… stranded near the Tropic of Capricorn, and first day in Alice Springs

16 Nov

Before leaving in the afternoon I visited Coco’s art gallery. We talked for a long time. He explained some of the aboriginal art to me and played a tune on the didgeridoo. 

DSCN7109Look at the dots in a painting! Everything is seen from above: trees, clumps of spinifex grass, animal footprints; look at the lines representing twisting rivers, snakes, at the “U” shape representing a man or a woman seated around a ceremonial site, illustrated by circles. 

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Margo Birnberg, What is Aboriginal art? JB, 2017

The imprint of a hand might mean, “I was here at a ceremonial gathering” or it might show possession of the area. 

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I am here

 

 

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I was here

A good Lesson

Abstract art! Coco showed me another picture, a stylized painting of women with their breasts pointing upward. “What does it mean? (as opposed to breasts pointing downward) “They are young”, obviously. “What does it mean?” Being young, with young breasts. “Ready for marriage” is my first thought, “young, beautiful, desirable”. Everybody thinks that and Coco knows it. “NO, it means NOT to be given in marriage,” he says, “too young, not yet ready for marriage. Too dangerous, she would die during childbirth.” The underlying message: “See, how women were respected, how life was cherished in traditional Aboriginal culture!”

And I keep thinking that worldwide child marriage is on the rise again, that girls under 15 years of age are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, that pregnancy is the leading cause of death for 15 – 19 year olds.

Bye bye Katherine

girls will always be girls, Katherine River, my bus

Luckily, the overnight bus was half empty and I could stretch out over the aisle to the next row and got some sleep. Not like a bed but okay.

Roadside stop in Dunmarra, midnight. People are still around. There is a man in an electric wheelchair with a young dingo as his pet. He had found him as a baby on the highway and is raising him like a dog. The lively little creature raced around and  jumped up at me, with his owner saying: “He likes you! He doesn’t do this with strangers.”  Who would have thought that I was going to be liked by a dingo. I liked the little animal, too, and I really hope his friendship with the man in the wheelchair is going to last forever. (it’s quite an uncommon thing that a wild dingo gets domesticated forever, I was told later).

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Dunmarra Wayside Inn

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Next and last stop: Aileron Roadhouse,

135 km north of Alice Springs (almost on the Tropic of Capricorn), where we were due to arrive at 5.15 a.m. And the nights were getting colder. Half an hours time for coffee and toilet. Unexciting!

Go out and look around the Aileron Roadhouse on Stuart Highway:                        absolutely fascinating!

 

DSCN7137 Sunrise! I still had ten minutes (or so I thought and went along the highway) …

Desert Mermaid and her Lover, by local artist Marc Egan

… to take pictures of the huge sculptures of the Anmatjere Man (17 m high), Woman and Child.

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The Anmatjere people have named the sculpture after Charlie Quartpot Ngwarray who once lived in this area. He was an important man, a leader and a rainmaker.

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Anmatjere Woman and Child

A sudden rumble of the bus engine, I looked over my camera and couldn’t believe it. The bus was leaving without me. My luggage … on the bus, distance to Alice Springs: (135 km but) I didn’t know that, bus ticket: payed, next bus: who knows when; in the middle of nowhere, of never never, Aileron Roadhouse: everybody still asleep … I started running down the highway – my green shoulder bag dangling on my left side, my camera around my neck – shouting “stop, stop stop stooooooop!” At four o’clock in the morning!              Passing by the roadhouse I saw a young man jump on his quad and speed toward the highway, he slowed down at my side and said: “hop on!” … didn’t have to say that twice, we raced after the bus, me holding on to his windbreaker, my shoulder bag flapping behind me. Next thing I know, I was boarding the bus. Thaaaank youuuu!

The bus driver: “I didn’t see you!”                                                                                                      What the heck do you mean, you didn’t see me? You left at least two minutes early, you didn’t count the passengers … Nevertheless, I gave him a monnalisa-type smile: “Thank you”(God only knows the reason that we meet and share a smile …)

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Glad to be on the bus again

Alice Springs in the morning, Alice Backpackers Lodge, a bit on the outskirts. The sentence on the car is funny, in my case, completely untrue. 

