Caution: This website may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Kimberley was one of the last regions where European people settled in Australia. Its rugged landscape and extreme weather conditions made it a difficult place to survive. Sheep and cattle were introduced from the 1800s and despite causing conflict between Indigenous people and settlers, agriculture remains important in the Kimberley. Today, some stations are owned and run by Aboriginal people on their traditional lands.
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SheepEuropean settlers began moving sheep and cattle into the region in the late 1800s. Sheep were the main stock raised in the Kimberley in the early 1900s. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Herbert Basedow, 1916.
As more settlers and stock arrived, conflict arose with the local Aboriginal people, who had lived in the area for thousands of years. Cattle and sheep damaged sacred sites and Aboriginal people were denied access to water supplies. Animals traditionally hunted by Aboriginal people became scarce and they were forced to kill sheep and cattle, for which they were then punished. White settlers killed many Aboriginal people and removed others from their land in chains, sending them to jails or missions.
Noonkanbah homestead (pictured), now a ruin, was once at the centre of one of the largest sheep stations in Australia. Today, it is owned by the traditional owners of the land, the Yungngora people. Running stations provides jobs for Aboriginal people and helps them preserve their land and heritage. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
EmploymentOver time, more Aboriginal people began working for the settlers. This 1916 photo shows husband and wife Whistle and Nellie helping to transport supplies from Derby to Kimberley Downs station. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Herbert Basedow.
Drovers with Emanuel Shorthorn cattle at Myall's Bore, Derby, about 1960. National Museum of Australia. Initially, the only way for many Aboriginal people to stay on their land was to work as stockmen for very little pay. Over time they gained a reputation as being some of the best stockmen in the Kimberley.
CattleCattle were introduced to the Kimberley in the 1880s and are now the main livestock raised in the Kimberley. The Canning Stock Route was established in the Kimberley in the early 1900s to move cattle from Halls Creek in the east to markets in the south. It was hoped that ticks infecting the cattle would die during the long desert journey. The stock route passed through many sites significant to local Aboriginal people. Photo: Jason McCarthy.