Halls Creek (W.A.)
Halls Creek is a small town situated in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. It is located between the towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Turkey Creek (Warnum) on the Great Northern Highway. It is the only sizeable town for 600 km on the Highway.
Halls Creek is a busy service town for surrounding pastoralists, Aboriginal communities and travellers exploring northern Western Australia. Halls Creek is also the fourth fastest growing shire within Western Australia. Situated in the heart of the Kimberley, Halls Creek is the gateway to a range of world renowned natural attractions, including the World Heritage listed Bungle Bungle ranges of Purnululu National Park.
Located on the edges of the Great Sandy Desert and Tanami Desert, 362km south of Kununurra, 1288km south-west of Darwin and 2873km north-east of Perth, Halls Creek offers a genuine insight into the spectacular Australian outback. Covering some 142,908 square kilometres of predominantly desert and pastoral country, Halls Creek has something for everyone, from wide open spaces and magnificent natural attractions, to rich Aboriginal and European history and culture.
The land now known as Halls Creek has been occupied for thousands of years. The land is crossed by songlines and trading paths stretching from the coasts to the deserts, some passing near the modern town. The story of that long occupation remains alive today and it is revealed in the culture of the Jaru, Kija, Kukatja, Walmajarri, Gooniyandi and other indigenous people who live in Halls Creek shire.
That ancient world changed late in the 1800’s when Europeans invaded, searching for minerals for wealth and land for cattle. On Christmas Day 1885 prospector Charlie Hall found a huge 28-ounce (nearly 1 kilogram) gold nugget at a site that would eventually be named after him.
News of the discovery drew more than 15,000 people to what is now Old Halls Creek to try their luck. It proved an inhospitable land for these people and the graves of some can be found in Old Town’s small cemetery. The gold rush lasted less than 3 months and Halls Creek became a trading centre for cattle stations, aboriginal communities and miners who stayed in the area.
The post office with its telegraph line that terminated here, the police station, government office, racecourse and stores gave the town a purpose. In 1918 the Australian Inland Mission built a hospital and the old town struggled on, short of inhabitants and water.
In 1948 an airfield was built near the site of the present town and over the next decade the old town moved nearer to this new site. Except for the police station, which finally relocated in 1961, the old town was abandoned by 1954.
The new town of Halls Creek is one of the largest predominantly indigenous communities in Australia. It is a friendly, welcoming place and offers travellers an ideal stop on their journeys. The old town is worth a visit, nestled in spectacular country – a reminder that Halls Creek is the birthplace of Western Australia’s mining boom.
Halls Creek is also the northern end of the Canning Stock Route, which runs 1,850 km through the Great Sandy Desert until the southern end of the route at Wiluna.
The town functions as a support centre for remote cattle stations in the area and is also a major welfare hub for the local indigenous population.
Halls Creek is the administration centre for Halls Creek Shire Council.
The town was named after Charles Hall (accompanied by Ned Heffernan, Julius Anderson) who discovered payable gold in the area in 1885. Popular legend has it that the first find was a 28 ounce gold nugget which according to folk lore was found on Christmas Day – this sadly is untrue. Hall presented only 10oz of small nuggets and finings when he arrived at back in Derby.
Hall had been encouraged in his search for gold by the West Australian Government which in September 1872 the had decided to spur the search for gold by offering a reward. Traces had been reported from time to time and after the discovery of significant amounts of gold ore in the Eastern States it was hoped similar finds would be made in W.A.
A reward of five thousand pounds was offered to anyone finding payable gold that produced 10,000 ounces within two years of the discovery. Of course this gold had to pass through a customs point so that the Government could take the two shillings and sixpence levied as a gold tax.
Halls Creek moved 12 km west from its original location in 1949 because the new Great Northern Highway did not follow the route of the old Duncan Road. The town would have ended had it not moved to its current location.
Halls Creek was initially a gold mining town, named after prospector Charles Hall. In 1885, he and others in his prospecting party found the alluvial gold that led to the Kimberley gold rush, the first gold rush in Western Australia.
Today, some gold mining is still carried out by local prospectors; however, large-scale mining has ceased with the closure of the White Elvire River Mine.
Things to see:
Old Halls Creek
Today Old Halls Creek is nothing more than some remnants of buildings, some street signs, the ruins of the old mud brick Post Office, a recently built well to celebrate the discovery of gold in the area, a graveyard, and a modern restaurant.
The graveyard is not really of great historical importance. Perhaps the most famous grave is that of James ‘Jimmy’ Darcy who made the front page of most Australian newspapers in 1917 – no mean achievement given that the country was in the middle of the Great War.
The China Wall
The 15 km journey out to Old Halls Creek on the Duncan Road passes the town’s two major tourist attractions. A few kilometres out of town is a sign to the China Wall. 1.5 km off the road is a strange limestone formation which rises from a creek up over a small hill.
It is a natural formation of white quartz which does look like a small version of the famous Great Wall of China. The stream below is surrounded by trees and in the ‘green season’ it is an ideal location for swimming.
Further on is the Caroline Pool, another popular local swimming spot, which is reminiscent of the gorges along the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. The river comes between two cliffs and forms a deep pool in the gorge.
Wolfe Creek Crater
But it is the Wolfe Creek Crater and the Bungle Bungles which hold the most appeal. Neither is easy to get to. Wolfe Creek Crater is located 151 km south of the town on a less than perfect dirt road. Known to the Djaru Aborigines as Kandimalal it was named Wolf Crater after Robert Tennant Stowe Wolfe, a digger and storekeeper who lived in Halls Creek in the late 1880s.
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.
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 in Arizona) while others claim it as the fourth largest. Both these claims should be treated with considerable scepticism.
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 Wolf 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 Wolf 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 Wolf Creek is the second largest in the world, being exceeded in size only by the Arizona crater.’
Regardless of these counter-claims Wolf Crater, with a diameter of 853 metres and a depth of 61 metres it is still very big. 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. Accommodation is offered at nearby Carranya Station Camping Grounds which are 7 km from the crater.
If Wolfe Creek Crater is dramatic it is nothing in comparison to the Bungle Bungles which, if they weren’t so inaccessible, would certainly be one of Australia’s premier tourist attractions.
Known to the local Aborigines as Purnululu, the Bungle Bungles are located north east of Halls Creek (take the Great Northern Highway 109 km north from Halls Creek and turn east on the Spring Creek Track) on a road which is so bad that the RAC has this to say about it: ‘The distance from the highway to the Three-Ways intersection 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.’ Reaching the campsites involves further travelling for at least another hour.
The journey is still richly rewarded. The Bungle Bungles are one of the wonders of outback Australia. Formed over 350 million years ago the sandstone massif has the appearance of gigantic bell shaped rock towers with horizontal banding produced by layers of black lichens and orange silica.
The sandstone is so fine that it crumbles when touched. The area is a wonderland of Aboriginal art, huge gullies and dramatic caves like the spectacular Piccaninny Gorge – a 15 km, 8 hour walk from the road.
It is claimed that in the early years of white settlement of the Kimberley, when the brutal massacres of local Aborigines were at their height, that many Aborigines retreated to the safety of the Bungle Bungles climbing up to the plateau with notched tree trunks which they pulled up after themselves to prevent pursuit.