Duracks, pastoralists, the Kimberley’s and me

Anyone pick up books at Op shops?

I do, and so it was that I was introduced to ‘the Duracks’ for all of $2.

I had never heard of this family.   I had heard of the Kimberley’s, Kakadu and Arnheim land and had a vague idea that they were all ‘far up there’.

With the Sons in the Saddle, the Duracks and that land ‘far up there’ were brought together.


I read about  hours and hours in the saddle, the mustering of cattle from almost one end of the continent to the other.

I read about their sleeping rough, eating even rougher, breaking bones, dying cattle, injured horses.  I read about them having to swim rivers and through it all, cope with the extremes of climate with a wet wet season filled with mosquitoes and fevers.

the day they got into the paddock it rained sixteen inches at Ascot.  Parry’s Creek became a torrent, flooding the plains to a depth of about five feet and all the rivers were swims…..  Next evening we were attacked by myriads of flying ants which crawl all over you and leave their wings behind.  Anywhere there is a light is soon about two inches deep in wings.   This is not exaggeration.  It’s a fact..”  (Sons of Durack, Roy Phillips letter to his mother 21 Jan 1912)

I read about the dry dry season when the grass would burn if you looked at it ‘the wrong way’

1904  “terrible bush fires devastated hundreds of square miles of country destroyed fences and yards and had all hands out fighting the flames for several weeks.”

I read such stories – they are fascinating and endless.

Constable Henry Parker disappeared suddenly.   “last seen strolling down the Wyndham jetty to visit a friend on the S.S. New Guinea.”   This was solved a few weeks later when Jacob Kuhl made the following deposition:

“Yesterday I caught an alligator in a trap I had set up on the gulf.  I shot him and took him down to the jetty and skinned him.  Then I opened him up and found some clothing like portions of a uniform…. and some human bones.   I put them all into a bucket and took them to the Police Station……”     

Poor Constable Parker.

And to clear the record, that alligator Must have been a crocodile as alligators are not, nor ever were found in Australia.   They, the 4 legged swimming ones,  and the Alligator Rivers were so named by Phillip Parker King, the first English navigator to enter the Gulf of Carpentaria.  He had previously travelled in S America, knew the alligator and assumed these were them (doubt he even knew there was a crocodile) and in his wisdom he named the rivers the Alligator Rivers (South, East and West Alligator Rivers).

Well give him a break – can You spot the difference?


Despite the length and small print of this book, I have persevered precisely because the stories are to interesting.


And then suddenly I found myself ‘up there’ looking at a local map with all the names that had become familiar in the book.


I was going to ride through the very plains they had ridden through so long ago.

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I do, however feel the need to acknowledge some minor, okay, perhaps not so minor,  but rather fundamental differences between me and them.   I knew where I was going.   Correction.

Like them, I had no idea where I was going, but unlike them, my  guides did know what lay ahead.   Poor MP and his ‘mob’ – look what they missed out on.  No roads, no phones, no google maps, no back up vehicles; just their wits and physical strength.

Regardless of these advantages, this was an adventure which was greatly enhanced by having read about those who went before me. (photos: Sons in the Saddle, Mary Durack)

It was also enhanced by all that I learnt on the tour to Kakadu and Arnhem land.    So much gained in such a short time that I would love to share with you, but that feels almost like a different story there was so much.

Kakadu, crocodiles, mines, protests and ageless lands

The concept of justice, punishment and restoration, the knowledge of genetics thousands of years before we had even thought of it, and so it goes on.

history both modern and
an idea of that ancient
and ancient
trees that tell a thousand tales
and the ‘new’ art
Cockburn Range

Not really that surprising when you think I was in a land with rock faces 1.8 BILLION years old and a people who had lived, the same way, (until we arrived) for about 65 000 years.

But as usual, I digress.

Here we were in Kununurra the night before our ride.   Some of us had met at Darwin airport hopping onto the only flight into Kununurra so by the time we landed, needless to say we were old friends.


Alcohol rules are strict in this part of the world so our first stop was at the bottle shop, driver’s licence in hand.   This, it would appear was more important than money, because without it, money is useless as you could buy not even one can of beer.

Mind you,  with it, you could buy only a few more cans than one; there is a strict limit on the volume of alcohol allowed per driver’s licence per day!

