Reflections from a camp on the Ord River in Western Australia
We have spent a lot of time near the sea in the last year so it was a very different experience to camp on the banks of a large inland river in the north of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This was not our original intention when we left Kununurra though!
On the recommendation of the “Unimog Mob” (who we met on the Canning Stock Route) we thought we might head to Cape Domett on the coast about 150km north of Kununnura. Unfortunately we discover that the access road to the coast passes through private property and the owners have closed it to the public. So instead we continue west along the road towards Carlton Hill Station and then, on a whim, turn south along a bush track for five kilometres and find a very quiet spot on a bend in the Ord River where we camp for three nights.
Sitting beside the river we are fascinated by its rythms. The liquid patterns of the currents and eddies on the surface of this broad river flow past in an ever-changing continuum. Patches of calm water and turbulence form and re-form around rocks, fallen trees and in the shallows. However long you watch you can never be sure that the flowing lines, textures and light ever repeat themselves in quite the same way. After a day or two it seems to us that the river has created its own subtle definition of time that has become the measure of our day.
It is also the centre of life for an abundance of wildlife. Black Kites and Whistling Kites quarter the skies above us, instinctively flying the angles across the breeze for lift and speed. A Black Kite drops briefly to the river bank to drink some water then flies a short distance to a dead tree higher up the bank. It waits there until a gust of wind blows along the river and provides the lift for an almost effortless take off. Within seconds it has climbed many metres above the river.
On two occasions we watch some Brolgas, beautiful pale grey storks, come down to drink at the river’s edge. Both times they are accompanied by one or two small kangaroos which hang back until the Brolgas have finished drinking. This takes a little while because their beaks are so long and they are so tall. They scoop small amounts of water up and then throw their heads back to swallow. We saw several kangaroo on the drive in here and we hear several more in the brush behind our camp. Their tracks and droppings are everywhere.
On the first two days we watch a Whistling Kite eating its catch on a branch over-hanging the river very close by our camp. On the first day he eats a fish, but on the second day he has caught a small bird, the plucked feathers floating in the breeze until they come to rest on the surface of the water and float on down river.
Corellas and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos fly overhead at dawn, catching the early light on their snow white feathers, and several times a day fly down to the sandy bank on the far side of the river to drink. They stand in the shallows at the edge of the river, dip their thick beaks in the water, then lift their heads too swallow.
For the first two days we don’t see any crocodiles at all. On the third day as we walk along the river bank in the shade of some large paper-bark trees we hear a big splash from around the bend in front of us. We look for tell-tale marks along the bank to see if we can spot the tracks and slide marks where a croc has entered the water but it is very difficult to be sure as there are plenty of kangaroo tracks along the bank as well. A little later, on our return walk, we spot a croc on the far bank of the river and assume that this is the one we had disturbed earlier.
When we get back to camp and we are sitting having coffee another crocodile launches itself from between some rocks and then walks up onto the sandy bank opposite us and lies there sunning itself for a few hours. It is a fair sized saltwater crocodile (a “saltie”) so Paul is a little more vigilant when he is filling buckets from the river.
A hundred metres to the north of our camp a dead kangaroo is lying in the middle of a section of dry river bed. In the early morning we see eagles and kites feeding on the carcass but they don’t stay long because they get too hot if they stay at ground level in full sun for very long.
On our way here, to get to our camping spot under some shady trees, we drove for a while along and then across part of the dry river bed, picking our way over the harder stone and rocks, and avoiding the softer sand beds. Such a beautiful spot. We see several willie willies pick up a lot of dust as they travel across the sandy river bed behind us and over the far bank of the river. Apart from providing shade the trees around us act as a wind break and keep most of the dust away from our camp although once or twice the wind does shake things up a bit.
In the shallows of the river opposite our camp are three elongated rocks in a line, the first smaller than the second and the second smaller than the third. In the low light at dawn and dusk they look like the back of a gigantic, partly submerged crocodile. Another large rock extends out from the opposite bank and I take a few photos of it. Towards the end of our stay we find out that the place is called Skull Rock and named for this rock.
As we sit in our camp and look down river to the west we see tree-lined banks and a hill behind the bend at the far end of our view. In the evening the sun sets behind this hill giving a red glow to the sky and turning the length of the river gold. Green and blue reflections light up the river during the day. On our first and last night we cook on a camp fire. Then after dinner we sit and watch the stars and their reflection in the river.
All around our camp the trees are stacked up with flood debris. Twigs, branches and whole trees are strewn about. In the wet season we figure that the area we are camping in will be underwater when they release water out of the Argyle Dam. At least it makes collecting firewood easy.
One afternoon a pair of Jabirus (Black-Necked Storks) fly up river from the west. They don’t see us sitting in the shade of our camp until they are directly opposite. One of them gives a short squawk and then they pass behind some trees overhanging the river.
When we leave we both agree that we will make an effort to return to this part of the Ord River when we travel through Kununnura.