Page 72

The Final Page On Kununurra.

An Interesting Email

I just received the following email from one of my brothers who lives in the U.S.A. I found it very interesting and I hope you do too:

I see you are in Kununurra at the moment (or at least were at the time of reading). When I was there (about 28 years ago), I had been hitching a ride with a group of Aussie Rules football players all the way from Port Hedland. We were travelling in two vehicles and on entering Kununurra noticed we were getting some unusual attention from the local police. We stopped at some sort of Interpretive Centre, can't remember exactly, but at that point we were taken into police custody.

Apparently there had been a bank robbery in Alice Springs and the vehicles involved were similar to ours and also had N.S.W. plates. Anyway, after an hour or two in the police station they let us go.

We went swimming in Lake Argyle and in the evening went fishing below the dam and caught catfish and bream, or brim as they called them, which we had for breakfast at the campsite. I remember thinking it was the tastiest fish I'd ever eaten. Probably due to it being so fresh. Funny how reading your stuff brings back these memories.

That reminds me, saw a UFO in Darwin.

Thanks, Bro, good story.

Ivenhoe C.P. Pool

The pool in the Ivanhoe Caravan Park in Kununurra. A spa is just behind the rocks on the right. The pool is located twenty paces from our door, the air temperature around 33°C. This is a shameless attempt to make our family and friends in the U.K. jealous.

The Argyle Diamond Mine

Then there was the day we toured the Argyle Diamond Mine. There were forty two of us on the bus, plus the driver and a guide. It was a two hour journey each way with a ten minute break at the Doon Doon Road House which was around the half way mark.

Security at the mine was very strict and we had to sign a form agreeing to a body search if we were requested to have one. That's not a body cavity search, you understand, and the security person carrying out the search would be of the same gender as the one being searched. Hearing this there was a groan of disappointment from the female passengers. We were also warned that we must never bend down; if we dropped something we must call a guide to pick it up. On no account were we to pick up anything from the ground.

Diamond Mine 'Benches'

Diamonds are only found in the seams of black ore. The rest is called 'overburden'.
To get an idea of the scale, look at the giant mine vehicles on the roads.

On arriving at the mine we acquired two Argyle guides in addition to the tour company guide and the coach driver. One of the Argyle guides took up the commentary on the bus's address system as we drove, initially to a lookout platform at the top of the mine. The fact that, to him, the words 'right' and 'left' were fully interchangeable didn't dawn on us and we all repeatedly gazed out of the wrong side of the bus with increasing frustration as he described non-existent features. Grateful thanks to the driver for realising what was happening and correcting him thereafter. Perhaps a pair of gloves embroidered with an L and an R ...

While on the mine site, the driver had to toot his horn twice before moving away from a standstill and three times if he was about to reverse. When we arrived at the lookout platform we were given eye protection to wear 'in case dust blew in our eyes'. The view over the mine workings was excellent and photography was permitted.

Diamond Mine Dumper

This dumper looks tiny until you compare it to the Toyota Landcruiser behind it. Each dumper carries 300 tonnes of ore to the crushers. Operating day and night, they shift 80 million tonnes each year. Of that, about 10 million tonnes is ore which yields 6 - 7 tonnes of diamonds. The rest is 'overburden'

While at the viewing platform I noticed a sickly smell in the air which didn't belong in an open cut mine. It resembled molasses which we'd frequently smelt around the sugar mills in Queensland, but surely ... In fact, it was molasses; the water trucks that damp down the mine's dusty roads have molasses mixed with the water to bind the dust particles.

Diamond Necklace


The little trinket on the left looks like a piece of slimy seaweed. Now read its descriptive plate on the right. A cool half million and they seemingly have no idea how to display it to advantage.Why not arrange it around the neck of a dummy? Have they no imagination at all?

Leaving the lookout we toured the mine site but were not allowed out of the bus. The different plant buildings were shown to us and their functions described. In brief, the rock is crushed and re-crushed until each particle is between 1.5 millimetres and 15 millimetres in size. Anything below 1.5 millimetres is discarded. Anything above 15 millimetres is sent back to be crushed again. If a particle falls within the limits it passes before a computer-controlled diamond detector which scans the rock particles with X-rays. Any diamonds present glow under X-rays and are thus detected. The computer calculates exactly where the diamond is amongst the other particles then blasts it with a jet of compressed air, blowing it into a waiting receptacle. The remaining rock particles pass through this process three times before being discarded. In this manner 99.9% of all diamonds are recovered.

