Kununurra, Western Australia

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Western Australia
Kununurra from lookout.jpg
Kununurra in summer from Hidden Valley National Park lookout
Australia Western Australia location map.svg
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Location in Western Australia
Coordinates 15°46′25″S128°44′19″E / 15.77361°S 128.73861°E / -15.77361; 128.73861 Coordinates: 15°46′25″S128°44′19″E / 15.77361°S 128.73861°E / -15.77361; 128.73861
Population5,308 (2016 census) [1]
Postcode(s) 6743
Elevation47 m (154 ft)
  • 3,214 km (1,997 mi) from Perth
  • 834 km (518 mi) from Darwin
LGA(s) Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley
State electorate(s) Kimberley
Federal Division(s) Durack
Mean max tempMean min tempAnnual rainfall
35.0 °C
95 °F
21.6 °C
71 °F
790.7 mm
31.1 in

Kununurra is a town in far northern Western Australia located at the eastern extremity of the Kimberley approximately 45 kilometres (28 mi) from the border with the Northern Territory. Kununurra was initiated to service the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.


Kununurra is the largest town in Western Australia north of Broome, with the closest town being Wyndham, 100 kilometres (62 mi) away. Kununurra is 3,040 kilometres (1,889 mi) from Perth via the Great Northern Highway.

The town is situated in among the scenic hills and ranges of the far north-east Kimberley region, having an abundance of fresh water, conserved by the Ord River Diversion dam and the main Ord River Dam.

The tropical agriculture crops grown in the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) have changed over the years. Tourism and mining have also become important to the local economy.


Kununurra has a transient population; if itinerant residents, the outlying farm areas and communities were included in census population figures, it is estimated numbers would have exceeded 7,000 for 2006, as opposed to the actual figure of 5,619. [2] An influx in the dry season (From April to September) of tourists and itinerant farm workers can push up the population to around 10,000. [2]

Indian Sandalwood plantations at Kununurra Sandelholzplantagen Kununurra.JPG
Indian Sandalwood plantations at Kununurra

Key farm activities include the growing of melons, mangoes and until recently, sugar cane. Farmers are now turning to a more lucrative (though longer term) crop of Indian sandalwood. [3] Other crops that have been grown in the Ord are cotton, safflower and rice, which is being trialled once again, having been the first crop planted on the Pilot Farm in 1960. The town has a melon picking season, which attracts migratory farm workers to the area. There is also a thriving tourism industry with most tourist operators capitalising on the scenery of the Ord River, Lake Argyle, Diversion Dam and other local locations, including the relatively nearby Bungle Bungle Range.


Ord river crossing prior to building of the Diversion Dam in 1961-63 Ord River 1961 EW Digby-10.jpg
Ord river crossing prior to building of the Diversion Dam in 1961–63
Bandicoot Bar, Ord river before construction of dam started Ord River EW Digby-12.jpg
Bandicoot Bar, Ord river before construction of dam started
Construction of the Ord river diversion dam Ord River 1962 EW Digby-13.jpg
Construction of the Ord river diversion dam

The history of the idea of agriculture on the Ord River dates from the 19th Century. On the first pastoral lease map (held by WA State Records Office) for the area dated 1887, it shows the northern bank between Wyndham and Kununurra, near House Roof Hill was held as a "Concession for Sugar Cane Planting," although it was never taken up. The idea of tropical agriculture on the Ord was discussed much from the earliest dates, but the land remained under pastoral lease until 1960. Kununurra was built on land resumed from Ivanhoe Station pastoral lease before 1961, [4] as the town for the Ord River Irrigation Area which started as the Ord River Project or Ord Scheme, with survey work starting in 1959. Lake Kununurra is the flooded section of the Ord River valley that was formerly known as Carlton Reach, which was at times a ten kilometre long waterhole held back by the natural rock barrier known as Bandicoot Bar. At this site in 1959 drilling and blasting marked the start of construction of the Ord River Diversion Dam, which is anchored down onto the Bandicoot Bar. This dam with twenty radial flood gates was almost completed when visited by the Queen and Prince Philip in March 1963, then later completed and officially opened by then Prime Minister, (Sir) Robert Menzies on 20 July 1963 when he said that Kununurra and the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) is "..the most exciting place in Australia".

