What is wonderful about the Kimberley is the things that are hidden. The landscape is amazing, from ancient scraggy rock karst in beautiful ombré red tones to the flat sandy grasslands, now golden and baked under the sun. I have written about the magnificent boab tree, which sits following flows of water, ancient and new but I haven’t yet mentioned the gorges, those cracks hidden in the vast planes which cut deep into the earth.
One such crack, or gorge is Geikie Gorge. Known for a millennia as Darngku it is now reclaiming its ancient name. Scoured out of the sandstone rock by the Fitzroy River it is at the head where the Fitzroy meets the Margaret. Each year after the wet season rains it is reborn as the sand bank across the head of the gorge blocks the escape of the last of the waters from the summer monsoons. Capturing the waters of the mighty Fitzroy these waters once more give birth to the beautiful gorge, a sanctuary for birds, freshwater crocodiles and many other animals and wildlife. It becomes a permanent water hole in a land that begins again to dry-out under the baking skies of the Kimberley.
We explored the gorge by boat, one driven by the Park Ranger in the last weeks of the Gorge when it is open to exploring. Within weeks, the gorge will flood again, the Rangers will have packed up their camp and any movable equipment, taking it to much higher ground. Then the monsoons will come and flood the land, scouring a vast area with life giving rains and the landscape will change in its eternal cycle.
It autumn it all will be renewed when the gorge once more becomes accessible, the paths will be cleared of metres of silt, the equipment will be bought down from its safe hide and re-sited and the tourist season will begin again. It is a cycle heavy in time, ancient in its life and it will go on long after man has left. This is the Kimberley … eternal.
This area was once a coral reef over 1,000 klm in length and this is what makes up the landscape. This ancient reef is the bed of limestone upon which the Kimberley’s is built. It is the basis of the many beautiful gorges that lay hidden in the landscape and this is what makes it a special place, a place of the Dreamtime.
The Kimberley is part of this ancient landscape, some of the oldest still remaining above water on Earth today and it breathes its age at every turn. From those vast open savannah plains now golden, awaiting the rains to turn them into beautiful meadows of lush green with a myriad of wildflowers, some you can see straining their heads above the sea of burnt grass even now … on to its beautiful gorges hidden in the landscape. We have been planning and plotting our return and we haven’t even yet left. There is simply so much to see and do, the promise of the land is like a dream.
Having crossed the dry savannah we camped up on the edge of the Indian Ocean north of Broome, where the breezes were consistent and cool. Here we found another world, one as ancient as the gorges. It is this world we are exploring, the ancient broken beds of stone, which sit over what was once a coral reef and is now a hide for urchins and crabs.
The fishing is good though the lava flow of another age continues to catch our lines. What is fascinating though is the geology of this region, it is like reading a book as you follow the layers of life and land each telling its own story.
We had thought to camp up for a few days in Broome but found the caravan park tariffs in this shoulder season to be so expensive that it was an idea quickly discarded. Broome largely caters for the high-end in tourists and has little for the budget traveller, this right down to the high tariffs in the caravan parks. Instead we headed north and found ourselves a freecamp on a beautiful headland and here we have settled well away from the demands of the commercial interests.
The freecamps have far fewer travellers looking for a nights rest in this shoulder season. There has been something of a kafoffle again about freecamps mostly in Broome, which is one of the places in the country, which doesn’t welcome freecampers or illegal campers as they term them.
That term always amuses me and makes we consider the meaning of the phrase. I wrote a blog on the subject in relationship to the historical right of the freecamper. Law and bureaucracy may govern our country Australia overall, yet it seems to certainly becoming less democratic and our freedoms more restricted. This land though ultimately belongs to the people who are its citizens so should be tolerate such blatant lack of hospitality in our towns and cities.
So just what is an illegal camper? I dare to hazard it is one who camps contrary to signage, but then signage is not always within the bounds of legality either and often more presumptive than anything else when it comes to free camping. I wrote to the Broome Council asking for a definition, not wanting to end up with a fine. They have to date refrained from defining the meaning of the signage however does anyone really have the right to debase a public privilege and right on public land, often for no other reason than a local private commercial interests of one sector within the community?