While on this tour we were shown the entrance to the new underground workings that will keep the mine viable until 2025. (I think I said 2020 on a previous page.) All the underground machinery will be remotely controlled from above ground. In fact, the control room could be anywhere in the world! Only maintenance staff will be below ground.

We also heard the story of the runway at the Argyle airstrip. It is long enough and strong enough to accept a Boeing 737 but two major errors were made when it was built. The prevailing winds are east/west but the runway was built north/south, resulting in every landing being a cross-wind landing. And . . . it was built on top of a diamond field worth an estimated two hundred million dollars!

After the tour of the plant we were taken to the Argyle Diamond Gallery where we were allowed to wander around glass showcases displaying various qualities and sizes of diamond and some jewellery containing diamonds, all the time watched closely by our guides, guards and, doubtless, hidden surveillance cameras.

Largest Diamond

The largest diamond ever found at the Argyle Mine was in a piece of ore stuck between the rear tyres of a dumper.
Unfortunately it is flawed and so not worth a great deal.

The Gallery Tour was probably intended to whet the appetite of the ladies in particular, before we were taken to the gift shop where you could purchase anything from a tube of Colgate toothpaste to a very expensive diamond bracelet.

That over, and the credit card still intact, we were taken to the mess where we served ourselves as much food as we could stuff down in the allotted time.

And that was the tour over. Back to the bus and away. We did receive a surprise at the end of the return trip, however. We were each presented with a small diamond in a presentation box. Can anybody lend us an electron microscope?

My conclusion of the day was that it was mildly interesting but generally a bit 'flat'. For the life of me I can't understand the logic behind thousands of people working around the clock to recover bits of compressed carbon that most people couldn't distinguish from glass and which has no practical value whatever other than to look sparkly. And if you could afford to buy one, you'd never dare to wear it.
The Hidden Valley.

Right on Kununurra's doorstep is a gem of a place called the Hidden Valley. It is also referred to as the Mini Bungles on account of the beehive-shaped hills which are found there. They are very old sandstone and quite severely eroded by wind and water.

Mini Bungles

Taken on the climb to the lookout, looking back down at the Hidden Valley.

There are a few well-worn walking tracks with one or two maps positioned here and there. If you get lost and come across a map you are no better off because they have no You are here indicators.

There is a high lookout and the walk up to it was short but strenuous. Going up was not so bad, it was coming down that caused us trouble. However, we made it and have another happy memory to store away.

View from lookout with inset

The view from the lookout was magnificent and well worth the climb. You might just be able to make out two people (circled) beside the guard rail towards the left of the picture - there is a slightly enlarged picture inset.

One thing was very noticeable and that was the precarious state of some of the peaks, particularly when you were walking below them in the valley. Some looked like heads perched on a 'neck' so eroded it wouldn't take much to snap off the 'head' and send it tumbling down into the valley. In other places the sandstone had eroded from beneath overhangs so that a person walking unsuspectingly over the top might cause the edge to break away. In yet other places the whole rock had cracked open.

The sight of huge displaced boulders lying on the valley floor didn't inspire confidence either.

3 Precarious Rocks

Three scenes illustrating the crumbling state of the sandstone.

It's The Early Bird That Catches The Worm.

(Moral: Don't be the early worm.)

An English couple on holiday had driven their rented motor home from Katherine. On their third morning in Kununurra we found them waiting outside the caravan park for a tour bus to collect them. We stopped to chat and discovered they were taking a flight out over the Bungle Bungles. The husband kept looking at his watch.
“Are these buses usually on time?” he asked, “Only this one's very late”.
We checked our watches. The bus wasn't due for a while. Suddenly light dawned.
“When you crossed into Western Australia three days ago, did you reset your watches?”
“Reset our watches? No. Why?”
“Because this state is an hour and a half behind the Northern Territory. Your bus isn't due for an hour and a quarter.”

Ever wonder where the expression 'gob smacked' came from? Lucky they weren't on a six o'clock tour.
A Minor Commotion

I've always loved dogs. I mean real dogs, not rats on a piece of string. So when we passed a large German Shepherd behind the locked gates of a business I made friends with it. This was during our morning constitutional.

A few days later we passed the locked premises again. This time there were two German Shepherds on guard. The 'new' one was even bigger and less inclined to be friendly. When he started barking, the other one followed suit. I finally persuaded the big one to approach the wire fence and he stopped barking and licked my hand. I talked quietly to him, telling him what a big soft fraud he was. Then I walked on.

