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November - Bungle Bungle Ranges

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Bungle Bungle Ranges, Click to view a larger image

One of the most spectacular landforms on earth - the Bungle Bungle range in Purnululu National Park - has been named the eleventh Western Australian Heritage Icon.

Premier Geoff Gallop said the range was selected in recognition of its key Indigenous heritage, as well as environmental and geological importance to WA. Purnululu National Park is the traditional home of the 'river people' whose languages included Kija, Jaru, Malngin and Miriuwung.

The Bungle Bungle Range is one of the most fascinating geological landmarks in Western Australia. From an aircraft, the Bungle Bungles are an imposing sight. The orange and black stripes across the beehive-like mounds, encased in a skin of silica and algae, are clearly visible as you approach from the south. As you sweep further over the range a hidden world of gorges and pools is revealed, with fan palms clinging precariously to walls and crevices in the rocks.

Although Aboriginal people extensively used the Bungle Bungle Range during the wet season, when plant and animal life was abundant, few Europeans knew of its existence until the mid-1980s. The area has been a national park since 1987 and its unique appearance has captured the public imagination. The park offers a remote wilderness experience.

In the Kija Aboriginal language, purnululu means sandstone. The name Bungle Bungle comes either from the corruption of an Aboriginal name for the area, or from a misspelling of one of the common Kimberley grasses found here, bundle bundle grass.

The Bungle Bungle Range rises up to 578 metres above sea level. The range stands 200 to 300 metres above a woodland and grass-covered plain, with steep cliffs on the western face. Elsewhere, particularly where Piccaninny Creek has formed Piccaninny Gorge, the range is cut by deep gullies and breaks up into complex areas of ridges and domes, with prominent orange and black or grey bands.

The distinctive beehive-shaped landforms seen today have been produced by uplift and erosion during the last 20 million years. Contrary to its solid appearance, the sandstone is extremely fragile. The weight of overlying rock holds the sand grains in place, but when this is removed, the sandstones are easily eroded and the rounded tops reflect this lack of internal strength. Water flowing over the surface will exploit any weaknesses or irregularities in the rock, such as cracks or joints, and rapidly erodes the narrow channels that separate the towers.

Walking in the Bungle Bungle Ranges, Click to view a larger image

One of the most obvious features of the sandstones is the alternating orange and black or grey banding. The darker bands are on the more permeable layers of rock (which means water is able to move through them with relative ease). They allow moisture to seep through to the rock surface, promoting a dark algal growth.

The less permeable layers in between are covered with a patina of iron and manganese staining, creating the orange bands. These outer coatings (the rock beneath is a whitish colour) help to protect the lower parts of the towers from erosion.

While the geology of the Bungle Bungle is indeed significant, the area's cultural and ecological importance should not be forgotten. The area is rich in Aboriginal art and there are also many burial sites. The Warmun Aboriginal Camp was re-established in the area several years ago and the Aboriginal traditional owners make a valuable contribution to the management of the park. The Department of Conservation and Land Management has responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the park. More than 130 bird species are the park's most visible animals, including rainbow bee-eaters and flocks of budgerigars. The nailtail wallaby and euro live around the massif, while the short-eared rock-wallaby and euro are thought to live on top. Several species of rare animals also occur in the park. Purnululu attracts visitors for a whole range of reasons.

The Bungle Bungle joins a list of other important WA icons named this year - the Swan River, Fremantle Harbour, Kings Park, Albany Anzac Dawn Service, Rottnest Island, Broome Pearls, Ningaloo, the Western Derby, the Royal Show, and Kalgoorlie Gold.