Friday, 21 November 2014

Kandimalal - The Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater, Western Australia

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Whilst travelling in Australia recently I had the chance in to visit Wolfe Creek Crater in Western Australia. I've known about this spectacular impact scar for years, having read about it in a 'Wonders of the World' book as a child. I've always been surprised by its relative lack of fame compared to its bigger brother - meteor crater in Arizona. However this changed in 2005 when Wolfe Creek was featured in a horror film of the same name. The Australian Tourist board claims that the movie has made this a popular tourist destination but we were there for 6 hours and we didn't see another person.

Wolfe Creek is the second largest visible meteor crater on earth and is well worth the 45km drive down a dirt road from the town of Halls Creek. This part of Australia is so vast, and still relatively unexplored, that it wasn't until 1947 that Wolfe Creek was spotted in an aerial survey.

Satellite image (Cnes/Astrium)

The crater is approximately 880 metres in diameter and 60 metres from rim to crater floor (naturally it was far deeper in the past). It's estimated that the impact occurred 300,000 years ago by a 100,000 tonne meteorite travelling of speeds 15kms a second (40 times faster than a speeding bullet). 

Clouds build over the crater

At the crater’s center, the ground rises slightly, and includes gypsum - responsible for the craters white centre, visible in the aerial images, and home to some surprisingly large trees. The trees likely draw moisture from the crater’s water reserves that remain after summer rains.

Kandimalal in Aboriginal Dreaming Stories

The local Djaru (Jaru) Aboriginal people refer to the crater as Kandimalal. There are multiple Dreaming stories about the formation of the crater. One such story describes the crater's round shape being formed by the passage of a rainbow snake out of the earth, while another snake formed the nearby Sturt Creek. 

Aboriginal art depicting the formation of Kandimalal (read more about these images here)

"A big star fell and made Kandimalal (the Crater). We call that star kiki in our language. There was a Rainbow Serpent traveling inside the ground and it came out from the crater. That snake was traveling underground. He came out right in the center of the crater. That’s where the water comes from in the middle of the crater. It comes from Sturt Creek. Sometimes, you can see that snake. In the wet season you can see him. He appears like a big light in the middle of the water. That rainbow — big snake, water snake. The name of the snake is Kalpurtu." - Boxer Milner, Billiluna 

Satellite image (Cnes/Astrium)

Another story, as told Aboriginal Elders Jack Jugarie, and Stan Brumby, is that one day the crescent moon and the evening star passed very close to each other. The evening star became so hot that it fell to the ground, causing an enormous explosion and flash, followed by a dust cloud. This frightened the people and a long time passed before they ventured near the crater to see what had happened. When they finally went there, they realised that this was the site where the evening star had fallen to the Earth. The Djaru people then named the place "Kandimalal" and it is prominent in art from the region.

 Walking on the rim

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