Friday, 25 July 2008

Kakadu National Park

Saltwater croc at
Yellow Waters
23 & 24/07/08 ... Nitmiluk NP – Katherine – Pine Creek – Yellow Waters -Ubirr 375(4251) kms

We moved camp after the thrills of Katherine Gorge, via an excellent cafe in Katherine itself which served us apple pie (Sue), Tim Tam cheesecake (Peter) and the best mochas either of us have tasted. Everything was homemade and everything was delicious but this little Asian lady is a secret because people we asked refused to accept she existed. Strange mob up here! Despite their laid back nature, foreigners are just meant to pass through, spend their money and leave. Any who stay and make money are shunned. Racism is prevalent.

We were into Kakadu by mid afternoon and stopped beside Yellow Waters and had a lovely lunch which included talking with Sarah and keeping a weather I on the water for the saltwater crocs. They which wander about snapping up middle aged tourists from the south and the odd German for takeaway on Friday night. The sky was blue, water bluer and just about everything else was your colour ... green with envy. We set up camp at Merle campground, just a few km from Ubirr Rock and when just enough was done, we went up to the rock for a stroll through the art sites and a climb to the top to watch the sunset.

Things have changed.

The place is overrun by tourists - old fat Americans; grey nomads; Germans in all shapes, sizes, ages and temperaments; young French men and woman who see things occasionally between drinks and each other; and us. We dodged as many as we could, but by the time we climbed the Rock, we all looked like Minga (what the Aboriginal people at Uluru call the folks climbing on that Rock ... it means ants), jockeying for position to watch the sun sink in the wetlands immediately to the west. It's an interesting thing, that as the sun gradually becomes extinguished, the place goes quiet. No one speaks - at least, not in anything above a church whisper - and the only noise was my film camera’s motor drive reminding the assembled that dinosaurs still roam the Earth.

After another lovely meal - boy am I enjoying not having to cook - we stumbled our way in the dark to find the slide show one of the Rangers was sharing on the many seasons of Kakadu. Great pictures and very astute commentary but the smell of the septic system at the adjacent toilet block did give the evening air a pungency which was not entirely in keeping with the visual and aural presentations. We retired to a very hot night - 20C I think Weatherzone reported - but rather hotter inside the car, where we had run to escape the mozzies. Big buggers too - these one carried additional fuel tanks under their wings. Sue and I rigged up a flyscreen  by draping our tent over the moonroof and in three or four hours our sleeping quarters were habitable. Until then we sauna-ed our way to looser fitting clothes and pretended to be asleep.

This morning we went back to Ubirr Rock to take some pictures of the artwork and the surrounds and stopped at the Border store for a cuppa after first checking out the East Alligator River. Not sure where the east alligators were, but two very big crocs made themselves known to us as we stood high up on the bank. One was a seriously big monster of about five metres. There were new chums by the river bank, despite the signs warning them that they were main dish on menu in the Croc Cafe and they had us both worried. Sue was sure one of them would be taken and I was worried I'd have the wrong lens on the camera (News at Five). As I write, we are in Jabiru on business. After lunch, we'll head to our next camp - still in Kakadu - Muirella Park. Tomorrow we are off to Nourlangie Rock and Anbangbang Billabong, both of which were featured in the Croc Dundee films.

24 & 25-07-08 ... Ubirr – Jabiru - Mirray Lookout- Nawalangulwar Lookout – Nourlangie Rock – Anbangbang Billabong – Yellow Waters – Cultural Centre -Cooinda 250(4501) kms

Thursday morning was spent at Ubirr Rock, so we could have a closer look at the art sites without the benefit of young Irish drunks or just the sheer numbers of Germans wandering about. They are pleasant enough - mostly young lovers - but sometimes you'd just like a spot to yourselves to soak up the vibe. The artwork at Ubirr is really outstanding and we spent some time absorbing its variety of meanings and taking photos for Sue to use when she eventually goes back to that four letter word I am not allowed to mention.

From here we changed camps, heading south to Muirella Park, which is located beside a beautiful billabong which would be such a good spot for swimming if it wasn't for the crocs which cruise by looking to lower the quotient of German tourists. Muirella Park was once an airstrip, so it is a long thin campground with an amenities block located in the centre. It’s dusty and dry like a lot of the country here, with that tempting blue water just metres away ... water in which you just want to dip your feet before you lose them.

