Travelling Australia - Journal 2006
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5-11 August 2006 - Kununurra

Location map Kununurra is the settlement for the Ord Scheme which has gone through many ups and downs in its short history. The intention was to dam the Ord River to stop millions of litres of water flowing to the sea in the wet-season and to retain it for watering fertile black soil plains lining the Ord River near its mouth. The Ord Dam now holds back Lake Argyle containing more fresh water than anybody has any idea how to use effectively. Cotton was grown initially but local bugs feasted on the crop and so much chemical was needed to control them that the project was dropped on environmental and economic grounds. There is some talk of growing genetically modified cotton but the WA government opposes GM crops at present. For some years the search has been on for suitable crops to grow and a remarkable diversity is obvious on even a casual drive around the irrigation area. A field of butternut pumpkins may be growing beside a large field of sorghum with sugar cane on the other side. We couldn't recognise many of the crops we saw, but we did recognise one crop of Indian sandalwood trees which are hoped to fill the gap left by dwindling sandalwood crops in India. Irrigation techniques used are quite wasteful of water but there is so much water available from Lake Argyle, and evaporation from that immense body of water is so high anyway, that nobody is particularly concerned.

We did a boat trip on Lake Argyle during which we learnt at first hand how big that body of water is; we travelled at 40 kph for an hour and a half from one end to the other and ended up in the Ord River 65 kilometres from the dam wall watching a variety of water birds.

Archer fish in Lake Argyle. If a piece of bread is held about 20 cm above the water the fish squirts water at it, as if it was a prey insect, expecting it to then fall into the water to be eaten. The fish's aim is not always perfect.
The cruise boat pulled up onto an island in Lake Argyle.
Sea eagle on a branch near its nest. The southern part of the reservoir, where the river enters, is a prolific birding area.
The weather remained quite good but a bit cool by local standards - high 20s or low 30s by day and 15 to 20 at night. There have been some windy spells which we are told are most "unseasonal" - we've heard that phrase often on our travels. Western Australia doesn't use daylight saving so we had broad daylight before 6 in the morning and darkness by 6 in the evening.

On one day we drove to Wyndham 100 kilometres away. The road passed through spectacular cliff scenery and area of boab trees growing in large numbers. On the edge of Wyndham there is a lookout on a 327 metre high mountain looking out over mangrove mud flats on several main rivers entering the sea near Wyndham. Desolate but attractive.
Cliffs beside the Kununurra to Wyndham road.
Boab trees dominate the vegetation of the valley south of Wyndham.
View from The Bastion lookout in Wyndham looking north into Cambridge Gulf
During the drive to Wyndham we passed a small scrub fire burning beside the road. Seeing a dry-season fire close-up was interesting and helped make sense of a lot we have been told about fires in Northen Australia. This fire was burning only on the ground (not spreading up into the tree tops) and moving slowly, not as a continuous fire-front but burning in patches. The slow moving, low-level, patchy fire made it possible for animals and reptiles to get away in good time but effectively disposed of dead grass and scrub to 'clean-up' the land.
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