As well as the town site some ORIA farmers live on their farms; however the initial idea of the Ord Scheme was for "closer settlement" to allow farmers the convenience of living in the town and since the start of the first Pilot Farm in 1960 most farmers in the valley had lived in the town. However, many people now live on their irrigation farms. Other agricultural and residential localities exist within a 50 km radius of the town, including various Aboriginal Communities, Crossing Falls, the Riverfarm Road and Packsaddle farm areas, and the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture, formerly known as the Kimberley Research Station (KRS). KRS started in 1945 from the original Carlton Reach Research Station, set up by Kimberley Michael Durack with help from his brother William Aiden Durack in 1941, and support from the WA Department of Agriculture and the WA Public Works Department, being the first serious attempt at tropical agriculture on the banks of the Ord River. It was also in 1941 that (later Sir) Russell Dumas inspected the Ord gorges for dam sites on behalf of the Public Works Department.

The scheme involved damming the Ord River by building the Ord River diversion dam so that the waters could be conserved and directed to irrigate about 750 square kilometres (290 sq mi) of land. By 1966, there were 31 farms on the Ord River plains. In 1968 the second stage of the scheme was started with the building of the Ord River Dam (or Ord River Main Dam), known locally as "Top Dam," which holds back the waters of Lake Argyle.

Flooding of the Ord River continued until completion of the Main Ord River Dam situated 55 km upstream from Kununurra, which was started in 1968, and officially opened on 30 June 1972, with support from WA Premier John Tonkin, by then Prime Minister William McMahon, when he said "This marks the beginning of Ord Stage II (Two)." The Ord River Dam flooded the land of the Argyle Downs station, the home station of the pioneering Durack family, to form what has become known as Lake Argyle. Stone work from the original Argyle Downs homestead, was removed before Lake Argyle filled and was re-erected near the dam site to become the Argyle Downs Homestead Museum. The Museum had been run by Tourism WA but was taken on by the Kununurra Visitor Centre during 2010.

The second stage of the Ord Project still has not been fully developed but new work is underway. In May 2010, with major funding from the Federal Government, the extension of the main channel construction got underway under the Moonamang Joint Venture and images of this as well as historic archive images of the Ord Scheme can be seen on the Kununurra Historical Society website from the external link below.

Kununurra post office opened on 1 September 1960. [5]


According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 5,308 people in Kununurra.


The name Kununurra is derived from the English pronunciation of the word Goonoonoorrang (alternatively Gananoorrang) which in the Miriwoong language means 'river'. It is a widespread myth [6] that it means '(Meeting of) Big Waters' or 'Big River'. [7] One also finds accounts of the name of Kununurra which state that it was the Miriwoong name for this part of the Ord River, which makes sense in that the Ord River runs for hundreds of kilometres coming from the south near Hall's Creek. It is stated to be likely that other parts of the Ord River were known by other Aboriginal language names, by the various tribal language group areas, over which the river traverses.

A 1943 soil classification had named the volcanic clay known locally as "blacksoil", being the predominant soil type of the irrigation area, as "Cununurra Clay" and "Cununurra" was put forward as a possible name, among others in 1960. The General Post Office (GPO) representative from WA on the Nomenclature Committee, objected saying that Cununurra was too close in name to the town of Cunnamulla and that could cause postal confusion. A compromise was reached and "K" was used with an argument having been put forward that this would bring it into line with other East Kimberley placenames, such as Kalumburu, and Karunjie. The name was only finally decided just days before the newest town of the Kimberley region, being gazetted on 10 February 1961. [8]


The landscape surrounding Kununurra includes features such as Valentine Spring, Black Rock Creek and Middle Springs along with many other waterfalls and swimming holes. Popular fishing spots include Ivanhoe Crossing, The Diversion Dam, Buttons Crossing, and various locations along the Dunham and Ord Rivers.

The town is located close to the confluence of the Ord and the Dunham River. Lake Argyle, Australia's largest artificial lake, over 100 square kilometres (39 sq mi) in size, is 72 km by road from the town, being held back by the main Ord River Dam.

The town lies within the Ord Irrigation Area Important Bird Area (IBA), so identified by BirdLife International because of its importance for wild birds, especially estrildid finches. [9]


Like other areas in the tropics of Western Australia, Kununurra experiences a semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSh) with distinct wet and dry seasons; it borders closely on the tropical savanna climate (Aw). The average annual rainfall is around 800 mm.

