Located around 1,400 kilometers north of Perth, in the dry and tropical Pilbara region, Karijini National Park is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas of Australia. This land, also known as the Hamersley Range, is situated between the Fortescue River in the east, and the mining and pastoral leases to the north and west – Wittenoom was the closest town to the Park, but regarding health risks related to blue asbestos mining it was closed down in 1994. Newman, Tom Price and Paraburdoo are the nearest towns today, all commercially focused on iron ore mining. In fact, iron-rich rocks are found in such abundance that the Hamersley Range is one of the world’s major iron ore regions, accounting for around 95% of Australia’s production.
To conserve the cultural and natural integrity of Karijini, and protect its amazing landscapes from exploration and mining activities, Dales Gorge was the first area to be gazetted as National Park in 1969. Subsequent additions such as the Hamersley Gorge, excisions of land for mining, as well as rationalisation of boundaries with adjoining pastoral leases, have settled to Park’s surface to its current 627,444 hectares.
Karijini harbours an astounding diversity of landscapes, geological formations and ecosystems; spectacular gorges eroded out of ancient rock, the rolling landscape of the plateau they’re incised into, the ageless beauty of red earth, green spinifex and white trunks of snappy gums and bloodwoods.
The geological history of Karijini started between 2,700 and 2,500 million years ago, when volcanic activity deposited iron and silica-rich sediments on an ancient sea floor. Pressure transformed these sediments into banded iron formations, gradually turning them into hard bedrock. When sea levels dropped dramatically around 20 million years ago, fast flowing water carved spectacular gorges out of the bedrock in places where it was weakened by joints. These gorges are now the major attractions, with narrow chasms, sheer cliffs and dramatic waterfalls providing excellent bush walking in a dream world scenery; an activity we thoroughly enjoyed for more than a week.
As opposed to its geological history, Karijini’s landscape of sclerophyll forests and grasslands is much younger, created when the climate became increasingly dry around 2,5 million years ago. Human occupation is only a speck on this timeline, although mining and pastoral activities over the last century have left profound marks when most of the land was taken away from its traditional Aboriginal owners; the Banyjima, Kurrama and Yinhawangka aboriginal people, who lived in different parts of Karijini for more than 20,000 years. Although most people resettled in towns as Onslow, Karratha, Roebourne and Port Hedland, hundreds of kilometres away from their traditional country, the relationship with the land remains strong through law and tradition, leaving a responsibility and obligation with current and future generations to play a significant role in the cultural and environmental management of the park. To underpin this bond, we therefore are all greeted at the entrance of the visitor centre by the Banyjima phrase:
“Wirlankarra yanama. Yurlu nyinku mirda yurndarirda.”
(Go with a clear, open and accepting spirit, and the country will not treat you badly)