Published: August 17th 2012August 7th 2012
...a Jabiru along the Arnhem Hwy on the way to Jabiru
Over the years we have, for various reasons, not visited Kakadu. There have always been bad reports about visiting here and I guess that will never change, but a lot of people must love their visit to the park, so we decided that this trip we would find out for ourselves if it was Kakadu, or, Kakadon’t. So with Tom and Barb along for the trip we set off early one morning to see the main sites, unfortunately during the dry season Jim Jim Falls does not flow, so it made the decisions of what to see that little bit easier.
The Chinese, Malays and Portuguese all claim to have been the first non-Aboriginal explorers of Australia’s north coast. Abel Tasman is the next documented explorer to visit this part of the coast in 1644. He was the first person to record European contact with Aboriginal people. Almost a century later Matthew Flinders surveyed the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1802 and 1803. Phillip Parker King, an English navigator entered the Gulf of Carpentaria between 1818 and 1822. During this time he named the three Alligator Rivers after the large numbers of crocodiles he saw,
which he mistook for alligators. Ludwig Leichhardt was the first land-based European explorer to visit the Kakadu region, in 1845 on his route from Moreton Bay in Queensland to Port Essington in the Northern Territory
The first non-Aboriginal people to visit and have sustained contact with Aboriginal people in northern Australia were the Macassans from Sulawesi and other parts of the Indonesian archipelago. They travelled to northern Australia every wet season, probably from the last quarter of the seventeenth century, in sailing boats called praus. Their main aim was to harvest trepang (sea cucumber), turtle shell, pearls and other prized items to trade in their homeland. Aboriginal people were involved in harvesting and processing the trepang, and in collecting and exchanging the other goods.
Water Buffalo had a big influence on the Kakadu region as well. By the 1880s the number of buffaloes released from early settlements had increased to such an extent that commercial harvesting of hides and horns was economically viable. The industry began on the Adelaide River, close to Darwin, and moved east to the Mary River and Alligator Rivers regions. Most of the buffalo hunting and skin curing was done in the dry season,
when buffaloes congregated around the remaining billabongs. During the wet season hunting ceased because the ground was too muddy to pursue buffalo and the harvested hides would rot.
The pastoral industry made a cautious start in the Top End. Pastoral leases in the Kakadu area were progressively abandoned from 1889, because the Victoria River and the Barkly Tablelands proved to be better pastoral regions. In southern Kakadu much of Goodparla and Gimbat was claimed in the mid-1870s by three pastoralists, Roderick, Travers and Sergison. The leases were subsequently passed on to a series of owners, all of whom were unable for one reason or another to make a go of it. In 1987 both stations were acquired by the Commonwealth and incorporated in Kakadu National Park.
Crocodile hunting for the skin/Leather was also a big part of the history of the Kakadu Region. Their skins were traded through merchants in Darwin or directly sold overseas. The croc population during this period was decimated with the species actually being declared ‘endangered’. Funnily enough now there are so many crocs that whilst we have been in Darwin, debate has raged on how to control their numbers! Freshwater Crocodiles
Ubirr Aboriginal Rock Art Site
Here is a picture of an ancient Aboriginal art form the represents the story of a fishermen that killed two thieves who had stolen fish from him. This picture is estimated to be 2,000 years old:
have been protected by law since 1964 and Saltwater Crocodiles since 1971, both species now are in massive numbers, with Salties creating many issues around Top End waterways.
In 1953 uranium was discovered along the headwaters of the South Alligator River valley. Thirteen small but rich uranium mines operated in the following decade. Large uranium deposits were discovered at Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra in the 70’s.
It seems to have been a number of factors that led to the formation of Kakadu National Park, most of the pastoral leases in the region were unviable due to the nature of the country, the Buffalo shooters that took up many of these leases just to shoot Buffalo, shot them all and put themselves out of work, and the croc shooters, well they just did what they wanted until there were not enough crocs to make shooting a living anymore. The Gov’t, at the time of the Ranger Uranium discovery, had announced an inquiry into land use in the region and this coincided with the spectacular ‘flop’ of the Department of Lands Rice Project, (all the Magpie Geese ate the crops!). With the interest at the time in Land Conservation, six
Ubirr Aboriginal Rock Art Site
Trish and Barb in front of one of the 'galleries'
leases were resumed to make up Kakadu National Park – Kapalga, Munmalary, Mudginberri, Cannon Hill, Goodparla and Gimbat. Interestingly, one of my best mates, Steve, (who I had jackerooed with) worked at Mudginberri at this time catching Buffalo.
