You will all have heard of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory I’m sure, and many of you have no doubt visited this huge (1/2 the size of Tasmania) world heritage listed site. The Park borders can be reached in about 2 hours drive either from Katherine in the south (which is where we came from) or Darwin in the north. There is a town in the Park, called Jabiru (also the name of the species of stork common in these parts – large, dark blue and white plumage, very handsome birds), which is basically a mining service town because Kakadu is rich in (among other minerals) uranium. So it’s a classic example of the clash between exploitation and conservation. The latter seems to be winning currently, for example with the toppling of the Rio Tinto Jabiluka uranium mine proposal in 1998. The Park is owned by the aboriginal people and managed in partnership with the National Parks people.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at Kakadu: maybe more spectacular scenery, a plethora of wildlife, and rare plants. These things are here, but the real essence of Kakadu is the Aboriginal view of their land and their art (especially the rock art). And there are numerous opportunities to learn about these. In the 3 days we’ve been here, we have:
- checked out the Warradjan cultural centre (near Cooinda), and enjoyed a good couple of hours looking at displays on aboriginal culture and artefacts relating to the region. Good, informative stuff
- taken a boat cruise on an eerily silent and dark billabong under bright night stars. Our guide Jenny, a local indigenous person with her brother Doug, found white-bellied sea eagle, azure kingfisher (damned hard to see), freshwater croc (equally hard to see - very well concealed among the panadanus at the edge of the billabong) and a saltie sitting on a fallen tree trunk. A pretty typical ‘haul’ for water levels that are higher than usual for this time of year
- checked out the rock art at Nourlangie and Nanguluwur, the latter much less crowded because it involves a bit of a hike and the tour groups tend to give it a miss in favour of Nourlangie which is easy to reach. Age of the art is a bit of a guessing game – some is recent, 1960’s, though this is restoration work of older paintings; and there is some that is several thousand years old. Aboriginal rock drawings are the oldest continuous form of visual art anywhere in the world, and some of the best examples are right here.
- a big highlight, today we took a tour across into western Arnhem Land, to a town called Oenpelli where there is a renowned arts and crafts centre, and nearby a site called Injalak Hill which is covered in outstanding rock art examples. We had an older bloke from the local tribe lead us up the Hill and explain the various drawings and their meanings. Only possible to visit with a permit (if you know where to go and what to look for), or on an organised tour. Besides the amazing art work, the views of the East Alligator river floodplain and Arnhem, Land escarpment were amazing, and the bird life was fair bustling. Much more like what I had expected to see in Kakadu.
We’ve also seen some great sites in Kakadu, especially Gunlom Falls, where we camped the first night and climbed to the top of the falls to swim in the pools above.
There’s lots of other interesting history here too, like wild buffaloes (used in early British settlements in Arnhem Land and released into the wild when those settlements failed), old uranium mines (there were about 12 active ones in the 1960’s, now all closed down, though the Ranger uranium mine near Jabiru continues), some pastoral leases, and of course the salt water crocodiles. One of the most recent episodes of croc-feeding-on-human in Oz was in 2002 at a billabong adjacent to the one where we did our night tour – a German tourist, swimming in the billabong along with fellow tour members on the advice of their tour guide (would you believe). Nah, not a good idea. Several of the Park sites are still closed because of the late rains and high water levels in creeks and rivers, which means crocs are still to be found in waterholes like Jim Jim Falls, and Twin Falls. The rangers have to find them all, trap them and move them out before they’ll re-open these sites, which will take another 3 weeks or so, we are told.
Tomorrow we head for Darwin for 3-4 days, where we will catch up with Vicky and Mark Connolly who are flying over from Brisbane to join us. After Darwin, we are heading to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, which is NE of Darwin, and requires a permit to enter (check it out on Google). Only 15 vehicles are allowed in the Park at any one time and we have been lucky enough to get a slot. It is on the coast, and has pristine coastal scenery and some pretty agonising history of failed British settlements from the mid 1800’s.
So, we won’t be on-line again until more than week from today. In the meantime, hope all is well with you and yours
Nanguluwur rock art
Ooops. This is Cahills Crossing, over East Alligator River, into Arnhem Land. The vehicle belonged to some Oenpelli fellas who were crossing back to Jabiru to buy grog (Oenpelli is a dry community) with HIGH tide flowing out - doh, got washed off.