Bandaralngarri is named for bandiran, the silver leaf paperbark that traces the 730km course of the river. From the river's headwaters at Thalalngi (Dimond Gorge) to the vast floodplains of King Sound near Derby, this soft, pale barked tree is the river’s constant companion. What is remarkable about Bandaralngarri, is the magnitude of its physical transformation across the seasons.
In the heavy rains of bulurru (monsoon) Bandaralngarri widens out across the floodplains, soaking the dry parched lands and revitalising Country. The land is green, life flourishes everywhere and drinking water abounds. This is the time for us to travel and begin the harvest of our animals and plants.
Over the long, cool dry, the river drops away to a mere reflection of the raging torrent it was just a few months earlier. As the flow abates, permanent pools of water fed by deep springs and subterranean aquifers are soon revealed. It is these watering holes that provide a vital life source for Country during the build-up to the big rains of bulurru.
The catchment area of Bandaralngarri covers 93,829km², more than 20% of the entire Kimberley region. The average wet season flow of the river is 9,798 gigalitres. To put that into perspective 1 gigalitre is enough to fill Perth's Optus Stadium. The biggest year ever recorded was during the wet season of 2010 - 2011 when 27,523 gigalitres passed through the river in 3 months.
Bandaralngarri is considered one of Australia’s most significant rivers. It has been altered little by human intervention and is thought to be one of Australia’s last great wilderness regions. The river is home to 35 species of fish, 18 of which are endemic to this waterway. Bandaralngarri provides one of the last refuges to the critically endangered galwanyi (freshwater sawfish) and is pivotal to the survival of many other threatened species including the Purple Crowned Fairy Wren, Gouldian Finch, Northern Quoll, Freshwater Whipray, Northern River Shark and the Freshwater Crocodile.
For tens of thousands of years Bandaralngarri has sustained generations of Bunuba people and our neighbours. The prized balga (barramundi) draws fishermen from far and wide, and beneath the surface prospers a smorgasbord of jarrambah (cheriban), bambarri (mussels), janggurru (short-necked turtle), mulurru (catfish) and walnga (black bream).
Recognised for its cultural and biodiversity values, Bandaralngarri was included on Australia’s National Heritage List in 2011 as an iconic feature of the West Kimberley region. Visitors today can either access the river at Danggu or bask at the top of its headwaters at Thalalngi (Dimond Gorge).
Title image: Danggu (Steve Heggie)