Getting to know Alice Springs

You walk around, look for something familiar (like an Italian restaurant), an ANZAC Hill (Lest we forget), a view over the whole town, a church …

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View from ANZAC Hill over Alice Springs, Smith Street, West McDonnell Ranges and the Gap

I knew it, I knew I shouldn’t have walked through the dry riverbed: you get dusty shoes and feet, there may be venomous critters popping up from under the sand or out of shrubs, there maybe people with unfriendly feelings … but I thought it was a shortcut so I did, I went right through the riverbed. It was a shortcut but a hard one, the sand was soft and difficult to walk on. 

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I liked the riverbed

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Started taking pictures

All of a sudden, someone yelling at the top of her voice: “What are you doing, takin’ pictures of people, don’t take pictures, you are not allowed to take pictures …”                     I looked up and saw a group of Aboriginal women gathering around me. “I’m not taking pictures of people,” I said calmly, “I have taken a picture of a tree. That is not forbidden.”  One of the ladies, a very angry one: “You are a liar, you are a liar, not true, you take picture of people.” To tell the truth, I would have liked to take pictures of people, I was dying to be able to get someone Aboriginal in front of my camera instead of trees, trees, trees. In my camera I showed them the tree I had just photographed. “Oh wonderful, oh what a beautiful tree …” the ladies got enthusiastic, excited, friendlier. “Now you take picture of us.” The friendlier part of the group got together and had their picture taken. Then the other ladies got a bit envious and had their picture taken, too. I promised Miss Caroline, the nicest of all of them, to let them have the prints, one for each. So they would get what they want and I got what I wanted. Thumbs up.

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The friendly ladies

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all of them together

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There is also a footpath through the riverbed, but … you don’t meet interesting people there

 

Cheers until next time

Gerburg

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It’s a long way … to Uluru: Stopover in Katherine

12 Nov

On a Greyhound to Alice Springs you get an idea of the outback, of it’s vastness, its uniformity and diversity. Going non stop from Darwin to Alice takes roughly 22 hours. Katherine, only 4 hours south east of Darwin, is a small pioneer town in the outback that offers things to see and do for at least 2 days.

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Bye bye Darwin. Waiting at the bus station looking forward to a loooong ride, yet not my longest ever. My memory goes back to a Greyhound trip from San Francisco to New York, non-stop, just one hour’s time in Salt Lake City to see the Mormon temples, in all more than 3 days (and nights, that’s when your spinal column stops being a column even at the age of 21), meeting the weirdest people, it WAS an experience!

Two backpacker ladies almost my age joined me. They were going to Katherine to start from there on the Jatbula Trail, a five-day hike through Savannah grasslands and rain forests, passing by waterfalls and rock escarpments, sounds fantastic. The ladies asked me to have an eye on their luggage, while they went downtown to have a cup of coffee. I must look trustworthy even in raggedy travel clothes. Australia is a country where people don’t seem to be so hooked on watching the NEWS all the time. Do they have any idea, how baaad this world actually is? The ladies came back with a nice mug of hot coffee for me. The bus got more than half full and left on time, to the minute!DSCN7051

Look out of the window, let the scenery pass by, relax, in spite of … some rows behind me, two young girls jabbering away endlessly with each other, on the phone, with each other again, at the peak of their voices in … guess what language? The two ladies look at me astounded, silently mimicking question marks. I nod my head, form my lips as if to say the name of the language, the only one that I would understand at 2 km distance. I point my index fingers to my ears and soundlessly form the words: “… and I understand every word of it!” I can see, the ladies are glad, they don’t.

After 4 hours, arrival in [kath-er-in, kath-rin], which the bus driver keeps pronouncing [kath-er-ain].

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This is my new home for 2 nights: Coco’s Backpackers Hostel.

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Coco and his friends watch television, sports programs, when I arrived it was Rugby time. I immediately started bragging about my rugby-playing son. Later, in a more confidential moment, I let them know that I’d appreciate a news broadcast from time to time.

