map showing the location of Derby, the Gibb River Road and Great Northern Highway

Mount Barnett Roadhouse

On 3rd July 2016 we left Drysdale River Station on the Kalumburu Rd reasonably early. Kind of felt a little strange driving along without the camper trailer behind. Was as if we’d left it behind or something. The trip to the turnoff at the Gibb River Rd was uneventful, we turned right and headed for our next stop at the Mount Barnett Roadhouse relieved by the better standard of the Gibb River Rd compared to the Kalumburu Rd.

The roadhouse is 253km east of Derby and is the entrance point for the Manning Gorge. There is fuel, hot and cold snacks, water, toilets & showers, laundry, take away and a general store. You might also be able to get some tyre repairs done. You pay the camp fees here but the campsite is about 7km away on a dirt track.

Mount Barnett Station itself is 700,000 acres owned by the Kupungarri Aboriginal Corporation, and sits opposite the Kupungarri Community.   The station first started up in 1903 when a mob of cattle were brought over the King Leopold Ranges in the first drove across them.


Derby was the first official townsite in 1883 to be occupied unlike Broome which had already been declared but was still vacant. There was even a Government Resident and police detachment.  Today the population is about 4,865 as of the 2011 census of which about half are aboriginal descent with three different languages. Many are employed by the government. Others are small businesses supporting local mining, pastoral and tourism industries.

The town is noted for having the highest tidal range in Australia of 11.8m. It’s main industry is pastoral, mining and tourism along with minor extras such as oil, diamonds, zinc and stone. It’s also the main base for the Royal Flying Doctor operations in the Kimberley’s since 1955. The first scheduled air flights in Australia started here in 1921 and it also owns a world record for the first longest passenger airline flight from Derby to Perth.

As isolated as it is, Derby has had outside world visitors for quite a long time. Certainly the Asiatics knew about a great south land long before Europeans. There has been conjecture that 62 marooned Japanese sailors sometime before the 12th century may have been instrumental in the design of various pieces of Kimberley rock art.  The Chinese apparently knew of its existence by 1420 and Emperor Ying Tsung had a clear porcelain map of the Australian outline in 1477.

In 1688 Capt Swan of the Cygnet with the William Dampier onboard as crew – and who was to go on to become a famous explorer, spent 3 months in King Sound north of One Arm Point while the boat was being careened.  Dampier wasn’t much impressed either by the country or the native peoples saying the area was useless for settlements and that the people were the most miserable human beings he’s ever seen or heard of.  He came back 11 years late in 1699 but didn’t have anything better to say about it.

Matthew Flinders came by in 1803 in the Investigator while circumnavigating Australia but apparently didn’t land or note anything of interest.  In 1818 Capt Phillip Parker King made an extensive survey of the Kimberley coast and named Cygnet Bay near One Arm Point.  In 1838 Capt. Lord Stokes of HMS Beagle fame which had carried Charles Darwin on a previous expedition named King Sound and Point Torment because of the mosquitoes, and the Fitzroy River. In 1879 the land explorer Alexander Forrest explored the Kimberley area and it was his glowing report that prompted pastoralists to take up land.  The first pastoralist J. Brockman took up a land lease with sheep in 1882. More sheep and cattle soon followed.

The Aboriginals

European thinking during the late 1880s was that if land was not being used then it didn’t belong to anyone and was available to be taken. The idea that land or animals could be owned by someone was completely unknown to aboriginals everywhere. Explorer Forrest had no idea of any spiritual or ancestral connection to land or that it might be sacred and culturally important to the natives – or even if he did it was ignored. He’d noticed them and thought they’d make useful servants for future white settlers.

By 1881 following Forrest’s report, the land was claimed by the Western Australian Government and gazetted for lease by pastoralists. Skirmishes became frequent as the natives speared stock for food. Aboriginals got shot and settlers got speared.  Many warriors and elders were arrested for stealing and murder. With them being removed from their clan groups contributed to the decline of the natives culture.

Aboriginals became a “part” of the cattle station that took over their land. Some became indispensable as stockmen or house maids and were paid wages with food, clothing and tobacco. Gradually with the introduction of technologies they became more and more sidelined.  Others were born and grew up in Mission Stations, some of which were eventually closed by the Government. With the introduction of equal wages in 1968-69 they mostly became fringe dwellers in local townships like Derby, reliant on Government welfare.

But things have improved and today there are about 160 aboriginal communities and 30 different language groups. Many of the cattle stations have been taken over and being run by aboriginal corporations.

Camper Trailer Problems

We soon found our digs at the King Sound Resort Hotel, a name that sounds more luxuriant than it proved to be. First order of business was to find the camper trailer and see what was happening.  After a bit of misdirection we found our man who showed us what was happening.  He’d already stripped everything down even though no approvals for the quoted repair had yet been obtained. He was pretty confident because he was only one of two welders in the town who could do the job. We left him to it.

There’d also been a strange smell coming from the back of the car which we hadn’t been able to identify. After tracing some strange fluid marks up from the rear axle, over the springs and underbody we found the problem to be leaked battery acid.  After taking the battery out we found several holes in the base that had been punched through the casing by the heads of the bolts securing the battery box to the floor while driving over rough roads.

It was annoying given this had  been a new “house” battery installed by a professional tradesman back in Darwin, who had simply put the battery right on top of the bolt heads without any solid padding.  Russie was not happy.

