If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the Northern Territory, as I did recently while on the OUTBACK ADVENTURE tour run by Contiki, you should definitely save time to visit Kakadu National Park.
KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
While it’s possible to join a scenic flight or cruise in Kakadu National Park, simply walking through the bush and taking in the spectacular Aboriginal rock art is a really rewarding experience.
The rock art in Kakadu National Park has the Aboriginal name ‘gunbim’. It represents one of the oldest historical records of any group of people across the world. There are over 5000 sites containing art by the Aborigines, which together tell the story of changes in the landscape over thousands of years.
Animals are frequently represented, as well as stories of creation, hunting scenes and, more recently, paintings of the tribes’ first contact with Europeans. Dancing is also an important aspect of Aboriginal culture often depicted in rock paintings and Aboriginal art. The steps shown depend on the meaning of the ceremony, the part played by the dancer and the rhythm of the clapping sticks and didgeridoo.
EVOLUTION OF DESIGN
Often, newer paintings can be seen covering older ones, as the act of painting is considered to be more important than the painting itself.
The earliest work was mainly imprints of objects and handprints. It has since become more complex. Viewed chronologically, rock art is a useful indication of how the environment has changed over time. For example, a man with a spear hunting emu suggests that emu were more common on grasslands in the past, while depictions of boomerangs used for hunting in wide open spaces indicate that there used to be fewer trees than there are now.
Some rock art shows thylacines – tiger-like animals that have been known to be extinct for thousands of years. With the warmer climate, flying foxes appeared and the Aborigines painted them too.
After the last ice age, temperatures increased and waters flooded the valleys, creating mangrove swamps and savannah woodlands. As yams became an important food source, they began to feature heavily in rock art. Yams and human yam figures were often painted in association with a rainbow serpent.
The following image is of Nabulwinjbulwinj – a dangerous spirit who eats females after striking them with a yam…
The spectacular lightning storms that pass through the area every year are represented by Namarrgon (or the Lightning Man). He wears the lightning as a band connecting his arms, legs and head, while stone axes on his knees and elbows are said to create the thunder.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM ROCK ART
The rock art in Kakadu National Park shows that, more recently, salt flats were replaced by freshwater swamps and waterholes, bringing turtles, waterlilies and freshwater fish.
The arrival of foreigners (or ‘guhbele’) has also been described elaborately in rock art.
In the past 300 years, there have been several culture clashes between the Aborigines and Macassan traders, Chinese prospectors, and European buffalo shooters, pastoralists and missionaries. These groups brought with them new diseases, which infected the Aborigines and brought immense suffering.
Examples of Aboriginal rock art relating to the arrival of the guhbele include a European man with his hands in his pockets ordering the Aborigines around, and large ships that were used to transport buffalo hides to Darwin.
At the end of the walk, there are some scenic panoramas.
You will also find a plaque describing the tale of Namanjolg. After he and his sister broke the strict incest laws of the Aboriginal people, she took a feather from his head-dress and placed it on the cliff face to remind others of what they had done.
As the story goes, it turned to stone and can still be seen there today.
Throughout the Northern Territory, these kinds of stories are told to explain the layout of the land and to act as a reminder of the sacred practices and beliefs of the Aborigines. Taking the time to learn about them will really help you to understand Australia’s indigenous people and enhance the experience of visiting this culture-rich part of the country.
BOOK YOUR OUTBACK ADVENTURE TODAY…
…AND HAVE NO REGRETS
My Outback Adventure was sponsored by Contiki. While they requested that I write about my trip, the choice of topics has been left entirely up to me. Any opinions expressed are a genuine reflection on how I felt about the experience.