Nitmiluk means cicada dreaming and the park is 30 km north-east of Katherine. You have to have a car to get there or someone who takes you there.

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The lounge is under the trees

This is what’s so nice about hosteling, you talk about the problem and sooner or later a solution turns up. Like someone by the name of Jack might go looking for a job out there around Nitmiluk and give you a lift to the park, you just share in the fuel. In the end he got together a couple of women on his pick-up truck and took us there. He said he would pick us up again in the afternoon.

From the signs along the way you learn about the myths, about the name Nitmiluk and others.

Nabilil and his Journey to Nitmiluk
Nabilil (Nah-bill-il), a dragon-like creation being from the Jawoyn “Dreamtime” or Burr, is said to have camped here at the entrance to the Gorge. (The word “Dreaming” means the origins of something.)
  • Nabilil began his journey from the west at a place near Wadeye (Port Keats).
  • The country through which Nabilil travelled was very dry and so in the dilly bag, in which he carried his fire sticks, he also carried water. Garrakla are the limestone formations on each side of the Stuart Highway north of Katherine through which Nabilil passed. Nabilil visited Wurliwurliynjang a mosquito dreaming place in Katherine (near today’s Council offices).
  • Not far from here, at the blue-tongued dreaming place at Yerreljlrrin and Wun-gurri, thirsty birds tried to catch Nabilil to get the water. Lumbuk, the pigeon, Wakwak the crow and Garrkayn the brown hawk all tried but failed. Nabilil was too clever for them.
  • When Nabilil arrived here, he decided to camp. After hearing the song of the cicada “Nit Nit Nitnit!” Nabilil called the place Nitmiluk.

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Butterfly Gorge and back takes about 4 hours. It gets hot around midday, there will be little or no shade so bring along at least 3 litres of water, a hat, sun-cream, something to eat and take a photo of the map above. If you don’t have these things, buy them at the Visitors’ Centre, you NEED them. The employees provide valuable information, too. The gorge was declared croc free as far as salties are concerned, only the water would be a bit muddy. Who cares. We had to get there first.

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Three litres would be fine if one didn’t get hit by bat or bird droppings.

Oh shit! That feels really hot and burns the skin. I frantically poured water over my arm. Bat droppings are actually very similar to rat droppings. What I had on my arm and t-shirt was far too liquid, so it may have been bat urine which is caustic and can corrode metal. It left a mark on my arm. The sun was burning down, I had used up so much water, I was thinking of giving up and going back … but look at the scenery.

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Jawoyn Law  —  Stories from the Burr

The story of Nabilil, told along this Walk, is one of many Jawoyn stories that are part of Jawoyn Law. These stories explain how the world was made and give the rules for proper behavior.

During the time Jawoyn people call the Burr, creation beings that take the form of humans, animals, or plants brought the landscape to life by putting themselves in the country. These creation beings named many places and specified dangerous areas to avoid. Some of the stories about these Jawoyn creation beings are presented here.

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Bula – Creator of the land

Bula is the most important Jawoyn creation being who first created the land. He transformed the landscape through his actions and left his image as paintings in rock shelters. North of Katherine he finally went underground. The area, known as “Sickness Country”, is very dangerous and should not be disturbed for fear that fire and earthquakes will destroy the earth. Seismic activity and other land disturbances in the Sickness Country are of great concern to the Jawoyn people.

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Bolung – the Giver and Destroyer

Bolung, the Rainbow Serpent, is not only a life giver but also a destroyer. It is important not to disturb Bolung as this may cause lightning or monsoonal floods. Bolung sits in the deep pools of the Second Gorge, where Jawoyn people should not fish or drink the water. Only a small number of fish can be taken from nearby pools and any extra should be thrown back to appease Bolung.

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I put my trust in the map (see above), in the water tanks charted on the map (I knew the tanks might be empty or the water old) and went on.

The water was there and it was drinkable. At the second tank my travel companions, two French Swiss women, and I split up. They had chosen the route which was described as longer and more challenging. I was quite happy with the easier one. We agreed to meet at the Butterfly Gorge and go back together.

