Pretty soon it was our final evening at the camp (and a spectacular evening it was with our convivial camp hosts and guests).
And the following morning it was a fond goodbye to everyone before heading off to the airstrip in the troop carrier.
And then up in the Cesna, over the now familiar landscape.
We flew once again over the massive river delta that edges Kakadu National Park and Arnhemland.
And over the fantastic colours in Van Diemens Gulf.
Pretty soon we were back in Darwin, and civilisation. Don’t think we’d forget Mount Borradaile anytime soon, though.
One of the most interesting walls of art were ones that depicted contact with outsiders.
Among the hand prints and animal drawings was a sailing ship. The groups in this region would have known about white men very early on, first perhaps from the Makassan fishermen from Sulawesi, Indonesia, and then perhaps from seeing passing Dutch and Portuguese ships.
By the time the English came, they were very familiar with ships, as seen from the wall below.
Here, the artist has painted a steam ship in great detail.
The artist has even tried to copy writing (and almost got it).
They didn’t know that the outsiders would end up changing their way of life forever. Now we only have these remnants to admire and wonder.
It wasn’t just ceremonial sites that we visited — many were places where families had lived. Some shelters were vast and could have fit dozens of people.
Others were more cosy. The overhang below had comfortable sleeping ledges and a ‘kitchen’ area with grinding holes.
Here were grinding and cutting tools, and a bit of metal salvaged.
At another site, a message stick (a major communication tool between clans) had been left. I wonder what it said?
Unlike in Kakadu National Park, where the rock art is easily accessible with signs, paths, hand-rails etc, the rock art at Mount Borradaile has been left in its original setting (bar some light weeding for easy access).
It meant that getting to some of the art works was a mini adventure which involved perching on boulders…
Squeezing into crevices…
Or scrambling up cliffs into high overhangs.
But the effort was worth the while…
When you see generations of art on one wall.
Land animals were always very important to the Amarak. During the last Ice Age, the ocean would have been more than 100km away, hence they would have relied on these animals more for food.
Wallabies were common in these parts as they lived among the rocks, and made a good feed.
And goannas were often found up the trees and also made a good feed.
However, the walls also showed animals from long past. The thylacine (a.k.a. Tasmanian tiger) for example had lived in the area at one stage. You can quite clearly see its stripes.
And what about this bird? Is it an emu, or some other extinct giant bird species?
Unlike in Central Australia, where life and art revolved around water, the people of Arnhemland were more interested in capturing their fauna, which was integral to daily life. We viewed many paintings of animals, some recent and some potentially very old.
Fish was of course very important, since it was abundant when the water levels were high. The white ochre paint used and the intricate cross-hatching meant that the painting was probably done in the last four thousand years.
This dugong (a sea cow) has been overpainted with a pair of wallabies.
And this fish was so bright that it could have been painted yesterday.
All our adventures had been on Amarak land, lying east of the East Alligator River across from Kakadu National Park. The Amarak lived traditionally on their land until the 1950s, and the land had seen little use until Mount Borradaile was established in the 1980s.
Given that the Amarak lived on the land until relatively recently, there were many paintings and habitation places around the property that are well preserved. We were able to see quite a few in the four days we were there. Some were ‘mens business’ places – mens ceremonial places – as you can tell from these set of paintings – they’re all of busty women!
Others were of a more spiritual bent. This giant three metre long serpent was drawn on the roof of an overhang.
Being so close to the coast, the serpent had many shark/crocodile like features.
And was spectacular close-up.
The sea eagle wasn’t the only large bird we saw on the floodplain. It was a tad early to be seeing large flocks of magpie geese, but we saw this beagle egret, white against the dark green grasses.
And it was a joy to watch it take flight beside our boat.
While on the floodplain, we once again encountered the magnificent sea eagle.
And later on were able to come quite close to the tree it landed on.
It was quite late in the day when we saw it, so perhaps dinner was on its mind?
The floodplain was surrounded by sandstone country.
Many of these places are sacred and contain walls of rock art, some which outsiders have been allowed to visit, and others which are for only the initiated.
We skirt the shores to find sandstone and lush vegetation side by side.
And even get to venture on land.
It’s quite a view from the top.