But gleefully, as you can see from the video, we had our ‘stash’ and

Mission accomplished.



A pretty little town, growing in leaps and bounds, situated in the middle of nowhere.

 Well actually that is  not true, it is on the Ord River which means there is heaps of water – and accounts for its growing agriculture development and tourist industry.


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We explored that water, with a Fabulous dinner cruise on Lake Kununurra.

hard to
decide which
view was more
but regardless
the food and
company was no less

And then it was all over,  our cruise came to an end and we were delivered back to our respective hotels, all weary and ready for bed.    That is, until we looked at our watches, it was 6.45pm and Pitch Dark!!!!!   There was some debate about how can we possibly go to bed so early  versus, it is very dark and we are very tired.   A very strange feeling.

But bed won over in the knowledge that an early start awaited us.

That early start as we awaited ‘them’

When we were collected by Laura and Chris of Hidden Trails ,

and driven to the start of our ride – Doon Doon Station.

The names of all these places intrigue me –

they conjure up images of another era and I love them.

Wished I could remember the names of our horses and perhaps more importantly the names of the riders on those horses.

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This, you understand is particularly important since they would be my companions for the 6 days, and knowing what to call them, or more accurately, what they call themselves would be most helpful.

I practiced things like, green shirt, Jen, (she better not change her shirt); 2 girl friends, Deb and Naomi (hope they don’t have a fall out and separate); couple Paul & Fiona, ah, but there were 2 couples, so that complicates things….. you get what I mean.

I am proud to say that by day 6 I was pretty certain I had the correct name attached to the correct person.   Not so with the horses.

Truth be told, I didn’t take my brain that far and didn’t even try.

Meeting our transport
through this amazing terrain

I have been on trails where, even after 5 days I have had to ask someone which horse was mine.

They kind of all look similar, or at least to my novice eye.

Usually dark; generally with 4 legs, a head at one end, tail at the other, and of course two ears which tell one so much about where they are at right at that moment and the eyes.   Those melt your soul eyes, but which can also blaze with a look that has kept me well away from them, waiting for someone better equiped than I to approach them.

My tiny Tinker…..


always easy to locate

I had a tiny horse, the smallest by far of the group, so easy to see if I looked between the legs of the rest of the mob.

A Brumby, the real deal.

Or perhaps not, because I have just researched the Brumby and it is described as “a free-roaming feral horse in Australia.” (wikipedia) but there was nothing feral about My Brumby.

Tinker – easy to remember thankfully,  (from Tinkerbell I am guessing as she belongs to 6 year old Maddie who kindly let me ride her) was not feral at all but very well behaved.

Well mostly, but more about that later.

And so before we knew it we were in the saddle, and distracted from names by what was around us.


Grass so gold, so patterned, so extravagant…..
Sky bluer than blue….
Cockburn ranges defining the space 

The scenery varies, the people change,

but the rhythm of a trail ride is essentially the same.

Hours in the saddle, exploring the landscape.

Sometimes single file, walking.

Sometimes alongside, talking.

Often in silent contemplation.

The sound of the horses and the creak of the saddle somehow perfect company.

A special light…
A lost young bull tagging alongside for kilometres
Silent contemplation
and sharing the joy

We pause along the way,

to marvel at a view,

learn some history,

look at the intricacies of nature.

The Cockburn Ranges – amazing and sooooo old
A Boab and a history lesson
As we decipher the names and dates well into the 1800’s
So beautiful …..
Wherever the sun is…….
A Bower bird’s ‘Bower’

And we stop,  in this case, to sleep out in the open.

In ‘swags’ (rolled up canvas beds).

Just the most comfy mobile home ever.

Find yourself a spot, unroll your swag and Bingo.

Home sweet Home.

An organised Home Sweet Home

My less organised Home Sweet Home

My socks and swag

Good morning
Must I? Just a little longer…..

And that trail riding rhythm includes caring for the horses.

Love is, a girl and her Tinker

There’s unsaddling, brushing, washing, checking over, feeding and

of course, loving.

Without the latter, none of the former would every happen.

These horses are SO loved.

There’s ‘stuff’
and patience
and so much work as the feed is prepared
Chewing the cud
Chewing the chick peas
The non stop work and love goes into the caring of theses horses
who seem to respond in kind.

