AUSTRALIA
2000


"After The Flood"

Mitchell Plateau, Western Australia

Mitchell Plateau, some 330 km west of Kununurru, is a popular Kimberley wildlife destination for bird-watchers, with approximately 220 species of birds and the spectacular Mitchell Falls. Most visitors arrive by air or4WD and stay for one day and night at the lodge. We were going further, using the Mitchell Plateau airstrip to access the Hunter River gorge a further 50 km to the west.

We were due to fly out of Kununurra Airport in a convoy of light aircraft but everyone was watching the fires burning in the scrub around the airport as we loaded the aircraft. The first leg of the flight, to the Mitchell Plateauu, was with Slingair Heliwork, WA, using three aircraft: Cessna 208 Grand Caravan and Cessna 207, with a smaller Cessna 210 for extra personnel. Even then, with 12 men and one woman, plus equipment and supplies for ten days, it was not possible to fit the entire expedition in on the first run. Alf Britton and Matt Seal would remain in Kununurra for one more night and follow with the remainder of the gear the following day.

 

Loading aircraft at Kununurra Airport with fires in background
Foreground: Slingair Cessna 208 Grand Caravan;
background: Cessna 210; right of picture: Cessna 207

 

The first part of the flight enabled us to see the extent of the fires raging below across a wide area.

Fires across a wide horizon

The three aircraft flew together enabling cameraman Des to film from the open door of the Cessna 207 and I was able to obtain some unique stills in the same way. The 207 landed first and Des filmed the other aircraft coming in to land at Mitchell Plateau.

The view of our flight from the cockpit window
Slingair Cessna 208 Grand Caravan (forground) and Cessna 210 (background)
photo from Slingair Cessna 207
Cessna 208 Grand Caravan circling to land at Mitchell Plateau
Mitchell Plateau airstrip from aloft
Cessna 208 Grand Caravan coming in to land

At Mitchell Plateau we unloaded the three aircraft ready for the second phase of the flight into the Hunter River gorge, by helicopter.

Unloading the Cessnas
at Mitchell Plateau
Des after the beer,
essential if rationed supplies
Bell 206 Jet Ranger and equipment
at Mitchell Plateau
Mitchell Plateau
left: Terry with his sound gear, centre: David with equipment; right: Heliworks pilot and Jet Ranger
Photo: Robert Pendlebury

While the unloading was going on it was possible to do a little rudimentary herping on the airstrip. Under an old tyre we found a group of Red treefrogs (Litoria rubella) and a Roth's treefrog (Litoria rothii) was found in some bushes. The Marbled frog (Limnodynastes convexisculus) was also found on the airstrip, as was a Bynoe's gecko (Heteronotia binoei) and several Kimberley robust two-lined dragons (Diporiphora bennettii) although they were difficult to see against the broken asphalt. More time and more attention would undoubtedly have revealed more species.

Red treefrog
Litoria rubella
Roth's treefrog
Litoria rothii
Marbled frog
Limnodynastes convexisculus
Binoe's gecko
Heteronotia binoei
Kimberley robust two-lined dragon
Diporiphora bennettii
can you see it? click to enlarge image
Kimberley robust two-lined dragon
Diporiphora bennettii

Slingair/Helliworks, WA keep helicopters on the Mitchell Plateau during the dry season. Our two Bell 206 Jet Rangers were waiting for us.

Two Heliworks Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopters at Mitchell Plateau
Bell 206 Jet Ranger taking off
Des filming from Bell 206 Jet Ranger
Taking off from Mitchell Plateau Keeping in communication with the pilot

 

Transferring the personnel, equipment and supplies to the Hunter River gorge, 50 km further west, would take most of the day with the helicopters shuttling back and forth. At the end of the day there were still supplies at Mitchell Plateau so Ben Tannock from CALM remained there overnight and flew in the folllowing day with Alf and Matt.