~Characters of The Kimberley~

~Sam and Rosita Lovell~

Written and posted on-line 3rd March 2011

Sam & Rosita Lovell are honoured and revered for their contribution to the Nation’s understanding of Australia's North West. In 1988 Sam was awarded the Sir David Brand Award in for his contribution to tourism. "The Sam & Rosita Lovell Tourism Award" has also been named after this amazing couple, which is presented annually by the Kimberley Tourism Association. Sam Lovell is regarded as the “FATHER” of Indigenous Tourism in Western Australia”, and is affectionately known as “Mr Kimberley”.

Sam has been employed by The Aboriginal Economic Development (AED), and The Department of Industry and Resources as an Aboriginal Tourism Project Officer where he has helped 1000’s of aboriginal people & families develop their businesses. Through his work as a ‘project officer’ Sam has been the encouraging force for the establishment of greater self-sufficiency and independence for aboriginal communities across the entire Kimberley.

These days Sam is a director of the Kimberley Foundation, and works as an indigenous consultant for Western Power. He is also a brilliant musician and travels across the Nation to Queensland every year to play at the Tamworth Music Festival…

Sam and Rosita's connection with this country up here goes right back to when Sam was a stockman living and working in our spectacular Kimberleys. Sam became head stockman at Napier Downs Station (120km away as a crow flies to the south of Mt Hart). He also worked for Main roads constructing the Gibb River Road.

There are few alive today who know more about this country than Sam and Rosita Lovell. They are not just icons of the Kimberleys in their own right, but real characters as well – very true, genuine, down to earth people. Sam can take you through this country, as though he has lived in it everyday of his life. Even if he hasn't been in a particular area of the terrain up here for 20 or 30 years, he still remembers the way... This couple make you feel really happy, because of who they are and the things they say and do.

A couple of years ago, The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) of Western Australia’s district office asked us if we could locate and plot the section of the old Gibb River Road that used to run from the original Mt Hart station through to Bell Gorge, via Gardiner's Gap. For, if this road was reopened it would save a lot of time for tourists when travelling between these two DEC owned tourist destinations. Well, we asked Sam if he would grace us with his time & skills and come and be our guide. No one was better equipped for the task than Sam, as he had spent many years mustering cattle along this old track.

Photo Above - taken from Sam’s photographic slides of cattle being mustered through Gardiner’s Gap

Unfortunately, we were not able to meet Sam that day because there were wildfires tearing down upon us from the North. We did not want to risk driving 35km down the road to meet Sam at the junction to the old track because, we were afraid to leave our Mt Hart homesteads unattended, in case there became a dreaded need to fight these encroaching bushfires as is so often the case.

Sam did as Sam does, and he drove the old track anyway, leaving us a trail to follow with the imprint of his tyre tracks on the earth, knowing we would be there as soon as the fire threat had passed.

A few days later, we went down to do exactly as Sam had surmised, and followed his tyre marks so we could report back to DEC district office about the condition of this track. When we started following Sam's tracks we could not see hide nor hair of the old road for mile after mile…then all of a sudden we would look down and see a windrow of rocks or dirt, signs which made us realise Sam was spot on in his navigation of that old overgrown track. There is no question, without Sam’s tyre marks we would have been utterly bushed, and never made it in or out again.

We followed Sam's marks right through to Gardiner's gap (located less than 1 km from our destination - Bell Gorge). However, it was impossible to drive through 'Gardiner's Gap' by 4X4 because there had been a rock avalanche across a section of the track, and there would need to be a really large D11 bulldozer to reopen the pass through the slip debris there.

So at this point we were obliged to return back to Mt Hart homestead and report our findings to DEC District Office. A couple of weeks later, after Department of Environment and Conservation reps from District office did a fly over of the old track and Gardiner’s Gap in a helicopter...the conceptual idea of reopening this track was officially quashed.

Another time DEC's fire officers wanted us to check out the possibility of reopening the old Mt Hart access road (which runs parallel with the current access road but is placed further to the south) into a bushfire control track. So again we asked Sam to come out and be our guide.

