Under a rock in a hard place
Angela Saurine explores the Bungle Bungles and
Geikie Gorge in the remote Kimberley region.
AM walking through the cool, dark chasm behind my guide, George, when he suddenly pauses and turns to face me. “Look up,” he says. I glance skyward to see two large, round boulders resting precariously between the narrow pass directly above, looking like they could fall at any moment.
“Are you kidding?” I exclaim, quickening my pace. We continue along the path, eventually reaching an opening at the end of the ravine where we touch the wall before returning the way we came, with slightly raised anxiety. “Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it,” I chant aloud as I walk back under the boulders.
“Soon, I think, they’ll make tourists wear hard hats,” George says. “But I’m not sure they would make much difference.”
My thoughts turn to the movie 127 Hours, based on a true story in which a man is forced to relieve himself of a limb after a rock falls on it, and nobody knows where he is.
Fortunately, I am not alone, I am in a group of like-minded adventurers on a journey with APT through the Kimberley, in Western Australia’s northwest. It is the end of the dry season and the temperature is in the high 30Cs outside the chasm, but it is refreshingly chilly inside. According to Aboriginal legend, Echidna Chasm was formed after an echidna burrowed into the rock in an attempt to escape a cockatoo that was plucking out its quills. It is one of the key attractions in Purnululu National Park, also known as the Bungle Bungles.
The beehive-shaped domes that the Bungle Bungles is famous for were carved through the erosion of wind and water over one big block of ancient sandstone. The area has been home to the Kija people for more than 20,000 years, but the impressive landscape was only discovered by the outside world in 1983 when a local pilot offered to show a film crew shooting a documentary. Tourists quickly streamed in and the site was World Heritage-listed in 2003. The park is jointly managed with traditional indigenous owners.
As we walk over rocks on the dry river bed, we marvel, not for the first time, at the bright blue skies against the striking orange rock. Just outside the chasm, George points out a bower bird “love shack” made of twigs and surrounded by pebbles which was built by the male to entice a mate.
On the way to Mini Cathedral Gorge, we view Aboriginal rock art showing hand prints and a boomerang, and meet a park ranger and his indigenous assistant who are collecting dead cane toads.
A break is taken on the rocky creek bed at Picaninny Creek where part of the famed Qantas commercial was filmed, and attempt our own rendition of I Still Call Australia Home. Bellies starting to rumble as we continue our hike to Cathedral Gorge – a dramatic cavern formed by water seeping through its northwest fault.
There, we sit on rocks which have fallen from the roof of the gorge above and eat a picnic lunch of turkey and salad sandwiches hoping, once again, that today isn’t the day rocks come loose.
While it is tempting to take a souvenir, the Aboriginal people believe everything has its place. The visitor’s centre has been known to have received rocks in the mail sent by regretful tourists who say they have had bad luck since taking a rock home with them.