Halls Creek - Culture and History

Halls Creek (including the Bungle Bungles and Wolfe Creek Crater)
Fascinating outback town which is now two separate townships


Halls Creek is not the town it used to be. This is true both literally and metaphorically as, in 1948, the town was physically removed from its original site to its present location. Thus, like so many towns in the Kimberley, there are two Halls Creeks. In 1948 the town began its movement from Old Halls Creek (15 km away) to the present site. This process continued until the old township was finally abandoned in 1954. The reasons for the change of location were a combination of lack of water (people in the town still marvel at how the old timers managed to survive at the old settlement) and a re–routing of the main Derby-Kununurra Road to avoid winding through the hills around the old town.

The town's movement was vital for its survival. It had come into existence as a gold mining town and with the gold now gone it was nothing more than a service centre for the surrounding pastoral holdings and the traffic which moved along the highway. If it did not move with the highway then its survival was in jeopardy.

The area was first explored by Alexander Forrest in 1879. Forrest reported on the pastoral potential of the area but it was his brother John Forrest, then the WA Surveyor-General, who, while surveying the area, noted that it 'bore distinct indications of gold'. Two men, Adam Johns and Phil Saunders, passed through the East Kimberley shortly afterwards but they found only a few ounces. But Forrest had created real interest and in 1885 Charlie Hall (after whom the town is named) and Jack Slattery sailed up the coast to Derby and travelled up the Fitzroy River before cutting across country to the Elvire River. They struck gold virtually everywhere they went and by the time they returned to Derby they were carrying over 200 ounces of gold. The goldrush was on. Gold had been discovered on 14 July 1885 and within weeks miners from as far away as New Zealand and the eastern states were pouring into the region. It was the first discovery of payable gold in Western Australia. The towns of Wyndham and Derby boomed as, in the space of two years, over 10 000 men passed through the ports. Men walked across the continent from Queensland. But the gold was short–lived. Transportation problems, a harsh and inhospitable environment, and the discovery of gold at Coolgardie reduced Halls Creek to a near ghost town by 1888.

Today Old Halls Creek is nothing more than some remnants of buildings, some street signs, the ruins of the old mud brick Post Office, a recently built well to celebrate the discovery of gold in the area, a graveyard, and a modern restaurant.

The graveyard is not really of great historical importance. Perhaps the most famous grave is that of James 'Jimmy' Darcy who made the front page of most Australian newspapers in 1917 - no mean achievement given that the country was in the middle of the Great War.

Darcy was a stockman at Ruby Plains Station 75 km south of Halls Creek. He was mustering cattle when he fell from his horse and was seriously injured. When his friends found him they took him by buggy to Halls Creek (the journey took 12 hours) but there was neither a doctor nor a hospital in the town. The local postmaster had enough medical knowledge to realise that Darcy needed immediate medical attention. He telegraphed both Wyndham and Derby but the doctors from both towns were on holidays. He then telegraphed Perth and, using only morse code, a Dr J. Holland diagnosed Darcy as having a ruptured bladder. He had to be operated on immediately. Messages flashed back and forth in morse code.

'You must operate.' 'But I have no instruments.' 'You have a penknife and razor.' 'What about drugs?' 'Use permanganate of potash.' 'But I can't do it.' 'You must.' 'I might kill the man.' 'If you don't hurry, the patient will die first.'

Tuckett strapped Darcy to the table and began operating according to instructions he received by telegraph. The operation took seven hours - with no anaesthetic. A day later complications set in. It became obvious that a doctor would have to come to Halls Creek. In the meantime Darcy's dilemma had caught the imagination of the Australian public who followed the progress of the saga with insatiable interest.

Dr Holland took a cattle boat from Perth to Derby and then travelled the last 555 km by T-model Ford, horse and sulky and foot. He finally arrived in Halls Creek only to find that Darcy had died the day before. It was this event which inspired Rev John Flynn to establish the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Darcy had not died in vain. His plight had focussed the entire nation on the problems of medical services in isolated areas and out of it grew Flynn's unique experiment in outback medicine.

Many of the graves in the Old Hall's Creek cemetery are quite recent dating from the 1940s and 1950s. One grave however records the death of a man who, in 1909, died of thirst in the Tanami Desert. It is grim reminder that life in the outback is a constant battle with the elements. As the town's information directory puts it: 'The Kimberley in itself is not inherently dangerous. But an even greater degree than the sea is unforgiving of carelessness, ignorance and impatience.'

It was south of Halls Creek that the two teenagers James Annetts and Simon Amos disappeared from Sturt Creek and Nicholson Stations in 1986 only to be found dead in the Great Sandy Desert. The area is still unforgiving to those who make even the slightest mistakes.

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