The Kimberley has two seasons, the dry and the wet. It is hot most of the year with average temperatures generally above 28 °C. During the wet, monsoonal rains inundate the region, rivers flood, and most of the area is impassable. At this time, from November to April, the region receives about 90% of its rainfall. The dry season typically has clear blue skies, easterly winds and warm days with occasional cool nights.
423,517 km² (three times the size of England, larger than Germany and about the same size as California)
Estimated permanent population in 2011 was 34,794 but it rises dramatically during winter – up to 50,113. The population is fairly evenly distributed, with only three towns having populations in excess of 3,000: Broome (12,766), Derby (3,261) and Kununurra (4,573).
The Kimberley has an exotic history of Indigenous interaction with the “Macassans”, people of the Indonesian archipelago, over hundreds of years. William Dampier was the first British explorer credited with landing on the Kimberley shore in 1688, but Portuguese, Dutch and French visits were recorded in the 17th and 18th centuries. Europeans were attracted by the grasslands and drove cattle onto the vast plains in the mid 19th century, while the gold rush of 1886 brought an influx of Europeans and Chinese to Halls Creek. Pearl fishing became a major industry in the late 19th century, and Japanese and Malay divers joined the multicultural mix that became characteristic of Broome, the largest town in the region. Over this period, Indigenous peoples were moved from their traditional areas, many engaged in pastoralism as drovers. Missionaries and white administrators brought new cultural practices and beliefs, and a range of problems and benefits that have shaped the Kimberley heritage.
Key industries are mining, tourism, agriculture and aquaculture, pearling, and Indigenous art.
The Kimberley region has a host of national parks including Purnululu (Bungle Bungles), Mirrama (Hidden Valley), Mitchell River, Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge, Drysdale River and Prince Regent. Its northern fringe includes drowned river valleys, islands that were pre-Ice Age highlands, and coral reefs. The Kimberley also experiences some of the highest tides in the world. In 2015 it was announced the Mitchell Plateau is to be included in a new Kimberley National Park which will encompass the existing Prince Regent, Mitchell River and Lawley River national parks and will become Australia’s biggest national park.
The Kimberley has large areas of crown land, the above-mentioned national parks, along with smaller national parks and conservation areas, Aboriginal land and reserves, farming land and pastoral leases, mining exploration leases and camps and a number of operating mines. Tourism is a growing industry and each year more and more visitors are venturing into the Kimberley region.
Some of Western Australia’s largest rivers are in the Kimberley, replenished each wet season by monsoonal rains. These massive rivers are beautiful and nourish the landscape during the Dry season. Most of the significant rock art is within a kilometre of water.
The geography is one of contrasts – deep rocky gorges, limestone caves, pristine lakes and waterfalls, volcanic remnants, sandstone cliffs, grassy plateaus, and ancient mountain ranges and desert country.
Hundreds of islands are scattered along the Kimberley’s 2,000-kilometre coastline. At its closest point, the Kimberley coast is only 430km from Timor, whilst Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, is 3,000kms to the south.
Flora and Fauna
The Kimberley is chiefly covered in open savannah woodland dominated by low eucalypt and boab trees. In sheltered gorges of the high rainfall northern region are patches of residual rainforest that are home to rare plant species and endangered animal species. Mangroves fringe the northern coast and support distinctive ecosystems that include salt-water crocodiles.
The Kimberley is home to the rare Gouldian finch, as well as numerous other bird species, marsupials including nocturnals, reptiles, amphibians and a vast range of insects and other invertebrates. Freshwater crocodiles and fish including barramundi and catfish are found in the main river systems.
Despite the extent of unsettled land in the region many species, particularly native mammals, are in decline due to feral animal predation, cattle grazing degradation and the effects of pastoral, mining and tourist activity. The Kimberley also faces environmental pressures including climate change and large wild fires.