Kakadu National Park

Weekly Photo Challenge : Infinite

In the Australian Outback the road appears to stretch to infinity. The traffic approaches as if rising from a mirage as it floats across the endless Mitchel grass plains.

In 2012 we travelled through the outback to the Northern Territory. After years of drought two good seasons of rain had produced lush pasture, hay making was in progress, we saw the outback at its best. Now a year later it is once more in the grip of drought with no rain for almost a year since we travelled through.

The Matilda Highway

The Matilda Highway

Vehicles floating towards us in a mirage

Vehicles floating towards us in a mirage

That winter we travelled to the Northern Territory to explore Kakadu National Park. Kakadu is considered a living cultural landscape. The Bininj  Mungguy Aboriginal people have lived on and cared for this country for more than 50,000 years. Their deep spiritual connection to the land dates back to  the Creation and has always been an important part of the Kakadu story.

The Aboriginals are the oldest living culture still in existence and their dream time stories say they stretch back to the beginning of creation, into the mists of infinity.

I felt privileged to have the opportunity to explore Kakadu. I felt it had an aura of the ancient Traditional Owners still lingering in the rock art and the tracks and bill-a-bongs that so many years ago the tribes had followed.  Aboriginal people were traditionally hunter-gatherers and moved regularly to   places where resources were plentiful. There were no permanent settlements, but   favoured camping areas were used for many, many generations. Among the temporary   dwellings the people used were stringy-bark and paperbark shelters near   billabongs, wet-season huts built on stilts on the floodplains, and rock   shelters in the stone country.

Arnhem Land, going back into the mists of time

In the distance, looming over Kakadu, Arnhem Land is a place the present day Aboriginal calls his traditional home, a permit is needed for non-aboriginal people to visit here, it is like going back into the mists of time.

We walk along the tracks that the tribes have walked along for thousands of years

We walk along the tracks that the tribes have walked along for thousands of years

We rest near a bill-a-bong and appreciate the beauty and reflections in the fresh water

We rest near a bill-a-bong and appreciate the beauty and reflections in the fresh water

Be ever watchful as the crocodile is also a predator that has been around for thousands of years and will be waiting for the unwary

Be ever watchful as the crocodile is also a predator that has been around for thousands of years and will be waiting for the unwary

The track winds through the rocks formed when the world was young

The track winds through the rocks formed when the world was young

The roots of an ancient gum tree have slowly over many years worked through the rock and clung to life in the surrounding rock

The roots of an ancient gum tree have slowly, over many years, worked through the rock and clung to life in the surrounding rock

When the storms rage and the lightening flashes across the sky and the violent tropical rain falls we can shelter under the ancient rock outcrops, safe and secure till the storm passes

When the storms rage and the lightning flashes across the sky and the violent tropical rain falls the tribes can shelter under the ancient rock outcrops, safe and secure till the storm passes. Stories can be told of the culture passed down from generation to generation. Drawings immortalise the creatures the ancestors saw and hunted

The lightening man, a spirit to be feared

The lightening man, a spirit to be feared

The rainbow serpent who created all things

The rainbow serpent who created all things

Kakadu

Then the sun shines once more and the tribe moves on

Then the sun shines once more and the tribe moves on

Kakadu

Yes Kakadu is a very special place, a spiritual country of beauty. I feel privileged to have spent 6 days discovering it and learning more about the Traditional Owners that have lived here for so long. I hope that their culture and stories can remain into infinity and not forgotten.

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Categories: aboriginal history, Aboriginal rock art, Australia, infinity, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, out back, photos, post-a-week, travel, Weekly photo challenge | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The best till last…Ubbir…

Late afternoon and the light is beautiful

This is our last day in Kakadu National Park. we have taken a week slowly absorbing the diversity and culture of this unique place. This morning had been spent cruising along the East Alligator River now it is late afternoon and we are walking up to view more rock art in the Ubbir site. The light is at that magical golden time that surrounds the landscape in an aura of magic.

Sandstone rock outliers, the art is on the top corner behind the tree

Rock art high up. How did they do it?

This rock art is attributed to the “Mimi’s” or spirits of Aboriginal Dreamtime as it is so high it would be impossible to reach for normal beings.

