Facts and Figures

(the things I knew I'd forget)

Tours are booked through the Kununurra Visitor Centre

Photographs of a number of items mentioned in this section can be found in the Picture Gallery section of the Web page.

The Area

  • The Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley covers an area of 121,000 square kilometers and comprises two towns.
  • Wyndham was gazetted as a town in 1886.
  • Kununurra was gazetted as a town in 1961.
  • Today the population of Kununurra is about 6500, Wyndham about 700 and the total Shire just under 8000.
  • The Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA or Ord Stage 1)) 14,400 ha was developed in 1962.
  • ORD Stage 2 comprising nearly 13,800 ha, jointly funded by State and Federal money has/is being developed by Shanghai Zhongfu and the MG Corporation. This is an ongoing development which will see the entire Stage 2 area, including the Knox Creek Plains eventually fully developed
  • The town of Kununurra was at first to be named Cununurra, the name of the predominant soil type in the Irrigation area, Cununurra Clay, but objection from the postal authorities forced a name change to Kununurra. The postal authorities claimed their staff would confuse Cununurra with Cunnamulla in south Queensland. (I thought postcodes were to sort that out).

The River, Dam and our Water

  • Before any of the Dams were constructed the Ord River had been measured to flow at a peak of up to one and a half million cubic feet per minute (this roughly equates to metropolitan Sydney’s daily water consumption passing by in about 22 seconds).
  • Diversion Dam constructed between 1959 and 1962 and contains the waters of Lake Kununurra (90 gigalitres)
  • Main Ord Dam constructed between 1969 and 1972 and contains the waters of Lake Argyle (11,000 gigalitres)
    Diversion Dam comprises 20 radial arm gates each about 15 metres wide and 13 metres high and weighing 96 tonnes.
  • 15 tonnes of water per second escapes for each 100mm that each gate is raised.
    Approximately 63% of the stored water is wasted to the ocean to “maintain” the “wetland” that has been developed by the damming of the Ord River.
  • Currently only 225 gigalitres of the roughly 11,000 gigalitres of water stored in Lake Argyle is allocated for irrigation.
  • Volume of water in Lake Kununurra (Diversion Dam) is roughly 90 million cubic metres.
  • Volume of water in Lake Argyle (Main Ord Dam) is roughly 11,000 million cubic metres.
  • We could drain Lake Kununurra (Diversion Dam) and refill it from Lake Argyle once a week and never run out of water.
  • The annual Kununurra rainfall is about 800 mm which falls during the “wet” season usually between December and March.
  • In the year 2000 we received nearly double our annual rainfall (1480 mm) In that year Lake Argyle was at one stage overflowing the spillway by about 9.8 metres.
  • After the high rainfall of the wet season 2000 Lake Argyle overflowed for the whole year until the next wet season (all of 2001).

