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Purnululu National Park, Halls Creek, WA, Australia

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List World Heritage List
Class Natural
Legal Status Declared property (02/07/2003)
Place ID 105128
Place File No 5/09/211/0004
Statement of Significance
Purnululu National Park has outstanding universal natural and cultural values.
 
The landscape has exceptional natural values. Twenty million years of weathering has produced the eroded sandstone towers and banded beehive structures of the Bungle Bungle Range. Dark bands, formed by cyanobacteria, winding horizontally around the domes, contrast with the lighter sandstone. The crusts, which help stabilise and protect the ancient and fragile sandstone towers, are present on a massive scale.
 
Purnululu sits between the hot dry deserts of Western Australia's arid zone to the south and the better watered monsoonal areas to the north. This transitional zone possesses unique natural and cultural values. A rich mixture of species, some of them endemic, on the edge of their ranges are found here, as is a remarkably diverse range of spinifex species — the spiny grass genus (Triodia spp) that dominates Australia's arid zone. The cyanobacterial (single cell photosynthetic organisms) bands crossing the rock surfaces of the Bungle Bungle Range, are adapted to the transitional nature of this area's environment.
 
In addition to the geomorphic and biological importance of the Park's natural features, the myriad sandstone towers of the Bungle Bungle Range are exceptionally beautiful and inspirational. The orange and grey horizontal banding of the cyanobacteria crust on the towers highlights their aesthetic features.
 
Aboriginal people have lived in the East Kimberley Region for at least the last 20 000 years. The Park provides exceptional testimony to this hunter-gatherer cultural tradition, particularly its riverine features. Aboriginal people have adapted to this resource rich environment moving between the uplands in the wet season and along the river in the dry, while using intermediate lands in all seasons. Fire has been, and continues to be, an important tool in Aboriginal management of this environment.
 
Ngarrangkarni is the continuing guiding principle in the living traditions and beliefs of Purnululu's traditional owners. This outstanding example of the Indigenous Australian religious philosophy (popularly known as the 'Dreaming' or the 'Law') has been handed down through countless generations and is still in force today.
 
The cultural landscape is also significant because its people and traditions have survived to the present despite the impact of colonisation. The culture of the traditional owners of the Park is outstanding in revealing its resilience at a time when such cultures have everywhere become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
 
The Purnululu National Park, when included on the World Heritage List, will enhance the representativeness of the List and also complement other World Heritage properties in Australia, especially Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park and Kakadu National Park.
Official Values
Criterion (VII) Contains superlative natural phenomena
Although Purnululu National Park has been widely known in Australia only during the past 20 years and it remains relatively inaccessible, it has become recognised internationally for its exceptional natural beauty. The prime scenic attraction is the extraordinary array of banded, beehive-shaped cone towers comprising the Bungle Bungle Range. These have become emblematic of the park and are internationally renowned among Australia's natural attractions. The dramatically sculptured structures, unrivalled in their scale, extent, grandeur and diversity of forms anywhere in the world, undergo remarkable seasonal variation in appearance, including striking colour transition following rain. The intricate maze of towers is accentuated by sinuous, narrow, sheer-sided gorges lined with majestic Livistona fan palms. These and the soaring cliffs up to 250 m high are cut by seasonal waterfalls and pools, creating the major tourist attractions in the park, with evocative names such as Echidna Chasm, and Frog Hole, Piccaninny and Cathedral Gorges. The diversity of landforms and ecosystems elsewhere in the park are representative of the larger region, and lack a unique aesthetic quality, but provide a sympathetic visual buffer for the massif.
Criterion (VIII) Outstanding examples of stages of earth's history
The Bungle Bungles are, by far, the most outstanding example of cone karst in sandstones anywhere in the world and owe their existence and uniqueness to several interacting geological, biological, erosional and climatic phenomena.
The sandstone karst of Purnululu National Park is of great scientific importance in demonstrating so clearly the process of cone karst formation on sandstone - a phenomenon recognised by geomorphologists only over the past 25 years and still not completely understood, despite recently renewed interest and research. The Bungle Bungle Ranges of the Park also display to an exceptional degree evidence of geomorphic processes of dissolution, weathering and erosion in the evolution of landforms under a savannah climatic regime within an ancient, stable sedimentary landscape.
Description
Purnululu National Park comprises four major ecosystems: the Bungle Bungle Mountain Range, a deeply dissected plateau that dominates the centre of the Park; wide sand plains surrounding the Bungle Bungles; the Ord River valley to the east and south of the Park; and limestone ridges and ranges to the west and north of the Park.

