The Kimberley - King Edward River & the search for the elusive "Sunburst" Wanjanas

Sunday, Aug 01, 2010 at 19:00


Sunday 1st August
Dunmarri Campground,
King Edward River (KER)
The Kimberley WA

After the dramas and strenuous activities of the past days, we opted to have an extra day at King Edward River. We’d also use the time to search for the elusive “sunburst” wanjanas, hence it was a relaxed start into a beaut sunny day. After breakfast a few chores were taken care of before we headed off to search for the “sunburst” wanjana rock art. Our cryptic instructions were simply to follow the King Edward north for 300 metres from the circular pool. Hugging the banks as closely as we could, we rock hopped for a good distance downstream. For some reason this just didn’t seem logical to me as the rocky ledges and caverns were not at a significant height above the existing water levels meaning that they would more than likely be inundated during the wet. With this in mind I recommended that we head inland and commence a search of any rocky outcrops we found there. Harm volunteered to stick with the river but having well exceeded our 300 metres north, the instructions were seeming more dubious by the minute.

The plains inland from the river were covered in long dry grass and while not difficult to negotiate, one had to be mindful of snakes and spiders. There were several prominent ribbons of rock visible to the east stretching over a distance of 800 metres or so. I circled out to the north-east to check and then swung around to the east to bring myself to the furthermost group of boulders. Vikk and Anne headed straight to that clump and quickly announced that they had located the art site. In a cavern sheltered by an overhanging slab of rock were some of the most impressive wanjanas heads I’d yet seen. They were different in style to other wanjana art having ornate sunbursts or halo's about their heads. The big search pattern had paid off. "300 metres north" was more like 400 metres to the north west and well inland from the river itself. There were other sites dotted around these boulders that we investigated before making our way back to the campground.

Leading a single file track through the long grass, the bent and broken stalks built up around your ankles forming a set of gaiters and making it difficult to walk. It was quite funny to step out of these grass boots and leave them standing in the middle of the trail our path through the grass had made. We negotiated some of the smaller offshoots of the KE including one pool that was fed by a stream of water gashing out of the solid rock itself. It appears that water had exploited some gap in the rock and over time had bored a tunnel right through to emerge 30 metres inland from the river, a most interesting example of natural hydrology.

On reaching the main pool near the campground, we went for a refreshing dip again just as the sunshine disappeared under a blanket of grey cloud. While a bit cooler than yesterday, it was still plenty warm enough for the cool waters of the pool to be inviting so we played around under the falls again before heading back to camp. Sadly, Anne and Harm took their leave of us and headed for points west. We had a lazy afternoon waiting for Wally chops to arrive. On ringing his satphone for a progress report on their exit from the Drysdale, we found them still at the Carson River crossing with electrical woes.

Late in the afternoon, we all piled into the guppy and went off to visit some other local art sites. A little to the west on the Mitchell Plateau Road is an interesting rock formation. Exposed ribbons of rock form small canyons and the area is littered with caverns and caves. Wind and water have carved caverns and wierd shapes in the softer rocks. Many of these have been decorated with art and one or two were used as burial sites to inter the bones and skulls of the departed. One covern had the bones clearly visible. It’s an eerie location. In one gallery was a large “reclining” wanjana and a host of strange figures we could make neither head nor tail of.

The thrill of the day was no doubt the ride in the back of the guppy. God it’s rough down the back with bits and pieces falling down from above. Both the little electric fan and a fluoro light popped off their mounts and sconed me. Our last visit was to the famous KE wanjanas which are very close to the main KE river crossing.The classic group of 6 wanjana heads at this location have been seen in just about every 4x4 publication or TV show that’s been made or written about this area. As we pulled into the parking area, the dulcet tones of Wally-Chops drifting across the UHF airwaves announced their arrival at KER.John and Suzette joined us at the art site before we all returned to the campsite for horses doovers and dinner. It was great to have the band back together once again. The rain moved in late in the afternoon prompting the circling of the wagons. I put up the rear fly for a bit of extra shelter. It was a grill for dinner and then to bed with driving winds and rain pelting our camp.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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