Kakadu, Katherine Gorge & Litchfield – Out & About in NT!

On our last morning in Kakadu National Park, we took a boat ride along the East Alligator River, which separates Kakadu National Park from Arnhem Land, all within the political boundaries of Northern Territory in the contemporary nation-state of Australia. By that point I’d seen Aboriginal rock art that’s been dated back, in some cases, as far as 20,000 or more years. I’d heard how the current estimate of how long Aboriginal cultures have lived in this part of the world is now up to about 60,000 years — as archaeologists continue their studies and dig deeper down the layers, they can carbon date and look other clues to the time of each layer, based on known climate changes or changes in what animals were in which area when.

Anyway, so here we were coasting along this river with a very personal narrative from a guy who grew up here, whose parents grew up here…whose ancestors, one presumes, have been in and around this spot of land on the planet for something like 20,000 or 60,00o years or so. I’m seeing crocodiles much like the one below — huge saltwater (estuarine) crocs that look magnificently primeval and dinosaur-esque, I’m seeing beautiful and timeless landscapes on both sides of this deep green river. I’m imagining the flow of time. I’m thinking about where my own ancestors might have been 20,000 to 60,000 years ago – times when northern Europe was under mountains of ice, so they sure as heck  still wandering somewhere else.

My most immediate thought was this: if global warming does sort of end contemporary late-capitalist civilization as we know it; if some of the movie fantasies that show up in films like Water World do come to pass…I bet the aboriginals of Australia will keep on going. So my first thought was about how these are people who have merged their culture with their land, with their fairly harsh environment surrounded by extremes, in ways that I and mine haven’t come anywhere near for millennia, if ever.

This was the relatively simplest expression of a wide range of far more complex reflections that I was having throughout my two weeks in Australia, about race and colonialism, history and society, and so on. While in Darwin after Kakadu, we saw an excellent Aboriginal & Torres Straits Islander art competition. The winner in one category (works on paper, maybe?) was drawn from a few facebook discussion groups about aboriginals, with a lot of really astoundingly racist and ill-informed or frankly ahistorical and anti-reality based comments about what Aboriginals are and represent in Australia. I had that to think about, compared with the (so far limited) experiences I’ve been having in PNG, a colonial-created modern nation, which from 40,000 years ago until about 100 years ago was hundreds of individual cultures…then went through a short phase as an Australian colony and is now working its way towards being a modern nation-state governed democratically by its own indigenous inhabitants who themselves have been around about as long as the aboriginals of Australia have. So there are interesting comparisons – Australia more like the US in that Europeans arrived and stayed, claimed primary ascendancy in governance and politics and rapidly outnumbered their predecessors; vs PNG where Australians did that for a period then left, leaving behind a created state.

There’s no way I could do a decent job of sharing the complexity of my thoughts. I have no conclusions. It worries me that humans are still tribal by nature, at a time when our technology and sheer numbers can have such global impacts. But we’re endlessly creative and problem-solving, we modern humans (meaning our species since about 100,000 years ago or something of that sort…not my field). So here’s hoping we’ll sort this out rather than continue to tear each other and our world apart.

Enough seriousness. Enjoy the pics! Northern Territory, Kakadu and so on ROCK.

What you’re seeing so far… Immediately above: Paul contemplates the impressive scariness of a termite mound at Maguk campsite in Kakadu. Above that, all shots from the various parts of Kakadu where we camped. Below, a suite of shots from Litchfield National Park (closer to Darwin – the two waterfall shots) and then Katherine Gorge (south of Kakadu).

NT is marked by extreme seasons: a very wet wet season, then a very dry dry season, called “the wet” and “the dry” by locals I believe. In the shot of Katherine Gorge below, you’ll notice many trees bending strongly in the downriver direction. This is from the wet, when half of the gorge is full of water and all the trees are deep underwater, and bent over by the force of the current. That’s when saltwater crocs can come all the way south the Katherine Gorge even though it’s hundreds of kilometers from the ocean, because there’s so much water they can easily swim in, then get stranded when the wet ends and the various bits of the gorge get more disconnected by rapids and rocky stretches as below.

