The first signs of human habitation of the East Kimberley are estimated to be 40 – 60,000 years old – home to the Miriuwung Gajerrong people.
1879 was the first time that a European began to explore the potential of this part of Australia.
Alexander Forrest’s glowing report of approximately 10 million hectares of fertile land created great interest, especially among Eastern Cattlemen, who at the time were constantly seeking new well watered pastures on which to settle. Their treks, sometimes amounting to journeys of up to 5,600km’s across the trackless north with vast mobs of cattle, have become epics of Australian history.
Among these were the Duracks, Buchanans, and Osmonds who took up to three and a half years to complete their journey’s, and who suffered severe hardship to reach this land and to lay the foundations of what were to become the cattle empires of the Kimberley.
The damming of the Ord River was first contemplated in 1939 by Kimberley Durack and work commenced on the project twenty years later by building the Diversion Dam in Kununurra.
In 1941, the Western Australian Government established a small experimental farm on the Ord while its engineers investigated possible dam sites upstream. In 1945, this farm was abandoned and the Kimberley research station was established on Ivanhoe Plain – part of the 13 000 hectare now irrigated from the Diversion Dam.
By 1958 the WA government was convinced of the viability of an irrigation scheme on the Ord. The federal government agreed to share the cost of the first stage of the project and this was completed in 1963 at a cost of $20 million. By 1966, 31 farms had been allocated.
The second stage was construction of the Ord River Dam to provide a major storage reservoir called Lake Argyle at a cost of $22 million, this was officially opened June 1972 and Lake Argyle was filled to storage volume by January 1974.