Don’t think it is only the horses that are cared for.

Oh no, on these trail rides our food is delivered with equal care and love.

Whether it is lunch on the road, being met by the truck with a delicious meal, drinks, and smiles, or sumptuous dinners round the fire :   we do not go hungry πŸ™‚

a lunch stop
with table flowers and all …..
and always more than we could eat – although we tried our best
as we told tales, shared laughs and learnt heaps
There were nights around the fire
and skies to take your breathe away.

There was ‘girl’s time”


and not
always smiling

There was ‘boy’s time’

with the talking
and the thinking (or was it the drinking?)
A Moment Captured

We had time too, to soak our bodies.

In a wonderful billabong, minus the crocodiles, right beside our camp.



whether by our winged companions
our our bathing young beauties
the cold was refreshing
ah, that smile……
and the sun invited us to stay….
and drink …..
…. the special moment.

There was private time, each in their own heads, with their own thoughts.


we will
never know their
thoughts – as is appropriate
But clearly these are good ones
Mine was awe
Jen was concentrating
and perhaps they were just thinking about the climb ahead….
That private time
that is so peculiar to trail rides
where we are together but apart
and alone
or not.

There were fun times,

crazy as only people who have camped out together can be….

comfortable with one another

we did
it made us smile
We rode through
an old branding yard
where we found a ‘witch’
riding a broom left there for her !

There is so much to see, from memorials to those gone before us,





To that which will be here long after we have gone.

Saddleback Ridge

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a long and windy road….
a climb I preferred to do with four legs than four wheels!


the tall and the short – but really the view…..
No reason, except I love this photo
Amazing views – the Pentecost Valley
Oh and another amazing view – sunshades!
ever patient friends

And endless other adventures.

Friends and
Rope tying, rein plaiting


and then the madness and excitement of swimming with my Tinker – and being the first to get into the ‘croc infested river’ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
But I was safe….
I had my personal body guards
and so
Tinker and I plunged
in and swam in a big
circle with Marnie
close by to help us
feel strong
And I was not
alone in having fun!!!!

Goodness me, we did So much.






There were rivers to cross

Some where straight forward
some such fun
some took some negoitating
with an occasional dip

with or without a rider. In my case, it was with me on her back, without any warning!!!! So one learns

And of course the ‘serious’ river crossings- no photos. Too busy keeping dry (I had a tiny horse remember) and staying on!

There were gorges to climb.  In this case Emma Gorge65951824_661225077683706_703666551055712256_n



There were springs to swim in.

And suddenly, a helicopter ride and it ‘was all over’

No photographs or words can even closely match the wonderful memories of this amazing part of our country.   The sights, the friends, the horses, all are such that

I want to go and do it all again.



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Thanks Chris and Laura for such an amazing time.

Kakadu, crocodiles, mines, protests and ageless lands

Well, there I was, on a BUS, almost bringing the average age down significantly – or that is how it felt!!!!!


BUT, despite my doubts this 3 day trip into Kakadu and the tip of Arnhem land was better than anticipated.

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A very early start from Darwin took me into Kakadu.   On a great road past great places like the Humpty Doo Hotel.

humpty do.jpeg
Don’t ask – the name could  be from one of so many origins, but I like the derivative from the cattle station Umpity Doo.  Slim Dusty clearly was intrigued too (Humpty Doo Waltz) And it was quite a lively spot as the following quote indicates:

“But it’s not just the proud men and women of the Territory who can sink a Darwin stubby, or two.

If you were around Humpty Doo in the 1980s, you might have come across Norman, the 600 kilogram Brahmin bull who could knock off a Darwin stubby in 47 seconds, and then wash it down with six tinnies and a meat pie.”  Rae Allen 2008

Can you imagine that happening today?

We passed miles and miles of mango trees – all neatly groomed into ‘squares’ to facilitate easier harvesting.    40% of Australia’s mangoes come from this area which relies very heavily on backpacker workers and provide 4.8 mill trays annually


The name Kakadu may come from  Gaagudju, the name of an Aboriginal language spoken in the park.   Or it may come from the Indonesia (kakatuwah)/Dutch (kaketoe)/German (kakadu) word.  Any or all anglicised into cockatoo.   You decide.


