Kimberley & Martuwarra

Kimberley & Martuwarra

The Kimberley and the mighty river Martuwarra, have a long past—make sure they have a living future.

Australia is an ancient continent and the Kimberley feels like its oldest corner. Cliffs expose the world as it was hundreds of millions of years ago, alongside plants and animals that seem from another time. Through its heart run the waters of Martuwarra, a living, ancestral being for Traditional Custodians.

Danggu Geikie Gorge was carved by Martuwarra through part of an ancient limestone barrier reef that snakes across the west Kimberley. Image: Jenita Enevoldsen. Top image: Damian Kelly Photography.

When monsoon rains drive in from the Indian Ocean from January to March, the Kimberley is transformed. Thunderstorms form over ochre desert and dry savannah, tributaries fill Martuwarra / Fitzroy River, bringing life to the land. Rainbow-hued Gouldian finches, red-winged parrots and spectacular purple-crowned fairy-wrens gather at fresh watering holes. The woodlands smell fresh and alive.

River Keepers Trinity and Jasmine at Mangkajarra. Image: Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council

Martuwarra carves a 700km path through the West Kimberley, along deep sandstone gorges, savannah woodland and open floodplains. It has sustained nature and First Nations people for countless millennia. For the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, representing Traditional Custodians from Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Nyikina, Wangkatjunka and Walmajarri groups, Martuwarra is a living, ancestral being that can’t be ruthlessly exploited. To do so would be to break a chain of life stretching back millions of years.

Wilderness Journal Issue #026

Wilderness Journal Issue #026

A special edition on Martuwarra, the lifeblood of the western Kimberley, edited, written, filmed and photographed by the people that live there.

The fact that Martuwarra has been flowing free for so long is evidenced by some of the ancient animals it sustains, like the northern river shark (Glyphis garricki), and freshwater (largetooth) sawfish (Pristis pristis).

Critically endangered, the sawfish can grow up to seven metres in length, bigger than a great white. Once found in rivers around the world, in the Congo, Vietnam and the Seychelles, the fish has been pushed to the brink from overfishing and habitat destruction. It’s testament to the health of Martuwarra that it’s one of the last strongholds for this magnificent animal.

Martuwarra is one of the last strongholds for the critically endangered sawfish. Click on the image to view 5 animals you'll only find in the Kimberley. Image: Damian Kelly Photography.

There are other ancients here too—the Kimberley’s boab trees could be the oldest organisms in Australia, some thought to be standing for over 1,500 years.

And there are some of the best preserved dinosaur footprints and trackways on the planet, left on the exposed rock on the coast north of Broome, betraying just how long this land has been facing the stars.

When you’re in the Kimberley, take time walking in a timeless land, along Martuwarra, inspect the thousand-year-old bark of a boab with your hand, and connect with this age-old place.

Remarkable biodiversity

The Kimberley covers an area twice the size of Victoria. Its grand scale means it encompasses everything from rainforest, to tropical reefs, savannahs, wetlands and deserts. This extraordinary diversity of landscape has given rise to incredible biodiversity, with life evolving to fill every niche, and many plant and animals endemic to the region. Learn about five Kimberley endemic species you won't find anywhere else, and take a look at some of the Kimberley's wonderful wildlife in the gallery below.

A cultural landscape

Rock art at Mimbi Caves in Gooniyandi Country, the Kimberley. Image: Jenita Enevoldsen.
The Kimberley has supported human life for tens of thousands of years. Rock art depicts Tasmanian tigers, extinct on mainland Australia for 3,000 years, with experts suggesting some art could have been painted prior to the last Ice Age. It continues to sustain a rich, living heritage, which dates back at least 40,000 years—the world’s oldest continuous culture

The Kimberley is one of the only places where you can overhear multiple Australian languages being spoken. For instance, the Fitzroy Valley alone is home to five different language groups—Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Nyikina, Wangkatjunka and Walmajarri—each with their own distinctive customs and culture.

The First Nations cultures of the Kimberley have been caring for Country for millennia. Today, their land and seas and the mighty Martuwarra, the largest Aboriginal Cultural Heritage site in Western Australia, are under threat.

