Dear friends and fellow travelers,
It is with a heavy heart that we share with you that our dear friend and field staff member, Chris Done, has passed away. This blog was published not long before his passing and showcases his long legacy with Zegrahm Expeditions and opening up Australia’s Kimberley region to exploration and like-minded adventurers from across the globe.
Chris’s depth of knowledge was unparalleled and his passion for sharing his expertise of the flora, fauna, Aboriginal art, geology, history, and culture of the region will stay with us always. While we think back to the many things we learned from Chris, what we will miss most is his warm smile, gentle demeanor, and long-standing friendship.
Chris, you have not only left a legacy in the Kimberley, but also at Zegrahm Expeditions. Your memory will continue to travel with us all.
Where are you from and where have you lived?
Initially New South Wales (NSW), but also lived in Tasmania as a small child. Most of my childhood years were in country towns in NSW, eventually ending up in Canberra and Armidale for high school and university studies. After graduation, I worked for seven years in Papua New Guinea before moving to Western Australia’s southwest and on to WA’s Kimberley Region. I lived in the Kimberley for nearly 40 years. I now live in the southwest of WA.
Tell us about yourself—what path led you to become a Zegrahm Leader?
I was taken on as a “local expert” on the World Discoverer in 1990 for a trip along the Kimberley and Northern Territory coast. On this trip, I met several of the Zegrahm founders (at that time the company had not yet been formed) and just a few years later was contacted by them as part of the scoping for Zegrahm’s initial Kimberley season. This went ahead in 1996 and I was employed as a guest lecturer for these trips. I have continued to work with Zegrahm on almost all our ship-based Kimberley cruises, as well as many of our northern Australian land tours, since that time.
What other jobs, positions or credentials do you have?
I have a BSc(For) from the Australian National University and, for seven years, held many positions in Papua New Guinea’s Forestry Department. In 1975 I moved to Western Australia where I was a District Forest Officer in the SW of that state before moving to, and establishing that department in, the Kimberley Region, as Regional Forester. This morphed into Regional Manager for the newly created Department of Conservation and Land Management, where the role encompassed National Park and Wildlife management for that region as well as forestry issues. On retirement from this role in 2003, I was a pioneering sandalwood grower at Kununurra and continued my links with tourism as well as branching out into land management and tropical forestry consultation for northern Australia.
What other fields are you passionate about?
Whilst not an expert in any of these, I enjoy bird watching, plants and animals, and nature in general. Aboriginal Art, particularly in the Kimberley, and Aboriginal culture are other fields I am keen on. The geology and history of the Kimberley are also of great interest. This year marks the 200th anniversary of a Kimberley event in which a boab tree at Careening Bay was inscribed by the crew of Phillip Parker King’s cutter, Mermaid. This area (and the tree, on which the inscription is still readily legible) is visited on all our Kimberley itineraries and I have been instrumental in arranging commemorative events to mark the bicentenary. Covid has obliged us to put these celebrations on hold.
Do you have any awards, publications, appearances documentaries, etc?
I’m the co-author of “A Kimberley Adventure – Rediscovering the Bradshaw Figures”. I’m also involved in many Kimberley publications as a contributor and information source.
What organizations are you a part of?
Kimberley Society; Mermaid Tree and Phillip Parker King Commemorative Committee; Chairman of the Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park World Heritage Advisory Committee.
What excites you (or what do you enjoy) about working for Zegrahm?
I enjoy being able to share the secrets of the Kimberley with enthusiastic expeditioners. The opportunity to meet so many new people and hear about their other travels and their home states is another joy. Zegrahm staff and leaders are always enthusiastic too and are a source of new, interesting, and topical knowledge. I enjoy learning from staff and guests as much as passing on information.
Can you tell us about a time that you were on an expedition that ended up taking an unexpected turn or made an unexpected discovery that took you off the planned trail?
Accessing the top of the King George Falls with a Zegrahm group was not on our itinerary. However, when we decided to give it a go, we forgave the punishing (but short) climb up and back down for the spectacular views afforded over the falls and gorge.
What does being a part of the Zegrahm family mean to you?
I count many staff members as being “friends from way back”. I have enjoyed my travels with them all since those first Kimberley trips in 1996. Other Zegrahm family members such as guests and ships’ crews remain firmly in my otherwise fading memory bank too.
Who is the Zegrahm Traveler?
Our guests are incredibly interested in what we show and tell them. In addition, they are very passionate about travel in general but, mostly, not just to tick the box. They want to learn and appreciate the more subtle elements of the destination. They are curious, appreciative, and friendly.