History of Wyndham
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the area around Wyndham were the Dieiddi, Duulngari and Aruagga tribes. The first European explorer in the area, Phillip Parker King, arrived on 19 September, 1819. He was instructed to discover a river on the far Western Australian coast “likely to lead to an interior navigation into the great continent”. He sailed on the Mermaid into Cambridge Gulf, before heading up a river which was subsequently named after him. However, he was unimpressed with what he found – mangrove swamps, mudflats, crocodiles, and lack of fresh water – and so quickly departed.
King’s report was so pessimistic that European explorers avoided the area for another 60 years. It wasn’t until 1879 that Alexander Forrest, travelling through the area, noted its pastoral potential. His reports sparked the interest of Solomon Emanuel and Patrick Durack, who sent a party to the area in 1881 and confirmed Forrest’s earlier assessment. As a result, Durack left Queensland for the region in 1883 with 7520 head of cattle and 200 horses on a trek that lasted two years and four months (the longest overlanding of cattle ever attempted in Australia).
That same year John Forrest, at the time the WA Commissioner of Lands, surveyed the area and hinted at “distinct indications of gold”. The first settlement of the East Kimberley began in the following year, soon after which in 1885 Charlie Hall discovered gold in the region sparking a gold rush and leading to the establishment of Halls Creek.
Things in the East Kimberley happened fast from here. Wyndham was established the same year as a port and trading station, through which at least five thousands miners would travel through on their way to the stake their claims in the Halls Creek goldfields. By 1886, the townsite had been officially surveyed and gazetted, and consisted of three hotels, one of which was a two-storey building, six pubs, as well as stores, bootmakers and butchers’ shops, a billiard room, a soda water factory, commission agencies, auctioneers and other businesses. During this boom period, there were times when up to 16 vessels were moored in Cambridge Gulf.
However, the goldrush was short lived. By 1888, it was already over, and Wyndham’s fortunes declined. It quickly became just a tiny settlement, shifting its focus to serving the pastoral interests in the East Kimberley, with supplies delivered to and cattle transported from the port.
The Overland Telegraph Line reached the town in 1889. Its ceramic insulators proved to be excellent spearheads for the local Aboriginals, to which they would climb up the poles and help themselves.
Dependent on pastoralism, by the First World War the town was effectively controlled by the Duracks who owned the nearby cattle stations. From 1913, the government started constructing the Wyndham Meatworks, which were completed in 1919 and were involved in the export of beef to Britain. It was the town’s major employer until it closed in 1985.
Wyndham also played an important role in Australia’s aviation history in the early 20th century. From the 1930s its airstrip, initially on a flat saltmarsh surface, was the first landing point on the earliest England to Australia flights, and was used by aviators seeking to establish new solo flying records between the countries. Plus, in 1935, the first Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service) was established in the town.
Today, the Wyndham Port is still operational, serving the export of live cattle to Asia and lead and zinc to Korea. Wyndham’s historic and natural attractions also support a tourism industry in the town.
As you drive into Wyndham town you’ll be welcomed by its first popular attraction – a huge 20 metre long, 3 metre high concrete crocodile greeting you with a toothy grin. The Big Crocodile was designed and built by sculptor Andre Hickson and the students from the Halls Creek TAFE, it consists of 5.5km of steel rod, 10 roles of bird mesh and 6 cubic metres of concrete. It was created by photographing a crocodile and having a computer at Curtin University plot 2400 mathematical coordinates of the crocodile’s shape. Originally grey, over the years it has been painted green with a suitable speckled underbelly. Resembling the real thing, it warns visitors to be weary of the local saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the Wyndham waters.
Not to be missed on your visit is the spectacular and dramatic view from the Five Rivers Lookout on the top of the Baston Range. From here you can catch remarkable, panoramic views of five mighty Kimberley rivers – the Ord, Forest, King, Durack and Pentecost – that meet and flow into the Cambridge Gulf, surrounded by vast mangrove swamps and mudflats sprawling in every direction. This also a great vantage point for the view of the escarpments around Wyndham as well as the port area, and is a popular spot for sunsets.
Wyndham Port, the original town site, is where most of the historical attractions are located, including the old meatworks buildings and a small display of the trains and cranes which operated on the wharf. A remnant of its former, vibrant self, today the site is little more than the Police Station, Old Post Office, the Shire Hall, the hotel, a motel and the Old Court House, which is used as the Wyndham Historical Society Museum. The museum contains fascinating memorabilia, journal records and photographic displays of Wyndham since European settlement in the 1880s.
The current site of Wyndham Town is known as Wyndham Three Mile, and serves as the residential and shopping district. Here, at the Warriu Dreamtime Park the local Aboriginal population have constructed a set of huge statues cast in copper and bronze depicting an Aboriginal family, as well as a dingo, goanna, snake, and kangaroo. They stand as a proud reminder of the rich Aboriginal heritage of the area. The Wyndham Gardens Outdoor Cinema is in the same road – a classic outback cinema with deck chairs, a small screen and enclosed projector booth. Unfortunately the Crocodile farm is now closed to all visitors.
Other Attractions in the Area
Thirty-six km out of Wyndham, on the Great Northern highway back to Kununurra, you’ll find the Grotto, a magnificent deep gorge that provides a picturesque and safe swimming spot. A 140-step staircase carved into the rock leads to a quiet waterhole oasis. During the wet season a spectacular waterfall is also formed as water drops down the 120-metre cliff face. Enjoy a relaxing swim in the refreshing waters of this natural chasm.
Located 23 km along the King River Road (a rough dirt road starting 6 km out of Wyndham) is the Boab Prison Tree. This hollowed out old boab tree was used by the early police patrol as an overnight lock-up. It has a circumference of 14.7 metres and is estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old!
The Moochalabra Dam, also along the King River Road, 26 km from Wyndham, is an ideal spot for a picnic underneath a Boab tree. Completed in 1971, it was constructed to provide an assured water supply to the Wyndham area. It makes a great base from which to explore the nearby Aboriginal cave paintings or watch the local wildlife.
Tour of the Kimberley
Odyssey Traveller is pleased to announce our new small group tour of the Kimberley, Western Australia. Our tours of mature and senior travellers for couples and solo travellers of up to 12 people leave at the best times to visit the Kimberley: the dry season, June to September, or at the end of the wet season in April and May when the landscape is lush and the gorges – Bell Gorge, Cathedral Gorge – and rivers – Gibb River, Fitzroy River, and Tunnel Creek – all flow with water. Seeing masses of water flow in a place where the landscape is dry for most of the year is one of the delights of a trip in the Australian outback.
Odyssey Traveller’s outback small group package tours are designed especially for mature and senior travellers who want an authentic experience of the fascinating Kimberley region. Our Kimberley tour begins and ends in the city of Broome, home to iconic Cable Beach, dinosaur remains at Gantheaume Point, a world-famous bird sanctuary at Roebuck Bay, and a fascinating history as a centre of pearling. From Broome, we head along the pristine Indian Ocean Kimberley coast and then turn along the Gibb River Road, making side trips to Windjana Gorge National Park and Tunnel Creek National Park, beautiful Bell Gorge (particularly verdant in the wet), and the easily accessible Galvans Gorge. We head onto the Mitchell Plateau – for many the last frontier of the Australian outback – to admire ancient Aboriginal rock art and the vast Mitchell Falls.
This small group tour of the Kimberley has a minimum participant requirement of five people per departure of this fifteen-day adventure. We have scheduled departures, typically commencing in April through to early November. We do not operate trips to the Kimberley region during the wet season.
Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:
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External articles to assist you on your visit to the Kimberley: