Friday, 11 August 1995

Ubirr Rock Art

Our previous evening had been inspiring and the sleep which followed was the most restful any of us had since leaving Tambar Springs in July's infancy. Before falling asleep, Sue and I watched a Bush Thick Knee wander through our camp and soon afterwards, a dingo visited. He was content to mark his territory by wetting a nearby tree: perhaps a reminder to check on this site tomorrow night for any tucker. They were both natural reminders of what we were experiencing: the Australian bush at its best.

Our crew was up and away next morning with little delay, as a big day was planned so we could
investigate this, the northern sector of Kakadu. Packs were ready for a day of walking and cameras
charged and loaded to record our personal observations.

The first point of interest was Ubirr Rock and the fulfillment of what had gone uninvestigated on the previous evening. Despite being the first people lined up at the gate for the 8:30 am opening, we were not alone. Four Brits Australia vans were the next in line behind us and they were followed by a variety of tour vehicles - coaches large and small.

The first major artwork was contained in a large rock overhang which had been a shelter for tribes for up to 23 000 years. This was a mind blowing figure to contemplate, but then, the artwork was equally mind expanding. It was a smorgasbord laid out to inform the viewer of the best cuts to be taken from the available fish in the area. On the walls could be seen detailed drawings of Barramundi, Catfish, Archer Fish and other local piscatorial delights; all painted in the X-ray style showing the insides of the item being drawn.

The first examples we had seen of "contact art" were also drawn in details which made it clear the artists were depicting European man. These drawings showed men with hands in their pockets and one smoking a pipe. Another surprise was a drawing of a Tasmanlan Tiger, high up on one wall, by itself. As these animals have been extinct in thts areafor 3500 years, the drawing obviously predates that time.

From this gallery, we again climbed Ubirr and looked at further examples of rock artwork. During the two and a half hours we spent on this 1 km walk, we sat in on two outstanding talks given by the same park ranger. The quality of these was brilliant. The first centred on the artwork - its meaning, significance, styles, age etc. and the lifestyles of the people who drew It. She explained the changing nature of the land, as it had once been inundated by the sea. There was also great care given to the explanation of the ties which the traditional owners have with the land.

The second talk was based at an art site on Ubirr Itself. The site was a natural amphitheatre and had a
rocky ledge for seating. Here, the rock art was used to illustrate lessons for aboriginal children and to teach them about their culture and things they needed to know for life. We were impressed by the empathy andknowledge of this white ranger and the manner in which she handled even the most ill-informed questions and comments (e.g. "in their uncivilised state, didn't mothers eat the babies ?" was one such contribution from an American guest to our country !).

Further views of the wetlands west of Ubirr were taken in - this time in relative quiet as there was no sunset to see - and witti a different set of colours for the visual feast.

We graduallg made our way away from Ubirr and back to the Border Store, which is located on the east of the East Alligator River. The river marks the boundary between the park and Arnhem Land and the store is a convenient place for supplies for both tourists and aboriginals. Cool ice creams were consumed and we headed for the river for a look at one of the most feared waterways in Australia.

Our luck in spotting those things which were listed as "possible sightings if you are lucky" continued,
because no sooner had we walked to the water's edge, than a four metre "saltie" appeared ! We were able to watch it cruise up and down a fifty metre stretch of the river for about 45 minutes and we were impressed ! I secured excellent video footage of this fearsome beast and this set the tone of our

Our next walk took us through the area immediately to the west of the East Alligator River and bordering the wetlands which make up Ubirr. It was a contrast of dry, open forest, monsoon rain forest and river bank and at the halfway point, an elevated tower shows the walker more of the canopy. It was here we chose for lunch. Sure enough, our only view of the river from this tower produced our second "saltie" sighting - this time on the bank, basking in the sunlight and soon afterwards, swimming in the secretive style which secures so much of their food.

The post lunch period saw us complete this walk and then return to our camp site, via the Border Store for water ice blocks. The afternoon was filled with easy activities reflecting the way we felt after our two bush walks.

The closing activity of the daylight hours was again the magnificent sunset from the top of Ubirr Rock. Whilst we filmed, taped and experienced this natural wonder, we further engaged in our increasingly favourite game of "Spot The Aussie". Germans, French and Italians were the majority of the ethnic mix present.

Despite the need to further attack school work, we all had a severe case of reluctance and none was done. Guilt ridden, we had our cold showers and managed to slink off to bed, hoping the a lack of consciousness would help us atone for our sins !

The moon was near full and despite the mosquitoes, we enjoyed the warm night air and the noises of the bush.

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