Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

24 August 2009

Jim Jim Falls: Kakadu

Jim Jim Falls
Saturday 27 March

There was a marked change in the weather. We sniffed it as we walked outside our room; a different feeling. The sky had changed, too and instead of there being clear blue above but cloud over the escarpment we now had strings of high cloud overhead, soft feathers against the blue.

We drove out to Jabiru airfield and found Des-of-the-huge-hands sitting in his air conditioned, forest-green cuboid shed; he agreed to take us up.

We lifted off in the Jet Ranger, having waited four days for a break in the weather, and headed south-east towards the escarpment that’s virtually the western boundary of Arnhem Land. From just a few metres above the ground Kakadu National Park was revealed as an open-forested plain stretching limitlessly west, a sameness of trees and shrubs on a vastly flooded grassland base. Nothing could more emphasize that this was the wet season than the straight, red-clay tracks we occasionally flew across that ran into water, to reappear again later, tracks impassable even to four-wheel drive vehicles, their usefulness proscribed by the slightest descent below flood level. Short of foot-trekking (which would be madness) the only way to the waterfalls was by helicopter.

To the east the escarpment rose, at first unimpressively. Its geological importance lies not in its height but in the difference it marks between the Kakadu flood lands and the hard rock crust of Arnhem Land. As we approached the cliffs they became more impressive but again this was not because of their height - no more than 100 - 200 metres - but their length, they stretched to north and south, a forbidding red-rock wall. We flew at no more than 500 metres and hugged the cliffs for a considerable distance until, after passing low over a detached outcrop which came up to meet us, its crazy stones labyrinthine as a brain, we were confronted by Twin Falls, where the escarpment runs east-west. This was the lesser of the waterfalls but grand all the same, its modest plateau stream bifurcated at the lip into sudden turmoil. Des held the Jet Ranger steady as we waited for cloud shadow to pass and then photographed the falls, fully lit by the late morning sun.

Jim Jim Falls are to the east where the escarpment has turned north-south. A much more splendid display than Twin Falls, the waters drop into a self-carved gorge the northerly face of which, this day, was in deep shadow. We were probably a little too early - maybe thirty minutes - but the falls themselves were in full sunlight and as we made our first pass the spray clouds billowing from the base of the fall threw a brilliant rainbow. Then, having passed the rim, above Arnhem Land and looking back towards Kakadu, we could see that the stream that makes the falls seems nothing much at all; Jim Jim Creek - its name both above and below the falls - weaves as a thousand other water courses across the plateau, placid, narrow but not apparently deep, until, like Twin Falls, it hits the edge and turns into a fury.

Des lowered us down the face of the falls until we were almost at the gorge floor, slowly gyrating and moving gradually across the deep and surprisingly still sandy-beached pool at its base. Looking up from there I marvelled (as even a child of the technological age can) at the ease with which we had been above, around and below the falls in a few minutes, seeing it as only a large bird could.

Back over Jabiru we dawdled above the Crocodile Hotel and took pictures. Only from the air, of course, does the crocodile shape become real - and really quite inspired. I still couldn’t work out, though, whether the architect’s motives were born of kitsch, humour or näivety. Probably tongue-in-cheek.
From diary notes: ‘Kakadu and Beyond’



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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.