Voyage Log: Art of the Kimberley & Tiwi

Darwin to Darwin   |  2 September 2022 – 11 September 2022

This trip diary was compiled by Guest Lecturer: Mike Donaldson

Jump To: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 |  Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 |   Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10 |  Photo Gallery


Day 1: Departing Darwin

2 September 2022

Passengers boarded the Coral Adventurer around 8:30 am after all testing negative to Covid-19 on RAT tests. We departed Darwin’s Fort Hill Wharf at 9 am under blue skies bound for the King George River on the northern Kimberley coast, some 500 km away across Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. A safety briefing was followed by an introduction to the cruise by Expedition Leader Asha and also an introduction to the crew by Purser Zac.

Guest Lecturer Mike Donaldson gave a presentation on A brief history of the Kimberley that covered Aboriginal arrival, Macassan and European seaborne visitation as well as land–based exploration, pastoral expansion and the Kimberley gold rush of 1885.

At 6 pm we enjoyed complimentary drinks with Captain Miles on the Bridge Deck.



Day 2: King George River

3 September 2022

Artist Brian Robinson gave a presentation of his distinctive Torres Strait Islander style art works, followed by a talk on the Geological evolution of the Kimberley by Mike Donaldson. The Coral Adventurer anchored in Koolama Bay at the mouth of the King George River before lunch.

In the afternoon we cruised up the spectacular sea gorge of the river in the Explorer. Mike pointed out the rock stratification in the Warton Sandstone and cross-bedding that indicates the current direction about 1800 million years ago. Several groups explored the cliff line on Zodiacs.



Day 3: Swift Bay & Wollaston Bay

4 September 2022

Artist Brian gave a basic drawing lesson in the morning before we visited an art site in Swift Bay with a large Wanjina figure and several other motifs including some chunky devil figures or Argulas as well as hand stencils.

In the afternoon we saw more Wanjina art and a striped animal that may be a portrayal of an extinct thylacine at nearby Wollaston Bay. We decamped to a great sandy beach nearby on Winyalkin Island for a memorable BBQ of prawns, kangaroo, and fish with great salads, beer and wine – all done by the ship’s great chefs.



Day 4: Bigge Island & Careening Bay

5 September 2022

We arrived early at Wary Bay on the north-west corner of Bigge island to see fresh turtle tracks on the beach. Some great Wanjina or Kaiara figures are painted on the vertical rock surfaces in front of narrow caves just above high water level.

Mike showed some photos taken in 1996 of a small Wanjina on an internal wall – the Wanjina is now almost totally worn away, presumably by visitors rubbing against it. Similar deterioration was shown in a painting of probable early Dutch sailors – very sad to see such loss in just 26 years.

In the afternoon we visited Careening Bay where Philip Parker King careened his ship HMC Mermaid in 1820, marking a huge Boab with the ship’s name.



Day 5: Lumbarni Island and Porosus Creek

6 September 2022

This morning we visited a Wanjina art site on Lumbarni Island, located in a small low cave just behind the beach. Fresh turtle tracks and sand crab patterns were conspicuous on the beach.

In the afternoon we cruised into the Hunter River and explored Porosus Creek in Zodiacs. Two tall rock outcrops at the mouth of the Hunter are said to be Wanjinas that were turned to stone. A saltwater crocodile and some dolphins were early sightings, and a large Grey Nurse Shark swam around the ship. In some of the small tributaries we saw abundant fiddler crabs and mud skippers as well as Azure Kingfishers and a Brahminy Kite. Mangroves lined the muddy

In the afternoon Brian ran a lino cut course so that the artists works from the previous session could be converted into prints.



Day 6: Vansittart Bay – Jalandal Island & Jar Island

7 September 2022

This morning after an early breakfast we went on the Explorer to the Jalandal art site in Vansittart Bay. A fine collection of Wanjinas is painted on the ceiling of this extensive cave, but Mike was the only one to get down and dirty to photograph the figures lying on his back. As well as Wanjinas there are turtles and a U-shaped motif that Mike identified as a stingray liver – a prized food item for the early inhabitants. Two Tassel Gwions are painted on a vertical surface beside the large Wanjina cave.

After brunch on the Vista Deck, Mike gave a presentation illustrating the diversity of rock art across Australia.

On nearby Jar Island there is a well-preserved painting of a Dalal Gwion or Clothes Peg Figure with missing pigment in the body, forearms and waist. It appears to overlie two hand stencils. Some Tassel Gwions are less-well preserved, and Asha kindly took photos of fish and an echidna in a low overhang for some of the less agile guests.



Day 7: Berkeley River

8 September 2022

After another early breakfast we cruised up the Berkeley River sea gorge in the Explorer. We didn’t see any crocodiles, but we did see some small dolphins cruising down the estuary. The flat-topped Mount Casuarina was an iconic backdrop behind the river. Very healthy-looking mangroves line the river and a Brahminy Kite was spotted high up above the cliffs.

In the afternoon, Brian led his second linocut session, printing the results of the earlier linocut production. Very impressive results from the amateur artists!

A diversion up Casuarina Creek took us to a delightful amphitheater with an almost dry waterfall behind an unusual small round island covered in mangroves. A private launch moored under the waterfall delighted us with a tiny little dog named Colonel.



Day 8: Tiwi Islands

9 September 2022

We cruised overnight to the Tiwi Islands and in the morning Mike gave a presentation of the very diverse rock art styles across Australia. After lunch we departed for Wurrumiyanga, Bathurst Island, in the Explorer and visited the museum, Tiwi Design art centre, and the historic old church.



Day 9: Tiwi Islands

10 September 2022

We cruised around the western side of Bathurst Island overnight and moored in Apsley Straight that separates that island from the larger Melville Island. After breakfast we visited the Munupi Art Centre in Pirlangimpi on the western side of Melville Island.

The art centre is painted with murals of traditional art, as was the Tiwi Design building on Bathurst Island, and there were exotic-shaped poles ready to paint on display. Several Coral Adventurer passengers took away wonderful paintings done in the classic Tiwi Islands style.


Day 10: Darwin

11 September 2022

After a spectacular sunrise over Darwin and a scrumptious breakfast, Coral Adventurer docked alongside Darwin Wharf at 8 am and we disembarked soon after to be delivered to city hotels or the airport. A great cruise!