Alone in the wilderness 

no people no noise no internet  

Being on my own I had the opportunity to slow down and take as many pictures of the path as I liked.

At the sign Butterfly Gorge 1.7 km I thought I was almost there, but the path was getting narrow and shady, difficult to follow and challenging for tired legs and a protesting knee.

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Distance: 3,4 km, correct, Grade: 3 – moderate (real feel >4), Time: 2 hours (it’s good I read that on my way back)

Down I went to the gorge, lots of butterflies on the way but I didn’t manage to get a shot of them:

An exhausting walk! The reward: the narrowest beach all to myself, too narrow to sit down or to change into a swim suit, and a refreshing swim in the murky water with all my clothes on. I swam out to have a look around the rocks to see if the two Swiss women were there, but the next bay was just a bare rock escarpment. 

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Being alone and not knowing what else – apart from crocs – might be under water, I swam back and avoided splashing about too much.

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The walk back seemed endless. I met the two Swiss women who were more than an hour behind schedule and told me their path had been unexpectedly difficult. 

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I met a group of young chaps from Germany and the USA, one of them with a bloody wound but nevertheless in good spirits. I’m convinced, it’s standing up to nature that makes you tough and keeps you from fussing.

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Where is this leading to?

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Endless means at some point you stop taking picture until …

I was on my last legs when from somewhere I heard a boy shout: “Oh look, Mum and Dad, an upside-down-tree!”

 Surprise, I saw 2 Baobabs, oops in Australia they say Boab (did they not get that name right either?). I thought, upside-down-trees existed only in Africa.

At the Visitors’ Centre I rested my aching feet, treated myself to a nice cup of coffee, the device on the table with number 13 signals, when your coffee is ready, and … enjoyed all the achievements of civilization.

On the way back Jack talked to me about Coco. The owner of the hostel had lived with Aborigines for years and knew a lot about their culture. He warmly recommended that I’d talk to him before leaving. First thing on my “to-do-list” for the next day, a look at Coco’s art gallery and didgeridoo collection, .

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I love my hat from Nitmiluk

Cheers Gerburg

Darwin 6: Last day in Kakadu, Jim Jim Falls

8 Nov

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Beach Pool & Plunge Pool Walk,

this is where I started to kind of understand the age limit for the trip, remember, over 40 not welcome.

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Not tough yet

Features: Follow Jim Jim Creek through monsoon forest to beach pool and plunge pool at the base of dramatic escarpment walls. (personal comment: It’s not the walls that are dramatic, it’s the ground on which you walk)

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The easy part, on the difficult stretches I didn’t take pictures, I had to hold on to something all the time.

Distance: 2 km return (personal comment: practically a stone’s throw)

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?Did I mention, we all had to indicate a next of kin to get notified just in case …

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I never understood how crocs could be in the river but then not in the pool (maybe we were just lucky). Behind the sign, Pandanus Spiralis, screw pine or screw palm, looks like a giant pineapple

Duration: Allow 3 hours (personal comment: this is how long it would take you if you were in your < forties, in good shape, wearing hiking boots, born and raised in Austria (no kangaroos in A!), had spent all the week ends of your life hiking in the mountains …)

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This young Austrian (see comment above) carried my bag on the way back, oh thaaaank youuuuu !!!!!

Grade: Moderately difficult, involves scrambling over boulders, which can be slippery. (personal comment: define mo-de-rate)

moderately difficult, if you can take your time

And finally you get there

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Jim Jim Falls: white beach, beach pool and behind the big rock, center right, the plunge pool, in the back the Falls

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On the beach: go down on your knees, worship nature, thank your kneecap, your cruciate ligament, your meniscus that you made it, change into your swim suit and go. The beach pool is cold (our guide says “fresh”, I stick to cold until …), swim to the rock barrier that separates the beach pool from the plunge pool, climb over the slippery rocks, dip into the plunge pool (now THAT IS cold), swim, concentrate on breathing, think of people who go swimming in Lake Baikal (that’s on the other side of the earth), keep breathing, control your heart-beat, make sure it doesn’t stop, move slowly but move, in the end, sit under the waterfall and enjoy the co-ho-ho-oldest water coming down on your head and shoulders. Then swim back. 

