Ubirr – Sun 12th Jul
We had stayed overnight in Merl campsite, a rabbit warren of a place with secluded clearings at the end of tracks. Suprisingly it was almost empty, although that may be to do with the mosquitos which were vicious; so much so that we debated whether or not to stay another night however going back to Jabiru would have meant missing sunset from the lookout.
Ubirr, like Nourlangie, has some fantastic rock art, and again there was a free ranger guided tour.
First up is Mabuyu, who after having his fish stolen waited until nightfall and then trapped the thieves in the cave where they slept – they never came out, a lesson against stealing.
Also like Nourlangie there is a shelter, used until late last century. With rock art often the act of painting i.e. the education is more important than the resultant picture, and older art is simply painted over. Here the art shows various food sources, in a great sweep from left to right, for example the pig nosed turtle appears
Interspersed is contact art, from when white faces appeared. For example, alongside the turtle (above) is a figure smoking a pipe with his hands in his pockets – a smaller version occurs further along, also hands in pockets. Also visible are a pair of hands with forearms; it seems some Binninj were terrified of white women, thinking that when they took their gloves off they were removing their skin.
Interesting in the art here is evidence of a thylacine, a Tasmanian Tiger, so this dates from before they went extinct in this area c.4000 years ago. With the introduction of the dingo from Asia the thylacine was out competed until its only home was Tasmania.
Whilst the local people acknowledge they painted some art, other art they say is not theirs. Mimi spirits are believed to have painted some; being very tall and thin they can lift rocks down to paint and then put them back – this painting of sorcery figures was about 20m up on the shelter roof, if it wasn’t the spirits then someone was rather good at building ladders.
Other paintings are believed to have been made by ancestors from Creation Time. For example by the Rainbow Serpent
Finally, climbing towards the top of the rocky outcrop, there is a fascinating area, what looks like a teaching spot, with the art under an overhang faced by rock ledges easy to visualise as seats. So far as has been shared there are two stories here. Firstly a lesson in punishment – a girl was punished too severely or eating barramundi at the wrong time, leading to an interclan battle, shown in the painting, in which many died; apparently young boys are taught this while the men point spears at them, try doing that in a modern classroom!
Secondly a lesson on crocodiles. We heard two versions of this story. In the first the Namarrgarn sisters turned themselves into crocodiles so they could kill whomever they liked i.e. beware of crocodiles (to the local people Crocodiles are Ginja). In the second they enjoyed disguising themselves as crocodiles and jumping out on people, but did it so often they were transformed into the large scales behind the crocodile’s head to forever look sadly at people on land wishing they could return i.e. a lesson on behaviour.
In the same place is what looks like a small depression in the rock – its a grinding hole for making flour, with a round stone being used to grind the grains. Current thinking is it takes about 1000 years to wear away about an inch, this one is well over 2 inches deep!
Ubirr is not only a significant for its art, but is also a fantastic viewing point for the adjacent wetlands, especially at sunset when the sun paints the rocks.
Jabiru – Mon 13th Jul
Before hitting the road to Darwin this was a chance to pick up supplies and chill out by the pool.
With great timing there was also another ranger talk with Christian, this time covering the history and development of rock art in Kakadu and Arnhemland, absolutely fascinating and included some of the art we had seen previously.
It was also an opportunity to ask Christian, given the local languages are oral only i.e. never written down, where the wonderfully complicated spellings had come from. Apparently they are the result of white phoneticists assigning spelling according to sounds, but are also constantly being changed and updated – it seems Kakadu should really be Gagadju.
Marrakai – Tue 14th Jul
Time to start the journey to Darwin. The quick route is along the Arnhem Highway, but there is an alternative. Shortly after the South Alligator river a track heads south, eventually joining up with the Old Jim Jim Road. What a fantastic drive, this must have been what Kakadu was like to drive before the bitumen was laid. At first it winds its way through woodland, before passing a several billabongs where you can camp, although you would be pretty close to the crocs…
The track then passes through grassland before heading back along the wetlands, and our second encounter with a water buffalo.
The wetlands are fantastic, with plenty of birdlife
Finally the track runs through some woodland, cut by a few creek beds which gave the articulation of the trailer a test – all good – before popping out an a lovely smooth dirt road. The Old Jim Jim road runs through an army base, plenty of keep out signs!
Our destination for the night was the Purple Mango Café. Newly opened, the owners have opened up their lounge, put tables on the deck and serve some great pizza from the woodfired oven. A great stopover place, and convenient for the jumping crocodiles.
Darwin – Wed 15th to Sat 18th
A good question is whether it is wise to teach crocs to leap into the air, next to a boat, for some meat. They are not dumb, so how long before they think about leaping into the boat. Suffice to say the cruise boat had bars on the sides, but I wouldn’t be taking a tinny on the Adelaide River, especially near Fogg Dam.
We hadn’t chosen the best time, being early in the morning the crocs don’t jump as high as later on when they have warmed up. They still jumped pretty high, with the females getting in first.
There are two large males in the river where we were. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Brutus, who once made the Sydney Morning Herald, but we did see Dominator. Daft name but I’m not going to tell him, he must have been over 5m long.
We were also lucky to see a crocodile nest. The female guards the nest until the eggs hatch then hangs around for a mount before vanishing. It looks like, well is, a pile of grass but is quite a feat of building – the temperature determines the gender, and the eggs will only hatch in around a 2 degree range
The girls piloted us safely back to shore.
In Darwin it seems all the campsites are all on the Stuart Highway, handy for getting into town but not exactly quiet. The Free Spirit was fine, a lovely shaded spot. I’m sure it is possible to spend a couple of weeks in Darwin seeing the sights, more of a whistle stop tour for us plus a chance to stock up on supplies and pick up the girl’s term 3 work from the post office. A great time was had nonetheless.
Mindl night markets
These run on Thursday and Sunday, and are quite an outing. Hils got a leave pass, I stayed back to look after the girls. By all accounts the place was heaving, had more types of food than you could name, plenty of entertainment and is a real local social occasion with crowds having dinner on the beach
Leanyer Water Park
This is a great facility, and better still is free. A three tube water slide, plus attached water playground; the girls couldn’t get enough of it. One of the tubes is a tandem, you go down on a blow up figure of 8, and better still the tube is dark – Hils screamed the whole way. This was also the venue for catching up with John and Amanda, great to update up on their travels since we last saw them, briefly, on the road in the Kimberley.
WWII Oil Tunnels
A bit of local history. The Japanese bombed the original fuel tanks, so it was decided secure facilities were required and tunnels were sunk into the hillside. Many technical problems later saw the war ended and the tunnels never used. A couple of them have been opened up and are a fascinating insight into Darwin’s past.