One of the places we really wanted to visit was Ubirr, to look at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings. As we drove along the road, again we passed many Floodway signs. We came across our first flooded road and drove through easily enough, the water wasn’t too deep.
The second flood was much wider. On close inpection, I could see the double white lines in the middle of the road as far as at least half way across the puddle. Puddle? Almost a lake. The car rental man had warned us about some roads only being suitable for 4WD vehicles, and told us that we weren’t insured to drive between sunset and sunrise. He hadn’t said anything about flooded roads.
But, if we hadn’t continued, we would never see Ubirr. There was comfort in seeing other vehicles at the car park, and they definitely weren’t all 4-wheel drive. Certainly not the campervans! So, if we became stranded, at least we had company!
Helen had told us that crocodiles can be seen at Cahill’s Crossing when the tide changes. We were here at low tide, and the water was low enough to be able to cross over into Arnhem Land, if we wanted to, and if we had the permit. But, no crocs in sight. Just a couple of fishermen and a few fish jumping in the fast flowing water. Actually, fishermen jumping in the water would be quite entertaining. High tide wouldn’t happen for another twelve hours, which is a shame.
As we drove into the car park, we saw a black snake slither sinuously across the road in front of us. It was very fast, totally black as far as I could tell. Yes, it was good to see from the safety of our vehicle.
We also saw our first dingo, out in the wild. Jenny sent a video warning. “What do dingos do, Martha?” “They bite our bottoms!” This advice, given to Jenny on Hamilton Island some years ago, will now be passed on down the generations. And has been passed back up to us ancients.
Some of the tracks were closed, probably overgrown vegetation or a landslide or something, we surmised. But, knowing the dangers in this area, well, in Australia generally, we didn’t venture beyond the sign.
Even so, we saw plenty of fascinating geological artefacts. Rocks stacked up as if by human intervention, large cliff-like escarpments, things last seen in a TV documentary, or even in a Geography text book at school.
Termites know no limits and their skyscrapers provide magificent lookout posts for lizards.
No luck with crocodiles, but this fallen palm frond has some very impressive sharp teeth.
From Cahill’s Crossing to Ubirr was a short drive, and we joined many other people as we walked around the trail, admiring the rock art. Some was easily identifiable, but fortunately, the information boards helped with some interpretation.
From Ubirr too, we could admire the rock structures, including the overhanging rocks that provide shelter, and a place for the paintings to be preserved, sometimes for tens of thousands of years.
Although an Aboriginal artist is not supposed to touch up or improve on someone else’s work, after a time, a painting can be overwritten with a new one, a palimpsest. Experts can tell the various ages, and see how the ancients’ lifestyles changed over time.
We climbed, or clambered, up the rocks and were both taken aback by the view, in all directions. It really is a big country, almost overwhelming.
The colours here are incredibly bright, as if the intensity has been turned up to 11. The green grass, the blue sky, the white clouds.
At first glance, this picture could be an elephant, but it is the Rainbow Serpent, a character that features in many Aboriginal stories, some not very nice. And some stories are really warnings , without happy endings.
The Rainbow Serpent usually lives peacefully in waterways but can be upset by some noises, especially children crying.
One day, the Rainbow Serpent heard the constant cries of a child coming from an Ulbu camp. The child was crying for sweet lily root but when night fell, the child was given sour lily root by mistake. The cries became even louder and could still be heard in the morning.
Suddenly, cold gusts of wind sprang up – a sure sign that the Rainbow is near. The Rainbow Serpent ran into the camp, trapped everybody with its huge circular body and swallowed the child and most of the people.
Just one chapter in the journey of the Rainbow Serpent, passed down through the generations.
Some Aboriginal sites are deemed sacred because they can be the source of a horrible disease. The swollen joints of Miyamiya are depicted in an old painting.
It’s been a mystery during our travels in Asia and Australia: just where do geckos go during the daytime? I now have the conclusive answer.
I visited the public lavatory before leaving Ubirr, and when I opened the baby changing table, I revealed not one but two geckos having a rest. Not the sort of thing you need to see unexpectedly if you have a baby in one hand and a nappy in the other.
And another first: we saw a goanna run into the bush at the side of the road as we drove away. I didn’t even catch the tip of its tail in the photo!
We reached the flooded road again and at least now, we knew it wasn’t too deep.
I waded through the water, hoping there were no crocs, nor even leeches, but I was surprised to see little fishes in the water above the road surface. All that, just so I could take a picture of the boat we’d rented in Darwin.
Next stop was the Bowali Visitor Centre, near Jabiru, the Headquarters of Kakadu National Park. Amongst other fascinating exhibits, we saw this notice. It’s a few days out of date but we were glad we hadn’t seen it before the morning excursion!
It goes without saying that I had a cup of coffee, so I won’t say it. We watched some wildlife through the window. Window? There was no glass, just a hole in the wall.
We read a lot about how the original peoples here live with the environment, look after it for future generations and it’s a philosophy we could all adopt.
Yes, I am aware of my own contribution to the destruction of the planet by flying all over the place for the last nine months. And when I can think of one, I’ll add a ‘but…’. The displays in this visitor centre certainly makes you think about things in a non-white, non-European, non-western manner.
I’m sure we’ve seen these trees without realising. An-binik trees grow in the rock country of Kakadu and nowhere else in the world. They’re typically thirty metres tall or more, and provide shade for smaller monsoon forest plants. A relic rainforest species with links to ancient Gondwana. Every time I think the breadth and depth of the history of this place is within my grasp, something else even older, bigger comes along. In another quirk of fate, our Jabiru accommodation shares its name with this ancient tree.
We haven’t seen a warning sign for a while, so what a delight to see this one.
This is Aboriginal country but that doesn’t stop mainly white prospectors from wanting to mine for the uranium here. That would be terrible for the local environment, no matter how much they bribe the local officials, if that’s what it comes to.
Kakadu is one of the few places in Australia where there has been limited or no extinctions of plants or animals during the last 150 years. It hosts more than 200 ant species, more than 1000 species of flies, most of them buzzing around my face at any given moment, more than 100 species of reptile, more than 64 species of mammal and about 280 species of birds, over a third of those known in the whole of Australia.
Like the song says: Since they built the uranium mine, what’s just left now is just toxic slime.
One final stop today, at Jabiru Lake. We were going to walk around it, but it is much bigger than anticipated. And yes, there were croc warnings. People have had plans to keep the crocodiles out and let the lake be used for leisure activities, such as swimming. One expert says that to do that, you’d have to build a 20-feet high fence all around. Twenty feet? The implication is that crocodiles could, if they wanted, get over a 19-feet high fence. The mind boggles.
So we sat by the picnic table and watched birds for a while, instead of walking.
We saw cockatoos, wagtails, magpie geese (in the distance, natch) and other water birds. And another first: actual termites outside, looking busy.
Later, as we were eating in the communal kitchen, Liesel asked if what she’d just seen was a snake. Where? There, up by the ceiling. The only way I could check was by holding the phone out at an awkward angle and taking a picture. Glad to report, it was just a plain ordinary gecko. What I didn’t really need to see was the cockroach outside the communal bathroom. All showy with its antennae as long as its body. And you just know, if there’s one, there’s a million.
Good night, sleep well, don’t have nightmares.