Immediately both dogs started barking again. When I reached the next premises there was a German Shepherd near the open gates. He started barking and came running out of the gates at me. Soon we were friends and he was nuzzling up and licking me. As I turned to walk on, he too resumed barking. Now there were three competing. Then I heard a higher pitched bark. A ute was approaching down the street with a yapping dog on its tray. The ute was driving fast so I was terrified when the loose German Shepherd dashed into the road ahead of it. The driver took no evasive action, nor did he brake. The German Shepherd stopped just in time and jumped up at the yapping dog on the tray, barking loudly.

I looked around for Pam. She was well down the road, hiding at the top of a large tree. No, no, sorry - she was in the shade of a large tree - she doesn't like dogs. I decided that was a good place to be; the cacophony of barking was starting to attract attention. Stirring things up a bit was fun, but I could have been responsible for the death of a beautiful animal.
The Ord Irrigation Scheme.

Since Kununurra and Lake Argyle were both created to service the Ord Irrigation Scheme, I thought I would go on a tour and find out more. The Tour Director - my Tour Director, that is - despite her title, declined to accompany me. It was a 2½ hour bus tour with about eighteen other passengers.

The bus driver, Phil, was sure he knew me - and I him. He questioned which tours I'd been on since arriving in Kununurra but that didn't help.

“Where are you staying?” he wanted to know. I told him. “Ah, that must be it, I'm staying there too.”

“Wait a minute,” I asked, “Are you Lyn's husband?” He was. “That's it then. I'm your next door neighbour.”

There were two tour guides, Tony, the C.E.O. of the irrigation scheme, and Suzi, a young lady who had an amazing knowledge of farming in the district. The two interacted really well together making the afternoon a lot of fun.

The whole of the Ord Irrigation Area is served by a network of water channels, gravity fed from Lake Kununurra. If I said previously that no pumps are employed in the scheme, I apologise, that's not quite true. The scheme is divided into two areas, the Ivanhoe and the Saddleback. The Saddleback, being higher than Lake Kununurra, employs four large pumps to lift the water from the lake into the main irrigation channel.

Pump Outlet

Only one of the four pumps was in use when we visited the main channel for the Saddleback scheme.
The picture shows the working outlet and two others. The fourth is hidden by the foaming water.

There are also quite a lot of smaller pumps to lift the water and many gates to direct it. A percentage of these are controlled from a central computer. If a farmer wants his bananas watered tomorrow he must notify the controller by nine o'clock today for the computer to be suitably programmed. He is then faxed to inform him of when he can expect the water.

Our guides showed us much and gave us a phenomenal amount of information. For example, we stopped beside a paddock with long, straight furrows stretching away. The tractor, they told us, is steered by a G.P.S. controlled mechanism. All the driver does is turn the vehicle around at the end of each row and hand it back to the G.P.S.

How are the paddocks kept absolutely flat so the irrigation water spreads out evenly? Equipment guided by a laser beam is employed every few years to re-level the paddocks.


The black pipes are not connected to anything. The near end lies in the water of an irrigation channel; the far end rests in a furrow at a slightly lower level. The water syphons through the pipes and flows down the furrows. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that syphoning in each individual pipe must be manually started.

Further on we stopped by another paddock owned by Pacific Seeds. Here they were growing 'forage sorghum' - similar to corn - for its seeds. In every seventh row the crop was much taller than in the intervening six rows. Why was that?

Every seventh row is planted with male seeds. The smaller plants in the six intervening rows are females and were planted later than the males. To produce fertile seeds the female sorghum flower must receive pollen from a male sorghum flower. The plant relies on insects to carry the pollen. Scattered along the end of the rows were beehives. The bees do a wonderful job of buzzing between the male and female flowers, collecting nectar for themselves and unwittingly pollinating the crop at the same time. Doubtless the honey is marketed too.


One row of male sorghum to every six rows of female sorghum results in a good harvest of fertile seeds.

Some wag at the back of the bus asked Tony how they can tell whether the seeds they plant are male or female. For a millisecond Tony was thrown, then quick as a flash he batted the question to Suzi whose jaw dropped in surprise. We all laughed but she recovered quickly and came back straight away.

“Determining which are male seeds and which are females is really easy”, she said glibly. “It's printed on the bag.”

What an amazing way of maximizing the crop, using male and female plants, bees, and all the modern technology - computer controlled watering, G.P.S. controlled tractors and laser-levelled fields.

