The town of Kununurra lies on the border between West Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT) in Australia. When crossing this internal border coming from Darwin, NT there is a checkpoint which serves to prevent the spread of disease that affect agriculture. No fruits or honey products are allowed to bring into Western Australia. Although I was aware of that fact, I did board the bus to Kununurra with three apples and two oranges. The driver mentioned the impending control further down the road and – with a touch of Aussie humour – he added, that we had five hours to eat all our fruit. So I did and probably ended that day with an overdose of vitamin C. Mum would have been proud of me.
Once arrived in the backpacker place (YHA) in Kununurra, I was pleasantly surprised about the much better atmosphere than in Darwin. The Kununurra YHA was fully booked and the common area, the pool and the kitchen were bustling full of people. Why does a small town like Kununurra have two backpacker places fully booked? Well – Australia introduced a Working Holiday Visa a couple of years back. This allows some travellers to work legally for a limited time.
Most of these seasonal workers go for fruit picking jobs, which explains why the local hostels are fully booked: The area around Kununurra is prime farming land and most backpackers stay for a couple of weeks or even months to earn money. This Australian system of granting such visas seems to have only positive aspects for everyone: The government still controls migration (and now gets taxes from these workers).
The farmers find much needed helping hands quicker (and probably cheaper). And backpackers can work legally to earn money needed to continue their trip. This is a huge improvement over the situation I encountered ten years ago, when lots of travellers would have to resort to black market jobs – often abusively underpaid.
As for the town itself, it features Mirima National Park, a sunset spot on a hill and the Celebrity Garden along lake. Further a field lies the dam of Lake Argyle which holds 15 – 22 times (depending on the source of information) the water volume of Sydney Harbour. The lake is impressive and a beautiful view. No wonder, there are cruise ships that run through this scenic area. Aside of the beauty, the building of the dam was crucial to the development of the whole area around Kununurra (also known as Ord River area). Without lake Argyle, there would not be enough water to supply the agricultural needs around here.
Another lesser known fact of Kununurra are the diamond mines near town. The “Argyle Diamond Mine” is producing around 25% of the global diamonds and thus the biggest player on the field. Among all the Jackaroo’s I encountered in Kununurra, I also met one – Matt – who was formerly working in the Argyle Diamond Mines. He outlined to me – over flat white – the various differences in diamonds. The colour ranges between “white”, “champagne”, “yellow” and “pink”.
In fact, the legend of Argyle pink diamond has grown over the past ten years. At a 1989 Christie’s auction in New York a 3,14 carat Argyle pink diamond sold for US$1,510,000. As if it was for security reasons, there is little to no information about the diamond mines in Kununurra. There is no public access road. Organised tours are heavily security checked (and so are the miners who work in two week shifts, then have one week off) at the mine airstrip. Rumour has it in Kununurra, that the mines need to expand under this airstrip, which seems to hold more of this precious mineral.