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Halls Creek, WA

Isolated outback town in the heart of the Kimberley

Halls Creek is a strange combination - a relatively modern, predominantly Aboriginal, town servicing the tourism and pastoral industries and a dry, unforgiving ghost town. In 1948 the town was physically moved 16 km to its present location. The move continued until the old township was finally abandoned in 1954. The reasons were a combination of lack of water and a re-routing of the Derby-Kununurra Road (now Highway 1) to avoid winding through the hills around the old town. Today Halls Creek is a small settlement which services the ever-increasing tourist trade with a hotel, motel, a supermarket and an aerial tour operator who goes to the Bungle Bungles (now Purnululu National Park) and Wolfe Creek Crater. 

Location

Halls Creek is located 2,962 km north-east from Perth via Highway 1. It is 423 metres above sea level, 358 km south of Kununurra and 546 km east of Derby in the heart of the Kimberley.

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Origin of Name

It was believed that this area of East Kimberley had gold and in 1885 Charlie Hall (after whom the town is named) and Jack Slattery sailed up the coast to Derby and travelled up the Fitzroy River before cutting across country to the Elvire River. They struck gold virtually everywhere they went and by the time they returned to Derby they were carrying over 200 ounces of gold. The town takes its name from Charlie Hall. Hall's name was first applied to the creek on which he found gold before being used for the townsite.

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Things to See and Do

Statue of Russian Jack
Located opposite the Council Offices on the Great Northern Highway, the statue of Russian Jack (Ivan Fredericks) celebrates a local "character" who, in 1886, pushed a wheelbarrow from Derby to the Halls Creek goldfield. Legend has it that he found an exhausted prospector 30 km from the goldfield, put him on the wheelbarrow, and pushed him for the final 30 km.

Statue of Jack Jugarie
Jugarie was a Jaru Elder who worked as a Police Tracker. When he was 70 he walked the 350 km from Halls Creek to Wyndham cross country using his traditional skills to find food and water and using the stars to guide him. He is commemorated by a statue outside the Travel & Tourism Centre.

Heritage Town Walk
There is a Heritage Town Walk brochure which is available at the Travel & Tourism centre, but it is equally possible to just wander around town reading the signage on the nine hand-crafted wooden totems which tell the story of the history and culture of the town and the district. The walk takes around 40 minutes.

Moola Bulla Lookout
Located north of Halls Creek this lookout, important to the local Aboriginal people, provides excellent views of the town and surrounding countryside, particularly at sunset. It can be accessed by driving 3.2 km out of town on Roberta Avenue, then taking the track to the right at the entrance to Moola Bulla Station. Proceed for 500 m and then head up the hill to the lookout.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Rock Hole
Located 11 km west of Halls Creek on the Great Northern Highway, this water hole, named Longleg Rockhole, offers an insight into the importance of water in the area. It was originally a rock hole for the local Aborigines but, with the arrival of Europeans, it was used to water the stock on Koongie Park Station.

Old Halls Creek
Looking at the ruins today it is hard to imagine that Old Halls Creek, 16 km from the town, was the site of the first major gold discovery in 1885. Today it is nothing more than some remnants of buildings, some street signs, the ruins of the old mud brick Post Office, a well that celebrates the discovery of gold in the area and a cemetery. The ruins of the Post Office were covered by a building in 2002 to preserve it from the ravages of the "wet" season.

Old Halls Creek Cemetery
The cemetery is a fascinating comment on the harshness of survival in the area in the last years of the nineteenth century. Many of the graves in the cemetery are quite recent dating, from the 1940s and 1950s. One grave however records the death of a man who, in 1909, died of thirst in the Tanami Desert. It is grim reminder that life in the outback is a constant battle with the elements. As the town's information directory puts it: "The Kimberley in itself is not inherently dangerous. But an even greater degree than the sea, it is unforgiving of carelessness, ignorance and impatience." Perhaps the most famous grave is that of James 'Jimmy' Darcy who became a national story in 1917 and the inspiration for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The Story of Jim Darcy
Jim Darcy was a stockman working on Ruby Plains Station 75 km south of Halls Creek. He was mustering cattle when he fell from his horse and was seriously injured. When his friends found him they took him by buggy to Halls Creek (the journey took 12 hours) but there was neither a doctor nor a hospital in the town. The local postmaster had enough medical knowledge to realise that Darcy needed immediate medical attention. He telegraphed Wyndham and Derby but the doctors from both towns were on holidays. He then telegraphed Perth and, using only morse code, a Dr J. Holland diagnosed Darcy as having a ruptured bladder. He had to be operated on immediately. Messages flashed back and forth in morse code.
'You must operate.' 
'But I have no instruments.' 
'You have a pen knife and razor.' 
'What about drugs?' 
'Use permanganate of potash.' 
'But I can't do it.' 
'You must.' 
'I might kill the man.' 
'If you don't hurry, the patient will die first.'
Tuckett, the Postmaster, strapped Darcy to the table and began operating according to instructions he received by telegraph. The operation took seven hours - with no anaesthetic. A day later complications set in. It became obvious that a doctor would have to come to Halls Creek. In the meantime Darcy's dilemma had caught the imagination of the Australian public who followed the progress of the saga with insatiable interest.
Dr Holland took a cattle boat from Perth to Derby and then travelled the last 555 km by T-model Ford, horse and sulky and foot. He finally arrived in Halls Creek only to find that Darcy had died the day before. 
It was this event which inspired Rev. John Flynn to establish the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Darcy had not died in vain. His plight had focussed the entire nation on the problems of medical services in isolated areas and out of it grew Flynn's unique experiment in outback medicine.