The dry season from April to September is the most popular time to visit: heat and humidity are lower, and road and park accessibility at their best. In the town's 53 years of weather records, rainfall of over 5mm has never been recorded in August, with most Augusts being completely rainless.

The build-up season from October to December is characterised by high heat and humidity. The oppressive conditions of the build-up often give way to spectacular electrical storms, along with dramatic lightning displays over the rugged Kimberley landscape. Such storms however bring little rain, and the lightning will often start bushfires in the surrounding scrub.

The summer monsoon period between January and March often causes accessibility issues, and the closure of many roads and national parks, due to heavy rain. Days are overcast and hot; heavy downpours are a frequent occurrence.

Climate data for Kununurra (1965−1986)
Record high °C (°F)43.9
Average high °C (°F)36.4
Average low °C (°F)25.2
Record low °C (°F)19.6
Average rainfall mm (inches)196.6
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2mm)14.814.810.
Average relative humidity (%)60655740353330313137435143
Source: [10]
Climate data for Kununurra Aero (1991−2020)
Record high °C (°F)43.1
Average high °C (°F)35.9
Average low °C (°F)25.1
Record low °C (°F)18.8
Average rainfall mm (inches)209.2
Average rainy days15.715.
Average relative humidity (%)60645237302824232932405339
Source: [11]
East Kimberley Regional Airport East Kimberley Regional Airport airside east view.jpg
East Kimberley Regional Airport

Kununurra has a Celebrity Tree Park with many trees planted by famous people including Rolf Harris, and more recently Baz Luhrmann, after the majority of the filming for his film Australia was conducted just outside Kununurra. The town has many local attractions, including waterfalls, gorges and ranges. It was voted the second best town to live in Australia for outdoor adventure by Outdoor Australia magazine in the March/April 2007 edition.[ citation needed ]

Old airport terminal Kununurra airport.jpg
Old airport terminal

Nicole Kidman feels that area water helped her get pregnant while filming in this town stating, "Seven babies were conceived out of this film and only one was a boy. There is something up there in the Kununurra water because we all went swimming in the waterfalls, so we can call it the fertility waters now." [12]


Since 1980 Kununurra has been the base of the Kimberley Echo founded by the late James O'Kenny and Brian Cole. Radio station 6WR broadcasts across the Kimberley area from Kununurra on 693 AM, 101.1 FM, 101.3 FM, 102.1 FM, and 104.3 FM. 6WR also streams live online, and is available via the 'VAST' service to remote and blackspot areas of Australia on the Optus C1 satellite. Reach Beyond Australia [13] broadcasts via shortwave from Kununurra between 9.7 and 15.3 MHz with evening releases in English and many Asian languages.


The new Kununurra Courthouse, which includes a magistrate and a jury courtroom, was opened on 26 October 2014. It was designed by TAG Architects and Iredale Pedersen Hook Architects. The paintings of the Aboriginal artists from Miriwoong country were included in the design of the building. [14]


East Kimberley College has a student population of just over 900 ranging from kindergarten to year 12. [15] St Joseph's Primary School and Ngalangangpum School are two Catholic schools. There is limited tertiary education available via a Western Australia North Regional Technical and further education (TAFE) campus.


Kununurra District Hospital houses 32 beds and a 10-bed aged care facility. [16] There are dental practices in the town.


The Kununurra Leisure Centre is a multi-purpose, community recreation facility catering for a wide range of sports, recreation activities and social functions. It includes a 25-metre pool.

Kununurra Neighbourhood House is a not-for-profit family support service providing emotional and practical support to individuals and families and preventing isolation through the development of support groups, networks, education, and information. Kununurra Neighbourhood House is open to the community between 8 am and 1 pm Monday to Friday. [17]

Kununurra Youth Hub currently run by Save the Children provides youth services to the community between 8 am and 5 pm daily. [18]


East Kimberley Regional Airport, commonly referred to as Kununurra Airport, is located 3.7 km (2.3 mi) west of the town centre. Heavy wet seasons often result in this area being cut off from essential outside services and deliveries. The airport is a crucial piece of infrastructure which enables people and goods to enter or leave from the region and especially supports tourism and economic development.

See also

Related Research Articles

Kimberley (Western Australia) Region in Western Australia

The Kimberley is the northernmost of the nine regions of Western Australia. It is bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea, on the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami deserts in the region of the Pilbara, and on the east by the Northern Territory.

