Penelope Bungles To Broome

Our second journey to Western Australia took place only a year later, in the dry season of 1999, during which Ros and I explored the fabulous Kimberley region by land and sea, where dramatic 12-metre tides guarded coastal locations unchanged by time. Indeed still as the 17th century buccaneer William Dampier first described them. For three months we explored the north of Western Australia (with Penelope and The Manor of course – I travelled with two women) including the improbably sculptured Bungle Bungles, the Pilbara and the wild flower-filled Mid West, after our Kimberley adventures. We were particularly fascinated by Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley – the extraordinarily ancient so-called Bradshaw rock paintings as well as the more contemporary Wandjina figures.


‘We woke early to warm darkness and joined our fellow passengers for an early breakfast, as the high cliffs of Steep Island were gradually revealed in the growing light…’

After our Kimberley coastal voyage we resumed our camping mode and set off east to the Gibb River Road. Near Derby we had a very fortunate chance meeting with an ABC colleague, Bill Bunbury. We had pulled into the roadhouse near the Derby turn off to grab some sandwiches and a cool drink, when an Oka bus pulled in with a party of sixteen travellers – including Bill and Jenny. While we all gnawed at our corned-beef sandwiches, there was much excited talk. Their group was still glowing from having seen wonderful Bradshaw paintings at locations off the Kalumburu Road, ‘The best I have ever seen’ said one of their party whose work with the West Australian museum had taken him to Aboriginal rock art not only in many Western Australian locations, but in other Australian states as well.

High praise indeed – but the sites were not signposted but Bill told me he could tell me how to find them. Out came notebooks and maps as I took down details. We only had a few minutes to do this, but it was a trip-changing meeting, as we eventually found them near the King Edward River. I have never forgotten the spine-tingling moment when we saw our first Bradshaw painting, simply by looking under rock overhangs where galleries might have been created.

King River Bradshaws


This was the first panel we saw. The figures are quite different from later Aboriginal Wandjina art, with slender almost Asian looking figures with ornamental head-dresses and amulets dangling from their arms. Archeologists are still arguing about how old these paintings are, but the estimate of more than 20 000 years is far from fanciful. It makes the Bradshaws some of the oldest rock paintings ever discovered in human history.




Walga Rock shipMany weeks later, and further south in the Mid West, we photographed this most unusual painting at Walga Rock – 325 kilometres inland from the sea! Walga Rock, which is a water-worn granitic formation, has an extensive gallery under a large overhand at its base. The white pipe-clay used in this painting has been carbon dated, and is the same age as the other art in the gallery. Various theories have been advanced. Was it done by shipwrecked Dutch sailors in the sixteenth century, who survived by joining with Aboriginal people? – and there are other examples of this happening. Or was it done by an Aboriginal man who had visited the coast, and seen such a ship. It is clearly a European vessel. What looks like some sort of script can be seen under the hull, but it is of no known language, and may have been drawn to depict waves.


The Kings Cascades

The Kings Cascades



The West Coast abounds in history, and any traveller cannot – and should not – ignore it, as it adds an enormous amount to the travel experience. For example, this waterfall ‘The Kings Cascades’ pouring down cliffs into the Kimberly’s Prince Regent River was used by the explorer Philip Parker King in 1821 when he used this precious fresh water supply to restock his ship, the 84 tonne cutter Mermaid.






Hello Malcom...

Hello Malcom…




History can be more recent, as I discovered when this distinctively sculptured termite mound caught my attention. Looking for all the world like a statue from Easter Island, it bore – to my mind – an uncanny resemblance to the former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.





Our next book, ‘The Devil In Tim – Penelope’s Travels in Tasmania’ was sparked by our 2004 odyssey to Tasmania, the island where I was born and bred.




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