Our mate Jeff Ryall also accompanied us on this trip with his quad bike. So here were the 4 of us - Sam, Jeff, Kim and myself, with 1 quad bike and two 4X4’s trying to scout an old Kimberley bush track which was completely overgrown and washed out. So much so, that to everyone except Sam, with his keen expert Aboriginal eye, was totally unrecognisable from the surrounding bushland...

So you guessed it, we followed Sam who was in front of us on the back of Jeff's quad bike, directing Jeff which way to steer the quad bike using voice commands and hand gestures;

"This way...This way...That way...That way..This way…That way…"

You couldn't see any sign of the old road, just thick long grass. To all us except Sam, where we were going was anyone’s guess. But every now and then we'd look down and see a wind-row of rocks or dirt, running parallel with us. We'd scratch our heads and marvel at the incredible tracking skills Sam held. A skill built from memory and sign that only one such as he holds, which allowed him to locate and traverse an historic old track through country, his country, after so many years...

We battled through thick long grass and scrub in the 4X4’s, following Sam and Jeff on the quad bike. Often, we had to do big sweeping detours to get around patches of trees where they had grown up in the middle of the track, too thick for us, but the much smaller quad bike had easily passed between.

Then after about 3 hours of this we pulled up in a flat area of country, covered in long grass and acacia bushes, surrounded by a rise of jagged rocky rangeland peaks.

Sam said to us; "Back in the 1950's this is where Charlie Telford had a bit of a staging post where he used to bring his gear to first, before taking it on up further to the homestead…From here on, the going gets good..."

Well as it turned out Sam’s interpretation of "good" and mine are totally different. The country became extremely rocky, with large gaping wash-outs we had to try and navigate across. At one point we staked a tyre of one of the 4X4’s on a sharp stump hidden in the rocks we were precariously navigating our way across. Anyway, eventually we made it down to 'lily pool' - Which is located some 45 km away from the current Mt Hart homestead. This is where the track veers off (to the west)and joins up with the Gibb River Road. 'Lily pool' was as dry as a bone... So we turned around and came all the way back...

A couple of days later, after we'd recovered from this 7 hour epic adventure, we reported back to the DEC fire officers...And the idea to reopen the old Mt Hart access road into a fire control track was also, officially quashed.

Although concepts and desires generated in the offices of The Department of Environment And Conservation were never realised, even though we in the wilderness gave it every good shot, we were honoured to have been shown the true depth of what it means to be a man of true bush skill, as Sam so humbly showed us on these trips.

That skill of Sam’s was epitomised when back in the late 1990’s Sam and Rosita decided to do a pack horse ride from Derby all the way up to Gibb River Station (some 800km round trip) - following the old Gibb River Road.

This old road passed through our Mt Hart Station country, and is in a similar condition to the old Mt Hart Road Sam took us along - it is completely overgrown and unrecognisable from the surrounding bushland. Well Sam and Rosita wanted to do this trip, as a tribute to their days spent working the stations up here. In the days when they mustered the cattle and drove them 200-300 miles (300 plus kilometres) into Derby cattle markets by horseback.

Fred Russ, who was the past owner of Gibb River Station with his brothers, accompanied this intrepid duo on this epic ride.

Sam and Rosita who had borrowed a mule as one of their pack horses to carry all their gear, got as far as the boundary of Mt Hart along the old Gibb River Road, when the mule decided it wasn’t going any further, and took off. They lost half their gear and ended up having to return halfway back to Derby before they could catch the fleeing pack mule.

In the process, Rosita had a misshap and fell off her horse, and got fairly knocked around in the fall. But even still, after all the misadventure, they eventually made it back to Derby, a little worst for wear, but safe and sound…Now anytime they go anywhere out bush, they always take their 4X4, "bugger the mule".

There is no questioning Sam and Rosita Lovell are an incredible couple and there is equally no questioning this wonderful couple have helped us out so many times, in so many different ways.

My time over the many years out here in the Kimberley, and across the great expanses of Northern Australia, have been enriched beyond compare by these two.