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Some Interesting Artefacts around Derby

Here we are at Derby (pronounced as it's spelled, derr-bee, not dah-bee as in the English town). After all that time on the east coast of Australia, we're back on the west coast. Well, the north west coast. We have now been travelling for three and a half years.

First impressions of Derby were a little disappointing but it grew on us. It's largely a town of bygone days and as such it would be nice to see its history proudly preserved but that doesn't appear to be happening. Anyway, let me show you what we've seen.
Another Prison Boab

Remember we visited a hollow boab tree near Kununurra - the Prison Boab? Derby has one also, and reading the literature we again find that it stops short of saying prisoners were kept in the tree overnight, only that they may have been. So below is the Prison Boab Tree at Derby that may have been used to secure prisoners overnight.

Prison Boab

The 1,500 year old Prison Boab tree at Derby. Ugly old thing, isn't it?

Mayall's Well

Mayall’s Well was dug by Alfred Duckworth Mayall at the behest of the Road Board. In those days the main road from Derby to Wyndham passed the spot where there was already a billabong (pond) suitable for animals to drink from but what about people? The Road Board decided they wanted a supply of fresh water there and employed Alfie to find some. In 1890 he did so and he dug a well.
A BIG Cattle Trough

Not many metres from the prison tree is a cattle trough - pictured below. This is not just any cattle trough, though. At 120 metres in length this trough is - now don't laugh - the longest cattle trough in the southern hemisphere! It was constructed from concrete in 1916 at a cost of £581 by one Joe Griffin. Joe wasn't stupid, he built his trough next to Mayall’s Well so it would have enough water to handle 500 bullocks at a time. So if, by chance, any of you have 500 thirsty bullocks, Derby is the place.
Mayall's Well Becomes A Bore

In 1910 the Public Works Department acquired new drilling equipment capable of sinking an artesian bore. On a site close to Alfie’s well the Department drilled down 322 metres (about 1,000 feet) and up came fresh water under its own pressure. Every day 315 thousand litres of it poured out creating a billabong 1.6 kilometres long. Animals came to drink, Derby residents came to picnic and the Road Board came to collected fees from them all.

Windmill and Water Trough

Left: The windmill feeding the southern hemisphere's longest cattle trough with water.

After a time the water pressure began to fall until the flow was but a dribble. A windmill was positioned over the bore to pump the water up. Today we saw the pump working but only the merest trickle flowed into Joe Griffin’s world famous cattle trough and the billabong has long since dried up. The lesson here is, when you strike an artesian water supply, cap it. Take only what you need and it will serve you well. No pun intended.

Today the bore is known as Mayall’s Bore though it was drilled by the Public Works Department. The original well seems to have gone, though the area around the base of the windmill is too overgrown to be certain.
Frosty Pool

During WWII, troops were stationed in the area and one of them, Charles Frost, had a good idea. Why not build a pool to bathe in? His idea was accepted and the Third General Transport Company dug a rectangular hole in the ground and lined it with concrete. It wasn't as big as they'd have liked because materials were in short supply but ... it was large enough to bathe in. The pool was named after Frost and is still there today, one of Derby's few reminders of the war years. It was fed with water from nearby Mayall's Bore. In fact, the pipe is still there, though broken.

Bathing Pool

Frosty Pool, or what's left of it. The officers bathed in the morning and other ranks in the afternoon.

Sunset Over The Ocean

That evening we took a cask of our hard won wine, two chairs and two cameras down to the jetty to watch the sun set. We found we were by no means alone and there was an atmosphere of friendliness with people fishing and everyone talking to everyone else. It isn't that the sun has never set before, the thing that makes a Derby sunset special to residents of the east coast is that many of them have never before seen the sun set over the ocean, only rise. Derby is the first opportunity for people travelling 'over the top' to have this experience. Of course, truth be told, it's not the ocean, it's King Sound and the sun actually sets over the land on the other side of it. But let's not allow facts to get in the way of the story.


While taking photographs we made friends with a couple who had cruised the Geikie Gorge at Fitzroy Crossing with us. They were in the same caravan park so we finished up having our evening meal together at the park's barbecue area while the mosquitoes made a meal out of us. When a passer-by commented on the amount of noise we were making while people were trying to sleep, we retired to our respective caravans for the night.
The Amazing Tide At Derby

Tide out, tide in

The two pictures indicate the height of the tide in Derby. The left photo shows some men leaning on the jetty rail and looking down at the mud at low tide. The right picture shows Pam in the same place five hours later at high tide. The water had risen over eleven metres.

