Thursday, 10 August 1995

AUC 1995 - Kakadu NP (NT)

Darwin to Kakadu (NT)
Jabiru (Arnhem Highway) 283 kms

A moving day - in more ways than one - began at 7:00 am with a full pack up. Sue and I had declined the opportunity of a pre-pack, as we didn't have far to drive, Sue was tired and I had a bit of writing to do to catch up in my journal. What ever the reasons for our lack of a pre-pack, it accounted for nought in consideration of the smoothness with which we all worked. There was not a word said in anger, many said in jest and each of us seemed to gel collaboratively in a way which was hither-to unknown.

The result was a clean, happy pack up which was completed in the comfortable time of two hours from waking to driving away. In this, Chris and I had showers and we all ate breakfast!

One of the four most anticipated chapters of our trip would unfold today, with our drive into Kakadu NP, probably one of the principal motivating forces in our journey taking the route it had, the others being Uluru and the Flinders Ranges. Our planning the evening before had determined to spend half our time in the northern section of the park and the other half in the southern. Therefore, our destination was Meri Campgrounds, the accommodation which services Ubirr.

We arrived in mid afternoon and despite a disagreement over the specific placement of the Taj Mahal, we had all gear in place by 16:30 and were ready to wind down, cook tea and prepare for the night.

A chance encounter at the ablutions, directed me to bundle the family in the car and make haste to Ubirr - the large rocky outcrop north west of the campground - as it would have been "criminal to miss what happens there at sunset". So, whilst still tucking my shirt back into my trousers and moving at a half trot, I rounded up the crew and off we went.

The short drive of 1.5 kilometres, gives way to a 1000 metre circular walking track, with Ubirr halfway round. Sue was salivating at the signs indicating art sites, but time and a desire not to rush what was on offer in the way of aboriginal art, meant we bypassed these in order to climb the rock.

Ubirr is what is called an "outlier": a rocky remnant of the original Arnhem Land escarpment which
remained standing even after the escarpment receded because of weathering. It is believed the sandstone here was harder than the surrounding rock and it resisted weathering. It rises about 70 m above the surrounding plain and the approach is through sparse dry woodland. It is not until you are about halfway up the climb you first get a glimpse of the secret this approach is hiding. Reaching a wide, fiat surface about two thirds of the way up, the view to the west is revealed and what a view it is.

This was our first sighting of wetlands, Top End style. Before us was a flooded plain of blue, shallow water, covered with a vast array of bird life. Magpie Geese rushed into the air before resettling in huge flocks, ready for another Adrenalin rush which would take them into the sky. Cockatoos swooped and turned in great white clouds, before invading flooded gums and giving them a snow-covered appearance. Spooked, they screeched into the blue sky again and complained their way to
another roost. Wallabies grazed lazily in the late afternoon sunshine. A group of black feral pigs made their busy and destructive way past a rocky outcrop below and to the right of us. Two Rainbow Bee Eaters played their game of swoop and swerve from high vantage points in a taller tree
near the cliff face, in search of some early supper.

All the while, a golden sun gained redder hues as it slowly descended over this natural wonderland, turning the water from bright blue, through blood red and to a final pale gold in the after glow.

Seeing that red ball, low on the western horizon, the flag which Cathy Freeman had again brought to
prominence at the Commonwealth Games, was more than appropriate. It occurred to me, her joyous act of combining the two Australian flags, was symbolic of a marriage which is yet to happen successfully in Australia, but one which could bring great pride and contentment, should it ever be possible.

I left Ubirr in the enveloping darkness, feeling humble, proud, awestruck and in some ways, numb. It was certainly sensory overload, but the physical beauty had triggered more than just a personal memory for years to come. It had also ignited a level of consciousness about my country and its problems which was to be further fuelled by events, people and places in the ensuing weeks.

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