Tag Archives: arnhemland

Sandstone Country – Part 1

Mount Borradaile is unique in that it is a small tourist venture on land that is leased from the Amarak people whose land lies just east of the East Alligator River. They no longer live in the area, but are involved with the camp – the traditional owners visit periodically and have input into the sites that are shown and the stories that are told. We’ll look at the indigenous side of things later on, but first I’d like to show you how things like in Sandstone Country after the Wet.

During the Dry, things are dusty, sandy, and frequently burnt.

IMG_3547

However, after the Wet, things are rather green.

Sandstone country after the Wet

So green, in fact that there is a green tinge everywhere from herbs and various other ground covers.

Sandstone country after the Wet

And all the ground cover plants are blooming – the flowers are lovely and delicate.

Sandstone country after the Wet

Here are some native violets.

Sandstone country after the Wet

A kind of poppy.

Sandstone country after the Wet

And a type of heath flower.

Sandstone country after the Wet

All very beautiful to see. All unique to the Top End after the Wet season.

Back to Mount Borradaile – Part 2

Soon we were away from all civilisation and flying over the wetlands of the Top End, crossing little rivers…

Darwin to Mt Borradaile

And much bigger ones further east that form part of Kakadu National Park.

Darwin to Mt Borradaile

It’s the end of a very good Wet season (the best in five years) so the rivers and creeks were still discharging water. This meant great conditions for barramundi fishing, and we saw quite a few boats from above.

Darwin to Mt Borradaile

I was also fascinated by the clouds and the patterns they formed down below.

Darwin to Mt Borradaile

After a bit over an hour, we descended into Arnhemland, and down to Mount Borradaile – a little bit of civilisation in the wilds.

Darwin to Mt Borradaile

Farewell Top End

We’ll farewell the Top End with another stupendous sunset cruise on the Coopers River billabong.

Dinner time Cruising down the billabong

It was a profound, emotional experience, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. The wildlife, scenery and rock art are amazing, but above all, the cultural things that I learned that typically only happens when I visit a completely foreign country. I admit that this all comes at a price, but if you have an opportunity to visit Mount Borradaile, jump at it. Magnificent sunsets like this one awaits you.

The smoke makes for a brilliant sunset

Billabong Sunset Going
Going Gone

This isn’t the end of my Northern Territory journey, though. Next up, the Red Centre!

History of Civilisation

I had thought the giant rainbow serpent impressive, but there was even a bigger surprise in store when Max brought us out on to a large rock overhang. He called the place (for want of a better name) “Major Art”, as if everything else was minor compared to this.

When we saw the massive wall, covered from top to bottom with paintings, I could see what he meant by it. It really was a history of civilisation.

Incredible

Paintings aren’t redrawn but drawn over, so that the story remains. There were illustrations of spirits and detailed paintings of animals. There was a depiction of a sailing ship as well as guns that illustrate the arrival of westerners.

Sailing ship Serpent
Buffalo hunting rifles The waiting room

And there were hundreds of handprints.

Blue hand prints

That was just what was on the surface. As a matter of fact, the wall was thick with ochre. I was very moved, more moved than I’ve felt sitting in some grand cathedrals. The 50,000 years of civilisation, how many people have come here to illustrate their lives? It brought home that Australia is a very ancient country. Ancient and grand.

Like Indiana Jones

We went further into the bush, almost at the wetlands, to the catacombs.

Catacombs

It was all very Indiana Jones, as we went through dark tunnels, slipped through crevaces, and disturbed a cave full of flying foxes. Max showed us remnants of life and of trade with neighbours overland and overseas. An axe. A rosewood domino. Shards of Chinese pottery. A Dutch tobacco box. All untouched, as it was when the locals were moved to settlements 50 or so years ago.

Malakan pick axe IMG_3566
Grinding The kitchen

Top End Flora

The landscape of the Top End is so very different from down south, so it follows that the plants there are very different too. It’s fascinating to see the variety that exists, as well as finding out from Max their many uses.

Kurrajong flower Kapok bush pod Soap bush
Grevillea Turkey bush

We were given insight into traditional life of the clans in Arnhemland, like the proper way to do back burning (unlike the massive operations I saw from the plane): in the late afternoon and in a small area so that it will burn out by itself, as demonstrated here. That way the bush will have time to regenerate properly.

IMG_3547

Dreamtime

Our next adventure was visiting the most striking single piece of rock art in the area: the giant rainbow serpent. The rainbow serpent stories actually originated in Arnhemland, so it’s fitting that I was able to see one of the most vivid representations of it. Unlike in Kakadu, there were no walkways or handrails, just a ride in an ancient Jeep and a walk through the bush.

On safari It was hot that day
Glimpse of the serpent Glimpse of the serpent

We eventually ended up in the overhang, and this is what we saw:

The rainbow serpent

The painted serpent is a mammoth 6 metres long and thousands of years old (up to 10,000 years old some say). It’s quite humbling to sit at the foot of this painted serpent. So old and yet so alive. Completely wondrous.

Garden of Eden

I had little idea of what to expect when I landed at Mount Borradaile, only that I was going to experience something special.

No sooner than I’d put my bags down, I was whisked away down to the billabong in what turned out to be the daily sunset cruise. On the boat were the other 5 guests that were staying that night, plus Max (the camp owner), Charlie (the Aboriginal elder in the area), and Jim (a local Aboriginal guide, and mate of Charlie’s). A far cry from the packed-like-sardines cruise on Yellow Waters.

Small numbers are one thing, but as soon as we were out in the middle of the billabong, I realised that even “special” was an understatement.

Mt Borradaile

Sea Eagle Lilies Spot the croc

Freshwater crocodile Magpie Geese

The wealth of wildlife just on that relatively small strip of waterway, was frankly astonishing. Added to that was one of the most tranquil sunsets I’d ever seen.

Smoky sunset

I really was in heaven. But as astounding as the cruise was, there were more things just as wonderful in store.

Bird’s Eye View

I’m not good with motion sickness. I get seasick within ten minutes of going into rough waters. I can’t read in cars. Plus I’m a little afraid of heights. So I wasn’t really looking forward to my flights in a single engine, six seater plane – the quickest way of getting to Mount Borradaile, a small safari camp on the western edge of Arnhemland, from Jabiru, Kakadu’s only town.

I had a nervous couple of minutes as the plane went airborne. So high in such a small thing! But I can’t deny that the views were good and interesting.

Ranger Uranium Mine Arnhemland escarpment
East Alligator River Burn off

On the way back to Darwin I was fine. A good thing because it was a longer flight, via Croker Island to drop some people off. This time I got a great view of the river systems of Arnhemland and the floodplains that surround them.

Arnhemland from the air Arnhemland from the air
Arnhemland from the air Arnhemland from the air