Northern Territory

Australia is big. And varied. We had a week to spare to explore it… So the strategy was to choose just one area, and we chose the Northern Territory. Hallie, Jesse and I flew to Darwin and did four days of tours in Kakadu National Park. This area has spectacular scenery plus it is the home of many of the aboriginal people who lived here for 50,000 years +/- before Europeans showed up with metal and guns and greed and diseases.

Of course the arrival of the Europeans did not go well for the people whose home this was. In many ways what happened is similar to what happened in North America when the Europeans arrived. One difference is that this area is remote, harsh, tropical — not a place that was readily overrun with immigrants. So there are still large areas that are nearly “wild,” and still the homeland of the people who are now called the “traditional owners” of the land. In fact, in Arnhem Land whites cannot enter without a permit.

The aboriginal culture is complex, and I understand little of it. The creation myths are referred to (by English translators/interpreters) as Dreamtime. But Dreamtime is not exactly a “time” — it is not just a distant past, it is another dimension of experience that can be accessed today. There is no written language. There are Stories. And there are paintings on the rock that relate to the Stories.

Each child born falls into a classification system that determines who s/he can marry. It also determines which Stories are his/hers. All children learn Stories for a level of general knowledge, but the “graduate level” gets more specialized. You must learn the particular Stories for your group, and tell them and pass them on.

All the indigenous animals have creation Stories. For example, the long neck turtle and the echidna (similar to a hedgehog) were friends that did everything together. The echidna had a baby. One day the echidna wanted to go far in search of food, and she asked the turtle to watch her baby. A long time went by, and the echidna didn’t return. The turtle got very hungry. Still the echidna didn’t return, and the hungry turtle ate the baby echidna. And then the mother returned, with plenty of food. “Where is my baby?” she asks. “I was very hungry, and I ate the little one,” the turtle replies. The echidna says, “You are not my friend.” And the two of them fight. The echidna throws stones at the turtle. The turtle takes handfuls of sharp cane grass, and beats the echidna with them. And that is why the turtle has a stone-like shell, and the echidna has sharp spines.

One of our guides explained that you must learn to “feel” with more than the five western senses. He had our group walk over an area where he said we might be able to sense something unusual. Nobody noticed. He turned to Hallie, and said, “Didn’t you feel that?” Hallie apparently has an aura that told him she would be more attuned to the vibrations. The source of the vibration in this case was underground water. He then had Hallie stand in a particular spot, where her body felt an internal heat. This, he said, was a stagnant underground pool. Not a good place to make your camp. Westerners make the mistake all the time of buying or building a house where the energy is bad. Such a simple mistake to avoid if you are tuned in. The aboriginal children grow up tuning in. All children sense these energies, he tells us, but in the West we teach children that these sensations are not real, while here the children are encouraged to develop the ability.

Our guides were fabulous — gentle, caring people willing to share a wealth of information. We could only absorb a tiny amount. But Jesse got recommendations for two books, so we can learn more.

Although the locals divide the year into six seasons, the big distinction is wet versus dry. We are at the end of the dry season. This means that most areas are accessible by 4WD, but the waterfalls have no falling water. In the wet season many of the areas we visited are under 3 or 4 metres of water! Because it is dry season, the crocodiles are in the remaining water, in the billabongs. In wet season they spread out over the flooded countryside. So…we saw LOTS of crocs!

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I like the icon in the lower left. Four fatalities so far this year...
I like the icon in the lower left. Four fatalities so far this year…
Rock art
Rock art
Rock art
Rock art

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Taking a boat on the Alligator River. The guy who explored/named the rivers was confused about alligators vs crocodiles, but his name stuck!
Taking a boat on the Alligator River. The guy who explored/named the rivers was confused about alligators vs crocodiles, but his name stuck!

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The photos above are just from Day 1… Brace yourself for three more days!

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Trevor, our fascinating guide into the realm, both physical and energetic.
Trevor, our fascinating guide into the realm, both physical and energetic.
Our 4WD transport for the physical realm.
Our 4WD transport for the physical realm.