This is something you’ll do up to the age of 62, at the age of 63 you probably won’t.
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bye bye Jim Jim Falls

fruit of the screw pine (see comment above)

On our way back we stopped at a roadside souvenir shop. You could buy didgeridoos and other colourful handcraft and works of art there.

In the first picture you see a didgeridoo split in half and learn how to distinguish the real thing from the fabricated one. The real one was caved out by termites and is very irregular inside. That’s the way it has to be to make that wonderful, weird sound. Kids start learning with simple bamboo instruments to get practice in circular breathing.

Next letter: travelling from Darwin to Alice Springs by Greyhound and getting lost right at the Tropic of Capricorn

cheers Gerburg

 

Darwin 5, Kakadu: fascinating Ubirr

5 Nov

The Rock Stars

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In Dreamtime, when everything came into being, the huge Rainbow Serpent came from below the ground and passed through the area creating ridges, mountains, gorges and leaving distinct traces where it passed.

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Our guide explaining that members of neighbouring tribes are now taking care of the land Ubirr as the earlier inhabitants are not there anymore. The missing photos were of rangers who passed away.

For some music to accompany your reading click here: didgeridoo music  and turn back to the post while listening

More Rock Paintings

Read the story and learn a lesson in good behaviour 

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This painting of Mabuyu (and a long-neck-turtle to the right under his spear) reminds Traditional Owners to tell a story which warns against stealing

Have a close look at the menu, fish, fish, fish, mainly Barramundi

Drastic lesson: Mabuyu was dragging his catch on a string after fishing when a greedy person cut the string and stole his fish. That night Mabuyu waited until the thieves had eaten his fish and were camped inside their cave near the East Alligator River. Then he blocked the cave with a huge rock.    

“Next morning they never came out. Because they pinched it, they got punished, kids, ladies and men, all dead … finished.” Bill Neidjie

(for goodness’sake)

Now, when you grow up with a story like that, you think twice before breaking the law or a taboo. If the punishment for stealing fish leads to the annihilation of your whole clan, you wouldn’t expect anyone to steal anything from anybody, right? let alone to steal land, culture, children, you wouldn’t expect that until it’s happening. There are a couple of gruesome indigenous stories about the consequences of breaking tribal rules that make your hair stand on end, but when you visit the Hyde Park Barracks Museum in Sydney, you’ll see that Europeans weren’t exactly gentle-hearted in dealing with their lawbreakers either. (later in my last letter)

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long-neck-turtle, I don’t remember if it was part of the menu, too

Walking right through Crocodile Dundee country up to the mountain top.

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More educational rock paintings: Laws to live by (tough!)

This picture reminds Traditional Owners of a story about a young girl who broke traditional food taboos by eating Barramundi at the wrong time of her life. She was punished too severely and a battle between clans followed, killing many people.

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Young boys are told this story by older men pointing spears at them.

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On top of the mountain

my shadow is getting longer

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The winter sun is setting slowly and it’s getting cold 

 Sunset overlooking the wetlands, the Nardab floodplain, from the the rocks of Ubirr

(I just couldn’t get enough of it)

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Good Night

 

Darwin 4: Kakadu National Park, every sight a highlight

31 Oct

If you think Kakadu has anything to do with cockatoo, the parrot, you are right. The German word is Kakadu and somewhere in the internet you’ll find a long etymological explanation about the origins of the word. The park is big, almost half the size of Switzerland. The top sights of my trip: Yellow Water Cruise, the rock paintings, the sunset over the wetlands and sitting under Jim Jim Falls.

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red-tailed black cockatoo

In nature I saw more white cockatoos than black ones but I managed to take pictures of the artificial ones only.

