Source of the River
The source of the Ord River, the Kimberley’s second longest river, is near Mount Bedford in the Durack Ranges, interestingly only ten kilometres from the source of the longest river, the Fitzroy.
Generally, the first that travellers see of the Ord is when they drive across the concrete bridge over the river 60 kilometres south-west of Warmun/Turkey Creek on the Great Northern Highway. At 240 metres in length this is the third longest bridge in the Kimberley, after the Willare Bridge over the Fitzroy and the Diversion Dam in Kununurra.
The Ord has an annual flow greater than any river in Australia. In times of flood caused by cyclonic rain storms, before the construction of the Ord Dam, flow as much as 33,000 cubic metres per second was recorded (this is enough to fill Mundaring Weir in 38 minutes).
Its average annual flow is 4,300,000,000 cubic metres. During one particularly wet year it discharged 12,500,000,000 cubic metres into the ocean. This enormous quantity of water is the equivalent of all the divertible surface and groundwater resources of the whole State in an average year.
It drains 44000 square kilometres of country (a slightly larger area than Holland).
The Ord River Dam at Kununurra was completed in 1971 to form Lake Argyle, Australia’s largest man-made lake. At 1475 square kilometres it is forty times the size of Serpentine Reservoir and ten times the size of Sydney Harbour.
Naming of the River
Alexander Forrest discovered this river on 25 July 1879 during his major expedition across the Kimberley.
On 2 August 1879 he named it,
“… after His Excellency The Governor of Western Australia, who has taken so great an interest in this expedition.”
Sir Henry St George Ord (1819-1885) entered the British Colonial Service in 1855 and served in Africa, West Indies and Straits Settlements. He was Governor of Western Australia from November 1877 to April 1880. The Ord Ranges, between Port Hedland and Goldsworthy, and the associated Mount St George were also named after him.
The aboriginal name for the section downriver from Kununurra is “Widam”.
Because of ill health in his party and a shortage of rations, Forrest was unable to trace the river to its mouth. This meant he had to estimate the course of its lower reaches. His estimate was too far to the West and he showed it entering the West Arm of the Cambridge Gulf in the position of the Pentecost River.
LENGTH 588 kilometres
SOURCE Mount Bedford, Durack Ranges (95 kilometres north-north-west of Halls Creek)
SOURCE (A.M.G.) 314500 metres East 8074350 metres North (Zone 52)
FLOWS INTO Cambridge Gulf
ENDPLACE South east corner of Adolphus Island (30 kilometres north of Wyndham)
MOUTH (A.M.G.) 414000 metres East 8319000 metres North (Zone 52)
TRIBUTARIES Frank River, Panton River, Nicholson River, Negri River, Behm River (into Lake Argyle)
1:100,000 MAPS Bedford 4363, Mount Remarkable 4463, McIntosh 4462, Turkey Creek 4563, Dixon 4562, Linnekar 4662, Osmand 4663, Lissadell 4664, Argyle Downs 4665, Kununurra 4666, Erskine 4566, Wyndham 4567
1:250,000 MAPS Lansdowne SE 52-5, Dixon Range SE 52-6, Lissadell SE 52-2
Epton, Kim, Rivers of the Kimberley, Hesperian Press, Carlisle, 2000.