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Regardless,  Aboriginal people have continuously inhabited this area for more than 65000 years – before the last ice age!   Which interestingly enough is not as long as the crocodile has been there – try 200 million years – ‘unchanged’ – hows that for a fact.   But more about crocodiles later.

The park is located within the Alligators Region of the Northern Territory. It covers an area of 19,804 km2, apparently the same size as Slovenia and half the size of Switzerland.  Half of Kakadu is Aboriginal land and the other half is under claim by them.   It is a UNESCO Heritage site and leased  to Parks Australia by the Aboriginal people.

Why Alligator Rivers when there is not an alligator anywhere in Australia?   Well blame the explorer Phillip King (first English navigator who entered the Gulf of Carpentaria) who has seen alligators in South America and assumed these were they – not having any idea that crocodiles even existed.    He wrote

On our course up and down the river, we encountered several very large alligators and some were noticed sleeping on the mud.  This was the first time we had seen these animals, excepting that at Goulburn Island, and , as they appeared to be very numerous and large, it was not thought safe to stop all night up the River“.


warnings everywhere
low tide river crossing
Sunday afternoon entertainment – waiting for?

Kakadu is vast with according to the indigenous people 6 seasons.

Yup, 6.   Forget spring, summer, autumn and winter.   Try:

Yekke (cooler (May-June) when the drying winds and flowering woolybutt tell the locals to patchwork burn the woodlands to encourage new growth.


Bangkerreng (April) harvest time when the floodwaters recede and skies are clear.  Plants are fruiting and animals caring for young

Kudjewk (December – March) monsoon rains with spear grass over 2 metres high and high heat and humidity

spear grass
spear grass

Wurrkeng (June – August) early dry season, floodplains dry out; magpie geese fat and heavy after abundant food crowd the billabongs.

Kurrung (August – October) hot and dry means good hunting of file snakes and long necked turtles

Kunumeleng (October – December) pre-monsoon sees streams running, waterbirds everywhere and barramundi move to estuaries to breed.

So much more interesting and meaningful if you live in that part of the world than just 4.

The bird life is amazing
Not an alligator, but perhaps a saltie?
or a freshie? You get both crocodiles here


Okay so with 6 seasons, why not for symmetry’s sake, 6 landforms here too.

Promise, I won’t go into detail;

Stone Country:  Savanna Woodlands:   Monsoon Vine Forests:  Southern Hills & Ridges: Tidal flats:  Mangroves & Coastline and finally Floodplains, Rivers and Billabongs.

I did not get to see all 6 landforms, but what I did see what beautiful, enormous and inviting to return.

walkways to amazing ancient rock art


river crossings….
wetlands – looks like grassland but you couldn’t walk on it – wade perhaps, but unlikely


the Brolga – Australia’s largest waterbird
Amazing rock structures
and of course the teas
River cruises to get an
an idea of the scale of the country
even the trees seemed ancient


sandstone almost as old as time
looking against that flawless sky
the walk was so worth the view
brooding or was it smiling?

There are some that believe it is brooding, because for millennia this land had been called ‘the sick country’ by the indigenous  with rock art showing people with misshapen limbs and ‘swollen’ joints.

That Mine
ranger mine
or perhaps ‘scar’ is a better description

It turns out, it was in truth ‘ a sick country’ if you spent too much time there.   Radiation from the uranium beneath the ground (which causes swollen joints) was found and hence confirmed their label.   And with that came the Ranger Uranium Mine – and you may recall the protests.   At the time, one of the largest uranium mines in the world.   It is now closing down, incurring losses for several reasons.   The 2011 Fukushima disaster and related market slump and the waste management costs.   The mine is being shut down with rehabilitation costs expected to be $800million!!!!!

And that is not taking into account the town of Jabiru which was a thriving small town supplying the mine and is now almost deserted.   Apart perhaps from the hotel – the famous Croc Hotel built as a 250-metre long, 30-metre wide giant crocodile.

It will be interesting to see the restoration when complete.

From the air….
a sense of
the scale of
the land
and waterways

And ALWAYS worth a visit – this amazing part of our country.

Darwin – at the ‘top end’

Names like Kakadu, Arnhem Land, Jabiluka, the Kimberley

have been just that, names, to me,

tucked away in Melbourne.

Names slightly mystical in feel, often emotive in use and always, definitely remote.

