A unique subterranean tour in the heart of the Kimberley reveals the secrets of an ancient limestone reef.

Story + Photos Nathan Dyer

On a still August afternoon in the Kimberley, gum leaf smoke hangs in the air at Mimbi Caves. Fanning the flames of a campfire, surrounded by a small group of tourists, is Harrison Skinner. 

As the pile of green leaves crackles with the heat, the Gooniyandi tour guide invites his guests to pass through the smoke to be introduced to the custodial spirits of the land. 

Located 90km east of Fitzroy Crossing, and part of a 350-million-year-old Devonian Reef system that spreads across the central Kimberley, Mimbi Caves is of international archaeological and geological significance. Along with animal bones, including the long-extinct thylacine, and ancient campfire remains, scientists have discovered a plethora of evidence proving ongoing human occupation here. Handmade beads, woven rope, bark-wrapped shellfish and bone tools suggest people have called this place home for at least 40,000 years. 

With the smoking ceremony complete, Harrison ushers his guests along a narrow, rocky path, deep into the reef system’s network of towering limestone karsts, which rise above like the orange and grey ruins of some ancient temple complex. Which, in a way, they are. These ramparts, and the catacombs beneath, are deeply significant to the Gooniyandi people.

This story excerpt is from Issue #148

Outback Magazine: April/May 2023