Kimberley Time – Issue 85

With Chris Matthews

If you’ve ever been there, you’ll understand the special feeling that I have for this place called the Kimberley

James Blundell quite possibly put it best in his seminal song ‘Kimberley Moon’, all the way back in 1989. The same year the Berlin Wall fell, Bob Hawke admitted his infidelity and cried openly on national television, and the first Internet connection arrived in Australia. But up in the rugged North West of Australia one of the remotest, most isolated parts of the world, these events probably had little, if any, effect on the people who call this place home.

Bordered by Broome on the West Coast of WA, and roughly defined by following the Great Northern Highway east through the towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, and then  north to Wyndham and Kununurra, it’s a huge place. Three times the size of England, or twice the size of Victoria. Only around 35,000 people (or mob, as we call them up here) live in this region. This mob live in some of the hottest towns on Earth, and deal with a landscape that doesn’t care about their efforts to tame it. A 6 hour drive to visit a mate is considered “just a quick run down the road”. It’s a place so different from anywhere else, it seems like a completely different country at times. But it is uniquely, and could only be, Australia.

And musically, just like the weather, it’s a hot bed of activity. The Kimberley, despite its tiny population, produces some of the finest songwriters in the country and inspires some of our great artists to write absolute classics of the country genre.  Just listen to Colin Buchanan’s ‘Edge of the Kimberley,’ Willo’s ‘Prettiest Girl in the Kimberley’ or Neil Murray’s ‘Good Light In Broome’ and you’ll know what I’m talking about. It also has some incredible festivals and events throughout the year that showcase its inimitable character.

The biggest, and in my humble opinion, the best, is the Kimberley Moon Experience. Held in May on the banks of the mighty Ord River, this year featured The McClymonts and Luke O’Shea alongside Jimmy Barnes and Daryl Braithwaite. In the past few years, Troy Cassar-Daley, Adam Harvey, Kasey Chambers, Paul Kelly, The Waifs and James Blundell have all graced the stage, along with local talent like Peter Brandy and the Pigram Brothers (I could include myself here but shameless self-promotion only gets you so far!)  The Moon, as we call it up here, has won so many awards in WA – including best Regional Event 3 years in a row – but rightfully so. Get yourself along, and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

In July, up in Wyndham (the hottest town in the world with a population of only 800), the Stars On The Bastion Festival takes place 300 metres up in the air on top of the Five Rivers Lookout. This event has seen Kaylee Bell, Angus Gill, Sara Storer and the Sunny Cowgirls rip up a balmy dry season evening in one of the most spectacular settings imaginable. – all with a limited release of only 350 tickets.

May in Broome Town sees the annual Kimberley Country Music Festival take place, with a huge line up of original Kimberley musicians and bands.

And even in the remote central Kimberley, outside of the towns and centres, you’ll find music happening in some weird and wonderful places. Out at El Questro Station, down the Gibb River Rd from Kununurra, you’ll find music happening pretty much every night during the dry season. I may be biased about this place, as I’ve been the resident muso out here for nigh on 11 years, but it’s a pretty remarkable spot. El Questro isn’t just a place for high rollers with a yen for outback luxury, as many are led to believe – it caters for everyone from the humble backpacker, to the caravan set, to families with kids and everything in between. There’s something darn satisfying about sitting around a campfire, stars blazing overhead, surrounded by mob kicking back and listening to tunes and having a yarn about their day exploring the Kimberley.

Head further down the Gibb to Home Valley Station and you’ll usually find Corey Colum singing up a storm most nights a week, and often find him joined by Celeste Clabburn from the Sunny Cowgirls on what seems to be her yearly sojourn up to this part of the world.

Travel a bit further, and down at Annie’s Bar at Drysdale River Station, there’ll be a mob sitting around the campfire with a guitar trading songs and reciting bush poetry – ‘Turbulence’ from the legend Murray Hartin seems to be a popular one round these traps!

There’s music everywhere you go, and in particular, it’s the local songwriters who sing the country up the best. The Pigram Brothers from the saltwater country of Broome, sounding like no one but themselves – I challenge you to listen to ‘Under A Mango Tree’ or ‘Jiir’ and not feel like you’ve been whisked away to somewhere else. Patrick Davies from Fitzroy Crossing, singing about the ‘Rocky Old Road’, couldn’t have come from anywhere else but up here. Mention the name Peter Brandy to anyone in this neck of the woods and watch them smile – His albums Kimberley Backroads and Long Time Ago deserve a place in every record collection. Check out Harry Jakamarra, whom Gareth has written about in Country in the Convict Capital column. These artists are the soundtrack of “The Kimberley”. They grew up here, their sound is defined by their makings, and that’s what real country music is all about.

Ask Troy Cassar-Daley about this place, and he’ll tell you his soul is recharged every time he comes here. Luke O’Shea’s last album Caught Up In The Dreaming, nominated for 2017 Album of the Year, was inspired by his travels through this landscape. Have a yarn to Adam Harvey, Bill Chambers, Greg Storer, Kevin Bennett…Heck, even that fella who lives 3 doors down the road from your place and worked on a station up here when he was younger, and you’ll see. It’s changed them in ways they can’t quite define but they know it’s become a part of who they are and what they do. Once you’ve been to the Kimberley, you’re never quite the same again. It’s that sort of place – indefinable, indescribable and unforgettable. Big words for a big place.

Get yourself up here, – there’s music to be discovered around every corner, behind every boab tree, and hidden in the cracks and crevices of fiery red gorge walls. All you have to do is listen.