Derby - A staging Post

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August 29th 2013
Published: August 29th 2013
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Some destinations are a major attraction in them selves, but Derby historically has been a staging post and a cultural melting pot.

I guess the town is most famous (along with this part of the Kimberley) for its Boab or Bottle Trees. Yet even these wonders of nature have a significant place in Derby History. As trees go, they are a mid height deciduous tree with a bottle like trunk. However, they do not burn, live long lives and have hollow centres which become home to many creatures including snakes. Its thought that the Prison Boab tree is about 1000 years old.

They are also a wonderful shade tree when in full leaf giving relief from the midday sun.

But these same trees have been used also as prison cells for Aboriginal People from the West Kimberley as far as Fitzroy Crossing. Many aboriginal men appear to have been enslaved and brought to Derby to work as divers on the oyster beds of the pearling industry. These men, in iron were held in the hollow of the boab trees overnight. It is also thought that Jandamara, an Aboriginal Resistance fighter may have been held in the 'Prison Boab Tree' about 5 miles east of Derby. This tree was the last stop for those being brought to Derby to face court.

The aboriginal people here also ascribe great powers to some of the Boab trees, life changing power in fact.

Not far from the Prison Boab Tree is a number of huge termite mounds. We have been fascinated by these as we travel as they range in colour and size. Early farmers gauged the soil types by the colour of the mounds. Anyone with a camera and imagination can see all sorts of shapes including the Grim Reaper in the shapes. The termite mounds here at Derby are huge, some more like a haystack. The Grim Reaper is associated with these mounds as some of the tribes people have been buried in the mounds, and it is reported that given a short space of time, the termites have sealed off the grave as the departed used this as their staging post to the next life.

Marg and I visited the local Aboriginal Cultural Centre where there is an excellent and thought provoking video of these people. As a visitor, I have little knowledge of the full history of these three tribes now centred in Derby. Successive governments have moved these people out of their tribal lands in a south westerly direction, and the last move brought them al to the outskirts of Derby. They have had various missions live and work with them, and what is noticeable, despite their dislocation from their home lands, they hold little animosity. In fact, here we have been able to chat to locals quite openly and have received a courteous and interesting response.

The tribal beliefs of this group is that all life has its origin being created by their god Wandjina, a spirit god that is like a friend and person who guides and protects, supplies their needs etc. It is easy to see how those missions found a lot of commonality with these three tribes, and Marg and I felt that same something special that we are a people under God who does care and provide. Their paintings of Wandjina mostly have three faces or figures along side each other. This represented the blessing given to the three tribes who worshiped Wandjina.

Derby is famous for its tidal movements, the seventh greatest in the world. The four of us plus two other ex Brisbane friends, Kevin and Elaine, that we met up with here, had an early fathers day dinner at the jetty, timed for sunset. David and Mary came here 3 years ago and saw one of the best sunsets ever. We might have missed that, but enjoyed our meal anyway. From the restaurant we watched the tide come in - a bustling swirling mess with the water dark with churned up sand.

Unless you want to make Derby your staging post for the next life, then don't come swim here with the hidden salty crocs! The only safe place to swim here is the town swimming pool.

Many travellers use Derby as the staging point for a journey up the Gibb River Road. While the first 100ks or so is sealed, the balance of the journey is really suited for off road type 4WD vehicles. We did drive 5 ks down to the aboriginal centre, so I guess we can say we have driven on the Gibb River Road. However, I don't think we qualify for the T-shirt!

We have enjoyed a feathered visitor to our site - Percy the white peacock. Most hansom, eats from your hand, and put on a magnificent mating dance to try and woo a peewee. Must find a peacock shrink for Percy.

From Derby we are heading to Fitzroy Crossing and north, or is it east. The sunrise and sunset times keep changing at the moment and then of course, we will change time zones as we cross into the NT.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


The modern photographerThe modern photographer
The modern photographer

(sacrilege to use that title)
Boab treeBoab tree
Boab tree

Derby. Old and hollow yet alive
Boab fruitBoab fruit
Boab fruit

Source of food and medicine to the aboriginals. Also carved.
Decorated Boab FruitDecorated Boab Fruit
Decorated Boab Fruit

Soft and light weight.
Termite moundTermite mound
Termite mound

These are created by a grass eating termite.
The prison Boab TreeThe prison Boab Tree
The prison Boab Tree

Where Jandamarra was thought to have been held on his way to court in derby.
The grim reaper?The grim reaper?
The grim reaper?

Not the biggest in the area, but about 1.8 mtrs high.

This one pumped water into a large drinking trough (largest in the world apparently) for cattle as their last staging post before being shipped out.

29th August 2013

Hi. Do they still have the restaurant along the wharf/dock in Derby? Had a wonderful seafood meal there 5 years ago.
29th August 2013

Derby Jetty
Yes, nothing has changed here since the jetty was rebuilt a little. Good food and a good spot for sunsets on the right day. Cheers Rob
29th August 2013

Fascinating area--Derby
I really enjoyed your narrative about this area, especially the boab trees. The pictures brought them to life. Australia certainly has a lot of unique flora and fauna. Also enjoyed the lovely white peacock. Always reminds me of a bride.
31st August 2013

Derby shots
Interesting group of photos and good commentary to match.
6th September 2013

Where we hope to go soon
Margaret, We have it planned to leave Saturday 21/9 with another couple we travel a lot with. We plan to drive up north/west Qld. into NT up to Darwin, down the centre visiting Kings Canyon, Uluru, Alice,etc. then down into Adelaide. Depending on if we want to get home in a hurry we will drive up through Broken Hill OR we may go home via the Great Ocean Road. Gwen, our friend, has to have cancer treatment three weekly so we have it planned to have one lot in Darwin the other in Adelaide. She is getting over an eye operation at the moment and we are waiting to see if it was successful - she had it on the 12th August and needs to have the Oncologist to OK her going. Advised us on the 20th it is looking good. Here's hoping we can get away with them. I am enjoying your writings and photos. You are having a great time. Love Carol
6th September 2013

Expecting to leave Darwin 21 sept
Can you give us approx. dates for Darwin. We are slowly heading north, at Kununurra tonight, move to Lake Argyle Monday. We are going to Darwin and thing we will then be heading east from 21 Sept. Will have a small water repair in Darwin, so this might change by a day or so. Then to Jabiru, and Tenant Creek. Return may be via The Alice, or if we need to hurry, through NW QLD. Cheers Rob

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