Among the many crops grown in the Ord Irrigation Area are both the Indian and Australian Sandalwood Trees which are becoming increasingly popular. I wasn't aware that the sandalwood tree is a parasite, but it taps into the roots of other trees and 'bleeds' them to death before finding a new host. Thus a sandalwood is normally planted in company with Australian native trees which act as hosts. There is a long lead time before the farmer capitalises on his investment as the sandalwood isn't ready for harvesting for between twelve and sixteen years. At harvest the host trees are uprooted at the same time as the sandalwood but have no practical value.

Sandalwood Plantation

The sandalwood are the small trees growing beneath the taller, sacrificial native trees.

Why plant sandalwood? One very good reason is that, weight for weight, sandalwood oil is worth more than gold. The wood, too, is valuable. Many of these plantations are financed by investors.

Some enterprising farmer decided to use mahogany trees as hosts in order to capitalise on their timber when the sandalwood was harvested. The mahogany tree, however, is more than a match for the sandalwood, growing so vigorously that it blocks out all the sandalwood's sunlight. So that didn't work.

Another innovative farmer is growing sandalwood without host trees. He fertilises the soil so the sandalwood receives sufficient nutrients in that way - sandalwood plantations are not normally fertilised. We were shown these plants and to my untrained eye they seemed to be doing fine, and without the hosts more sandalwood can be planted per acre. Additionally, there's no host foliage to block their sunlight. Perhaps they'll mature faster and be the way forward but the farmer is taking a huge risk.

A Syphon Operating

A syphon taking water from an irrigation channel for sandalwood trees. The pipes come in a range of diameters.

Rice growing was tried but the crop was ruined when thousands of migrating Magpie Geese descended on it at the same time each year and wrecked it. I suggested a spin-off enterprise. Anybody fancy goose for dinner?

Sugar cane was eventually tried though it was inhibited for years by some agreement with Queensland where the sugar industry is well established. When it was tried in Kununurra a small crushing mill was built but could not access sufficient cane to stay viable. It has now been mothballed and the existing sugar crop is being discontinued. If the Ord Stage II (now called the Ord Expansion) ever gets off the ground, there's a good chance that enough sugar will be grown to justify restoring the mill to operating condition. If that doesn't happen soon, however, the mill may have deteriorated beyond recovery.

Dethridge Wheel

Left: Two Dethridge Wheels measuring the water flowing into an irrigation channel through raised gates. Gravity moves the water, the water turns the wheels. A counter on the inside of the wheel (right) records each revolution.

The type of water meter shown above is about to be phased out due to limitations in its accuracy which is only acceptable when the incoming water is at a given level. Maintaining an exact input level is not always practical in a scheme like this. With so much water available, is accuracy so important? No, not in the Ord Irrigation Scheme, but this is a national issue and in the Murray Darling Scheme, where every drop counts, water is much more expensive. So all the many water wheels in the Ord region have to go. Bureaucrats in Canberra say so. What will replace the wheels and who will pay for the replacement meters? Nobody seems to know.

All the irrigated land in Ord Stage One has been taken up and is being farmed. There is plenty of water, a lot more suitable land for the Ord Expansion, and a lot of growers keen to take it up. The politicians however, both state and federal, have been sitting on their hands for years. Infrastructure, such as roads, needs to be in place before things can proceed. The Carpenter State Government has just allocated a pitifully inadequate $15M to the scheme, but not in the next financial year. The Federal Government is too busy pouring money into that lost cause, the Murray Darling Basin. Same old story.

Our last call on the tour was at the Hoochery, a boutique rum distillery, where we were able to sample and purchase the products. Of course, the raw materials for the distillery came from the now defunct local sugar industry so the Hoochery owner plans to grow his own sugar and mill it himself. The people in this region are nothing if not innovative.
Terrorism In Kununurra!

No, it isn't a joke. The local police pulled over a car the other night for a routine breath test. The driver was over the limit. While questioning him the police noticed dried blood on his hands. It was from his wife, he told them, he'd just given her a beating. The police went to his home and found his wife battered and bruised. The man had also assaulted two of his neighbours. The wife told them they had better check her husband's car which was still near the Kununurra shopping centre. They went back and examined the car. In the boot they found a home made bomb using a gas bottle as the explosive and a quantity of nails and metal scraps intended to kill or injure as many people as possible. The man had obtained the bomb design from the internet.

The young constable phoned Perth and, following telephone instructions from the Bomb Squad, disarmed the device.

This all occurred during the Kimberley Moon Festival when the town was at its most crowded. The man's wife, a nervous wreck with five children, turned up for work the next morning. Her workmates couldn't believe it.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 72 was completed on 21st June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.