Research from KHS

Kimberley History Research Chronology - Compiled by KHS

[Note - On any web page if text looks too small on PC or Laptop - Use "Ctrl" key with "+" (plus) & "-" (minus) keys to ZOOM in & out to increase text size - This works on any web page. - KHS 29 VII 2020]

Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) History

This page you are on has various history, however you can go to a History of the Ord River Irrigation Area with links to other resources as a "Timeline of Tropical Agriculture" from the earliest days and the incremental development that led to the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.

Or for more information and a visual history (1960-1963) See - A History of the Ord River Diversion Dam and Ord Stage I.

Ord-Victoria (Rivers Region :^) History

The Victoria River District Doomsday Book

If you enjoy Ord-Victoria  (Rivers Region - Kimberley & NT) - A short history of each station, with biographies on Managers, Stockmen & others from woe to go for each station, people and places, then get...   "The Victoria River District Doomsday Book," (FREE) compiled as a PDF with the information from hundreds of people, by Darrell Lewis, then you must (as a free download).  Look up your favourite stations or characters and read about what really did happen - truth telling.  Visit KHS "The Victoria River District Doomsday Book" Page to download the latest version.


1885 - View Hill - In Search of Black Pat Durack's Store (1885)

 A Kimberley Society Talk on October 2nd 2019 by Brad Durack along with a film presented by Andrew Barker of KHS, about two field trips made to View Hill in 2018 to search for any evidence of the first stores at View Hill in 1885, the year before Wyndham was established. Read more from http://www.kununurra.org.au/research/1885-view-hill (or click image to get there :^)


Thompson's Spring was named by Tom Kilfoyle in 1886

  Read about that and see his diary entry from that day on a separate page on the History of Thompson's Spring, including the small weir built circa 1953-54.


The Wyulda - Scaly Tailed Possum found at Violet Valley by Rademy in 1919

Did you know that a new very rare species was discovered in 1919 at Violet Valley by Mr. Rademy, who had been a bookkeeper for CD&D, at the time was Managing the WA Government's Aboriginal 'Feeding Station' at Violet Valley. Read more from - 1919 - The Wyulda - Scaly-tailed Possum.


1921 - WA - NT Border Determinations

100 Years Ago in 2021

 Read about the 1921 WA-NT border determinations in a news article corrected by KHS and illustrated with images from the KHS archive. The article was found on the wonderful, "Trove" (National Library of Australia's history search engine). Read the KHS version of the 1921 WA/NT Border Determinations article, interwoven with photographs from the KHS Hambidge Collection as well as with entries from MP Durack's diary (courtesy of the Durack family). This was just to determine where the border was but they sent a WA Survey crew up in 1927 to build an obelisk (The Kimberley Obelisk) about 2 km north-west from the 1921 site. See 1927 below.

1920s - First Cement Crossing at Ivanhoe - 'Buchan's Crossing'

[ADD - 192? - First 'cement' crossing at Ivanhoe ("Buchan's Crossing" before that had some concrete?) - Add Ivanhoe research - AB 30 VI 2020]


1927 - Kimberley Obelisk on WA-NT Border

A WA Survey crew came up in 1927 to build an obelisk (The Kimberley Obelisk) about 2 km north-west from the 1921 'Observation Camp' site.

The 'Kimberley Obelisk' was to determine the WA-NT border on the ground. From 1927 it then formed the northern boundary of Rosewood station (NT lease - further south also had a WA lease) with Argyle Downs (WA Lease). Read more about the 1921 WA/NT Border determinations & the 1927 expedition to build the Kimberley Obelisk on the WA-NT border from the Anniversaries History page


1941 - Carlton Reach Research Station

80 Years Ago in 2021

On March 31st 1941 Kimberley Michael Durack (KMD) published a well researched document, 'Developing the North - A Proposed Research Station for the Kimberleys,' and by the end of 1941 his proposal had become a reality. It is fascinating to realise that Kim Durack was just 24 years old when he wrote this proposal, sent it off to Ministers and others, with the Director of Public Works, Sir Russel Dumas, who that year went up to Carlto Reach, where Kim Durack and Johnny Walker guided the Government party through the Carr Boyd Range, along the bed of the Ord, through Coolibah Pocket to Argyle station.  On that journey Dumas marked multiple possible dam sites, which he wrote about to the Institute of Engineers Australia in 1944.

[Add that paper here]

We hope you enjoy reading...

Download - 'Developing the North - Proposed Research Station for the Kimberleys' (5.6 MB) written by KM Durack and published 75 years ago on March 31st 1941 (in 2016) KHS archive number KHS-2015-1-H-BD.

