By mid-afternoon, we arrived in Katherine, 317km south-east of Darwin. It was time to get off the train and explore.
We chose to go to Nitmiluk (formerly Katherine) Gorge, which was a good 30 minutes coach ride away from the train station.
It was a very hot 37C in Katherine (with humidity!) and we were glad to get on to the boat and under cover.
Boats are practically the only means of seeing the Gorge in March as the water levels were still high, and so was the chance of seeing a salt-water crocodile!
And we were off on our north-south crossing of the continent! One thing I was looking forward to was to be able to watch the landscape change from my cabin window. Out of Darwin, it was a Savannah landscape common to a lot of Northern Australia, from Broome to Townsville.
It wasn’t long before we made our first trip to the restaurant, about 3 carriages away.
Lunch was in several sittings – we had an early sitting and the dining room was still quiet. It filled up pretty soon though.
The food in general was of a very high standard. A sample of some of the dishes we had…
Salmon mousse sushi for entree.
Chicken galantine as a main.
There was some emphasis on native Australian ingredients, so we had our share of crocodile, buffalo and kangaroo along with some native herbs, spices and fruits.
A sample of our breakfast menu shows that we never went hungry!
Darwin wasn’t the end of the trip but the mid-way point. Next, we were off on the Ghan – the famous train service that runs from Darwin through the centre of Australia to Adelaide – a route that is 2,979km long. The train is named after the Afghan cameleers that used to transport goods and services in Australia’s centre before the advent of the train or motor car.
We started off at the Darwin end at their railway station. Surprisingly, it’s a good 30 minutes from the city, but that’s because the Ghan required a mighty long platform – the train was almost a kilometre long with around 30 carriages. First task was to find our carriage. Luckily it was close by.
Inside our Gold Class carriage, it was pretty swish.
Our cabins were in day mode and were comfy and snug. Hint – any luggage larger than a backpack will get you in trouble. I saw people hauling large suitcases and wondered where they put them.
The bathroom was a bit of wonder for me. Shower, toilet and basin all in a 1.5m squared room. That’s tiny living!
Aside from the bombings, Darwin also experienced destruction in 1974, when it was razed to the ground by Cyclone Stacey. The old town hall was one building heavily hit. It was a very historic building before.
But after it was only a shell, though a well-preserved one.
The Anglican church also had a long history with the town and was razed to the ground by the cyclone.
But in this case, the city found an innovative way to integrate the old with the new.
We returned to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. I had been here once before, but only for a few days. We didn’t spend much more time this time around either, but we did see the newly created Waterfront. Aside from apartments and restaurants, it has a tiny beach (patrolled for crocs) and a much bigger wave pool.
Most of the jobs in Darwin these days is in the resources sector, particularly gas. You can see the gas refinery across Darwin Harbour (the box-shaped structure on the horizon) from the city.
But Darwin’s history is very much tied up with two big events. The first was the bombing of Darwin in 1942, which was the climax of the film Australia. Above the shore was a modest war memorial dedicated to those from the region who died in service.
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?