Kununurra Now and In The Future.
Kununurra is in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Although we've lived in Western Australia for twenty six years, we were never entirely clear on what constituted
. According to the Macquarie Dictionary, the Kimberley Region is bounded on the south by the 19° S. latitude, on the east by the Northern Territory border and on the west and north by the coastline. Or to put it simply, all of W.A. north of latitude 19° south.
The region appears to have almost unlimited and exciting potential. Among its advantages are:
- Fertile soil.
- Plentiful water from the Ord River (named after Major General Sir Harry Ord, the Governor of W.A. back in 1878).
- A long dry season allowing for extensive harvesting.
- A ready source of green power from the Ord Hydro Electric Power Station.
- The huge Asian market right on the doorstep.
Then, of course, there's the Argyle Diamond Mine and the region's absolutely stunning scenery.
The potential of the Kimberley was realised as far back as 1941 but has been slow to develop. A two-stage plan was formed.
Stage one saw the town of Kununurra developed, the Diversion Dam built and the necessary irrigation infrastructure put into place to carry the diverted water to the farms. The dam was opened (or should that be closed?) in 1963, raising the water level for 40 kilometres upstream so that gravity would feed water through a network of channels to the crops. The water above the dam wall is called Lake Kununurra and its surface is maintained at a constant level by the manipulation of twenty giant gates in the dam wall.
The dam wall also fulfils a secondary function; it carries the Victoria Highway to Halls Creek and Wyndham high over the waters of the Ord River. Previously the traffic had to splash across a causeway provided the water level wasn't too high. Known now as the Old Ivanhoe Crossing, the water frequently was too high. It was too high the day that we visited it but it was perfect for fishermen.
The fishermen are standing on the old crossing road which curves round to the right. We saw a few catfish caught.
The 1963 Ord Diversion Dam. There was no good vantage point from which to photograph it and I was keeping one eye open for crocs, though the Aborigine kids had no such qualms. All that fresh water escaping from the gates flows to the Timor Sea.
Later I was able to photograph the dam from a much better vantage point . . .
The Diversion Dam from a thousand feet above Lake Kununurra. The lake contains an estimated 7,000 freshwater
crocodiles but is considered by the locals to be safe for swimming. NOT FOR THIS BOY, IT ISN'T!
Unlike the Murray Darling irrigation system which is in such bad shape, the Ord River system seems to have an unlimited supply of water. What isn't used for crops flows out to the Timor Sea about 150 kilometres downstream. Thus there are no concerns about water losses due to seepage and evaporation from the open irrigation channels.
If only a way could be found to transport some of that unused fresh water to Adelaide and Perth where it is so desperately needed. Apparently the pumping costs - let alone the pipeline construction costs - make such a project unviable. Perhaps it would be better, in the long term, to move the people to the water rather than the water to the people. More so if global warming is going to further reduce rainfall across the south of the continent. Hey, politicians, let's be proactive for once.
In 1972 another dam was built fifty kilometres further upstream from Kununurra to hold back what now forms an enormous body of water known as Lake Argyle. This lake is so large that its capacity is measured in multiples of Sydney Harbour. Do you know how much water Sydney Harbour holds? No, neither do I. We're certainly in good company; I'd wager that 99% of Australians don't. But still we measure every large volume of water in multiples of Sydney Harbour.
Originally Lake Argyle contained nine times the volume of Sydney Harbour. Around 1996 the spillway wall of Lake Argyle was raised so that a hydro electric generator could be added to the scheme. Now the lake holds a maximum of fifty five times the capacity of Sydney Harbour. You know what? Sydney Harbour doesn't give a dam
In fact, the volume of water in Lake Argyle varies greatly between the end of the 'wet' season and the end of the 'dry'. Consequently the lake's surface area and outline also changes quite considerably as the water rises and falls.
The purpose of Lake Argyle is to store water captured from the intense rain that falls on the catchment during the wet season. That water is then released in a controlled manner throughout the dry season to flow down the Ord River to Lake Kununurra, thus enabling an expansion of the irrigated area to some 13,000 hectares (about 32,000 acres) where sixty different crops are grown. Some of the water leaving Lake Argyle passes through hydro electric turbines, generating 30 megawatts of power to support Kununurra, Wyndham and the Argyle Diamond Mine.
A tractor kicking up dust as it prepares the soil. Beyond it an irrigation channel.
The odd thing is, despite all the water available, the water in our taps came from a bore. Apparently small quantities of agricultural chemicals are present in the river water.
A Flight Over The Bungle Bungles
One fine day we took a flight in a small Cessna aircraft over the Bungle Bungles. Later the pilot said he'd never known the turbulence to be so bad and one poor lady was very ill. Surprisingly Pam was fine. On the way we flew over Lake Argyle at a height of 2,500' which afforded us an excellent view. I could swear Simon, our pilot, knew exactly when I was taking a photograph and jerked the aircraft just as I squeezed the shutter. We landed at the Bungle Bungles to drop off two passengers who were on a different tour.
The cessna 207A on the ground at the Bungle Bungles. On the outbound flight out I was 'acting first officer'
up front with pilot.
On the return I had a pair of seats to myself at the rear so I could take pics from both sides.
What, you may be asking, is a Bungle Bungle? The derivation of the name is uncertain but the Bungle Bungles is a wilderness area where unique formations of sandstone rock towers, sometimes beehive shaped, exist in an environment of deep gorges.
The area was almost unknown to white people until around a quarter of a century ago when it featured in a documentary about the cattle industry. It's remoteness has protected it from excessive tourism - most people see it from a fixed wing aircraft (as we did) but for an extra bucketful of money you can inspect the terrain more closely from a helicopter. In 1987 the whole area surrounding the Bungle Bungles was made a National Park and has recently been listed as a World Heritage Site.
A tiny part of the Bungle Bungles from the air. Look at the trees to form an idea of the scale.
Another aerial photo of the Bungles. Looking down into that gorge made me hope the noise in the nose didn't stop.
How were the Bungles formed? Well, I have some literature full of long words that I can't even pronounce and that mean little to me. It all started 370 million years ago. If you're really keen to know I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.
I think that will do for Page 69. I have a heap more photographs from that plane flight but I choose only the best for you. On our flight back from the Bungles we circled the Argyle Diamond Mine. That's on Page 70.
Footnote: This re-working of Page 69 was completed on 18 June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.