13 June—14 June 2002
The next morning we picked up some last minute supplies in Fitzroy Crossing, filled the petrol tank and the gas bottles, and headed out along the road to Windjana Gorge. This involved travelling for a short distance on the Great Northern Highway, then taking a right turn into Leopold Downs Road, which runs up to the western end of the Gibb River Road.
For the first 43 km we were on bitumen, but then we faced 125 km of dirt road. The first 104 km to Windjana Gorge was very rough and corrugated, with several creek crossings. These were manageable in our two-wheel-drive car, however. Although a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for this road, we had been reassured by other travellers that we would find it passable. The worst sections included some dips that were not signposted. We could hear the coupling on the trailer complaining when I locked the trailer brakes on the descent and bounced out of them.
At one creek crossing there were two huge bulls standing close by, so there was no question of Susie getting out of the car to test the depth of the water. We took it slowly and we had no problems.
On the way to Windjana Gorge we stopped at Tunnel Creek, which runs through the Napier Range. This was the hideout of a famous Bunuba Warrior called Jandamarra who waged a guerilla war against the white settlers in the area in the 1890s. At two points in the tunnel it is completely dark. The water inside is very cool, and there are bats and beautiful limestone formations. We walked right through the 850m tunnel and out the other side. It was a brilliant hideout: it allowed for an escape through the far end of the tunnel, or an ambush in the dark centre of the cave. At the far end of the tunnel there was a pretty swimming hole where Ruby, Clare and I went for a dip.
We walked back through the tunnel and set out along a track to the ruins of the Lillimooloora Police Station where Jandamarra shot Constable Fitzgerald. It was hot as blazes. Susan videoed me singing Fitzroy Crossing in the ruins.
The camp ground at Windjana Gorge was stunning. We chose a spot with a clear view of limestone cliffs that rose 90m sheer up out of the plain. They glowed orange as I went off to collect wood at sunset.
On our second day at Windjana gorge, Ruby fell ill. When she woke up she was off her food, and when we set out on foot to the Gorge, she threw up on the side of the path. I argued that we’d be better off finding a shady spot in the Gorge than hanging around at the campsite, due to the intense heat on the plain. So we continued on.
Susan and Ruby sat in a shady place by the river while Clare and I explored the Gorge. We couldn’t go swimming due to the presence of crocodiles. They were only “freshies”, but the ranger had told us that they had counted at least 120 crocs in the small pool that remained in the dry, and some of them were big ones. We were able to get quite close to them to get a good look. We saw one croc that had had half of his top jaw bitten off. He was indeed an ugly monster.
The heat was intense and Clare began to complain as corellas shrieked up the gorge. I wanted to push on, but it wasn’t fair on my little companion, so we headed back to where Susan and Ruby were, slowly and in the shade of the gorge wall. We explored several caves on our way back, but we didn’t find any Aboriginal art. We all lay on the riverbank in the gorge for an hour or so watching the crocs until Ruby wanted to return to camp. So I took her back and set her up on her camp bed in the shade to sleep off the wog.
The ranger had declined to tell us where to find the Aboriginal rock art because someone had recently disturbed one of the sites, and the Aboriginal custodians had asked him not to divulge their location. I later stumbled across one of the sites by chance. It was in a sheltered overhang that had been fenced off. Not much was visible.
Eventually I met up with Clare and Susan as they were returning to camp. Ruby and I had a clarinet lesson and Clare wrote a story for her teacher. Susan and I cooked beans and rice for dinner, and sat up late around the fire singing.