To the perserverance and courage of the early Kimberley Explorers, combined with their unerring bushcraft, we owe the discovery of this great region.
Early Kimberley Explorers: Matthew Forrest
Matthew Forrest was an early Kimberley Explorer who in 1879 was instructed to examine, map out and report on the country between the De Grey River, in Western Australia and the Victoria River in the Northern Territory. They were told to travel on as 'drect a route as possible' (...across steep ranges, deep ravines, sheer cliffs and gorges...) to the Glenelg which was to be the site of a new settlement called "Cambden Harbour".
The party consisted of Alexander's brother Matthew Forrest, John Campbell, James Carey, Arthur Hicks, Tommy Pierre and Dower. They were provisioned for a period of 6 months.
For some days these Kimberley Explorers skirted the coast, whilst experiencing a lack of fresh water. They found the land to be of little value in most places, but in some areas such as around Roebuck Bay, of more than usual fertility. On the 10th April they sited Beagle Bay and the ravages of insect life proved unendurable. The men out of sheer desperation climbed to the top of trees to get away from the swarms of mosquitoes. The party departed from Beagle Bay on the 22nd April and attempted to penetrate to Port Darwin. There course was inland towards the mighty Fitzroy River which was reached on the 9th May. The country they traversed was reported as being of general good quality, well watered, and grassed game was found in abundance – Thus the essentials for stock raising was clearly established. During this journey the party sited and named The Louisa and Flora Lakes, Mackay and Fraser River, plus Mt Clarkson and Mt Anderson.
They had difficulty crossing the Fitzroy and had to construct a raft to carry them across, made out of four water canteens (off their pack saddles). Forrest, Hill and Campbell swam to the opposite shore towing the raft after them. On this bank Mt Abbott was discovered and named, and several landmarks including; Mount James Tuckfield, Mount Campbell, The Margaret River and the St George and Oscar Ranges were also named. They named Mt Broome and the Napier Range after the Governer of Western Australia, 'Sir Napier Broome'.
These Kimberley Explorers followed the Fitzroy River for 240 miles, before travelling North-West with the hope of reaching the watershed of the Glenelg. Mountains and cliffs of precipitous rock barred their further progress, and eventually the route proved impassable, and the party were forced to retrace their steps and search for one that should prove more accessible.
They adopted a new track that involved scaling a precipitious mountain range – which they named the Leopold Range after the reigning King of Belgium. They found new forms of plant life, and passed through a land of ‘luxuriant magnificence and surpassing beauty’. They passed straight through were Mt Hart is located today. On June the 8th they discovered and named the Lennard River and within a week crossed country towards the coast until from the summit of a hilly range Forrest obtained a ‘magnificent view of Secure and Collier Bays’.
Again and again the party was compelled to camp and rest their thoroughly fatigues animals. The journey slowly proceeded with the difficulties increasing hourly. At Walcott Inlet they had lost 7 horses to 'walkabout disease' (this is where the horse eats a native plant that sends them crazy, making them walk for days without drinking or eating anything until they die). They buried their pack saddles and water canteens at Walcott Inlet with the hope of coming back to retrieve them by boat. The situation became so serious that a retreat back to Beagle Bay was considered.
Eventually they deemed it physically impossible to reach the Glenelg and the party retraced their steps back to the Fitzroy River. The lack of stores was of serious concern and they decided to make their way Eastward towards the overland telegraph line.
They named and discovered the Margaret River, Mount Pierre, Mt Krauss, Mt George, Mt Barrett and the Mueller Range. On the 24th July they came upon a series of rough ranges where the crossing caused the party great difficulty. On the other side of these ranges they named the Negmi and Ord Rivers.
The two aboriginal members of the party started to show signs of distress, and Pierre became seriously ill. The provisions were empty, for the party had taken longer on the journey then anticipated, and they were reduced to killing their horses for food.
