Mike Cu­sack re­turns to the Kim­ber­ley 30 years on. Find out how you can join him there in June 2017.

Three decades ago in 1987 Mike and Su­san Cu­sack headed into the re­mote west­ern Kim­ber­ley to be­come AUSTRALIAN GE­O­GRAPHIC’s ‘wilder­ness cou­ple’.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - STORY BY MIKE CU­SACK

“AYEAR IN THE WILDER­NESS: imag ine spend­ing a year in splendid iso­la­tion in a place like this mag­nif­i­cent stretch of Kim­ber­ley coast. We’re look­ing for an ad­ven­tur­ous cou­ple who will ac­cept such a chal­lenge.” This at­ten­tion-grab­bing line was hard to re­sist.The ad on page 27 of AG 4 (Oct–Dec 1986) was ac­com­pa­nied by an en­tic­ing image of turquoise wa­ters, white­sand beach, and the rugged ochre sea cliffs of the Kim­ber­ley.

I now recog­nise this as Tran­quil Bay, 3.5km north-west of the mouth of the King Ge­orge River on the north­ern Kim­ber­ley coast. At Dick Smith’s di­rec­tion, AUSTRALIAN GE­O­GRAPHIC was “look­ing for a cou­ple who would like to have the ex­pe­ri­ence of their lives by spend­ing a year vir­tu­ally iso­lated, in one of Aus­tralia’s wild places”.

Five hun­dred cou­ples from Aus­tralia and over­seas re­sponded, but fate smiled upon me and my wife, Su­san.We were cho­sen as the suc­cess­ful cou­ple, and by 28 June 1987 we were on site amid the for­lorn ru­ins of the for­mer Pres­by­te­rian mis­sion at Kun­munya, in­land of Port Ge­orge IV. The year that un­folded left an in­deli­ble mark upon us. For me it was the cat­a­lyst for what has be­come my cher­ished part-time ca­reer; since 1998 I have led ex­pe­di­tion cruises along the Kim­ber­ley coast for Aurora Ex­pe­di­tions.

The 12 months at Kun­munya was a mixed bag of for­tunes. We en­dured the dri­est year in three decades. Drink­ing wa­ter be­came a scarcity at the end of the Dry, with seem­ingly lit­tle prospect of the Wet re­plen­ish­ing things. For the scant fresh wa­ter we com­peted with not only the na­tive wildlife, but also scores of feral don­keys that roamed the Kim­ber­ley. For­tu­nately for the wel­fare of the en­vi­ron­ment, the don­keys have all been re­moved.

We con­structed a ‘house’ of sorts from Dar­win woolly­butt and blood­wood.We first in­tended it to be roofed with pa­per­bark, but we were able to sal­vage enough sheets of cor­ru­gated iron from the for­mer mis­sion site to just cover it. It was ba­sic, with two rooms of an equal 4 x 4m size.We aligned it east–west, with our com­bined bed­room-li­brary-dining room fac­ing the morn­ing sun. This sec­tion was built off the ground for sev­eral rea­sons. Bits of veg­e­ta­tion caught in branches of creek-side melaleu­cas showed that high flood lev­els could be ex­pected, pos­si­bly as a con­se­quence of a cy­clone. Be­ing up high gave some prospect of air cir­cu­la­tion – that was the the­ory, any­way. Our ear­lier nights spent camped on the ground were of­ten un­com­fort­able as the day’s heat was re­leased from the ground through the night.

The 12 months... was a mixed bag of for­tunes. We en­dured the dri­est year in three decades.

It took al­most seven months to com­plete this sim­ple dwelling. There were days at a time when noth­ing was done on the con­struc­tion as we strug­gled with de­hy­dra­tion. The bush­fire that passed across us in late Septem­ber also di­verted our fo­cus. There were days of de­bil­i­tat­ing heat and hu­mid­ity, and we had an av­er­age daily tem­per­a­ture of 45°C for al­most three months. Then there were days of cool sub­tlety in the ‘cold’ month of July, when mist would linger in the early morn­ing, cloak­ing the jagged pan­danus and bul­bous boabs in a sur­real silhouette.

To­day, though, the mem­o­ries of harsh days in blis­ter­ing sun have been re­placed by the won­der of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence.The ap­par­ent dis­re­gard for us by the nat­u­ral world re­mains strongly im­printed. Most an­i­mals be­came obliv­i­ous to our pres­ence and went about their daily ac­tiv­i­ties un­af­fected. If we did make an im­pres­sion, it was be­cause we were a serendip­i­tous source of food. Not us per­son­ally – although we suf­fered a few bites. ‘Ta-ta’ lizards (Gilbert’s dragons) had a Pavlo­vian re­sponse to my chain-saw­ing be­cause it in­vari­ably ex­posed a feast of ter­mites. Their an­tics made them our res­i­dent co­me­di­ans.

Liv­ing in such in­ti­mate con­nec­tion with the nat­u­ral world was si­mul­ta­ne­ously a hum­bling and em­pow­er­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Our

The ap­par­ent dis­re­gard for us by the nat­u­ral world re­mains strongly im­printed.

ut­ter in­signif­i­cance as two hu­mans in that great wilder­ness gave us a sense of hu­mil­ity. There was seren­ity in those moments where we sat in si­lence with the rhythm of na­ture play­ing out around us and with the knowl­edge that Worora peo­ple, on whose coun­try we were camped, had sur­vived here for more than 400 gen­er­a­tions. The ex­pe­ri­ence was em­pow­er­ing be­cause we grew in over­com­ing sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges, both psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal.

The Kim­ber­ley is one of the world’s last great wilder­nesses. This an­cient land­scape has a quiet po­tency and sublime, be­guil­ing beauty. Haunt­ing paint­ings from long-gone artists adorn rock shel­ters and it’s easy to be over­come with awe and rev­er­ence in the pres­ence of these, much as the Abo­rig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants must have been.

The pull of the Kim­ber­ley hasn’t di­min­ished over these past 30 years. Ad­mit­tedly, since the first tour boat ap­peared in mid1988, there has been a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in tourism. There are now at least 16 com­mer­cial ves­sels ply­ing the route be­tween Broome and Wyn­d­ham or Dar­win. Nonethe­less, it re­mains the “long­est, un­de­filed coast­line in the world”, as once de­scribed in the AG book The Kim­ber­ley: Hori­zons of Stone. Ex­pe­ri­ence the Kim­ber­ley for your­self and im­merse your­self in its an­cient majesty. It will be salve to your soul.


Mike flushes salt wa­ter from the out­board mo­tor of their tin­nie (be­low) after a big tidal move­ment cap­sized the boat and flooded the en­gine. Dick Smith (bot­tom, at right) dropped in to visit the Cu­sacks dur­ing the Oc­to­ber school hol­i­days in 1987. Dick and his fam­ily were part­way through an ex­pe­di­tion fly­ing the length of the Can­ning Stock Route aboard their he­li­copter VH-DIK.

Re­mote coastal sites, such Raft Point, will be ac­ces­si­ble to ad­ven­tur­ous trav­ellers join­ing Mike Cu­sack on our tour of the Kim­ber­ley in 2017.

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