It has been around 13 years since our last visit to Kakadu. I am not sure why we missed this region last visit but I’m glad we did it this time around as there is some fantastic rock art.
One day we headed to Nanguluwur as a family. This 3.4km walk leads you through woodland up to a sandstone gallery with an array of rock art. This site must have been used for many years as the circular depressions on one flat rock indicate centuries of grinding.
Many of the paintings here are newer, painted in the 1960s by a renowned artist who painted across many clans/regions. His status and acceptance by communities to preserve rock art for future generations means many of the accessible art sites feature his work.
This site featured a boat, animals, spirit figures and hands. The hands are symbols from the dynamic art period – evidently the fact some hands feature the three central fingers together is an indicator of this, whereas the detailed skeletal forms are much later – they were painted following the estuarine era when less time was needed for hunting due to a greater abundance of food sources, leaving more time for arts and ceremony.
We chose to do the Gabara Pools walk in the afternoon as the guide book said it was a good walk for the heat of the day. We are not sure why as the shade was limited but the view of the rock formations and escarpment were stunning. We cut the walk short due to the heat and knowledge from other walkers that the pools themselves were dry.
The next morning Izzy and I headed to Nourlangie and Anbangbang Gallery for the Ranger talk. Many travellers we passed had recommended the free Ranger talks and we were not disappointed. Three talks occurred over the three main sites on this walk.
The upper section covered information of the creation/formation of the area from Bininj (aboriginal) and Balanda (non-aboriginal) perspectives. From this talk we learnt that the rocks are dated to be 1 billion years old and that Namarrgon’s (lightning man) eyes lie in the landscape near here to watch over his children (the Leichhart Grasshopper) who are prevalent right before the stormy season begins. We learnt of Namarndjolg and his wife who broke kinship lore and whose stories mark the landscape of this area. Their story also explains why crocodiles have spikes on their backs. We were told the children’s versions of these stories because we are balanda. The stories become more involved and layers are added as you age or gain standing within the aboriginal community.
The middle section talk covered some of the creation stories and kinship lore seen in the paintings as well as a detailed explanation of kinship lore and poison relationships. This included how such lores can add complexities to a more western lifestyle and workplace.
The last talk was presented in a shelter and covered details of how this shelter had been used over 20,000 years using evidence of an archaeological dig that happened on site. Here archaeologists worked together with elders to uncover artifacts using scientific methods to date them and elder knowledge of what each items was used for. This allowed thousands of items to be identified, many of which would have been overlooked without elder input. The Ranger talked about how an elder would fish items out of the scrap heap and tell archaeologists what they were, how it was prepared and where it was found today.
This talk also helped me to learn why many of the rock art paintings have only red ochre layers left, kind of looking like a blackboard that has been wiped over leaving red residue. This red pigment is denser and filled with iron so it sinks in to the rock which is why it often remains layer after layer of painting and is the last to wear away over time.
We left the talk much richer in knowledge and appreciation of this area, its history and importance as a living cultural landscape. We spend the rest of the day sharing various stories and facts with the rest of the family. If you ever visit Kakadu I would highly recommend the Ranger talks as they really were inspiring and tied together traditional and non-traditional information is a very respectful and informative way.