After setting up camp, we drove to Mirray Lookout and climbed the steep 800m slope to a 360 degree view of Kakadu. In the distance, Nourlangie Rock stood off away from the main Arnhem Land escarpment - a remnant left behind as the rest of the escarpment retreated (as it does at the rate of one metre every 100 years). The escarpment filled up a large portion of the view from north east to south east, with it stiff orange and red vertical faces staring down from on the woodlands below. In the more immediate distance, one of the wetlands managed a late afternoon shimmy and dots of white and other colours rose, complained and then fell back to their perches when potential dangers ha passed. Everywhere else, the view was endless.

Back at the camp, sunset had invited in the mozzies. With our new mosquito net purchased in the Jabiru supermarket now firmly in place, it was only their complaints at the door which disturbed us.

Yesterday – Friday - was a biggy. We started by climbing Nawalangulwar lookout, which is opposite Nourlangie Rock. Now most of the tourists climb about a third of the way up and stare back in wonder as the Nourlangie Rock hovers over the Anbangbang Billabong and all the life which teems over, on and in it. They recognise this landscape as the picture painted in the Croc Dundee movies and a rare feeling of familiarity washes over them.

Nawalangulwar Lookout
I said most. We climbed to the TOP in an effort to see the view in the other direction and for once, no complaints from Sue. We stopped close to the top - fear of falling and Fierce Snakes (the Inland Taipan) in equal proportions in our nervous systems. The view was … well, look at the photos and you'll get an idea but they will be an eyedropper’s worth in the ocean of the experience. From here, we descended to Anbangbang (pronounced Un-bang-bang) to eat lunch and take snaps of the bird life. Magpie Geese, Egrets, Whistling Ducks, Rainbow Bee Eaters (my Mum's favourite bird) entertained us whilst we munched on sandwiches and gulped some tea.

Already with enough visual stimulation for one day, we went on. It was quiet at Nourlangie Rock when we arrived after lunch to view the art sites in the magnificent natural rock shelters which have entertained and kept safe indigenous people for thousands of years. Their stories are here, in yellows and white and mostly red. Stories told and understood and retold by different story tellers using the same canvas to illustrate their words. Shallow hollows in the flat rock platforms echo the colours that have been mixed here in these nurseries for eager children wanting to know of the past as a way to the future. You walk into the largest chambers and 10 degrees of the day's heat is left outside. This was emotional stuff. These were poets of their time and I stood there trying to hear their words and interpret their feelings. I at least understood their need to tell a story and it was enough to feel them offer me unseen hands and membership of a brotherhood which transcends race, colour or creed.

It was in this state of transcendence that some young yobbo tourists wandered in, beers in hand and disregarded what screamed at them from the walls. On they steamed, from site to site, content that they had "done Nourlangie". I could have been angry at their disregard, their insult. Instead, I could only feel sadness, that in clinging so close to their herd mentality, they had missed my experience.

If the art sites at Nourlangie had been moving, the Aboriginal Cultural Centre near Cooinda, was the spot where my emotions overflowed. This is a most beautiful and patient explanation designed to show white fellas the deepest and most significant motivations of indigenous people of Kakadu. The building is designed in such a way that visitors follow snake bends through wall displays, things to touch, things to hear and things to just experience. It is a powerful place and with an open heart, it will change you. I'm not naive. Big problems exist in bridging cultural divides but I wonder if enough goodwill existed on both sides of chasms that still exist, couldn't we find a way? The words of elders of this place have lodged in my heart and I for one, am prepared to be further changed and hold firmly onto reconciliation as a means of finding understanding and acceptance. The words of Bill Nedjie, a great man of this place, held the strongest power over me ad I left the Cultural Centre very strongly affected.It was back to physical beauty and a two hour cruise on the Yellow Waters Lagoon and South Alligator River, where we saw lots of crocs and lots of birds (see the photos). We also saw an outstanding sunset.

Sunset at Yellow Waters
We ate at the Cooinda Lodge (a rare event for us to eat out) and listened to Neil Murray sing songs of place and country. Some might know him as a member of the Warrumpi band in the 1980's (the only white fella) and others might know he wrote "My Island Home" for Christine Anu. You know I love music, so this was a good end to a great day. The local mob had turned up in numbers to listen to "that Murray fella" and called for My Island Home all night until he finally played it for them. Many of the tourists cleared the floor when the black fellas (their term) were dancing and toward the end, one old lady was dancing by herself so Sue jumped up and danced with her. She has such a good heart my girl and acts on what she believes.

The only slight down side was sharing our table with a group of Texans who had been in Sydney for “Wave at The Pope In A Plain White T-Shirt” Day. They were nice enough but I was too good a host to speak my mind and tell them what was actually wrong with their country. After I fix the reconciliation problem, I'll have to face up to finding a way to like Yanks! We all have our prejudicial weak points!

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