Derby Jetty

By 1883 there were several stations operating in the region but there was still no jetty. Pastoralists had to drive cattle over the mudflats to load them onto barges and then take them out to the ship. It was the same for any other goods to be exported. Yeeda station had a shipment of wool waiting on the shore for export when it was swept away by a tidal wave from the explosion of the Krakotoa volcano in Indonesia.

The first jetty was built in 1885 just in time to also service a gold rush to newly discovered gold fields further inland at Hall’s Creek. It was a 102ft (31m) which cost £3,000.  The jetty also became useful to pearl luggers when pearl shell was found nearby. Another jetty was built in 1964, closed in the 1980s and reopened for barging of lead and zinc concentrate operations.

It stands as a popular spot for locals and tourists to watch the spectacular sunsets, marvel at the tides and watch the marine wildlife.

Note: Bottom right hand photo should read King Sound – not Cambridge Gulf.

Wharfinger House Museum

Wharfinger House is an example of the pre-fabricated buildings adapted for a tropical climate used around the 1920s. It was originally the home for the Derby Port Wharfinger, nowadays known as the Harbourmaster. It was built in 1928 and lived in until the 1960s. The museum mainly centres on local shipping, communications and aviation. A good place to spend a leisurely hour or so.

Boab Prison Tree

Aside from it’s historical significance, this is an impressive boab tree located 6km south of Derby. It’s believed to be 1500 years old with a girth of 14.7m.

Legend has it that the tree was once used by Police Constables in 1890s to lock up arrested aboriginals for the night either inside or attached to the tree, who were being brought to Derby for a court trial. However there’s no evidence this actually happened and is more likely a myth.

It may have begun when a prominent artist named Zanalis spent time in the area and his art works were later exhibited in Sydney NSW.  A newspaper, the Albany Advertiser commented that the tree had been used as a “prison of a temporary nature”.  There is another boab tree in Wyndham that was alleged to have also been used as a temporary prison.

Local aboriginals believe the ancient trees are ancestors with their own personality. In 1916 an anthropologist Dr Herbert Basedow photographed the tree. The caption stated the aborigines used it as a hut and burial place. He also claimed to have found bleached human bones inside the hollowed trunk, though apparently nobody knows where those remains are today.

Myall’s Bore and Cattle Trough

The bore was drilled in 1910/11 to supply water for cattle brought to town for export. It’s 322m deep. A concrete water trough was then built in 1916/17 which was later extended to 120m and could handle up to 500 bullocks at a time. It’s believed to be the longest cattle trough in the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately the bore water flow dropped by 1919 and has since been pumped up using a windmill. A bath house also once stood near the trough, presumably for the drovers.

Frosty’s Pool

One of the few reminders of WW2 still remaining is Frosty’s Pool. It was built by Charles L.V. Frost and a couple of other members of his unit, the 3rd General Transport Company in 1944. His idea was to to have a place where military people could cool off.  It was filled with bore-water from the nearby Myall’s Bore. The pool had to be rather small due to a lack of available resources but was popular anyway. Officers got to use it during a specified period of the day and it was available to all other ranks for the rest of the time.

Note: Photo above left – the length of the trough may have been the original length before being extended. Windmill at top centre of photo pumps bore water into the trough

Boat Tour

Annual Mud Crab Races

Time your visit to Derby right and you can spend a good family afternoon in your best thong footwear at the Mary Island Fishing Club for the price of a gold coin donation.  Funds go to charity. There are several events so everyone has a chance. And when the final race is done it’s time for a cook-up. Enjoy a beaut mudcrab dinner with your favourite beverage. Pick your crab for a fee, get it’s name scrawled onto it’s back and your in it to win it.


Just for the record, Virgina and Pinis got 1st and 2nd in the first race.
Think it might have been rigged or maybe they were drugged?

Long Table Dinner

The annual Boab Festival Long Table Dinner is a charity event held under the open night sky and stars. Includes a 3-course dinner and live entertainment. This year it was held on the mudflats near the a local landmark, the One Mile Dinner Tree.

The One Mile Dinner Tree is located at the start of the Derby Pastoral Trail, and marks where drovers would bring their mobs of cattle from Myall’s Bore outside of town and wait there until their ship had docked and was ready to receive them.  The drovers would usually have their dinners there while waiting and then walk their herds across the mudflats i.e. the Derby Pastoral Trail to the jetty.

Several artists, even from as far as Perth were on hand to entertain. Of particular note was singer, songwriter and guitarist Tracy Barnett (see photo). Armed with stomp box, acoustic guitars, harmonica and great singing voice she really pumps out some good music in a blend of folk, blues,l roots and country.

After dark, beautiful LED lights decorating the tables provided sufficient light to see. And as it happened planet Jupiter could be seen next to the moon as it wanders through the various constellations.  In this case it’s Leo as seen from the UK. You might note that the planet appears on different sides of the moon depending on whether you are looking at it from our side of the Earth or the other side.

Other Attractions

* Centenary Pavilion: Located at the Jetty. Geography and history of King Sound and Derby.
* Old Derby Jail: Heritage Police Station and depot for Police Horse Patrols and built in 1906 is the oldest building in town.
* Derby Pioneer Cemetery: The oldest cemetery in the Kimberley.
* Joon Joo Botanical Trail: Walking trail with interpretative plaques explaining how the bush was used by the aboriginal Nyikina people.
* Wandjina Art Studio: Displays of aboriginal and other art works from local artists.
* Kimberley School of the Air: Provides education via satellite to remote locations across the Kimberley region for pre-school to Year 7 students.




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