Aboriginal people have inhabited the subregion for at least the past 40,000 years. The Kimberley environment holds great cultural significance for Aboriginal people. The Kimberley was first explored by non-indigenous people in the late 1800s and during this time pastoralists from across Australia declared land and started to move cattle into the region. The first stations in the region were settled along the major river systems of the Ord and Fitzroy Rivers. Gold was found in Halls Creek in 1885.
The subregion has a diverse regional economy; mining, tourism, agriculture, aquaculture, fishing and retail are major contributors to the regions’ economic output. Today the major towns of the Kimberley are Broome and Kununurra. Broome was initially known for pearling however tourism is currently its major industry, while Kununurra's economy is driven by a mixture of agriculture, mining and tourism.
Mining is by far the largest revenue earner and exploration activities include searching for diamonds, gold, iron ore, nickel, off-shore gas and crude oil. Tourism provides the second greatest contribution to the local economy.
The major agricultural activities of the Kimberley include horticulture (market gardening and fruit production), pastoralism and agriculture. Agricultural activities, horticulture and sugar cane provide substantial economic input into the region, especially in the Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA). Pastoralism is iconic and a way of life in the Kimberley and continues to make a significant contribution to the local economy.