[As this PDF is hyperlinked it is best viewed by saving to your hard drive and viewing in Adobe Acrobat Reader and not in web based viewers as hyperlinking may not work correctly.  Download it from next link below :^]

1941 - Carlton Reach experimental station was set up by Kimberley Michael Durack, with support of the Department of Works (later PWD) and later the WA Department of Agriculture. Read some interesting history about the 1st industrial pump engine on the Ord, from - Carlton Reach Pump Engine - a KHS Research page.


Also see Carlton Reach Set (on Flickr) to read Bill Durack's accounts of his experiences assisting his brother in the early 1940s, at what was the very beginnings of the Ord River Irrigation Area.


1942 - Wirraway Challenge - 80 Years Ago in 2022 on March 20th

March 20th every year is "Wirraway-Challenge" Day at Kununurra Museum!

1942 - On March 20th 1942, a 12 Squadron Wirraway, A20-62, was force landed on the coastal saltmarsh near the WA/NT border, after engine failure over the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. Read about the "Wirraway - Challenge" permanent exhibit at the Kununurra Museum which details the story of their survival and rescue by four Aboriginal stockmen and Charlie Pretlove. The exhibit has the salvaged cockpit canopy and some of the few parts from the plane, that survived after 62 years on the saltmarsh. A DVD in eight parts, which details the stories of pilots, Lew Dwyer and Warwick Carmody, is also available to view from the Wirraway-Challenge Page link (Here or at end of page).

Also see...

War in the Kimberley-75 Years in 2017 


1943 Ray Hames Diary

The head of the Department of Public Works, Russell Dumas' was the backer of Kim Durack's investigations at Carlton Reach and had supplied the Petter pump engine (see 1941 above). That year, in 1941 Dumas travelled to the Ord and went with Kim Durack and Johnnie Walker, along the Ord River's course through the Carr Boyd range, when Dumas selected possible dam sites.  That led to this first Department of Public Works (later PWD) Survey for this proposed Ord River Irrigation Scheme.  They surveyed ; a baseline and levels from Wyndham to Argyle Station ; a survey of part of the Argyle basin levels (as dam catchment) ; The line of the main channel was surveyed and levels taken ;  as well as a survey of the Bandicoot Bar (Tharram the rugged rock bar that held back what was reputed to have been "the biggest waterhole in the Kimberley," the waters of Thethebeleng, or Carlton Reach, a permanent waterhole that ended at the head of the Carlton Ridge or 'Sleeping Buddha') .  The rocky bar was in 1943 already known by (later Sir) Russell Dumas, as the ideal place to build a dam, the place to divert and use the backed up waters for irrigation along a main channel by gravity feed. The diary is a classic, with a young sixteen year old Ray Hames part of the PWD survey crew under Frank Butson and Dave Bryden, who was involved in the Ord as an Engineer through to the 1970s.

[Add extracts from Ray Hames Diary & Photographs - AB 30 VI 2020] [Buy Ray Hames Diary as an eBook?]


1944 Ord Scientific Survey

 During 1944 scientists from all over Australia from CSIR with WA Dept. of Agriculture and others, descended on the Ord for extensive scientific field work to survey soils, entomology (insect studies) and to make agricultural investigations.  Together with Kim Durack, who'd been at Carlton Reach since 1941, they agreed on the "Dillon's Bottle Tree" (boab) site for the future (1946) Kimberley Research Station (KRS), as the Carlton Reach experimental site was alluvial soils, whereas the new "KRS" site had better access to the predominant 'blacksoil' of the irrigable area. 

 The soil scientists on this 1944 expedition named this predominant blacksoil as "Cununurra Clay," after receiving advice from Mrs H. Miller (Mary Durack).  Read more about the 1944 Scientific Survey & naming of blacksoil as "Cununurra Clay."


1953-54 - Thompsons Spring

A short history of the Stone Masonry Weir

The stone masonry weir, was constructed below the spring, about 8 metres above the waterhole from ground level, during the 1953/54 wet season and a there is a short History of Thompson's Spring (from here).


 This interesting information was related to KHS by the late William Arthur Champness (Bill) Wright, on what would be Bill's last visit, on July 21st 2013, to his beloved and historically well known, Thompsons Spring. Use the '4 cornered gaget' to lower right hand side - Use 'Show Info' to display information about each photograph.


 Bill was the Engineer for Main Roads Department WA for the major upgrade to the Ivanhoe Crossing of the Ord River over two dry seasons (1952 and 1953), when the height of the original 1920s concrete crossing, once known as 'Buchan's Crossing', was raised by around a metre. Using a combination of stone masonry, formwork of timber and for each culvert at Ivanhoe Crossing, being 6 x 44 gallon drums, opened and welded end to end, then concrete filled around, section by section, to effectively raise the crossing height.