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There is a vertical crack in the rocks, under the highest overhang to the right. Young men throw spears at it. Yes, from the level where the photo is taken! If they get their spear lodged into the crack, they become a spear-throwing superstar.
There is a vertical crack in the rocks, under the highest overhang to the right. Young men throw spears at it. Yes, from the level where the photo is taken! If they get their spear lodged into the crack, they become a spear-throwing superstar.
Another look at the same rock, and Jesse hurling an imaginary spear at the distant target.
Another look at the same rock, and Jesse hurling an imaginary spear at the distant target.
Trevor tries hard to explain the rock art and its Stories to us.
Trevor tries hard to explain the rock art and its Stories to us.
This work of art is “signed” per the handprints.

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Next stop on the cultural tour...
Next stop on the cultural tour…
Nobody paints on rocks anymore -- too hard to preserve and transport and market. But the symbols and the Stories and many of the methods remain.
Nobody paints on rocks anymore — too hard to preserve and transport and market. But the symbols and the Stories and many of the methods remain.
Preparing pandanus leaves for weaving.
Preparing pandanus leaves for weaving.
Class continues with Trevor, teaching us about bush tucker (food in the wild)
Class continues with Trevor, teaching us about bush tucker (food in the wild)

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End of Day 2 of our four days in Kakadu. Next we head for Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. The falls are from an escarpment 500 kilometers long, down to the flat floodplain below. The river gorge is not the result of water erosion, but of the shifting plates of the earth’s surface ripping open this long rift.

Approaching Jim Jim Falls. Except at the end of the dry season there is no falls.
Approaching Jim Jim Falls. Except at the end of the dry season there is no falls.
But there is a “plunge pool” that is wonderful for swimming. Crocs have been removed, we are told. Jesse is first to go in.
The “escarpment.” National park on this side, Arnhem Land (up) on the other.

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We get a boat ride part way up to Twin Falls.
We get a boat ride part way up to Twin Falls.
The ledge at treetop height was used as a camp for boys ~12 years old, where they would stay with some of the men for 3 months of skills training and initiation into manhood.
The ledge at treetop height was used as a camp for boys ~12 years old, where they would stay with some of the men for 3 months of skills training and initiation into manhood.
The precarious sandstone shapes I find fascinating.
The precarious sandstone shapes I find fascinating.
Only a trickle at the falls.
Only a trickle at the falls.

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Back to our comfy hotel (built in the shape of a crocodile), exhausted. But we still have another day in Kakadu, starting with Ubirr Rock…

The Story behind a rock painting is explained.
The Story behind a rock painting is explained.

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There are paintings all along this wall.
There are paintings all along this wall.
This section of the wall has some older depictions of fish, a long-necked turtle and a wallaby, plus a newer (obviously) picture of a “white man.”
This wall is mostly “painted” by non-human action. Except right in the middle is a depiction of a (now extinct) Tasmanian Tiger. How did the artist get it there!?
It's hard to stop with the rock painting photos. Just one more...
It’s hard to stop with the rock painting photos. Just one more…

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Our delightful new friend Indu.
Our delightful new friend Indu.

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Back to the bus after a joyous morning at Ubirr Rock.
Back to the bus after a joyous morning at Ubirr Rock.
To the river, and another inspiring guide, Tyson.
To the river, and another inspiring guide, Tyson.
And crocs.
And crocs.
And more crocs (two here).
And more crocs (two here).
No crocs in this picture. But as everyone is fond of saying, “Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there…”
Spear throwing with a woomera (similar to an atlatl).
Spear throwing with a woomera (similar to an atlatl).

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A few more images courtesy of Indu…

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9 thoughts on “Northern Territory”

  1. Wow! amazing pictures! Arnhem reminds me of the Canyon de Chelly in AZ where you are only allowed onto the floor of the canyon with a Navajo guide.

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  2. Wow! Very interesting rock formations. Love the rock art!. I love that the aboriginal people are referred to as the “traditional owners of the land”. Maybe we should adopt that terminology here in the states. So glad you guys are having fun. Can’t wait to hear all about the trip, the rock art, animals, the people, etc. Hugs to all. Kathy

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  3. Those were some amazing days with some very special people.
    Thank you Holland family for being part of my journey 🙂
    ‘Even more important than the glass half full is the fact that it is a beautiful glass’
    May the adventures continue.

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  4. The Aboriginal people have one of the most complex kinship system of anywhere in the world! I travelled a bit farther south than where you were – to Alice and Ayers Rock – loved the vast openness.

    Great photos and you all are clearly having a grand adventure! Best, Dee

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