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Yellow Crested White Cockatoo

THE CRUISE

Yellow Water is a big billabong, a kind of lake, a cut off branch where once the South Alligator River flowed. Anyway, no alligators here, if you want to get eaten by one, have a swim around the Florida Keys; they are also in China, but there, it’s probably them who get eaten (unreliable info!). Almost all the rivers in the area are called Alligator River, like East -, West – and South Alligator River and they are full of CRO-CO-DILES!

Our cruise captain was an aborigine, funniest guy I met, steering the ship, cracking jokes and explaining at the same time. First thing on board, you have to put a bright, fluorescent life jacket on, in case someone goes overboard. Crocodiles adore bright colours and go after them as soon as they detect them in the muddy water. That way, you won’t drown for sure. But rules are rules, so put that jacket on. Next lesson, the crocs you see are not the dangerous ones, but beware of the ones you don’t see (how do you do THAT?)

When hungry and in a hunting mood they hide, they are practically invisible for potential prey (left picture): when they are basking in the sun they are just warming up and/or digesting. I still wouldn’t go near them, but the ducks don’t seem to worry.

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plumed whistling ducks

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Our guide told us the story of a fisherman in a boat who was imprudent enough to stand up when trying to pull his catch out of the water. From behind a large croc flipped up and grabbed him

end of the story.

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crocodile yawning

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crocodile breathing with its mouth open to ventilate and cool the brain (the tropical sun is hot and human beings are advised to wear bush hats)

NOT ONLY CROCODILES

Falcons, egrets (heron-type bird), brolgas, cockatoos, jacana (Jesus bird, tiny, tiny tiny), Australian darter

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spot-the-cockatoo-search-image

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spot-the-jacanas-search-image, there are 2 of them

Jacanas are also called Jesus birds, they are so tiny and light, they can walk on lotus leaves, I don’t know if they are able to walk on water, too (should be, otherwise, why the name?)

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Australian darter, makes me think of Halloween

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I thought this was picturesque

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camouflaged croc, you step on it, before you know, your leg is off

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horses and buffaloes

Hoofed animals are not indigenous in Australia. They were brought in from Europe. Until then, no hoofed animals had ever set “hoof” on the continent, and now they arrived and multiplied: horses, cattle, donkeys, sheep and goats and even deer for hunting and to make the newly conquered land look more like home, like England. These animals trampled all over the continent, damaging the soil, spreading seeds and plants to where they weren’t supposed to be, nibbling everywhere and eating up the plants on which kangaroos and wallabies were feeding, in short, they made a regular mess of the delicately balanced Australian ecosystem.

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Bye-bye Yellow Waters

The rock paintings at “NOURLANGIE ROCK” 

except the name is not Nourlangie but one part is called Burrungguy and the other one Anbangbang, pronounced “boo-rong-goi” and “arn-barng barng”, another thing the white aliens got wrong. Visitors today are asked to use the right names.

Violet Lawson from the Murrumburr Clan: “That’s a place where you are sheltered from the rain in Gudjewk (monsoon season). A place for making tools, telling stories, doing string games while the tucker (food) is cooking. Go hunting down the river, when the water is down a bit. Hunting yams, kangaroos and sugar bag (native bee honey). Waiting around til the dry season comes. Today we got house and still cook galawan (sand goanna) on the coals of open fire.”

Mimis (tall thin fairy-like beings), kangaroos, x-ray style paintings 

Burrungguy and Anbangbang: the first paintings, I got so excited, I took pictures of every little painting

 you have to bend and bow to get to the paintings

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in the soil archaeologists found stone tools and organic objects such as bone, bark string and plant remains, objects that easily decay in tropical climate

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paintings are drawn on top of each other

A sign says: “Art is an important part of traditional aboriginal life. Aboriginal people paint to record events in their lives, to illustrate stories and for fun and enjoyment. some paintings have religious power and can influence the success of a hunt.”

On the way to the next gallery

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A kangaroo and small hollows in the ground: could be for mixing paint or playing games, who knows

but the best is right around the corner

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Try to say this!

There are / were so many different cultures and languages in Australia before the Europeans arrived!

