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Mitchell Plateau and Kalumburu June 2008 – a side trip from the Gibb River Road.   We first visit the Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls. 

The Mitchell Plateau is part of the Kimberley Plateau which encompasses the area north of and between the King Leopold Ranges and the Durack Ranges.  This area is believed to have collided with mainland Australia around 1.8 billion years ago, with the ranges being formed by the collision and subsequent forces.  The land was made up of sedimentary and volcanic materials.  Due to the ancient nature of the rock, the only fossils are stromatolites.   The northward movement of the Australian continent lifted this plateau, and caused some of the rivers to cut deep gorges.       

Reflections on a pool on the Drysdale River, along a short walk trail from the pleasant station camp site. 

At Drysdale River Station, in addition to the camp grounds there is donga accommodation, as well as a shop with limited basic supplies and a restaurant with licenced bar.  They no longer provide mechanical services but they do have a tyre repair andsale service. Petrol and diesel are also on sale and they are the only fuel outlet between Mount Barnett Roadhouse on the Gibb River Road and Kalumburu. Tour flights over the Mitchell Plateau and Falls leave from the Drysdale River Station airfield.

Around a hundred kilometres further north is the turnoff to the Mitchell Plateau.  On this road we crossed the fast flowing King Edward River.  Although it was not excessively deep, the large boulders in the river bed caused a lot of swaying and dunking.  When we stopped, we found that the generator box on the a-frame had taken in water. 


We spent three nights here, as well as a further night on the return journey from Kalumburu.   We shared it with a number of other campers, and at times it was quite crowded, but the company was always good, and the view glorious.   

I was swimming when I saw a long tail on rock near the other side of the pool.  Thinking it might be a snake, I alerted others there.  It was a very large, light golden coloured Mertens monitor.

We camped at a delightful spot overlooking a large river pool.   The water was fresh and the weather ideal for swimming. This Department of Environment and Conservation King Edward River camp site was my favourite camp of the whole trip. 

We left the Gibb River Road onto the Kalumburu Road, where on a straight stretch of road we saw this vehicle which had hit a tree hard.  It was difficult to imagine how they could have ended up on the wrong side of the road like this, in what appeared to be the opposite direction of travel.  There was a note inside the car saying the occupants had been taken to Drysdale River Station.  We had turned around to check on any occupants.  Expect the unexpected when travelling on unfamiliar roads. 

We chose to stay at the Drysdale River Station campsite with amenities, rather than at their independent camping spot of Miner’s Pool, as it was not a lot more costly.  We took the opportunity to do the washing.  Parked at the edge of the large camping area well away from everyone else, we enjoyed the rural atmosphere.  That night the sunset looked like fire. 

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Next morning we left our caravan at the campsite and headed for Mitchell Falls.  The road is notorious for corrugations, and has a number of steep and deep dips.  Caravans are no longer permitted on this road. 

An ancient species of Livistona Palms are common on and unique to the Mitchell Plateau.  They grow up to eighteen metres tall, and retain textured bark all the way up the trunk which sets them apart to other Livistona species.

The walk to Mitchell Falls follows the Merten Creek, along which a few Aboriginal rock painting sites can be seen under the rocks at the base of the Little Merten Falls. 


Typical of most sites in the Kimberley, different eras have painted over that done previously and include the ancient elegant red figures of the style Bradsahw paintings. 

As I was feeling the heat, although the walk was not difficult I welcomed the chance to cool off under Little Merten Falls, as most of the trek still lay ahead of us. 


The trail roughly follows a creek line and on a hot morning the sight of the large pool at the top of Big Merten Falls was a welcome relief.  Stepping stones form a path to cross at the top of these falls.  Although not much water was tumbling down, the ravine was very deep. 

Then it was only a short walk and the vista of the Mitchell River entering Mitchell Falls was before us, with the falls roaring.  We crossed at the top of the falls and with the strong current pressing on my legs, I felt insecure, especially considering I had our cameras in my back pack.  

Looking back after wading through the fast flowing river near the lip of Mitchell Falls.  

The wide pool was inviting and we enjoying cooling off with a swim before having our picnic lunch at the water’s edge.


A walk and scramble around past the helipad and across a small ravine gets to a point where you can look back at the multi level falls.  It is a long way down into the pools which are not accessible due to the cliff faces, and local Aborigines ask that we respect their culture and do not go into these pools.  There is also a danger of saltwater crocodiles below the falls, whilst above is considered quite safe.   

After a good walk around the rugged rim and another refreshing swim, we rested weary legs with a helicopter taxi ride back to the car park.  This only takes a few minutes, and takes a couple of ascending loops over the falls and gives a good overview of the rivers.

Looking inland, Mitchell Falls can be seen mid picture.  The ravine from Big Merten Falls is in shadow on the left, with the pool at the top of the falls being visible.  From the flight, you get an overview of the rivers and streams meandering below.  

We had planned to stay at the falls car park camp ground overnight, but having completed our tour and with two hours light remaining, we drove ‘home’ to our caravan at the beautiful King Edward River camp.

The tall dark red slender and elegant people painted in the era known as Bradshaw can be elaborate and with flowing garments and bracelets. The Aboriginal people call these paintings 'Gwion Gwions'.  Age of Bradshaw paintings is estimated at between 17,000 and 60,000 years and well and truly pre dates ancient civilisations.  The earliest discovered civilisation of Mesoptamia has been dated at around 3,500 year ago, and ancient Egyptian civilisation around 3,200 years ago with the pyramids of Giza being dated at around 2,700 – 2,500 year old.  They were named after Joseph Bradshaw, the first European person to describe them in 1891.  These paintings are possibly the oldest rock paintings in the world, with the earliest known cave paintings in Europe being dated between 18,000 and 10,000 years old.  According to legend they were painted by birds using their tail feathers and their own blood. 


Their original is controversial, as indicated in the following extracts from an ABC interview on 14 October 2002 with Grahame Walsh, who has devoted his life to documenting the Bradshaw paintings which he regards as the best rock art in the world, ancient rock art which he attributes to a mystery race quite separate from Aboriginal people.  

Near the King Edward River there are two large and significant Aboriginal rock painting sites. 

Figures have been painted across the ancient and delicate Bradshaw paintings. 

Only a few sites can be visited by the public; many more are located throughout the Kimberley.  Mimi style paintings in the adjacentNorthern Territory, including Arnhem Land show similarities to Bradshaw paintings.
Dr. Mike Morwood of the Department of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropoly at the University of New England: In historic times, Aboriginal people would sort of say, "We don't know anything about these Bradshaws." They've actually been described by various traditional owners as rubbish art.

'Sunday' Billy King, Ngarinyin Elder: No, they said no. That was human long, long time before our time. But we can't tell the truth because we don't know they said. Not any Aborigines in the Kimberley know about Bradshaw painting.

But other Aboriginal communities disagree. They call the paintings 'Gwion Gwions'. They say they're important for a native title claim because they help prove continuous Aboriginal occupation of the land.

The Wandjinas are usually depicted in white with a red ochre headdress, the eyes and nose joined and, in place of a mouth, an oval shape or pearl-shell ornament below the neck.  The Wandjinas are part of contemporary Aboriginal culture (estimated to be around 1,500 years old) and were continually repainted to ensure fertility and the arrival of the wet season, although this is no longer being done.   

Rock painting, done over the centuries for cultural purposes, is no longer practiced, however in current times, Aborigines have been encouraged to put their art onto paper or canvas, and many paint in Bradshaw or Wandjina style, or the use the dot art practiced by the desert people.  These modern day art works in traditional styles are keenly sought by collectors from around the world. 

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