WA government ceases boat rides at Australian ‘natural wonder’

Horizontal Falls will soon phase out boat rides.

Horizontal Falls will soon phase out boat rides. Photo: AAP

Sir David Attenborough once called Western Australia’s Horizontal Falls “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”.

Soon, tourists won’t be able to traverse through the falls by boat.

Talbot Bay in the state’s Kimberly region is around 250km northeast of Broome. One of the most popular things to do there is to take a boat ride through the Horizontal Falls.

The falls are a natural phenomenon and the result of fast moving ocean water being pushed through sandstone rock structures lying close together.

For years, tour groups in boats have gone between the formation to the dismay of the traditional owners of Horizontal Falls.

Last year, the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation (DAC), which represents the Dambeemangaddee traditional owners, said they wanted to prevent boats from travelling through Horizontal Falls.

“Traditional owners would like to stress that closure only refers to vessels passing through the gaps,” a DAC spokesperson told the ABC.

“The decision follows a 12-month consultation process involving traditional owners, tour operators, DAC, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and Tourism WA, which was triggered by an incident in May 2022.”

horizontal falls boat accident

The falls are a major tourist attraction in WA.

Phase out

Last month, the WA government announced that traversing through  Horizontal Falls will be phased out by March 2028, saying doing it this way “strikes [a] balance between promoting tourism and protecting [the] environment”.

In response to the state’s Labor government phasing out boat tours, WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam promised she would overturn the decision if she is elected premier.

“In the interest of local tourism operators, the Kimberley business sector, the Broome community and the Western Australian public, help us overturn this nonsense decision,” she wrote on X.

The state government will work with traditional owners and industry operators to ensure new tourism experiences still showcase the natural wonder.

“This is a positive change that is based on mutual respect, understanding and a shared vision to showcase Western Australia’s cultural and natural values,” Environment Minister Reece Whitby said.

“This decision reflects the government’s dual responsibilities to respect the cultural views of traditional owners and the need to protect and support WA’s tourism industry.

“We want people to experience Indigenous culture as an essential, vibrant part of visiting jointly managed national and marine parks across Western Australia.”

According to the National Indigenous Times, the traditional owners have been concerned about the impact of tourism on the Horizontal Falls since the 1990s.

“Traditional owners culturally would travel through the gaps only for a specific purpose, and always at the right time (neap tides, smooth waters) to show our respect,” DAC chief executive officer, Cassandra McCumstie said.

“We’ve seen how country responds when people don’t respect its power.”

In 2022, more than 20 passengers were injured on a tourist boat, which ran into trouble at the tourist destination.

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