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Wow, the negative imprint of a human hand, how did they do that without a spray can? Easy! Fill your mouth with paint and psssssssh spit it over hand and wall

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a spirit? a monster? a flower?

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Mimis and x-ray art, fact is the people seem to be lying down, are they sick, not feeling well? One theory is that the aboriginal people noticed that whenever they came here, they felt sick after a short time. In fact, uranium was found in the area as soon as the Europeans came snooping around for mineral resources.

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Mamarndjolg and his sister broke the incest laws on the rock ledge above this gallery. Later he became Ginga, the great saltwater crocodile. In aboriginal culture incest laws do not necessarily refer to the same family but extend to community members with the same cultural responsibility and relationships. 

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Namarrgon the Lightning Man: he wears his lightning as a band around him connecting his arms, legs and head. Stone axes on his knees and elbows make the thunder.

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Barrginj is Namarrgon’s wife. she and Namarrgon are parents to Aljurr or the Leichhardt’s grasshoppers which appear as the first storms break.

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Family groups of men and women on their way to a ceremony. flecks on the breasts of the women on the right indicate that they are breast-feeding children. above the groups: Guluibirr, the saratoga fish is popular food fished from the waterways nearby.

Sunset at Ubirr

“You go to look out, see floodplain, bird, sunset. Don’t take any alcohol up there with you. Too dangerous on top of rock, might fall over. Water and camera better. No matter you or Aborigine … Same thing, same law … No drinking at Ubirr.” Bill Neidjie, Bunidj Clan, Aboriginal traditional owner.DSCN6945

continues in my next letter: more rock paintings, Aboriginal stories, and a fantastic sunset

Gerburg

 

 

Darwin 3: off to the National PARKS Litchfield and Kakadu

16 Oct
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This is part of the Top End (just have a look at Litchfield, Kakadu and later Nitmiluk further south)

Prologue

You have to get to the parks somehow.

  • Try to hitch a ride? Doesn’t work. The trip is way too complex if you want to see the highlights
  • Get together with other travelers on a Facebook page for Darwin/Australia Backpackers? Only if you have a lot of time to wait for an opportunity to come up
  • Get together with backpackers from your hostel? Then from one evening to the next morning one of the women meets Prince Charming, the other one gets offered a lucrative job like “prawn fishing” (working in deep sea fishing makes work-and-travel tourists eligible for the renewal of their visa for a second year)
  • Renting a four-wheel-drive on your own is far too expensive!
  • Nothing really works? Then book a tour!

Sounds easy! Your internet connection is feeble? No problem! Go downtown, almost half of all the businesses are travel agencies. In one of them I bought myself a nice package tour to Litchfield and Kakadu, three days, two nights, accommodation, meals (even special meals like gluten-free), guided tours, explanations about nature, rock art, aborigines, everything included, perfect! Once you’ve done your booking, you don’t have to worry about anything. My ATM card stopped working right there, while I was booking. No problem, my pre-payed card seemed to do the job.

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A Dream of a vehicle

Then the young travel agent gave a start:

“Oh my God, I made a mistake!!!!!! Here it says: for participants up to around forty years of age only.”

A r e  y o u  k i d d i n g … talking to me …. or who … too bad young man … too late

– my consciousness was streaming –

hell keep cool just a couple of years no fretting over age calm down what the … me of all people how did he know … I should have never … bloody hell … all my money … cheating me or what

Take it easy, I was slowly coming round again and said:

“Just call the tour operator and tell them, I’m fine.”

(Je …! is that so difficult?)

The poor chap did as I had asked him to and after a long talk of which I only overheard

“she seems okay she looks okay”

{¿ṅ$&@%¤§±#€!!!!!}, he kindly recommended that I should try my best to keep up with the young ones on the tour. I very much appreciated this helpful piece of advice and left  {¿ṅ$&@%¤§±#€!!!!!}.

Australians seem to have a thing about age …

Next morning – I hadn’t even finished my tea yet – the hostel manager told me with his broadest friendliest Chinese smile to call the travel agency as quickly as possible. Something was wrong with my credit card, my payment hadn’t gone through and I might not be able to go on the trip.

