Kalumburu (postcode 6740) and Kalumburu Community (formerly Drysdale River Mission) are both bounded localities within the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley in Western Australia. Kalumburu Community is the northernmost settlement in Western Australia.
In 1905, the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB) decided to establish a mission near the Drysdale River. The mission was established in 1908, 20 kilometres north-east of the present site, at Pago, near the southern end of Napier Broome Bay, by Benedictine monks from New Norcia. In 1937, water supply problems forced the missionaries to move to the present site at Kalumburu Pool, on the King Edward River.
World War II
Following the outbreak of World War II, the Australian government commissioned an airfield at the mission. After Japanese forces occupied the Dutch East Indies in 1942, Drysdale became a frontline Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base, acting as a staging post for Allied squadrons based further south. The airfield was a refuelling and ammunition depot for the RAAF anti-submarine aircraft operating between Darwin and Fremantle. On 19 February, the mission provided assistance to the crew and passengers of the merchant vessel Koolama, which had been attacked by Japanese planes.
In February 1943, Allied signals intelligence suggested that Japanese aircraft would be built up in Timor for attacks on Darwin. Eight Beaufighters from No. 31 Squadron RAAF were despatched to Drysdale River, to prepare for a pre-emptive strike. On 28 February, it was confirmed that the enemy aircraft had arrived at Penfui, near Kupang. An early morning strike destroyed 12 Japanese aircraft on the ground and damaged another 10. Two Beaufighters were damaged by Japanese fighter aircraft but returned to Drysdale River.
On 27 September 1943, the base and settlement were attacked by 21 Japanese Kawasaki Ki-48 bombers, based at Kupang, Timor, with a fighter escort. The Superior of the mission, Father Thomas Gil O.S.B, aged 45 years, and five Aboriginal people ranging from the age of 1 to 45 years were killed. This included a mother and son. All victims were buried together on mission grounds, the Aboriginal people on either side of Father Thomas, following the funeral at the damaged church. Many buildings at the mission were also destroyed or severely damaged during the raid.
In April 1944, Flt Lt D. S. Askew, the commanding officer of No. 58 Operational Base Unit, reported 367 aircraft movements during that month, the busiest period since operations had begun. He also wrote: "Approximately 250 operational hours were flown from Drysdale resulting in approximately 60,000 lb of bombs being dropped on enemy territory".
The military significance of the airfield declined once Truscott Airfield was constructed, about 32 km (20 mi) north, in 1944.
In 1951, Drysdale River Mission was officially renamed Kalumburu. Management of the community was later taken over by Kalumburu Aboriginal Corporation, on behalf of the Kalumburu Community Council. The community retains strong links with the OSB, including a priest and several Benedictine nuns.
Kalumburu is 568 km via a poor quality road to the nearest hospital. During the dry season, this takes about 12 hours. There is a small clinic staffed by two remote area nurses with a visiting doctor once per week. This community has been extensively studied and is the subject of publications in regards to Aboriginal health (e.g. trachoma and kidney disease).
In 2008 a new clinic was being built, in collaboration with the Australian Army and Western Australia Health. There is provision for a small dialysis unit, although staffing and equipment are yet to be finalized.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service land on the Kalumburu strip to the north of the town. There is also the old Truscott Airbase which can be used in cases of emergency.
According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 412 people in Kalumburu.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 91.4% of the population.
97.3% of people were born in Australia and 88.1% of people spoke only English at home.
The most common response for religion was Catholic at 89.5%.
Kalumburu Layout Plan No.2 was prepared in accordance with State Planning Policy 3.2 Aboriginal Settlements. Layout Plan No.2 was endorsed by the community in 2004 and the Western Australian Planning Commission in 2005. The layout plan map-set and background report can be viewed at Planning Western Australia's website.