After Cyclone Clare dumped a bit of rain in the Kimberley and Pilbara in late January 2006 I decided to check the Bureau of Meteorology website for falls in Murchison. To my surprise there were considerable falls at a number of places. However, the data needed to give an indication of flow in the Murchison River was inconclusive so I rang Sandy McTaggart at Meeberie Station. I then rang Simon Broad at Milly Milly Station. The information from Simon and Sandy convinced me that we could mount an expedition from Milly Milly to the Galena Bridge on the North West Coastal Highway.
I phoned Murchison Roadhouse and then the Shire of Murchison and ascertained that the road from Ballinyoo Bridge to Murchison was closed. While we could have accessed Milly Milly via the Butchers Track we would not be able to support the boat crews after Billabalong and so this option became unfeasible.
I was forced to make a change of plan.
I decided to go downriver from Yallalong (assuming the Support Crew could get through on the Coolcalalaya Road) and then upriver from Kalbarri. Phone calls to the Shire of Murchison indicated that while the Coolcalalaya Road was not closed it would be inaccessible. Phone calls to Station owners along Coolcalalaya Road provided enough information for me to decide that we could start at Yallalong.
So, the expedition was back on.
We left Perth at 3.30 p.m. on Friday 27 January 2006 headed for Riverside Farm, a few kilometres in from the North West Coastal Highway on the Coolcalalaya Road. It was an unremarkable run.
We were away from Riverside at 6.35 a.m. and an hour later stopped to chat with Jim Stevens at Coolcalalaya Station.
We moved on to Yallalong Station. The river had broken out of its bank and spread onto the track. We had found our Start Point. It would be about 150 kilometres by river to the Galena Bridge on the North West Coastal Highway.
The discomforting heat and annoying flies caused a longer than normal preparation for the trip downriver.
The Boat Crew headed downriver from Yallalong Crossing and the Support Crew returned along Coolcalalaya Road.
The first checkpoint required the Keith, Ron and I (Support Crew) to locate a turnoff (realignment), cross a creek bed, ford a billabong and walk to the river. We arrived 15 minutes before the Boat Crew. It was hot and humid and the flies were intense.
We did a crew change at the first checkpoint.
The next checkpoint was at Coolcalalaya Station. The Boat Crew caught up with the water around Coolcalalaya.
The next rendezvous was a coordinate checkpoint between Coolcalalaya and Yandi stations. The Support Crew parked the vehicles on the road and walked through the scrub to the river, negotiating a number of fences. We established radio comms with the Boat Crew and met as planned.
It was still hot and still humid and the flies were intense as ever.
Phase one of the river trip finished at the low level bridge at Galena. We loaded the boats onto the trailers and drove back to Riverside where we left the boats and trailers.
We headed south on the North West Coastal Highway for a few kilometres and turned onto the Kalbarri Road, intent to find the turnoff to Hardabut Rapids, scene of a near disaster in our 1995 expedition, No Wimps Allowed.
We returned to Riverside to prepare dinner and stay the night.
After leaving Riverside Farm around 7.30 a.m. we drove to Kalbarri and launched the boats at 9.00 a.m. for an upriver expedition – as far as we could get up the gorges.
The first rendezvous point was planned for below Natures Window in the Kalbarri National Park.
At Natures Window we did a crew swap. Keith and I jumped in Cliff’s boat and Cliff went in the Support Crew. We continued upriver to 4 Ways. As the river walls narrowed the standing waves became higher. We ‘submarined’ a few times. This was the turnaround point.
Brent’s engine failed and we had to tow the boat home.
The Kalbarri Doctor arrived in force as we approached the estuarine part of the river, creating a nasty chop.
We overnighted at the Kalbarri Caravan Park. For some inexplicable reason Ron met up with a friend and left the group .
A short but successful expedition on the Murchison River.
Text and Layout by Kim Epton