war both Broome and Derby, the region's second port, were heavily bombed by the Japanese air force.

Since the war and especially in recent decades, the region has undergone an economic resurgence.

The pearl industry has grown because of the development of the cultured pearl industry. The development of the Ord River scheme during the 1950s created a new centre, Kunanurra, in the east near the Northern Territory border.

Diamonds were discovered: one third of the worlds annual production of diamonds are mined at the Argyle and the Ellendale diamond mines. Oil is extracted from the Blina oil field and gas is expected to be taken from offshore sources soon. Zinc and lead are mined at the Pillara, Sallay Mallay and Cadjebut mines near Fitzroy Crossing and exported from Derby after being trucked to the town.

Most recently, the Kimberley has become a major tourism destination for people attracted by the area's history, spectacular scenery and growing range of attractions.

Today, the population of the Kimberley is around 38,000, growing at a rate of 4.8% per year, around three times the state average. The population is fairly evenly distributed, with only three towns having populations in excess of 2,000: Broome, Derby and Kununurra. About half of the region's population are of Aboriginal descent.

The Kimberley has a tropical monsoon climate. During the "wet season", from November to April, the region receives about 90% of its rainfall, and cyclones are common especially around Broome. The annual rainfall, however, is highest in the northwest, where Kalumburu averages 1270mm (50 inches) per year, and lowest in the southeast where it is around 520mm (20 inches). In the "dry season", from May to October, south easterly breezes bring sunny days and cool nights.

Note on sources

This material is drawn especially from a number of Wikipedia articles. Links are included to the original material.

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