This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2007 Travels June 23


Today was grey, a little humid, and with showers through the day. It did not look like this nasty little low pressure system was going anywhere else, anytime soon. At least, the ongoing rain had saved face for me!

Whilst John was still sleeping in, M and I walked to the town shops, so I could buy a Weekend Australian paper. The town seemed even more crowded with disgruntled travellers.

After John was up and breakfasted (late), I packed some sandwiches and we drove out to the Diversion Dam, just on the western edge of town.

Highway across the Diversion Dam (Google)

When the Ord River Irrigation Scheme was being established, the Diversion Dam was built across the Ord River, in 1963. This marked the start of the first stage of irrigated farming on the river’s rich flood plains. Before the dam, the absolutely huge Wet season flow of the Ord River – many millions of litres – flowed into the sea. Then, by the late Dry season, the river was almost dry. Successful farming would require regulation of the water flow, hence the dam, which created Lake Kununurra behind it – the stored water able to be released as needed for downstream irrigation.

One of the first crops tried in the new irrigated farmlands was rice – a logical enough product. The problem with this was that magpie geese love rice seedlings. Word quickly spread amongst the magpie goose population of the tropical north, about this new bonanza, and that spelled the end of rice cropping in the Ord. Cotton  was another experiment. There seems to have been fairly consistent growing of some fruits and vegetables – melons, mangoes, beans, pumpkins and the like. But it is a long way from major Australian markets for that sort of produce. So the whole scheme sort of staggers on.

The Diversion Dam is an impressive structure, with its movable “gates” that can be lifted up and down to control the volume of water outflow. A bonus of the building of the Diversion Dam was putting a road across the top – the current highway. As we drove over the dam, could see the gate operating mechanisms, close up.

On the far side, a road goes down to a small picnic area, below the dam wall. From here, there were good views back to the wall and its gates, which were not letting out a great deal of water, it seemed. We kept a careful eye out for crocs. It was common to see people fishing below the dam wall, here, and where there are barra…….

Diversion Dam from picnic area; two gates letting out water

Ate our sandwiches here, admiring the river and the nearby boabs.

After that, drove back across the dam wall, and north, out the Ivanhoe Road, to the Ivanhoe Crossing. Today seemed to be developing an Ord River theme!

Before the Diversion Dam was built, up to 1963, this cement causeway was the way for travellers to cross the Ord. This was built in 1953, improving on an older causeway that had been made where a large rock outcrop broke the river into two smaller channels. It was probably originally used as a crossing point by the pioneering Durack family, who established the Ivanhoe and Carlton Downs Stations, on opposite sides of the river.

 In the Wet season, the Crossing was often impassable for months on end. These days, since the upstream dams control the river differently to Nature, the water was over the causeway for much more of the Dry season, and generally at a higher level all year.

We had previously seen it at a driveable level – just – for the adventurous or foolhardy – but too high for us to tackle it. Mostly, we have seen it closed, as it was now. It was one of the local tourist attractions, and some people came here to fish in the waters below the causeway – definitely croc territory!

Ivanhoe Crossing – the force of that water coming over the causeway should not be underestimated!

Back to camp and a leisurely rest of the day, spent reading my newspaper.

The No Vacancy sign was a permanent fixture at the front of the caravan park!

At night, I phoned son, who was just back from his four day work trip to NZ, being Customer Service Manager for both Australia and NZ, for the motorhome rental company he worked for. He sounded alright – was minding the children while their mother was out socialising.

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2000 Travels July 2


It was a clear day that reached about 30 degrees.

We decided to do some exploring beyond the irrigated areas. After being at Keep River National Park, we were curious about the Keep River further downstream, so set out to try to go there. There was a track on my map that went to “Spirit Hills” and beyond that to “Legune” – in the NT, north of the National Park.

Drove out the Ivanhoe road again, to buy some more grapefruit, which we did at a farm gate stall.

Then we came back into town and went out the Weaber Plains road, past the sugar mill. The irrigated area extended for quite a way out there, which was good to see. Since all that effort and expense has been put into developing the infrastructure, one wants to see it well utilized.

Much of the irrigated land was in sugar cane – big farms, with much new machinery.

