Learnings from Country


Day 5 & 6 Wednesday 31st May and Thursday 1st June, 2017

Kakadu self drive – 2 day trip Darwin to Jabiru, Kakadu.


On Wednesday Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir and I headed down the Arnhem highway ‘Thelma and Louise’ style, without the dramatic cliff ending. Instead we brave ladies travelled at the speed of allowable light through a smoky haze as Kakadu park smouldered from controlled burns across kilometres of traditional lands managed by the Bininj people.

Whistling kites circled above each burning area waiting for small creatures to escape the blaze. We have learnt that these cheeky Whistling Kites which are medium-sized bird’s of prey, have been known to start fires by picking up smouldering branches and dropping them in dry spots to catch alight – then watch their dinner run! Clever eh?

We took the Guluyambi Cultural Tour along East Alligator river led by “Sammy” our Aboriginal guide who provided an insight into traditional life lived on Country. We all know that Australia doesn’t have alligators but one of those first Dutch explorers saw a “Ginga” (a salt water crocodile) and mistook it for an alligator and Boom! labelled these unique waterways across Arnhem Land Alligator River.

Sammy was brought up on Country and remembers his father creating a canoe out of a paperbark tree and ferrying him across the river as a young child. The paperbark tree is tall and straight, perfect for a a canoe and the bark is waterproof. I am blown away by the infinite functionality of the humble paperbark trees (or malaleuca as Europeans refer to them). The bark can be peeled off to fashion small water holders by curving the bark and tying both ends. They cook things in paperbark and it acts like tin foil. The tree is used to build temporary shelters with leaves (gun-god), built slightly off the ground so small fires can be burnt underneath to keep warm and keep mozzies away.

Thirsty? …Natural water (djidjidok) humps form on the paperbark tree that can be used to quench a thirst despite tasting a little brackish. The paperbark is used as bed to sleep on or place babies on. They wrapped their people in paperbark from the day they were born till the day they died, when they were wrapped in paperbark and placed high on a platform until their bodies became cleansed by the elements. Then the bones were collected and buried in a special place either still wrapped in gun-god or placed into a hallow log which is painted with their totem story. However, now most people are buried the “balanda” ( white person way).


The First peoples see food everywhere within Kakadu’s abundant food chain – from sugar bag – wild honey (an-hung), crocodiles (ginga), crocodile eggs (ging), orange fig tree, white apple trees, goose eggs, kangaroo, rock python and so much more! Everything is here in their natural supermarket.

The beautiful pink bush photo here is called citronella or ‘Turkey bush’ which is used as natural mosquito repellant either by placing on a fire 🔥 to burn or rub directly on skin.

This tour was completely overwhelming in magnificence because of the cultural knowledge shared with us; the richness and bounty of Country, the intensity of quiet yet full of sounds from the waterways, skyways and land. At times on the cruise back I fell into deep contemplation, as if meditating in a Buddhist temple. The spiritual energy of this sacred Land is INTENSE and beyond any words uttered from this apprentice who is stumbling through this great Mystery and the lessons borne beyond any notions of our Western time of mind.

Sammy brought us to a beautiful place on the tip of East Arnhem Land, seeking permissions to enter Country first by calling out to Ancestors. He guided us to a very special place with soft sandy beach and lush green grasses, a waterhole and river below. We were given permissions to spend a short period of time there and told to stay away from the water’s edge cause all those mighty unseen creatures were probably watching and counting each one of us well- fed bodies as we scrambled up the shore within a two metre crocodile run. Aunty Fay made me a little nervous at one stage. I could see Fay brazenly inch closer to the shore for that perfect pic and all I could imagine in my hyperactive mind was, what would I explain to Fay’s son? “She’d been gobbled up by a croc in Arnhem Land!”
Suffice to say, we both got back to our Cooinda base camp in one piece, before dark, heads hitting the pillows at 9pm!