North of the 26th Parallel on the Sunset side of Australia, the most southern place in Aus where the sun can sit directly overhead and the Gateway to the Greater North West, is a world like no other. This circle of latitude also defines our State Borders. That between the southern cities and commercial mammoths, and the wilder northern frontiers.
The southern edge of the Pilbara sits snugly just above this parallel. It is an ancient landscape with some of the worlds oldest regions still sitting above water, area’s rich in iron ores which were born when the world was rusting.
The name Pilbara is believed to be of the Aboriginal language, meaning ‘dry, and dry it is. Water here is precious and where water flows man has survived for tens of thousands of years, even through the age of the glacial maxima or major global ice-age.
The inlands weren’t explored by European man until the 1860’s though the notably cruel explorer Dampier trekked around the islands in the 1600’s and before that it was a tribal wilderness of epic proportions. Mining here has been going on for a mere 80 yrs, unless it was the rich ochres used in ceremony and tribal dance. In 2007, some of the oldest evidence of life on Earth was found in the Pilbara in 3.4 billion-year-old sandstones at Strelley Pool, which preserve fossils of sulfur-processing bacteria.
Near the frontier coastal town of Dampier is the remote peninsula known in the tongue of the old people as Murujunga (Burrup Peninsula). Here you will find the worlds largest and most important collection of petroglyphs, ancient Aboriginal rock carvings which date back well into the last ice age. Many of these petroglyphs depict images of the now extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). Due to the government mismanagement of this major historical site and the interests of the mining industry, the region was placed on the World Monument List of the 100 most endangered places in the world, when it comes to cultural heritage and conservation of globally valued sites along with prehistoric temples and ancient art sites. It has been estimated that some 10,000 petroglyphs have been crushed for road base, including the worlds oldest depiction of a human face. Mining for gas has also decimated valuable natural rock pools and the ancient eucalypts are dying, scorched by the fluming of escaping natural gas from faulty pipes producing burns as high as six story building. This creates pollution the equivalent of the entire annual emissions in New Zealand, every day. The regions very remoteness protects the abuses of the fossil fuel industry and the business interests of the mining industrialists.
Away from the coast the inland landscape of the Pilbara is a red world that is dry, flat and arid. The region also has a number of cattle-grazing stations. The popular natural attractions include the Karijini and Millstream-Chichester national parks, the Dampier Archipelago and the beautiful Ningaloo Reef which I wrote about in my last post. It is part of the Great Central Desert region and stretches across some half million square kilometres, supporting a population of just 50,000. It is a biodiversity hotspot for subterranean fauna… meaning that it is famous for the sheer numbers of mysterious critters (stygofauna) who live underground in the subterranean water flows. The gem in the crown of the region is the ore rich Hamersley Ranges and the striking features of the Karijini National Park, one of Australia’s largest National Parks.
We headed for the beautiful Karijini National Park, which is about 1,000 klm north of Perth and spent a few days exploring the stunning waterways and gorges. The most difficult thing for the older and less agile visitor is that you need to climb down into the gorges… but the view from the gorge cliff-tops can be stunning. It is a truly amazing landscape and we utterly and thoroughly enjoyed our visit… a place like no other!
Jan is a Traveller and an Author. You can find out more about her books on travel on the page dedicated to Oldies at Large, where you will also find a list of her blog postings in topic. Books on Aboriginal legend and lore, told in contemporary fictional tales, can be found under The Dreaming tab above.
You can read Tales of Adventure across Australia in
Discovering Australia and Her Lore
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