Agriculture and Crops

  • In general, the growing season in the Ord River Irrigation Area is between about late March and early October as this coincides with the “dry” season.
  • Crops such as mangos, bananas and sandalwood do grow all year round but access to the paddocks is limited during the “wet” season as 90% of the paddocks are a deep black clay soil known as Cununurra clay.
  • The first commercial crop grown in Kununurra was cotton which was grown between 1963 and 1974.
  • Towards the end of the cotton growing era farmers were spraying cotton nearly every 3 days or up to 40 times per growing season.
  • Before cotton, and after growing of cotton ceased, peanuts and rice were 2 crops grown commercially.
  • Magpie Geese in huge numbers were a major cause for the ending of rice as a commercial crop.
  • Magpie Geese estimated at transiting the airport at a rate of 80,000 per hour caused MacRobertson Miller Airlines to alter their flight schedule so that sunrise and sunset arrival times were avoided due to magpie geese conflicting with aircraft.
  • After cotton failed many crops were tried but it was lean times and much heartache for farmers until other viable crops were established.
  • At this time the population of Kununurra dropped from 1800 to about 1200 in a short number of weeks.
  • Cucurbits (the family name of crops such as rock melon, watermelon, champagne melon, honeydew melon, pumpkin, butternut pumpkin, zucchini, squash etc) were established as being a viable crop and until recently up to about 4000-5000 ha produced such crops valued at $35m per year
  • Another crop on importance in the Irrigation Area is hybrid seed. The main producer, Pacific Seeds based in Toowoomba grows on about 850 ha but contract growers produce seed on a total of about 1600 ha. Because of the growing environment, Kununurra is able to grow seed “out of season” so that Pacific Seeds is able to meet seed requirements of farmers in the Eastern States. Seed production is usually about 70% sorghum (grown for stock feed seed), 20% maize or corn and 10% sunflower but these ratios vary according to requirements. Small quantities of other hybrids are also grown on request. Hybrid seed production involves the planting of a small number of rows of a male seed, a larger number of a female seed and after pollination and as the female plant is reaching maturity, the male plant is totally removed and the seed harvested from only the female.
  • Sandalwood plantations cover nearly 7000 ha of land in the ORIA. Two main commercial plantations operate (Santannol Australia and Quintis) as well as a smaller privately owned (still commercial) plantation.
  • Sandalwood is used to manufacture incense, joss sticks, small furniture, wood carving, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries and in the production of the essential oil that finds a use in the perfume industry.
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album) is a hemi-parasite and due to the poorly developed root system must be grown in close proximity to another plant to utilise the host plant root system
  • All trees (Sandalwood, Sesbania and Cathormium from the nurseries are planted by hand, and in fact the plantations are weeded by hand until the trees are about 5 months old when the canopy of the 2nd host (Sesbania) is of sufficient height and density to help with weed control. All the trees are planed at a rate of about 550 trees per hectare.
  • The primary host known as the pot host (a herbaceous plant Alternanthera nana) is grown in the same pot as the sandalwood.
  • The secondary host is a tree Sesbania Formosa.
  • The tertiary or final host is either Cathormium umbellatum, Cassia siamea or Dalbergia sissoo (Indian Rosewood)
  • (When first planting of sandalwood took place some years ago the tertiary host was the semi hardwood tree African mahogany. This tree grew with such vigor that today African mahogany trees are not used as hosts, but are in fact being grown for timber. Already African Mahogany trees 17 years old have been harvested and sent to China. This is most unusual as plantation timber for woodchip usually takes 8-10 years before harvest, pine for building purposes 12-15 and hardwoods anything from 30 years onwards before the trees are mature enough for harvesting. The growth in the ORIA under irrigation leads to this early maturity.)
  • Sandalwood is harvested at about year 15.
  • At harvest time the entire tree is removed as some of the heartwood is contained in the root system.
  • At harvest each Sandalwood tree produces about 28 kg of heartwood which yields about ¾ litre of Sandalwood Oil.
  • The heartwood today has a value of about $215,000.00 per tonne.
  • Sandalwood oil is worth about $6,500 per litre.
  • At harvest each sandalwood tree will be valued at roughly $6,500.00.
  • Farmers produce chickpea from about 350 ha.
  • About 200,000 mango trees are currently in production.
  • Mangos from the ORIA are sent to markets around Australia.
  • Sugar was grown at least experimentally since the Kimberley Research Station (now the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture) was established in the late 1940’s
  • Commercial sugar production commenced when CSR built and opened the sugar mill on Weaber Plain Road in 1995 but ceased in 2007 after being owned briefly by Korean Company Cheil Jedang

We pride ourselves on making certain that you, our visitor, leaves the area wanting to return for another look

Tour Guide ~ Keith Wright

Meet Your Tour Guide ~ Keith Wright

Keith has lived and worked in the area since 1969.

He knows the tour areas intimately and has vast experience in the Wyndham, Kununurra and the NT areas.

Our organisation is small enough to be able to create a tour to fit your requirements, but large enough to provide the service you expect to give you a great tour.

Keith Wright

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