The outliers are cool and would be a special place in the heat of summer. Many of the drawings around here are of food and animals. Drawings are often layered on top of older drawings and show the archeologists the changing nature and culture over the years.

Photos cannot capture the magnificence of these places

High on top of the rock out crops looking toward Arnhem land escarpment

Finally we reach the top and can lookout over to Arnhem land where we had been on the morning cruise. It had been a rocky climb, at times on hands and knees, and as it was getting close to sunset we decided we would not stay for the evening show of the sunset as it would be a difficult climb down for us.

It was now we realized why we had been almost on our own as we climbed to the top, because, as we went down, we were passed by hundreds of people on the way up to watch the sunset. This is one of the major highlights of kakadu and all the bus tours organize to have their customers there at that time.

Here are a few of the thoughts from Aboriginal elders that were on boards around the park. It nicely sums up what is “Kakadu”…..

This is a very good reason why National Parks and World Heritage sites are needed

Categories: aboriginal history, Aboriginal rock art, australian travel, Kakadu National Park, National Parks, Northern Territory, photos | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Cruising in crocodile infested waters

Crocodile on the East Alligator river

The East Alligator river is the boundary between Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land. Kakadu is about 20,000 square kilometres and Arnhem Land is approx 150,000 square kilometres. We have been slowly travelling around Kakadu for 5 days and now we are going to join a 2 hour Aboriginal cultural cruise along this crocodile infested waterway.

Arnhem Land is Aboriginal traditional tribal country and to enter it is necessary to have a permit. This area is shrouded in mystery for me and the stories and accounts I have heard is that the Aboriginal communities that live here are in limbo between their ancient, traditional, tribal lifestyle of hunting and gathering and modern-day society supported by benefits and living in houses supplied by the government. The standards of health,  education, living standards and job opportunities are well below the rest of Australia.

One community, the Gulumyambi people have created an opportunity for themselves by taking tourists for a cruise along the East Alligator River and inviting them onto Arnhem Land.

East Alligator River

Spear throwing demo

The Aboriginal guides told us stories of their culture and pointed out trees and plants that could be eaten or used for medicinal purposes. Of course they took us close up and personal to any crocodiles that were basking on the banks. There are hundreds more that we couldn’t see lurking around in the muddy coloured murky waters of the river.

That boat is smaller than most of the crocs

We passed a couple of “tinnies” with brave blokes fishing. The size of the boats are smaller than some of the crocodiles and notices warn fishermen to always use nets with long handles to bring their catch into the boat. The barramundi is the prize fish in these waters and I have heard it will put up a good fight. If I was that man in the boat I don’t think I would sit with my bottom hanging over the side….

Approaching Arnhem Land

The boat we are in is a good solid size and we keep all parts of our bodies well inside.

Embarking onto Arnhem Land

We embarked and were welcomed onto their home-land. One of the guides was a traditional owner of this part of Arnhem Land. They had a collection of stone tools that were used in the past and they demonstrated the art of spear throwing using a “woomera”, a holder that gives more distance to the throw. We had a short walk to a billabong before it was time to go back along the river.

 

Categories: aboriginal history, australian travel, Kakadu National Park, National Parks, Northern Territory, photos, travel | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Amazing Aboriginal rock art

Bird watchers paradise in the wetlands

Now we are in the cultural heart of Kakadu heading for Nourlangie, the home of Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years.

On the way we stop at a couple of the billabongs and also Yellow Waters. This huge area is flooded in the wet season and never dries right out so it is a haven for birds and all animals. Many migrating birds stop over and in the wet season it is a prime breeding area. During the wet season Kakadu is closed as the roads and all areas are impassable due to the flooding.

The Aborigines recognize 6 distinct seasons in this tropical part of Australia

6 seasons of the Top End

Most people just think 2 seasons up here, hot and dry or hot and wet; but it is far more complex than that. This is now August and is hot and dry. Being the end of August the temperatures are approx 33 to 34 degrees and the humidity is building. The locals tell me the build up is starting early this year. I do not think it would be very comfortable living in Matilda in a few weeks time so we are heading south again.

