HMAS Paluma surveys the Kimberley

Published on LEUT Peter Locke (author), ABHSO Jessica Van Der Kolk (photographer)

Location(s): Jar Island, WA

Topic(s): HMAS Mermaid (A02), HMAS Paluma (A01)

An example of the Bradshaw artwork on Jar Island in Vansittart Bay, thought to be many thousands of years old. (photo: ABHSO Jessica Van Der Kolk)
An example of the Bradshaw artwork on Jar Island in Vansittart Bay, thought to be many thousands of years old.

On Sunday, the crew of HMA Ships Paluma and Mermaid celebrated Easter Sunday at anchor off Jar Island, Vansittart Bay, Western Australia.

It has been nearly 195 years since CMDR Phillip Parker King, RN, and His Britannic Majesty’s Cutter Mermaid first surveyed and documented Vansittart Bay and its surrounding coastline.

Vansittart Bay is located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and is an expansive bay that stretches in excess of 25 nautical miles from one end to the other and is up to six nautical miles wide in places. Vansittart Bay is flanked by pristine smaller bays with sandy white beaches on its western shoreline and Island groups scattered on its eastern shoreline.

Today, Vansittart Bay is home to a number of large pearl farm operations and is a popular eco-tourist stopover for yachties and cruise ships alike.

Vansittart Bay, and in particular Jar Island, attracts tourists from all over the globe for the abundance of quality Bradshaw artworks that are etched into alcoves and cave walls across the Island. CMDR King aptly named the Island after the shards of pottery he discovered there, most likely left behind by Macassan (Malay) traders. Other remnants of visits to the region by Macassans are the tamarind trees scattered across the escarpment. The tamarind tree is not native to the Kimberley.

Prior to commencing shore based survey operations in Vansittart Bay, Paluma embarked Aboriginal elders from the Kimberley’s Wunambal Gaambera people. The elders were able to identify sacred and significant cultural sites within the Vansittart Bay survey area and to showcase first hand the beauty and history of their land and its people. This was a significant achievement for Paluma and the crew thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the elders during their stay onboard, and in doing so, demonstrated Navy’s signature behaviour of ‘strengthening relationships across and beyond Navy’.

Paluma’s ship’s company made the most of the Easter Sunday opportunity and trekked across to Jar Island to discover the many and varied sights that the island has to offer. Whilst exploring the island, the crew found a natural horizon pool to cool off in after trekking in the searing Kimberley heat.

“It was an amazing experience; I think we only scratched the surface during our exploration of the island. I am looking forward to getting back there later on in the trip to see and do more,” Able Seaman Hydrographic Systems Operator Jess Van Der Kolk said.

All those that participated in the trek agreed that it was an incredible experience and definitely worth the effort.

Paluma, a Cairns based Survey Motor Launch, has spent the past two weeks transiting to and operating in Vansittart Bay, conducting survey operations in the approaches to the expansive Bay. The survey is being conducted in support of the safe navigation of coastal shipping and to assist in surveillance and patrol operations.

Since arriving in the area, the survey has required the establishment of tidal and geodetic infrastructure and the collection and processing of multi-beam echo sounder bathymetry (depth data). The collection of this important data in Vansittart Bay by both Paluma and Mermaid will continue for the next seven weeks.

Commanding Officer HMAS Paluma, Lieutenant Peter Locke, discusses the survey area with locals and tourists at McGowens Island Landing prior to meeting with Wunambal Gaambera elders from Kalumburu.

Commanding Officer HMAS Paluma, Lieutenant Peter Locke, discusses the survey area with locals and tourists at McGowens Island Landing prior to meeting with Wunambal Gaambera elders from Kalumburu.