Excavations revealing 40,000 years of occupation at Mimbi Caves, south central Kimberley, Western Australia

Jane Balme


Mimbi is the name given by Gooniyandi people to a place about 90km east of Fitzroy Crossing in the southern Kimberley. Its western boundary is defined by the Emanuel Range and the eastern boundary by Lawford Range. Both of these ranges are composed of Devonian limestone. Caves have formed within the limestone and in some, perennial water pools are present. The width between the ranges varies between two and five kilometres. It is a relatively flat area of savanna woodland with many ephemeral creeks draining the ranges.

The Gooniyandi people are the traditional owners of the Mimbi area for whom it has great significance because it is associated with an important creation story about the marroowa or lunkura (Blue Tongue lizard). It is also important because of the obvious physical evidence in the form of rock paintings and campsites of their long occupation of the area and because of the oral and physical evidence of occupation of some of the caves by their ancestors who avoided police and pastoralists in the early twentieth century.

For some time now anthropologist, Sandy Toussaint has been recording and mapping Indigenous stories at Mimbi at the request of senior custodians, brother and sister Morgal and Neville Sharpe. While passing through the area in 1996 Sandy Toussaint and I discussed with members of the Mimbi community the possibility of extending this work to include archaeological evidence. People were especially interested in antiquity of Aboriginal occupation of the area but also in finding physical evidence of their people's past activities. The archaeological work began in 1998 with these aims and with the aim of documenting the various influences on occupation patterns in the past. The work was carried out in collaboration with the Mimbi community and bearing in mind their interests in a developing cultural tourism project. As part of this research test pits were excavated in two caves during 1999. This paper reports on the preliminary findings of these excavations.

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