The China Wall
The 16 km journey to Old Halls Creek passes Halls Creek's two major tourist attractions. Six km out of town on the Duncan Highway there is a sign to the China Wall, a strange, 6 metre high, limestone formation which rises from a creek up the side of a small hill. It is a natural formation of white quartz which, as the name suggests, looks like a miniature Great Wall of China. It is known to the local Aborigines as Burraluba in the Jaru language and Mulugunjiny in the Kija language The stream below is surrounded by trees and in the 'green season' (i.e. the wet) it is an ideal location for swimming.

Caroline Pool
Located 15 km from Halls Creek on the road to Old Halls Creek is the Caroline Pool, a popular local swimming spot which, when there is water in the creek, is reminiscent of the gorges along the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. The river cuts between two cliffs and forms a deep pool in a gorge. 

Art Around Halls Creek
There are five art centres and galleries in the Halls Creek shire. 
* Warlayirti Arts at the Balgo Community
* Warmun Art Centre at Turkey Creek
* Laarri Art Gallery at the Yiyili community
* Yaruman Art and Culture Centre at Ringer Soak Community
* Yarliyil Arts Centre at Halls Creek
The art of the area is internationally recognised and you can purchase local art works at all of these places. Start at the Travel & Tourism centre where you can get useful advice and guidance.

Aerial Tours
Northwest Regional Airlines, located on Stan Tremlett Drive at Halls Creek, offer aerial tours of both the Bungle Bungles and Wolfe Creek. Check out https://www.hallscreektourism.com.au/northwest-regional-airlines#/tours/18113 for details. There is a strong argument for aerial tours - the roads to both destinations are less than perfect and the impression left by seeing these remarkable natural phenomena from the air is genuinely unforgettable.

Wolfe Creek Crater
Wolfe Creek Crater is located 153 km south of the town on the unsealed Tanami Road. Known to the Jaru Aborigines as Kandimalal it was named Wolfe Crater after Robert Tennant Stowe Wolfe, a digger and storekeeper who lived in Halls Creek in the late 1880s. Traditional owners believe the crater was formed when the rainbow serpent raised its head from the ground at the time of creation. The first Europeans to see the crater were F. Reeves, N. B. Sauve and D. Hart who sighted it while carrying out an aerial survey of the area in 1947. Later that year the three men reached the crater by land and published their report in 1949.
There is some dispute as to the crater's status with some sources claiming that it is the second largest meteorite crater on earth (the other being the Barringer Crater in Arizona) while others claim it as the fourth largest. The excellent Wolf Creek Crater by Ken McNamara (published by the Western Australian Museum) claims that in Western Australia alone the Goat Paddock Crater and 'The Spider' crater are considerably larger. Perhaps the final word on this confusion belongs to McNamara who, having weighed the evidence as to whether Wolfe Crater was really formed by a meteorite, observes: "In a 1 to 5 classification of craters, only 12 are categorised as Class 1; included is the Wolfe Creek Crater. Class 1 craters are those with which meteoric material has been found, and are considered to have probably been formed by an explosion caused by meteor impact with the Earth. Of the Class 1 craters Wolfe Creek is the second largest in the world, being exceeded in size only by the Arizona crater." 
Wolfe Creek Crater has a diameter of between 850-950 metres and a depth of 61 metres. It was probably as much as 200 m deep when it was originally formed. From the distance it appears as a low hill but when the rim of the crater is reached it is a sight of great symmetry and beauty. The age of the crater is unknown but available evidence suggests that it was probably formed about 2 million years ago. Because of the extreme dryness of the area the erosion of the crater has been very slow. 

Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park
If they weren't so inaccessible the Bungle Bungles would be one of Australia's premier tourist attractions. They are a unique formation (although there are smaller versions at the Lost City in the NSW Blue Mountains and the Lost City near the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory) which were produced by the layering of deposits which were laid down in the area 350 million years ago. They have never been aggressively promoted as a tourist attraction which is why, over the past three decades, the difficult 4WD-only road to the site has never been upgraded. The perfect way to see them is to travel across the entire formation via aeroplane and then explore at least one of the gorges at ground level.

Getting there
Known to the local Kija Aborigines as Purnululu, the Bungle Bungles are located 109 km north east of Halls Creek off the Great Northern Highway. The road is so bad that one source has described the route as: "The distance from the highway ... is only 55 km, however, the trip will take two or three hours and the track is suitable only for 4WDs with good clearance. Caravans will not survive the trip." The best option is to travel to Kununurra and take an organised tour which flies directly to Purnululu. Check out East Kimberley Tours, which offer regular tours into the Park, their brochure can be downloaded at http://www.eastkimberleytours.com.au/Brochure/index.html. There are half-day, one day and two day options.