Victoria Highway

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Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle is Western Australia's largest and Australia's second largest freshwater man-made reservoir by volume. The reservoir is part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme and is located near the East Kimberley town of Kununurra. The lake flooded large parts of the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley on the Kimberley Plateau about 80 kilometres (50 mi) inland from the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, close to the border with the Northern Territory.

Ord River River in Kimberley region of Western Australia

The Ord River is a 651-kilometre long (405 mi) river in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The river's catchment covers 55,100 square kilometres (21,274 sq mi).

Wyndham, Western Australia Town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia

Wyndham is the northernmost town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, located on the Great Northern Highway, 2,210 kilometres (1,373 mi) northeast of Perth. It was established in 1886 to service a new goldfield at Halls Creek, and it is now a port and service centre for the east Kimberley with a population of 780. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 54% of the population. Wyndham comprises two areas - the original town site at Wyndham Port situated on Cambridge Gulf, and 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) by road to the south, the Three Mile area with the residential and shopping area for the port, also founded in 1886. Wyndham is part of the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley.

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Ord River Hydro Power Station is a hydroelectric power station on the Ord River in Western Australia. It has four turbines, with a generating capacity of 30 megawatts (40,000 hp) of electricity.

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Cambridge Gulf is a gulf on the north coast of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Many rivers flow into the gulf, including the Ord River, Pentecost River, Durack River, King River and the Forrest River, making the environment an estuarine one.

Lake Kununurra

Lake Kununurra is a freshwater man-made reservoir located in the Ord River valley. The lake was formed in 1963 by the construction of the Ord Diversion Dam in Kununurra, northern Western Australia, which was built to supply water to the Ord River Irrigation Area. Prior to the diversion dam construction a natural permanent waterhole held back by the Bandicoot Bar was known as "Carlton Reach", which was reputed to be the largest waterhole in the Kimberley.

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Ord River Floodplain

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Argyle Downs Pastoral lease in Western Australia

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Ivanhoe Station Pastoral lease in Western Australia

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Ord Irrigation Area Important Bird Area

The Ord Irrigation Area Important Bird Area is an area of land used for irrigated agriculture along the Ord River in the vicinity of the town of Kununurra in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. It has been identified by BirdLife International as a 220 km2 Important Bird Area (IBA) for its significance for birds, especially estrildid finches.

Carlton Hill Station Pastoral lease in Western Australia

Carlton Hill Station is a pastoral lease and cattle station located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Situated approximately 39 kilometres (24 mi) to the north-west of Kununurra and 44 kilometres (27 mi) east of Wyndham, the station covers an area of 3,675 square kilometres (1,419 sq mi).

Main Roads Western Australia controls the major roads in the state's Kimberley region. Great Northern Highway is the major road connection through the region, with sealed roads spurring off it to connect to population centres, and unsealed roads offering an alternative route between Derby and Wyndham.

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  1. 1 2 Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Kununurra (State Suburb)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 8 December 2019. OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg Material was copied from this source, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
  2. 1 2 "Transient Population of Kununurra - Kimberley History". Kununurra.org.au. 12 February 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  3. "Scent of success in sandalwood farms". The Australian. 17 November 2007.
  4. "1961 Townsite Proclamation - Kimberley History". Kununurra.org.au. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  5. Premier Postal History, Post Office List , retrieved 21 January 2016
  6. "Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 February 2016. Retrieved 25 May 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Gunanurang: (Kununurra) big river" (PDF). Department of Environment and Conservation. East Perth, W.A.: Waters and Rivers Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
  8. "1959 Naming Kununurra - Kimberley History". Kununurra.org.au. 24 February 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  9. "IBA: Ord Irrigation Area". Birdata. Birds Australia. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  10. "Kununurra". Climate statistics for Australian locations. Bureau of Meteorology. January 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  11. "Kununurra Aero - Climate statistics for Australian locations" . Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  12. "Kidman hails fertile waterfalls". BBC NEWS. 24 September 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
  13. https://www.reachbeyond.org.au/
  14. "Local rules: New Kununurra Courthouse". ArchitectureAU. Architecture Media Pty Ltd. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  15. https://www.det.wa.edu.au/schoolsonline/student_trends.do?schoolID=4123&pageID=SP03
  16. "Kununurra Hospital". Western Australian Department of Health. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  17. "Kununurra Neighbourhood House". Kununurra Neighbourhood House. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  18. "Kununurra Youth Hub". Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley. Retrieved 20 May 2019.