The History of Kalumburu

Kalumburu, situated on the banks of the King Edward River, is the furthermost permanent settlement along the remote Kimberley coast in the north of Western Australia. Traditionally this has been home to two distinct Aboriginal language groups, the Kwini (Kuini) and Kulari. In recent years other groups have moved into the area.

The first white man to explore the area was Sir Francis Brockman, describing the land and Aboriginal people he encountered. Fulgentius Torres, the second Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of New Norcia, was directed in 1905 to establish a new mission in the virtually unknown Drysdale River Area.

He established this by a small creek at Pago in the southern end of Mission Bay. In1932 the mission was relocated to the present site, ensuring a reliable water source from the King Edward River.
For the first 30 years the mission and Kalumburu communities’ only contact to the outside world, was the regular supply trips by the mission lugger. The Aboriginal people and monks constructed an airfield and built a road to Pago using crowbars and shovels.

The advent of World War 2 in 1939, saw Kalumburu become a strategic staging point in Australia’s northern defences. In 1944 military focus was shifted to Truscott airfield, which remains a major centre for aerial surveillance and support for the offshore pearling, oil and gas operations.
In 1954 Surveyor John Morgan completed a major survey in the north east Kimberley which led to the first road access to Kalumburu, the Gibb River Road becoming the major route in the 1970s.

Following the election of the Whitlam Labor government in1972, there was a concerted move to grant Aboriginal people rights to their lands. In recognition of this, the Bishop of the Kimberley relinquished control of Kalumburu, effectively giving the community its independence in 1981.


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