Which in a sense they are of course, ‘tucked away’ in the far north eastern tip of this vast continent with me, in the deep south so to speak.

3 573 km apart according to google maps.























So when a spot was offered me on a horse trail through The Kimberley’s, well you can see why I had no choice. πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‰πŸ΄πŸ΄

Interestingly, anything that involves local travel, is quite expensive and a trip up north dents the bank balance almost more than if I was going off shore.  So I felt obliged to ‘do more than just the ride’ and of course dent that balance even more!

But so worth it – every cent.

Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory is closer to Timor than it is to Melbourne and it feels that way too.    In so many ways.

A million miles from Melbourne (okay I know, 3 573 km to be exact) but you get my meaning!

The climate which thankfully is less oppressive than I had anticipated creates ‘a look’ that is distinctive: shorts, sandals of varying descriptions or none at all.

Casual, slightly dishevelled, wind blown, sun swept, almost Californian but without the ‘bling’.     Not that there isn’t bling in Darwin, some of the jewellery shops show quite a bit, but the general feel is more frontier town than high end holiday space.   A  deliberate facade I felt.

Based on The Esplanade, I wandered around the city and took an evening cruise in the harbour.

View from The Esplanade







There was So much to see and learn.

Such as, NASA had a Darwin airport runway which was particularly long, earmarked as a potential shuttle landing spot if ‘things went awry’ internationally and they didn’t want to or could not land in the USA.    History shows it wasn’t used – but a good trivia question.

That Runway

The Aviation Museum has 1 of the only 2 B52 bombers still on show. (lent to us by USAAF)

Amy Johnson was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia. She flew from Croydon, south of London on May 5th 1930 and crash landed in Darwin, 18 000km  and 21 days later.  (crash landing after flying safely for such a distance – another blog awaits !)

Amy Johnson and her Gypsy Moth just before taking off for Australia

Darwin was given the name by a British expedition arriving in 1839 in honour of Charles Darwin who had sailed with them on a prior expedition.

It has a small resident population (101 000?) but fills up during the winter with tourists passing through to a staggering 1.38 million spending over $1.5 bill.

It has a crazy climate of almost only 2 seasons, hot and hot and humid when the rains come between December and March.   The hottest month is November, just before the onset of the main rain season when the  heat index can rise above 45 Β°C (113 Β°F).

It is one of the most lightning-prone areas in Australia. On 31 January 2002 an early-morning squall line produced over 5,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes within a 60-kilometre (37 mi) radius of Darwin alone – about three times the amount of lightning that Perth, Western Australia, experiences on average in an entire year!

lightning bolt

Darwin has been destroyed and rebuilt 4 times in modern history (who knows how many times before ‘the white man’ arrived).

  1.   In 1897 a cyclone destroyed Darwin (estimated cost UK pounds 150 000 in 1897 terms)Cyclone_damage,_Palmerston,_Port_Darwin








2)    In 1937 another cyclone with estimated costs of UK pounds 100 000.Screen Shot 2019-07-10 at 5.50.43 PM.png





















3)    In 1942 Darwin was bombed by the Japanese and the military was taken completely by surprise.    Most of the ships in the harbour were anchored near each other, making them an easy target for air attack and it would appear no plans had been prepared for how the ships should respond to an air raid.

Interestingly more aircraft were used and more bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour.


Interesting snippet I read:

At 9.35 am Father McGrath of the Sacred Heart mission on Bathurst Island, who was also an Australian coastwatcher, sent a message using a pedal radio to the Amalgamated Wireless Postal Radio Station at Darwin that a large number of aircraft were flying overhead and proceeding southward. The message was then relayed to the Royal Australian Air Force Operations at 9.37 am.   No general alarm was given until about 10 am as the RAAF officers there wrongly judged that the aircraft which had been sighted were the ten USAAF P-40s, which were returning to Darwin at the time after reports of bad weather forced them to abort a flight to Java via Kupang, West Timor. As a result, the air raid sirens at Darwin were not sounded before the raid.”



4)    Cyclone Tracey devastated Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people, and causing A$837 million in damage (1974 dollars).


And then there is the harbour.   And a lovely dinner cruise with strangers who were friends by the end of the evening.


And so a quick visit to an interesting town ended.

But little did I know What an adventure awaited me.

Kakadu and Arnhem Land.

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