Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

18 August 2009

A Cautionary Tale from Kakadu

Beware! Danger lurks in any unfamiliar environment. A seemingly harmless excursion very nearly turned into a matter of survival when I decided to walk alone to photograph some aboriginal rock drawings in Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory. This is an extract from my diary…

Friday 26th: I drove from Jabiru to Nanguluwar on the northern side of Nourlangie to visit the Angbangbang rock art gallery. As usual, the car park designated for the tourist attraction was in full sun and at an indecent distance from the rock; 1.7 km to be precise. This was all very well for the sake of ecology, conservation or whatever other reason apart from bloody-mindedness that might be put forward but it takes no account of the elderly, the infirm or even your average tour-bus tourist. Australian National Parks are, I’m sure, deliberately designed for back-packers - tramping types in tight shorts and ankle boots - in fact anybody who resembles the park staff themselves.

As I left the car, having drunk a large amount of water but unwilling to load myself up with any more impedimenta than necessary beyond cameras and tripod, I was amazed at the force of the heat; the hottest yet experienced and exacerbated by airlessness. A short distance along the path I met a forlorn party trailed by a drooping, fat woman who looked extremely distressed. She was staggering, her pinkly blotched flesh slimy with perspiration, hair hanging lank and wet below a felt hat that sat, sweat-stained on the back of her head. She looked at me with the desperate-to-be-beatified eyes of a martyr, ecstatic in suffering, and I smiled encouragingly, whispering: ‘You’re almost there.’

Having seen her, I felt fit and able to undertake any challenge. The walk was easy for the first twenty minutes until the path broke up, ill-defined on harsh, boulder-littered ground among trees. I started to ascend around and over rocks which had fallen from the bluffs, and very soon I was pouring sweat, my pulse thumping fast in my head.

The rock gallery was along a cliff face typically protected by an overhang. There was even less air here and I found breathing an effort as I started to photograph the paintings. They were beautiful and included friezes of ‘x-ray’ fishes and turtles done, apparently quite recently, by ‘Barramundi Charlie’ and ‘Old Nym’ two of the last great rock artists of the region. There was a remarkable illustration of a sailing vessel, evidence of the impact of European and Indonesian intrusions between 1880 and 1950; a leaping figure known as Nabulwinjbulwinj (who kills and eats women) and a weird thing like a stick of celery with legs called ‘Algaiho’ - the ‘Fire Woman’, one of the first people to create the world, who planted shrubs in the woodlands and used their smouldering flowers to carry fire. ‘Algaiho’, it was said, hunted opossums with the help of her pack of dingos and she is still feared by the people of Arnhem Land - where her spirit yet lives - because she kills and burns people. So much primitive fear.

I think Algaiho was at work on me. I was conscious, and only just, of so much sweat pouring off me that my clothing was soaked and when picking up lenses and film from my camera bag which lay on the ground I was having to stand to one side to avoid a constant stream of droplets falling on to the equipment. As I finished the last photograph my vision began to blur, I felt faint and apprehensive. I was alone, losing body fluids fast, and beginning to stumble. As quickly as I could, hoping that I hadn’t left anything behind, I packed up and scrambled, tottering, away from the brooding cliff. I remember taking huge gulps of breath and trying to gather saliva in my mouth. All of a sudden a round trip of just over three kilometres seemed like a day’s march…

I made it, of course, but it taught me lessons: carry water, don’t go alone, don’t overburden yourself. I sat in the oven-like car and drank warm water as I bathed my forehead in the slowly cooling air from the air-conditioning grille. Then after a long time of reflection, frowning and blinking to clear my vision I drove, slowly and carefully back to The Crocodile Hotel at Jabiru to shower and change my clothes.
Perhaps it was worth it to get the photographs but what a fool I’d been; and thank God it hadn’t been a five kilometre walk!’

From diary notes: ‘Kakadu and Beyond’



No comments:

Post a Comment


Blog Archive

Hits Counter


Loaded Web

Blog Directory for Albany, New Zealand


Blog This Here

Blog Flux

Commentary blogs
Blog Directory


  • <$BlogCommentAuthor$> // <$BlogCommentDateTime$>


By Don Donovan