Strangely, down the west coast at Fremantle, the rise and fall of the tide is barely noticeable. The height of the Derby tide explains how the Horizontal Falls work (next item).
The Fabulous Horizontal Falls

The falls are some distance from Derby and only accessible by sea or air, so we took a seaplane out from Derby Airport. How can a seaplane operate from dry land? As the picture below shows, it has retractable wheels on the floats.

Cessna Float Plane

Our pilot, standing on the float, briefed us on the Cessna Caravan turboprop.

The flight out to the Horizontal Falls took around thirty minutes and gave us fabulous panoramic views of the remote coastline of the West Kimberley.

Islands from the Float Plane

The coastline is a mass of islands and inlets, the sun shimmering on the water.

The Cessna landed on a wide inlet which was almost cut off from the open sea by two narrow gorges - the Horizontal Falls - which are not actually water falls. As the tide comes in and the sea level rises, millions of tonnes of water surge through the gaps so fast that the surface foams and boils like a demented cauldron. The restriction formed by the gorges ensures that the water level on the land side never catches up with the sea level until the tide turns. Until then, water continues to surge through.

As the sea level drops with the falling tide, the whole process goes into reverse with the trapped water behind the gorges rapidly draining back out with same tremendous power and turbulence with which it entered.

Islands from the Float Plane

The remarkable Horizontal Falls, a little spoiled by distortion and reflection from the aircraft's window.

When the aircraft landed we transferred to an inflatable boat which came alongside. Just getting out of the aircraft was a job in itself, then we had to climb down onto the float and from there step across to the boat. To complicate matters further the boat was already full of passengers wearing life jackets who were to transfer to the aircraft, but not until they had wriggled out of their life jackets which we then donned.

Poor Pam, never the most nimble of people and terrified of boats and water at the best of times, had to do all this knowing there were crocs and sharks in the water, but she managed. We finally parted company with the aircraft and the boat took us through a narrow gorge which opened out into another lake on which was moored a houseboat.

Once on board the houseboat, and divested of our life jackets, we were given morning tea. Then it was back on with the life jackets and back into the inflatable boat. JET A1, as it was called, had been built specifically to travel over the Horizontal Falls. You sat astride your seat, grasping the bar in front of you as if you were riding a bronco . . .

Jet A1 Boat

“JET A1” was a very powerful beast. Her two outboard motors could produce 500 H. P. (373 kW) between them.

We roared back through the gorge and across the lake on which we had landed, turning into another gorge. There, at the end, was a gap in the rock face, the first of the Horizontal Falls. We circled around and had a good look at it, our young skipper teasing the current by allowing it to suck us backwards to the brink of the fall then gunning those powerful motors and pulling us clear. All the time he was building the tension, giving us a taste of what was to come then turning away again.

Finally the moment arrived. He took the boat well back from the fall, turned it around and opened up the engines, racing into the gap. If we'd felt like we were riding a bronco before, now we knew we were. It was like shooting the rapids but rapids are caused when the water speeds up in a shallow section - this water was 45 metres deep. There were too many vortices and currents to dodge and they grabbed the boat, tonnes of water suddenly throwing it sideways, then another would kick it in the opposite direction. In a few seconds we were through, but the whirlpools continued for about another 500 metres as the swirling water from deep down rose to the surface.

Our skipper took a look at the second fall, which is narrower with an even more violent flow, and decided to err on the side of safety so he turned us around - we still had to shoot back up the first fall.

The Water Boiled

And suddenly we were through and still alive. Photography was difficult; it meant holding on with one hand.

Returning up the first fall was as much fun as going down it, then it was over. We returned to the houseboat, adrenaline pumping, more than ready for a lunch of barbecued barramundi and salad.

In the afternoon we lounged about on the houseboat. It was incredibly peaceful, surrounded by rocky mountains with nothing else on the lake.

When I earlier mentioned Pam's discomfort at hopping from a plane to a boat in deep water containing crocs and sharks, you might have thought I was exaggerating. If so, click on Next Page below.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 74 was completed on 28th June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.