The Bungle Bungle Mountains are an unusual and very dramatic plateau of Devonian quartz sandstone (approximately 360 million years old), created through a complex process of sedimentation, compaction, uplift (caused by the collision of Gondwanaland and Laurasia approximately 300 million years ago and the convergence of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plates 20 million years ago), as well as long periods of erosion. The Bungle Bungle landscape comprises a mass of beehive-shaped towers with regularly alternating, dark grey bands of cynobacterial crust (single cell photosynthetic organisms). The plateau is dissected by 100-200m deep, sheer-sided gorges. The cone-towers are steep-sided, with an abrupt break of slope at the base and have domed summits. Their surface is fragile but stabilised by crusts of iron oxide and bacteria. They provide an outstanding example of land formation by dissolutional weathering of sandstone, with removal of sand grains by wind, rain and sheet wash on slopes.

The Bungle Bungle Range is one of the most extensive and impressive occurrences of sandstone tower karst in the world (Wray 1997). Comparative areas include the tapuis of the Canaima World Heritage Area in Venezuela, the Wulingyuan Scenic & Historic Interest World Heritage Area of China, the Chimanimanie Highlands on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, and the Vila Velha region of S. Brazil, but all these have a different geomorphological evolution and are within different bioclimatic realms from the Bungle Bungles. Within Australia, there are several examples of tower karst landscapes in quartzites, such as the ruiniform relief of Arnhemland Plateau, the Watarrka and Keep River national parks in the Northern Territories, and Monolith Valley in New South Wales. In all these cases, the tower karst is smaller in scale and different in terms of geological composition and landform evelolution from that in Purnululu NP.

The grassy Ord River valley on the east and south of the Park drains two creeks from the south (Bellburn Creek and Piccaninny Creek) and three creeks from the north of the mountains (Red Rock Creek, Osmand Creek and Buchanan Creek), deeply incised as a result of crustal uplifting during relatively recent geological times. The wide sand plains between the uplands and the river are composed of infertile black soil covered with grassland and scattered trees. The limestone ridges to the west and Osmand Range to the north are better wooded, especially in the forested Osmand Creek valley. These rocks are believed to be of Cambrian age (550-500 million years old). There are stromatolites in the Osmand range.

Climate
 The region has a dry monsoonal climate, characterised by two contrasting seasons. The summer wet season (November-March) is very hot, with an average maximum temperature in October of 38.3ºC, and receives all of the annual rainfall of between 500-700mm, often in heavy falls during thunderstorms. The winter dry season (April - October) has an average minimum July temperature of 29.1ºC and occasional night frosts. Evaporation exceeds 2000mm with rapid run-off. There is little dry season stream flow or permanent water except for pools in well-sheltered gorges.

Vegetation
 The Park's vegetation reflects its transitional location between the northern tropical savannah (Torresian) and inland arid desert (Eyrean) biogeographical regions. Some 17 vegetation communities are recognised according to moisture availability, ranging from closed forests in the gorges and valleys, through open forests in riparian areas and open woodlands of drier areas, to stunted shrublands and grasses in the driest uplands and surrounding plains. The dominant vegetation in the Park is open woodland and spinifex (spiny hummockgrass) grassland, with many eucalypts, acacias and grevilleas; notably silverleaf bloodwood Eucalyptus collina and roughleaf range gum E.aspera, The regionally endemic sandstone grevillea Grevillea miniata, and rock grevillea G.psilantha, are found only in the Park. The transitional location has made the Park a centre of endemism for spinifex (Triodia spp.) resulting in the highest density of species anywhere in Australia (13 in a 1º x 1.5º quadrat), including T.bunglensis, which is endemic to the Park. The southernmost penetration of monsoonal savanna species brings palms (Livistona spp.), orchids and ferns into the micrenvironments of the deeper valleys. The transitional climate may also explain the presence of the five species of bacteria, which are very ancient single-cell photosynthesising organisms, which form a striking grey crust on alternate layers of sandstone over a wide area of the mountains. In all, 653 plant species are recorded from the Purnululu area, including 628 higher plants (of which 597 are native), 17 ferns and fern allies and 8 species of lower plants.