Talking to tourists in van parks many of them are very disappointed with the Kakadu experience. I’ve heard it said ” Kakdu, Kakadon’t…” But many only whizz through in 2 days just looking out of the car or 4 WD window and staying at the very expensive, all mod-con, commercial camping grounds or cabins. To experience the beauty, history and uniqueness that is Kakadu’s it is necessary to slow down, walk down the tracks to the billabong, take time to look around, walk in the tracks of the ancient tribes and picture the incredible way that these people survived in this very savage and daunting landscape. Sit in the ancient rock shelters and study the art…

Being older has its advantages. We have to pace ourselves, walking up slopes we stop to catch our breath and look around. We cannot fit too much into one day so savour each experience, take lots of photos, we need them to remember what we have seen…

Rock shelters

 

Nourlangie rock shelters and art sites protected by board walks

 

Nourlangie rock shelters

 

These rock shelters are high above the floodplains and as you walk into them the breeze cools you down and it would be a welcome place to sit with the family and wait out the heat of the day. In the storm season a safe refuge to watch the lightning playing across the sky. I could imagine family life, the laws and culture of the aborigines created a very strong family structure. In the above photo you can see traces of where a fire would be lit to cook food or keep warm in the cold nights, maybe the smoke would help to keep away the mosquitoes, I’m sure they would’ve been around then.

Rock art information

 

Information taken from Darwin Museum. Aboriginal rock art is acknowledged as the oldest surviving art in the world

Reasons for painting

 

Rock art

 

Rock art

 

Rock art information

 

The information boards scattered around are very interesting and give an insight into life of the Aborigines before the Europeans arrived. There are more than 500 recorded art sites throughout Kakadu and creating a world heritage site has saved these important relics of another life and culture.

 

 

 

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Categories: aboriginal history, Aboriginal rock art, Australia, australian travel, Kakadu National Park, National Parks, Northern Territory, photos, travel | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Journey back in time and culture.

For nearly 2 weeks we have “been bush”, immersed in the diverse vegetation and the amazing journey back into the cultural past of the Australian Aboriginal people of this Northern Territory area of Kakadu. No internet connection for that time.

We are now in a camp ground for a few days R. and R from travel. Time to reflect on what we have seen and experienced, sort out photos, and catch up with my blog and e-mails

Kakadu stone country

Walk through the rocks

After spending 3-4 days in the savanna woodlands  and the floodplains this stone area was a complete change. The escarpments had been a hazy smudge on the horizon. A constant backdrop to the flat floodplains. As we drove closer they loomed large and forbidding.

These amazing formations were the sea bed of a huge inland sea 1500 million years ago. Hard to comprehend that time frame or believe that this ancient, dry country was once under water. We wandered around in awe. To the Aborigines this whole area is a sacred site and I could feel the spiritual atmosphere. We were on our own. This area is not one of the top tourist must see areas. We followed a small sign down a side road

Almost like a hidden city

This was just the start of a journey back in imagination into the culture of these amazing indigenous people of Australia.

For more than 40,000 years the Aborigine has lived with the land. Their culture and laws have been passed down from their Dreamtime in song and dance and stories. Their story of creation is captured in the rock drawings. They are one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world and they are a truly remarkable people. During this trip we have learnt a great deal about their culture.

It came as a surprise to me to find out that the communities had very definite boundaries, and each of these communities had their own language. Over 200 distinct languages in this area of Northern Territory. That is now down to 12. They had strong laws about marriage and trade and every other part of community life. When the European arrived the Aboriginal person was classed as part of the flora and fauna of the country and given no identity as a person. This was a tragic part of Australian history, and it is only very recently that the uniqueness and living skills have been acknowledged.

Next area we visited was the world-famous Nouralangie rock art sites. More of that later…

 

 

Categories: aboriginal history, Aboriginal rock art, australian travel, Kakadu National Park, National Parks, Northern Territory, photos, travel | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Kakadu Heritage listed National Park

I am covered in mosquito bites, despite smothering myself with repellent. I wonder was it worth it? Was it what I expected?