The Geology of the Bungle Bungles
The Bungle Bungles are notable for their distinctive beehive-shaped towers. These towers, which were formed between 350-375 million years ago, are the result of sedimentary layers of pebbles, boulders, conglomerates and sandstone all being laid down in the Ord Basin. The strange horizontal banding is layers of cynobacterial crust - black lichen and orange silica. Over millions of years the layers were eroded by a combination of wind from the Tanami Desert and rainfall. Some layers were stronger than others and so, as erosion occurred, weathering produced the beehive or bell-like shapes. Fault lines in the horizontal bedding resulted in huge gullies and caves. The sandstone is so fine that it crumbles when touched. The area is a wonderland of Aboriginal art, huge gullies and dramatic caves 

Walks in the Bungle Bungles
Piccaninny Creek and Gorge
There are two options here. Either a 7 km moderate return walk to the entrance of the gorge or a 30 km return walk which goes through the gorge but cannot be done in a day. There is no marked track. The Western Australian Parks and Wildlife site describes the walks in the following terms: "The 7 km return walk to the gorge entrance (the Elbow) takes a full day. To explore the entire gorge system, a total of more than 30 km, hikers need to camp for at least a night. The track is moderately easy up to the gorge entrance.  It then becomes moderately difficult in the gorge itself, with hikers having to negotiate around fallen boulders, loose rocks and along creek beds." For more information check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/piccaninny-creek. The easiest option is to go to Picanninny Creek Lookout which is only 1.4 km from the car park and provides excellent views over the Bungle Bungle Range.

Cathedral Gorge Walk
There is a relatively short and easy 3 km return walk (it will take around 1-2 hours) from the Picanninny Creek Car Park to the dramatically beautiful Cathedral Gorge. For more information check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/piccaninny-creek

The Beehive Domes Walk
The easiest of all the walks in the park is this hour long circuit around some of the park's famous beehive domes. For more information check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/piccaninny-creek

Echidna Chasm
The Echidna Chasm Walk is a relatively short, 2 km, one or two hour walk through a narrow chasm which is 200 m deep and famed for its Livistonia palms and impressive boulders with the local region's distinctive conglomerate of rocks and sandstone. It is located 19 km north of the visitor centre. From the Echidna Chasm Car Park it is possible to walk to Osmond Lookout with its views across the Osmond Range.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district had been home to the Jaru and Kija Aboriginal people for at least 30,000 years.

* In 1856 Augustus Charles Gregory explored the area to the south of the town..

* The area was first explored by Alexander Forrest in 1879. 

* In 1884 a geologist named Hardman noted gold on the Elvire River east of Halls Creek.

* In 1885 Charlie Hall and Jack Slattery sailed up the coast to Derby and travelled up the Fitzroy River before cutting across country to the Elvire River. They struck gold virtually everywhere they went and by the time they returned to Derby they were carrying over 200 ounces of gold. Hall had found a 28 ounce nugget.

* Gold was discovered on 14 July 1885 and within weeks miners from as far away as New Zealand and the eastern states were pouring into the region. It was the first discovery of payable gold in Western Australia. 

* Between 1885-1887 over 10,000 men passed through the ports of Wyndham and Derby on their way to the Kimberley goldfields. 

* In 1886 Russian Jack pushed a wheelbarrow from Derby to Halls Creek.

* The discovery of gold at Coolgardie reduced Halls Creek to a near ghost town by 1888.

* By the end of its life the Halls Creek field had yielded 8,668 ounces of gold.

* By 1890 there were only 70 Europeans living at Halls Creek.

* In 1917 James 'Jimmy' Darcy made the front page of most Australian newspapers because of the drama of his accident and the subsequent attempt to save his life.

* In 1918 the Australian Inland Mission built a hospital in the town.

* In the 1930s the Pallotine Order of the Catholic Church established a mission at Rockhole. In 1939 the mission was relocated 250 km south of Halls Creek.

* In 1948, Halls Creek was physically removed from its original site to its present location. 

* The old township was finally abandoned in 1954. 

* The Police Station was relocated to the new town in 1961.

* In 1980 Ernie Bridge, who had been the local mayor, won the state seat of Kimberley and became the first Aboriginal member of the Western Australian parliament.

* In 1986 two teenagers James Annetts and Simon Amos disappeared from Sturt Creek and Nicholson Stations south of Halls Creek only to be found dead in the Great Sandy Desert. 

* In 2013 Halls Creek was named the most disadvantaged town in Western Australia.

* Today Halls Creek is primarily an Aboriginal town. The 2016 census registered that 67.6% of the population identified as Aboriginal.

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Visitor Information

Halls Creek Travel & Tourism Centre, Hall Street, tel: (08) 9168 6262.

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Useful Websites

The local shire has useful websites. Check out http://www.hallscreek.wa.gov.au/tourism.aspx and http://www.hallscreektourism.com.au.

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