The name Kakadu comes from the mispronunciation of Gaagudju, which is the name of an Aboriginal language formerly spoken in the northern part of the Park. Approximately half of the land in Kakadu is aboriginal land and most of the remaining land is currently under claim by Aboriginal people. There are more than 5000 recorded art sites illustrating Aboriginal culture in the park and these demonstrate Aboriginal occupation for at least 20 000 and possibly up to 40 000 years.
The first place we visited and high on our priority was Ubirr Aboriginal Rock Art site. The rock art here depicts aspects of traditional Aboriginal law and learning and the abundant foods available in the area. Ubirr Rock is a very scenic place and is located in the East Alligator region of Kakadu National Park. It consists of a group of rock outcrops on the edge of the Nadab floodplain where there are several natural shelters that have galleries of
Aboriginal rock paintings, some of which are over 20,000 years old. The art depicts certain creation ancestors as well as animals from the area such as barramundi, catfish, mullet, goannas, long-necked turtles, pig-nosed turtles, rock ringtail possums, and wallabies.
There are three main galleries of art, the main gallery is perhaps the most photographed, and contains many beautiful examples of "X-ray art" a form of painting that shows the skeleton within the animal/fish/whatever. Also in the main gallery we saw paintings of Mimi spirits, who are so thin that they can slip in and out of cracks in the rock, very cool. What a sensational place and we spent much longer here than we anticipated but it was well worth it.
After lunch at the Border Store and a quick drive across the river into Arnhem Land we headed towards our next stop, the Warradjan Cultural Centre and what an amazing eye opener this was, brilliant! The shape of the building apparently represents a Warradjun, which means a Pig-Nosed turtle in Gun-djeihmi (local language). The display inside would rival some museums providing detailed information about the local Aborigines and their culture. This was a fantastic experience
and gives you a strong understanding of their connection the people have with their families and the country. Unfortunately with most things Indigenous I could not take photos to show you all the quality of the displays and artefacts inside, so you will just have to put this on your list when you visit, but be prepared to spend some time here reading all that is available.
Just along from the Warradjan Cultural Centre is the Yellow Water Wetlands, a part of the South Alligator River floodplain. Here you can take a boat cruise or if like us you have not a lot of time to spare, take the boardwalk. This gave us good views of the immediate wetlands and the birdlife you could expect to see on a cruise, a great appetiser for the real thing, a boat cruise next time (and there will be!). We were lucky to see a croc cruising out of the boardwalk looking for supper which was unexpected so close in to ‘activity’, so to speak.
Jabiru is a service town that came about because of the Ranger mine and has all the services you would expect, including the famous ‘crocodile shaped’
motel. This would make a good base to see Kakadu from but after seeing the Gagudju Lodge Cooinda at the Yellow Water Holes, this would be my choice for a base.
Our last stop was the Bark Hut Inn, an iconic pub on the Arnhem Highway heading back towards Humpty Doo. Built by Terry and Kath Baldwin who owned Annaburroo Station where they shot Buffalo until it was no longer viable. They cut all the timber themselves and as Annaburroo had very little timber of any quality most of it they ‘sourced’ from properties surrounding them ‘without permission’. The Bark Hut Inn opened in the late 70’s and is a shrine to the dynamic spirit of a one-time croc hunter, Buffalo shooter and all round Top End character of dubious means that has ‘made good’, as well as all the other pioneer hunters that made the amazing history of this part of Australia. We all enjoyed a cold beer here & bought the ubiquitous t’shirts & stubby holders, Trish even got to stand in the ‘catching cage’ on the old buffalo catcher.
So was it Kakadu or Kakdon’t ? - very definitely it was Kakadu ! If you
Ubirr Aboriginal Rock Art Site
Trish and the most amzing gallery of Indigenous art dating back 20,000 years
come in the dry season just do not expect it to look like the wet, green, photos you see in the brochures, but it has other great qualities in the dry that need exploring also. We will be back and very much in question now is whether to come back in the wet season also. I think we will be back to do an extended stay in both a wet and a dry season to see ‘the lot’.
There are more photos below