Kimberley Expedition Overview
In 2017 I completed an amazing 6 week expedition in the remote Kimberley region of northwest Australia. For much of the time I had no food, no water and the nearest help was hundreds of kilometres away.
Why on earth would I want to be in such a remote place? Well that’s the same question two German aviators asked themselves when they ran out of fuel there in their seaplane 85 years ago. They tried their best to survive, which included making a raft from their seaplane floats and trying to trek out overland, but after 6 weeks they were unable to make their own way out to safety and luckily were rescued, on the brink of death, by Aboriginal people.
I’ve been interested in this story since I was a kid because I wondered if I was in that situation could I have survived. So with all the survival skills I learnt up to this point in my life I put them to the test to see if I could get out with the same materials that the aviators had.
I entered an untouched part of the Kimberley with permission from the local Balanggarra Aboriginal people whose relatives found the aviators and were instrumental and heroic in bringing about their rescue. They were very interested to see how I would go because they knew how tough and remote the country is. The Aboriginal Elders have generously reviewed my footage for release. They needed to ensure I hadn’t accidentally filmed any sacred areas. Thank you Balanggarra people of the northern Kimberley for allowing me onto your precious land.
Because it was a private expedition I didn’t have funds to buy a replica seaplane or charter a vessel to deliver me to the site where the seaplane was stranded. It’s hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town. I therefore welded up my own replica seaplane floats from old 44gal drums (thanks Steve), threw bush logs across the top to make a catamaran and attached an outboard engine to motor me 200km around to Seaplane Bay (named after the aviators).
Once in location I made the raft ready for sailing, sailed along the coast surviving solely on bush tucker, and trekked inland to the now abandoned Pago Mission, the closest civilisation to the aviators back in 1932. I then trekked and hitched (it was first road I came across after 350km of coastline and bush) on to Kalumburu Township to find people and eat some shop tucker! Man it tasted good!!!!!! That ended the survival phase of my journey. I had a brief rest and met with an Aboriginal relative of the original rescuers, Matthew Waina, who kindly recounted stories of the rescue told to him by his relatives. These accounts still exactly match those of the aviators after 85 years, a testament to the accuracy of Aboriginal oral history.
I then managed to hitch a small boat ride some of the way back to the raft (thanks Donny!) and scored an opportunistic helicopter ride (the chopper was out there supporting a team of academic Aboriginal art/archeological researchers) which dropped me right back on the coast next to the raft (thanks Nick that saved my aching feet mate!). I had experienced significant engine problems throughout the journey in, so that, combined with a poor weather forecast meant I motored the raft further around to Kalumburu instead of back-tracking all the way to Wyndham. The Kalumburu Mission Museum has put the raft on display to the public (thanks Bob!). My other stuff, like clothes and tools, were donated to the Wyndham Museum (thanks Chris!). All up I sailed, motor and trekked about 450km.
I lived solely on bush tucker and found my own water for a bit over two weeks during the survival phase of the expedition. And yes, there were lots of crocs (I captured many on video including from my drones) and a few sharks, the seas were big and I bobbed about unprotected on my makeshift raft for much of it. It’s not what you’d call a ‘glamping’ trip.
In order to make it as realistic as possible, I only took items that were available to the aviators. I replicated their clothing and equipment as mentioned in their book about the ordeal, ‘Flight Into Hell’, written by the pilot, Hans Bertram. This included items such as antique linen fishing line, bath robes that they sewed together to make a sail and old tools that they would have had in their aircraft tool kit.
I want to emphasis that I did not re-enact their story, only their starting conditions to see if I can make it out using my own bush skills and ideas. I certainly didn’t make fun of their attempt either. I think they did an excellent job with what they had.