Fauna
 The diversity of the animals in the park also reflects the mixing of tropical and desert species. The recorded fauna of the Park comprises 298 vertebrate species: 41 mammals, 149 birds, 81 reptiles, 12 amphibians and 15 fish (Woinarski et al.,1992). It is composed of animals from both desert and savanna ecosystems and includes species such as: skinks Scincidiae, monitor lizard Varanus dumerilii, and shorteared wallaby Petrogale brachyotis. These are all arid land animals found on the mountain plateau top, while in the sheltered valleys below are varieties of frogs, the pale field rat Rattus tunneyi and largefooted mouse-eared bat Myotis adversus which are damp environment species. Birds pass through on migration from the north in the wet season and from the south in the dry season. One rare grassland species is the grey falcon Falco hypoleucas (VU) of which only about 1,000 are said to remain.
History
Aboriginal Australians have lived in the Ord River region for at least 40,000 years. It was and still vestigially remains a hunter-gatherer culture, with people moving from the desert to the uplands in the wet season, to foothill pools after the rains and along the river in the dry season, when this becomes a vital resource and refuge. Fire was historically used to manage the environment, to creats a mosaic of vegetation with different uses.

Two main tribal groups and their economic networks, one based on the desert and the other on the savanna, meet in the area, each having two languages. Historically these groups particularly utilised the Ord River Valley, Red Rock and Osmand creeks. Aboriginal religious observance is based on their country, which guides the culture. This "Law", like the 'Dreaming' elsewhere, is called Ngarrangkarni. It envisages the landscape as an embodiment of spiritual and cultural values: as a record of the creation, of past history, of past ancestors, of their laws and ceremonies and traditions of food production and networks of exchange.

This belief enabled the Aborigines in this area to survive the impact of colonisation by pastoralists. These started to arrive in the area after 1884, taking up 50,000-300,000ha leases on the native lands. By 1902 there was nearly 50,000 head of livestock on the Ord River grasslands. Also, in 1885 there was a gold rush at Hall's Creek 100km to the south, bringing an influx of miners. The Aboriginals suffered from introduced diseases, murder, erosive destruction of waterholes and riverbanks by overgrazing and received only food in payment for work. To stop livestock raiding, the government provided some refuges and food but did not stop the cultural dispossession, which occasioned it and continued into the 1970s.
Condition and Integrity Not Available
Location
About 239,723ha, 85km north-east of Halls Creek, comprising Purnululu National Park.
Bibliography
Anon. 1987. Sandstone landforms of the tropical East Kimberley region, Northwestern Australia. J. Geology 95:205-18.

Anon. 1988. Quartz etching and sandstone karst: examples from the east Kinberleys, Northwestern Australia. Z. Geomorphologie N.F. 32(4): 409-23.

Environment Australia, (2002). Nomination of Purnululu National Park by the Government of Australia for Inscription on the World Heritage List. 67pp. [Includes a list of 41 references]

Hoatson, D. et al. (1997). Bungle Bungle Range - Purnululu National Park, East Kimberley, Western Australia: a Guide to the Rocks, Landforms, Plants, Animals and Human Impact. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Kirkby, I. & Williams, N. (2001). Purnululu National Park World Heritage Cultural Values Draft Final Text. Prepared for Environment Australia.

Western Australian Department of Conservation & Land Management (1995). Purnululu National Park Management Plan, 1995-2005, for the National Parks and Nature Conservation Authority, Canberra.

Woinarski, J. et al. (1992). A Survey of the Wildlife and Vegetation of Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park and Adjacent Area. Research Bulletin No.6, Department of Conservation & Land Management, WA.

Wray, R.A.L. 1997. A global review of solutional weathering forms on quartzite sandstones. Earth Science Reviews 42:137-160.

Young, R.W. 1986. Tower karst in sandstone: Bungle Bungle massif, Northwestern Australia. Z. Geomorphologie N.F. 30(2):189-202.

Purnululu National Park Website: http://calm.wa.gov.au

Report Produced  Mon Apr 21 12:13:27 2014