…Howard & Gene enjoying a swim at Florence Falls in Litchfield, above; and the sunset at Katherine Gorge, below.


And now, as of the shot of me above, we’re back in Kakadu. Immediately above: rock art showing inflamed joints, interpreted traditionally as the local spirits of a bad place punishing people for being there. Modern science tells us that there’s a lot of uranium in the spots that have traditionally be identified as not good for humans, but reserved for spirits instead. About rock art: the red color can last longest, so in the very oldest paintings it’s only the red that will hold up. The yellow, white, and some of the other colors can last a few thousand years – but the red can last tens of thousands, literally. And below is our tour guide, referred to above, demonstrating how to use a spear thrower to increase the range of a spear. Below that, Paul with the spears after he picked them from the river, once we were back on the boat. Yes, the same river where we’d been seeing 5-meter-long salties. 🙂

 A car crossing from Kakadu into the fully-aboriginal-reserved Arnhem Land. Below, me in Katherine Gorge…yeah, some of these are a bit mixed up. Artistic license? 🙂

This is maguk — a waterfall, a big deep swimming hole below and a lovely set of pools above. Immediately below: how Paul spent the better part of an afternoon relaxing at the upper bit of Maguk.


Some views of the nature where we were. Immediately left (if this shows up as I hope once finalized), sunning itself on the sand by the side of Katherine Gorge, is a freshie – freshwater crocodile, not really a threat to swimmers etc. unless you step directly on them. A saltie (esturaine or saltwater croc) is showing off her teeth above. There are thousands of magnificent birds all over Kakadu – migrating waterbirds, parrots and singing or raucous birds of all sorts. And, of course, the ever-present agile kangaroos. And then, below, another freshie doing the crocodile rock… :-/

 The timing of this vacation was set to overlap with my 50th birthday. Howard & Gene had  a few surprises on the evening of my actual birthday at the absolutely gorgeous Maguk area – as you see below.

Below: if you wonder how I got some of the angles on water, rock, and the landscape below…that’s me the intrepid travel photographer at work.

6 responses

  1. Hosanna Fox

    This looks like an amazing trip – complete with birthday celebrations in the bush! The photos are gorgeous, it must have been even more spectacular in person. Thanks for sharing, as always.

    August 26, 2012 at 18:39

  2. Stephen Brockmann

    Wow Paul, these pictures are really beautiful. The whole trip looks spectacular. I love the rock art. I’m wondering: do the salties and the freshies get along with each other? I like your birthday cake too! Hope you’re having a great meeting in Singapore!

    August 26, 2012 at 21:32

  3. Chris Landriau

    Beautiful photos, deep thinking, 50th birthday. Nice.

    August 27, 2012 at 01:21

  4. Steve Dickman

    Those are unbelievable, some of your best travel photos ever. Really enjoyed seeing you and Howard and Gene adapting yourselves (rather well, it seems), to the local environs. If there are any more bird pics in your discards, I’d love to see those too. Really wonderful.

    August 27, 2012 at 05:42

  5. profknapp

    Happy belated birthday. Looks like you had a good one.
    I think of you often and read your blog (often quietly without commenting, but I do read it).
    Funny about the rock art-Anne and I were in Utah this summer and drove all over looking at, and for, petroglyphs and petrographs (I think I’ve got that right). Didn’t know about the red, and I’m wondering if that’s true all over since most of what we saw *was* red.
    As always, your photos are spectacular. Thanks for posting.

    September 16, 2012 at 03:06

  6. Anrhony Cinelli

    Happy 50th, Paul! What a spectacular golden anniversary tour. Fantastic photo journalism with some serious philosophical meditations for our consideration, I must say, and your photos are colorfully reminiscent of Ansel Adams. Thanks for sharing! Tony

    August 8, 2013 at 12:02

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