Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


Gorgeous gorge contry

Story and Photos Robyn Wade

Kimberley GorgeThe rugged beauty a Kimberley cattle station has been turned into a wildlife sanctuary - in doing so converting the views of a cattleman who ran the place for 20 years.

Cattleman Michael Curr looks into Sir John Gorge and remembers when he first laid eyes on the place 20 years ago. He was searching for good grazing land on his Kimberley property and saw the gorge through the eyes of a pastoralist. At the time, its tranquil beauty was lost on him. "No bloody cattle here. Too rough. Break a bloody horse's leg getting down there," he thought about the place he still calls home.

Grazing land it isn't, but Australia's pride and joy it is. Thankfully the cattle are going in favour of conservation in a place with standout qualities. Nothing looks more Kimberley than this so-called "home of the gorges".

Mornington Wildlife SanctuarySir John Gorge and Dimond Gorge are at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, formerly Mornington Station, off the Gibb River Road - for 80 years a cattle property named after Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. How that came to be goes back to an early pastoralist Bob Maxted. Michael Curr strongly admires Maxted because he knows how tough it is to eke a living out of one of Australia's last frontiers. Maxted harked from the Mornington Peninsula and took over the running of this remote cattle region. And he certainly had stamina. "He rode a bloody horse across Australia as a young man in the 1920s," says Michael, with disbelief.

Michael also left his roots far behind. A fifth generation pastoralist, he grew up in Queensland's Gulf Country, eventually running Mornington Station. Although recently retired, he has stayed on as guardian of the property's wildlife for the new owners, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), a non-profit organisation which bought Mornington, and is turning the 300,000-hectare property into a wildlife sanctuary. Mornington is one of AWC's 10 reserves, all protected habitats for threatened species.

A visit not only offers rugged beauty, but a chance to see conservation programs at work and to contribute to saving animals from extinction. Mornington is home to 200 bird species, including the endangered Gouldian Finch. AWC's conservation programs are aimed at restoring the numbers of wildlife populations. Michael Curr delights in promoting the richness of the fauna. As he observes, the gorges have "fish that must have dropped from the heavens" and there are plenty of freshwater crocodiles too.

From the Gibb River Road turnoff it's 100 kilometres to Mornington Wilderness Camp (formerly known as Old Mornington Camp), where the property's original homestead once stood. Some travellers don't make it, turning around on what is a serious four-wheel drive outing. The trip from front gate to camp is manageable thanks to road grading, but it can still be rough in parts, and does take plenty of time.

Along with private camping, there's also new accommodation in the form of African-style safari tents with en suites, fans and fridges. From the camp it's an even more serious outing to the gorges, but as Michael says, "Go down there for a day and you always come back more settled down about life".

Located 247km from Derby along the Gibb River Road.
Accommodation: Available from June 1 - African-style safari tents with en suites, fans and fridges $150pp/night. There is also a $50 single supplement. Bookings now being taken.

Camping $10 pp/night. Facilities include licensed bar, septic toilets hot showers meals available for self-campers on request. Camping ground open from April 18, subject to weather.

Activities: Swimming, canoe hire, bird-watching self-guided walks and drives.

Contact: Phone 1800 631946 email mornington@australianwildlife.org website www.australianwildlife.org Story end

Full story: OUTBACK, April/May 2003

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