From here you can read this short History of Thompson's Spring


1959-1961 - The Naming of Kununurra

1959-1961 - Research into the process of Naming Kununurra - A fascinating retrospective view of the extensive WA Government Correspondence (found in the KHS archive) that we have transcribed and presented here about how the town got its name, the many other names it could have been called that are suggested in the correspondence, with a final dramatic climax when the Post Master General (PMG) objected to Cununurra (after the Cununurra Clay so named in 1943 soil investigations?) originally from Mary Durack, being, Gununurrang (all of the "u"s being pronounced like 'good')the Aboriginal name given to that part of the Ord meaning 'big waters' - The PMG also believed it too close to "Cunnamulla" in Queensland but eventually accepted Kununurra with a "K".


1960-1963 - Ord Stage 1

[Ord Stage 1 - Not to be confused with the Ord (ORIA) "Expansion" Stage I & 2 in the 21st century]

 A visual history to show the start of the Ord River Irrigation Area with the construction of the Ord River Diversion Dam, associated works and the new town of Kununurra, a project of National Development, overseen by the WA Government's Public Works Department with Commonwealth funding made available in 1959.  Read and see some great photographs taken during the development 1960-1963 - Ord Stage 1 History.


1961 - Kununurra Townsite Proclamation

See the 1961 - Kununurra Townsite Proclamation Official Documents thanks to the WA SRO or read articles researched for the Kimberley Echo newspaper "Looking Back" history column.

This image was provided to KHS by the State Records Office of Western Australia, www.sro.wa.gov.au

KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-13-WA-SRO-Collection-WA-SRO-cons4489_1959_2811_2

Kununurra Townsite Proclamation [Signed by Minister for Lands Stewart Bovelle]


Kununurra Townsite Gazetted

Feb. 10th 1961 - WA Government Gazette - The Kununurra Townsite was extracted from the Ivanhoe Station lease, as was the Ord River Irrigation Area farm land. 


1963 - Royal Tour to Kununurra

1963 - See some KHS research on the 1963 Royal Tour from this new page added, March 16th 2023, on the eve of commemorating 60 years since this event took place, on March 17th 1963 - See the new page - 1963 - Royal Tour to Kununurra.    There is also a separate  page about the RAAF Convair A96-353 - VIP Transport Aircraft that brought the Royal Tour party from Darwin to Kununurra then returned to Darwin, from where the Royal tour continued onboard HMS Brittania to Fremantle via Broome and Geraldton.  A new page shows the - 1963 Royal Tour DVs (Digital Videos :^) 


1967 in KHS Archives - 50 Years Ago in 2017

Take a look at what was happening 50 years ago (back in 2017) in Kununurra by what we have listed in the KHS archive.

View - 1967 in Kununurra Historical Society Archives


1968-1972 - Ord Stage 2

The development of Ord Stage II was a long time coming.  Many had expected Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies to announce funding for the second stage of the Ord Scheme when he officially opened Stage I of the Ord River Irrigation Project on July 20th 1963, however it was not to be. Read more about how the construction of the Ord River ("Top") Dam came about from - 1968-1972 - Ord Stage 2.

[1968-1972 - Ord Stage 2 - Not to be confused with the Ord (ORIA) Expansion Stage I & 2 in the 21st century]


1986 - Formation of the Kununurra Historical Society

1986 - Read about the History of the Kununurra Historical Society in the formation of the Kununurra Historical Society (KHS - Our Own History! ;^) at a meeting on June 5th 1986 convened by Ursula Brimble - Has full minutes and apologies for the 1986 meeting. Hope you enjoy!

1986 - The Miles of Wyndham - Maggie Lilly

To commemorate the birthday (105 years ago tomorrow - February 25th 1912) of Margaret Sautelle Lilly (1912-2005) - Here is a page about that oral history, with a short synopsis by KHS and an extract from her Oral History that is available online from the State Library of Western Australia in it's entirety. Go to the page ('The Miles from Wyndham') with the classic quoted section by Maggie about the various, 'Miles from Wyndham' - The Three Mile - The Four Mile - The Six Mile - The Nine Mile - The 12 Mile - The Twenty Mile - Beautifully said and never a truer word spoken, have I heard about those 'Miles from Wyndham'. 

What About - Your History?

Have You Lived in Kununurra? If so please read Your Kununurra History

 At the Kununurra Museum (run by KHS) a great deal of time has been spent showing visitors how to get started on research, which is always greatly appreciated. If you would like to research Kimberley or any other not limited to Australian history see KHS Links - Australian Historical Societies Listing & Recommended History Research Links (Trove - WA SRO - SLWA - et al) for some useful information to help get you started. Stay on this page if you want to share in some of our own research. 

Apply for a KHS Research Permit

To research the archival material held by KHS you will need to apply for a researcher's ticket. Go to the KHS Researcher Application page. Members Researchers You could also join the society as a member. We encourage people to become financial life members to support the work on this archive, and receive regular updates. with no need for messy renewals at just 10 times the annual membership rate. Join KHS Now!