On 7th August the expedition named the Behn River and Connaught Range. Alexander Forrest and Hicks left the party under the charge of Mr Hill, to go ahead and reach the line which was estimated to be 100 miles ahead. Imagine this on foot leading a pack horse through arid desert country and spinifex plains. The main party were ordered to camp at permanent water for a fortnight, and then advance. Forrest found the heat during the day to be exhaustive, no water could be found and they suffered horribly from thirst, and they were on the verge of perishing in the bush. Eventually they found the telegraph line and followed it northwards for 3 miles until they came across a tank full of water. Two days later they encountered a repairing party, and with good horses and ample provisions went back to relieve their companions. On the 19th September the whole party arrived at Katherine Station, eventually reaching Palmertson – the port of the Northern Territory. From here they sailed for Western Australia via Sydney and the south coast.
The results of the expedition were the discovery of 25 000 000 acres of pastoral land, as well as traces of copper and auriferous deposits. The settlement of the Kimberley District (as it came to be called) commenced.
The State of Western Australia, started a thorough exploration of the Kimberley District, after Forrest’s expedition. The state wanted the North-West to be more closely surveyed and possibilities for settlement to be clearly defined by Kimberley Explorers.
Early Kimberley Explorers: John Forrest
In 1883 John Forrest was an early Kimberley Explorer who conducted a thorough survey of the country between the Fitzroy and Ord Rivers. Accompanied by a strong party of surveyors – JS Brooking, HF Johnston, GR Turner and GJ Walsh. They reported that the area from La Grange Bay to St George Range, and the Ord River country, was well watered and extremely well suited for pastoral purposes.
Early Kimberley Explorers: Frank Hann
Mr Frank Hann, was an early Kimberley Explorer from Qeensland. He was a respected and competent bush man who started a journey from Lawn Hill on the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1896. His intention was to open up new pastoral country on the North West of the State. The party consisted of one other white man and 6 QLD natives. They were well equipped with 67 horses.
They followed the Ord River as far as Hall’s Creek, and then attempted to cross the desert and reach the Oakover River near Derby. Eventually after reaching Broome, Condon they came to Roeborne and replenished their much needed supplies. They then resumed their journey to the head of the Fortescue River, and then north east to Nullagine. Whilst making a short excursion Eastward to find and only more desert country, they came across the Wells Search party.
Hann unhappy with the extremely disappointed results of the trip decided to return to Queensland. On the eve of his departure he was persuaded by Police Inspector Ord to join with him to take a prospecting party through the King Leopold Ranges. They followed the Adcock River down to its junction with the Fitzroy and then came across a high and impassable range running north east and south west of the river which they named “Sir John Range”. They could not locate a pass through the range so attempted to circle it’s north west extremity. The Caroline Ranges and the Charnley River were named, as was the Edkins Range and ‘Hann’s Pass’ through the King Leopolds.
The success of the party was measured by their discovery of a large tract of most excellent pastoral country throughout this area of the Kimberleys.
Early Kimberley Explorers: F.S Brockman
In 1901 the government despatched a well-equipped expedition under the leadership of Mr F.S Brockman, the Kimberley Explorer party included Charles Crossland, Gibb Maitland (The government Geologist), Dr F.M House (naturalist & assistant geologist) . The aim of the expedition was to explore the extreme northern end of the state.
They left the port of Wyndham on the 9th May 1901 and followed the ‘Chamberlain river’ until they came across and crossed the high sandstone tablelands near the Charnley River. They traced; the Charnley and Isdell Rivers westerly, the course of the Sale River and it’s tributaries, the course of the Glenelg River, the Calder River and the headwaters of the Prince Regent River. They traced the Roe River to it’s source, discovered and named the Moran River, and traced the headwaters of the King Edward river northerly to it’s exit into Napier Broome Bay. These Kimberley Explorers then traversed the Drysdale River from it’s mouth to the first main watershed, traced the Durack River back to it’s entrance into Cambridge Gulf.
The exploration was completed on the 20th November 1901 when the party arrived at the Pentecost River.
This expedition resulted in the discovery of up to 6 million acres of balsaltic pastoral country covered with many varieties of top feed, lying principally in the neighbourhood of the Charnley, Calder, Sale, Roe, Moran, and Carson Rivers. With some extensive areas situtated along the Drysdale, and in smaller patched around the area of the Durack and it’s tributaries. Suitable ports and routes of access into the country to be utilised for stock raising were also ascertained. Many species of fauna and flora were recorded and discovered by the party, as well as ethnological data.