It’s a sound argument as they advertise in signage that the lack of tolerance of freecampers is for the ‘safety and amenity of Broome’. What presumptive and inhospitable twaddle. It should read ‘for the amenity of commercial interests at the expense of others’. I can’t imagine anyone thinking freecampers, let alone the ‘grey nomads’ being really dangerous criminals so much so that the community of Broome has to be protected from them by local legislation.
To me the question comes down to hospitality and this, which is extended to the traveller. There is the public demographic of travellers in Aus. known as the Grey Nomads mostly who are retired or semi-retired members of the public who travel across the country as a lifestyle. They have done the hard yards, pay taxes like most or survive on a very limited income and It is a growing and powerful demographic who can’t often afford to pay the tariffs 24/7 which the camping and holiday parks levy. Besides, who would electively chose to live in a caravan park all the time?
I have a hard time getting a sound nights sleep in caravan parks, where often you are packed in like sardines. Besides … as Grey Nomads ourselves we are not on a holiday here and those places cater for the holidaymaker. This for us is a lifestyle, one from which we will occasionally take a holiday.
Australia has a wonderful reputation as a hospitable host to the international traveller and this reputation is also supported by an industry that is commonly termed as the ‘Back Packer’ industry. Not all backpackers carry backpacks anymore. I have noticed this travelling around as more often than not they have a vehicle and they frequent freecamps, backpacker motels and they travel widely. It is a million dollar industry and a fine reputation for hospitality that we have that places like Broome, Coffs Harbour and others are threatening this wonderful reputation.
The ‘backpacker’ also supports our rural industry in that Australian Stations, those vast holdings that can be found in the Kimberley and elsewhere need workers and unfortunately they are becoming harder to obtain. Currently our Country is largely supported by seasonal workers within the rural communities by the backpacker fraternity. We can ill afford to pare these numbers of young healthy kids by supporting the predatory practices and influences of the holiday park industry in their want to force travellers into using their facilities, particularly when they are overpriced and have used their influence in local councils to quash freecamps, often at the expense of other businesses.
Broome I have heard is suffering a downturn in its tourist numbers and it is of no surprise as their lack of welcome hospitality is obvious. They cater only to the high end of the travelling demographic or tourist market. We will be avoiding spending anything other than the barely necessary time in Broome due to their embargo on freecampers and lack of public welcome. While the information centre in Broome is large and welcoming, it is clear some sectors or travellers are not welcome in the town.
We don’t wish to stay in a caravan park, having just had a lovely holiday in one by choice. I am very much enjoying once more the freedoms of the bush and the privilege of being able to freecamp. It is my chosen lifestyle and we will spend our time on the smaller towns and settlements up and down the west coast. Broome will not be on the visiting list.
Sorry guys… perhaps in time you will find the spirit of hospitality for which Australia is internationally renown somewhere in your Council chambers. It certainly seems to us that you deserve your reputation for being inhospitable as there is nothing here for other than the cashed-up for accommodation. It is the greatest pity as the town has a lot to offer in what is a remote corner of Aus.
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A comment from the Facebook group – made by some of our International Travellers:
“We love Australia and we are road tripping already for the second time. But we are a bit worried about free camping…
Australia is a great country for camping! It’s the camping nation of the planet and camping is part of the culture. Free camp spots are provided and the infrastructure for freedom camping is just amazing. But is this slowly changing? In some places camping is already a major crime and needs to be targeted by rangers. How will the future of camping look like in Australia?”
I received a response from the Shire President of Broome who advises me:
The practice of illegal camping “ ïn the town site “is frowned upon for a number of reasons but camping in the bush outside of Broome is allowed under the Caravan and Camping Act of 1995 which states along the lines of the following
“camping is permitted with the permission of the owner for up to three days etc etc. There are many people who camp up and down the coastline on unoccupied lands. Recognition of native title and heritage areas need to be taken into account as do the restrictions that apply in conservation estates and pastoral leases.
Your email indicates that you are responsible people who would not do such things as drape washing over plants in the car parks, wash their dishes in the sinks in toilets and other unsightly/unhygienic activities which is the case with some of the campers who abuse the good will of others.
Thank you for your attention Graeme I appreciate your time.
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