CRUISING: KING OF THE KIMBERLEY
True North Adventure Cruises are a great way to discover the Kimberley, with founder, Craig Howson OAM, working in the area since 1983.
Craig Howson OAM, founder of True North Adventure Cruises, has been working in the Kimberley since 1983.
To fully understand the Kimberley is to take a journey back through the ages, to a time when the early ancestors of modern man were beginning to reach Europe and take up residence in the alpine caves. This is the time when many believe the first people arrived in Australia, creating the mysterious Gwion Gwion rock art that could well be the oldest anywhere in the world. These first arrivals set foot on a land much different than today, yet the heart of the Kimberley had been long established over millions of years.
As recently as 50 years ago, the Kimberley was still a wild frontier with a history quite apart from anywhere else in the country. Japanese, Chinese and various Europeans had created an economy seemingly out of nothing. Pearling was well established in Broome and the surrounding plains had maintained vast herds of cattle for many years before.
Lobster harvesting was also a prime source of income for the hardy, remote folk who defied the norms of civilisation to create wealth and prosperity in one of the harshest environments anywhere on the planet.
It was into this arid no-man’s-land of Australia’s great North West that Craig Howson cut his teeth. As an energetic young man, Howson toiled on the deck of a cray fishing boat, slicing his fingers on the sharp twine and wire of the cray pots and impaling himself on the thorny shells of the lobsters until he’d perfected his craft. It’s hard to imagine today’s Internet-era youngsters subjecting themselves to such discomforts in the course of their work.
“I left home at 18 of my own accord,” recalls Craig with a chuckle. “I’m sure mother missed me.”
His mother and brother have a slightly different recollection. “He was basically a good kid, but pretty wild,” says his mum. “But very determined which obviously stood him in good stead for later in life.”
“At 21 I got my first boat, Passport,” says Craig, “a basic 40-foot fishing boat with a big back deck.”
This boat launched him into the fishing charter business and also gained a reputation for good times and parties.
Howson’s enthusiasm for fishing saw him develop quickly as an expert angler trolling for the elusive barramundi in the estuaries and wrestling the giant pelagic species in the rich waters off Shark Bay and Broome. Despite his tender age, his skill and local knowledge were widely known through the North West.
When he headed to Perth for the America’s Cup in
1983 to throw a party on Rottnest Island, Howson shot to rock star status after his wild shindig hit all the papers and sealed his reputation as a fun-loving bloke who could make things happen.
With his brother Terry, Howson also became a skilled sailor, racing Lasers at the Rockingham Yacht Club. In the lead-up to the 1987 America’s Cup in Fremantle, Howson struck up a friendship with members of the Canadian syndicate who were preparing their vessel, True North, for the big event. Howson built and operated the tender boat for the Canadians, christening it ‘North Star’.
The euphoria of the ‘83 America’s Cup was short-lived and the ‘Auld Mug’ headed back to the States, leaving Howson wondering what to do next. It wasn’t long before he was back in action, running fishing charters out of Broome aboard the trusty North Star, supplemented by delivering fuel to private vessels.
After acquiring valuable local navigational skills from Broome elder, Dan Gregory, Howson was equipped to begin comprehensive charters in the wider Kimberley region in 1991, including the ground breaking two-week voyages to Wyndham in his new 10-passenger vessel, North Star IV.
Opening image: Almost like a celebrity, True North shines under lights,
© Shaun Hutton, True North Adventure Cruises.
Clockwise from right: True North at King Georges Falls; A helicopter flight makes for a memorable experience; Walk along the white sands of the Kimberley.