Martuwarra River Keepers at Mangkajarra | Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council
Martuwarra supports an abundance of life. But the river, a living, ancestral being for First Nations people, is increasingly at risk from those that want to ruthlessly exploit it. Visit the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council to learn more.
Martuwarra River Keepers

Martuwarra River Keepers

A First Nations-led workforce protecting and regenerating Martuwarra/Fitzroy River, culture and community. Image: River Keeper Teagan at Mangkajarra | Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council

Protecting the Kimberley

Back in 1992, the Wilderness Society proposed a series of national and marine parks to protect the intact ecosystems that support life in the Kimberley. Finally, the Western Australian Government is taking action. Since 2010, the Wilderness Society helped to secure six new marine parks, including the Great Kimberley Marine Park, to rival the Great Barrier Reef.

The habitats of some of the Kimberley’s most precious species still don't have protection. With plans for large scale irrigation, bushland clearing and gas fracking on the books. We’re working to change that.

Land being carved up for fracking exploration, 44km from Broome on the Dampier Peninsula. Image: Damian Kelly Photography.

Bulldozers are carving up an interconnected landscape

The Kimberley is home to the largest intact tropical savannah forest on the planet—yet most of its vegetation isn’t safe from deforestation. Large areas have already been cleared for mining and fossil fuel exploration, fragmenting vital habitat and reducing future carbon storage.

Billionaires plan to drain the mighty Martuwarra

Martuwarra / Fitzroy River seasonal water flows sustain plants, animals and people across nearly a quarter of the Kimberley. Yet it’s facing the kind of devastation we’ve seen on the Barka / Murray Darling River. Gina Rinehart is among those who want to extract billions of litres of water a year from Martuwarra for irrigation agriculture.

Martuwarra is the world’s last stronghold for critically endangered freshwater sawfish. Draining the River for irrigation could tip this ancient species into extinction.

Fracking would destroy water and land

Communities across the Kimberley have held back oil and gas fracking companies for nearly a decade, but the fight is far from over. There are proposals to expand oil and gas fracking across the Great Sandy Desert. These projects would tear up fragile ecosystems, pollute Martuwarra and other vital waterflows—as well as accelerate the climate crisis.

A test fracking well in the Kimberley, after a fire on Yawuru Country.

Traditional Custodians want Kimberley fracking plans scrapped. "We understand that there's lots of resources on our Country. But what needs to be understood is that it is our responsibility—and our right—to look after our Country," says Yawuru Traditional Custodian Mr Corpus.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following article contains images and words of a deceased person. Mr Corpus' family have given permission to publish the following article.

Read more about the fight for a frack-free Kimberley.

With your support we are making a difference

Walmanday / James Price Point is a case in point. Woodside Petroleum was ready to invest $45 billion in the project—a giant LNG gas export terminal. But the economics didn’t stack up.

We helped to unite opposition by supporting Traditional Custodians and concerned locals, and bringing together tens of thousands of nature lovers across Australia to stop this bizarre plan. After eight years of protests and legal battles, the companies involved were forced to walk away.

We may have won that battle—but there are many more to come.

Concert for the Kimberley in February 2012, Federation Square, Melbourne

Our vision

We want the world to recognise the Kimberley for its rich history—as a place where protections for land and sea interconnect, and ancient cultural landscapes are celebrated.

For our climate's sake, the fossil fuels hidden deep beneath the Kimberley must stay there. Forever.

That's why we’ve joined local groups to forge a comprehensive renewable energy plan for the region and are working towards ensuring fracking corporations—like Texan frackers Black Mountain—exit their plans that threaten the climate, water and globally significant biodiversity of the region.

The Kimberley is an ancient cultural landscape of global significance, and worth far more to everyday Australians intact.

We support the rights and aspirations of First Nations people to protect their ancient cultural connections to Country.

What we’re doing:

  • Advocating for new laws and policies that support the life our lives depend on.
  • Fighting for the highest level of protection for marine and national parks.
  • Partnering with the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council to better protect Martuwarra.
  • Warding off the frackers threatening the Canning Basin.
  • Challenging large scale irrigated agriculture and land clearing projects.
  • Meeting with politicians and stakeholders to build bipartisan support.