No it wasn’t the wilderness I expected. It is interesting. I can see the diversity and appreciate the cultural significance for the indigenous people, but it seems subdued. The fire management policy of patchwork burning has created a landscape of alternating scorched earth and blackened trees to other areas of fresh, green growth. In my mind’s eye I could imagine the new growth in a few years would be thick, rampant and jungle-like, but it is not allowed to run wild and unfettered, it is now controlled into submission. I know this has to be done and it is following the way the Aboriginal people have managed their environment for tens of thousands of years. 80% of Kakadu is Savanna Woodlands and the grass grows thick and lush in the wet season. If left it would become a serious fire hazard in the dry and wild, uncontrollable fires would rage through the country.

The unburnt areas are beautiful…

Evening light filtering through the gum trees

 

Kakadu Savanna Woodlands

We came in from the Southern end and this is mostly Savanna Woodlands. We camped at the basic bush camps, toilet and solar heated showers. Being the dry season it was quite dusty but only $10 per person so for budget travellers it had every thing we needed. We have a portable solar panel to supply our own power, and it is always sunny with not a cloud in the sky. One thing we did miss and that was the internet connection…

We can even have a camp fire as fire grates are provided and there is plenty of dead wood around. This was the first time this trip that “one match Jack” had been in action…

One match Jack strikes again

 

Camp fire meditation

By day 3 we had moved further into Kakadu. This is one of the largest parks in Australia and covers nearly 20,000 square kilometres. Within this vast landscape there are 6 main landforms and the habitats in each is distinctively different and quite unique. We passed through the floodplains and billabongs and the bird life is amazing.

By now I had become used to the patchwork burning and accepted it as part of the Kakadu scenery. As we crossed bridges across the mighty South Alligator River and it’s tributaries, we would stop to marvel at the beauty of the waterways and the reflections and, of course, the birds. The South Alligator River is one of the only rivers in the world that is totally enclosed, and therefore protected, in a National Park. The other creäture it is famous for is the huge salt water crocodile. We have not spotted any as yet, but when you walk close to a river, stream or billabong you are on high alert watching for any signs and of course not getting too close to any swampy areas…

White Heron waiting for breakfast

 

White Heron

 

South Alligator river

 

Monsoon forest area reflections on the South Alligator river

 

The park is very well maintained and plenty of walks and tracks that can be followed. They cater for all levels of fitness and age.

20 years ago we had visited Kakadu and the most outstanding memory from that trip was going to Gunlom Falls. We walked the very steep one kilometre track to the top of the waterfall and swam and floated in the pristine mountain stream and connecting pools leading to the edge of the falls. I remember being watched by a large water dragon basking on the rocks. We sat and dried off on the smooth, sun-warmed rocks right on the edge of the drop down to the plunge pool many metres below. Later we swam in that plunge pool and small, iridescent blue bee-eater kingfishers darted and dived above us flashing like jewels in a crown. It was a magic moment.

A large goanna, the size of a fox terrier dog, ambled around the camp as we ate dinner. The ranger said he was called Charlie and not to feed him. That night, as we sat under the stars, the ranger gave a slide show about the flora and fauna of kakadu. As we lay in the hire van we could hear dingoes howling in the distance. Hearing a rustle we looked out the van window to see 2 dingoes checking around the BBQ areas. It was a surreal experience.

( when I get back home I will post some old-fashioned prints from that trip, on my memories blog, to compare them with this time…)

Back to the present: I was looking forward to Gunlom, but it wasn’t to be, the 36 kilometre track was only recommended for 4WD vehicles as it had not been graded this year and was very corrugated. Some said “you can do it, just go slow”. Matilda is at 14 years old, a middle-aged lady and has to last us many more miles as wheels, accommodation and travel companion, so, reluctantly, we missed Gunlom this time.

Now we are up to day 5 and have come in to the small township of Jabiru. We are staying in Kakadu Lodge caravan Park and it is very civilised. Power, shady grass sites, internet, swimming pool, even a bar/bistro with entertainment tonight. So we are going to have a meal over there and chill out for a couple of days before the next part of Kakadu which will be moving into the stone country and exploring the Aboriginal art work sites and culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: aboriginal history, Australia, australian travel, camping australia, caravan park, Kakadu National Park, National Parks, Northern Territory | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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