When the Ord Scheme was first developed, it was envisaged that the main crops would be rice and cotton. However, as happened at Humpty Doo in the NT, magpie geese took a massive liking to the young rice, passed the word around about this new food, and descended in great hordes, and that was the end of that idea! The cotton got some sort of grub. Since then, fruit growing – and to a lesser extent, vegetables – has become the mainstay, and sugar cane too, supplying a local sugar mill. The sugar growing industry is dependent on there being a nearby mill as the cut cane does not lend itself to transport over great distances. As we noted in Queensland, in 1998, in the sugar growing districts, there are lots of sugar mills and they are not that far apart.

It was a gravel road for most of the way to the Keep River ford. We crossed back into the NT to get there – no quarantine checks on the border there! No signs to mark the border there!

Once we got close to the river area, we passed several other vehicles – all seemed to be parked where they could fish, or be looking for same. Being a Sunday, they were probably out here from Kununurra. It was not a place that most tourists would think to venture.

Some men fishing near the ford told us there was a big saltie croc, upstream of the ford, and a smaller one hanging about downstream. We were actually not all that far from the sea, here, so their presence was not surprising.

The river ford was not a particularly attractive place, so we did not stay there long. Turned around, then took a side track to the north, to a tributary creek, and ate lunch there, looking at birds.

07-01-2000 callistemon.jpg

Callistemon in the bush

While we were out there, John tried to radio phone friends from home, who had left us a message on the mobile, last week. They were travelling in these parts, having tacked some extra leave onto the school holidays.

We drove back the way we’d come. It was quite a decent day’s outing, with some really  spectacular range scenery along the way. We did 148kms.

Tea was chops, potato, tomato.

After tea, had some phone calls with family members.

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2000 Travels July 1


There was still some cloud about, today. Therefore, it became increasingly humid as the day wore on.

After breakfast, we walked to the shops and bought the papers, and had a bit of a browse in some of the shops.

After lunch, set out for a drive. We took the Ivanhoe Road, that goes past the caravan park, out to the Ivanhoe Crossing. This is where the main road, such as it was, once forded the Ord River – as that river was before the construction of the Ord River Scheme. In the 1950’s, a concrete causeway was built where there was an early ford and a rocky section of the river, as part of the construction of a road from the NT to the port at Wyndham.

The Ord River Scheme resulted in the construction of the Diversion Dam at Kununurra, in the 1960’s, and the main road was moved to cross the top of this.

Of course, back before the irrigation scheme began, the Ord would have been like the other big rivers in these parts – very seasonal in its flow – and the Crossing would have been very low for some of the year, and impassable for some of it.

These days, the river level here is regulated by the two upstream dams – and the release of water through the hydro plant at Lake Argyle. It is still subject to big floods in the Wet Season, but there are supposed to be times of the year when vehicles can cross on the ford.

Right now, the river was quite high – up into the carpark area. Water was racing over the ford. There was surely no way that anyone in their right mind would attempt to drive on it.

07-01-2000 ivanhoe crossing.jpg

The Ivanhoe Crossing ford was the large ripple crossing the centre of the photo!

There was a tour bus at the Crossing, and also some people, fishing. One can catch barramundi here. It is also a haunt of saltwater crocodiles. Not a place to go paddling!

From there, we drove back to town and across the top of the Diversion Dam to its far side, where there was a track going to the river, downstream of the dam, from where there was a view back to the dam. There was a sort of park here, with roofed picnic tables – flooded due to the river levels!

07-01-2000 flooded picnic area below dam

Flooded picnic area below the Kununurra Diversion Dam

There was a lot of water coming out of the Diversion Dam. It really is a pity that some way cannot be found of diverting all this surplus water to the dry parts of the interior, and south.

07-01-2000 diversion dam.jpg

The Kununurra Diversion Dam with raised gates letting water out, down the Ord River. The gantry raises and lowers these gates. The highway crosses the top.

There were many people fishing along the river side, here. This was another place on the Ord where one needs to be crocodile aware.

It was quite late in the afternoon by now, so we did not stay long.

Tea was salads and tinned fish.

From today, most things will cost 10% more, although many foods are exempt. Supposedly, the whole convoluted range of State taxes are to be phased out, to be replaced by GST money. We shall see! I have little faith in State Governments doing their bit.

I do know that our accommodation rate rose. The nightly rate was $18, now it is $22, which is a lot more than a 10% rise. I suspect this sort of price hike, on the excuse of the GST,  will be common across lots of things. The cost of living just got costlier!