Ho-ly sht – I rushed downtown under the scorching sun my thoughts running wild

(me, interiorly monologuing):

  • ha, they’re trying to dump the old lady,
  • bggr, I will never see the outback, never see any kangaroos, dingoes,
  • never admire pieces of ancient rock art
  • never swim in ice-cold plunge pools, never sit under freezing waterfalls,
  • never take pictures of crocs basking in the sun (after having swallowed a travel agent) and cockatoos looking down on humans from picturesque treetops,
  • never ever have a real Dundee adventure,
  • never see a sunset over the wetlands!

a 2-km-walk making me feel ever more hopeless with each step

A delicate, pale, blonde young lady with a slight accent of guesswhere greeted me when I entered the travel agency. She told me she had insisted with the tour operator that I got another chance, that my card probably hadn’t worked because her colleague had made a mistake entering the numbers. Then, confidently, she put herself to the task and made everything work, the payment went through and bingo … I was on … I stayed around to chat a bit and found out that she was from Hamburg. The charming young man from the day before appeared and told me he had almost had a heart-attack when he realized that the payment had gone wrong.

You’re telling me, chap!

THE TRIP

The next morning I tried to be ready a bit ahead of time and really, at 5.55 a.(!) m. the tour guide was there to pick me up. Off we went into the direction of Litchfield Park. From now on my life and that of everybody else in the group was timed to the minute.

This is Georgia:

our guide, a former outdoor education teacher from Melbourne, knowledgeable, conscientious,  hard working, reliable, assertive …

  • Fastest driver on highways and on dirt roads
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at this speed we almost ran over a wallaby (poor little thing)

 

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  • Keen explainer of natural and anthropological phenomena: here talking about Magnetic Termites: tiny, innocuous creatures (not house-eaters), extraordinary architects  aligning their mounds in perfect North – South direction, probably orienting themselves on the magnetic fields of the earth.                                             DSCN6725 It never gets too hot on any side of the mounds, also, the termites move to the more temperate side during the day (and I keep thinking of Dubai and Abu Dhabi architects). With its tunnels, chambers and chimneys made from the yucky recipe of mud, vegetation, termite saliva and excrement each mound is waterproof and air-conditioned and resists as long as the Queen is alive, with a bit of luck up to 40 years. Sometimes these towers get attacked by envious ants determined to kick the termites out and move into their fabulous building. At that point the clever little termite-buggers resort to an efficient strategy to defend their fancy home: they spray a liquid with their own smell onto the intruding ants in order to confuse them and make them turn against each other. (ha-haha-Haaa-ha)

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tiny black ant in the middle, scout or survivor?

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Me among the termite mounds, see how big …

On the left side between the two flat mounds there is a Cathedral type mound. Cathedral termites stay cool because they have hollow columns inside their mounds which provide air – circulation from the cool ground. This keeps the interior from overheating.

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The Cathedral mounds in that area were not as big as in other places but this one is a nice example

Next stop: Wangi Falls

Swimming in the plunge pool or walking through the wilderness? No worries about crocs because they are there mainly during the rainy season and July is dry. With freshies – the shy and slender freshwater crocodiles – you have a fair chance of getting away unharmed or with miner injuries. Salties – the tough and big-toothed saltwater crocodiles, are predators, killers, man eaters and they can sneak far inland during the rainy season and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting swimmer.

See the difference? On the left Fred, the freshy, 1,60 m, needle shaped teeth, lives in  fresh or slightly salty water only. On the right Brutus, the salty, 4 m, Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile, biggest reptile in the world, he survives in fresh water, too (wow, that would be a real adventure to come across one that’s not behind a fence).

Fred and Brutus, each behind his own fence. I was worried not to come across any crocs, so I took these pictures at a roadside stop.

While the group chose to take it easy (!) and go swimming (!), I decided to give proof of being as fit as a thirty-nine-year-old and went on the Wangi Loop Walk, all around the plunge pool and the falls …

… enjoying the most fantastic views: the monsoon forest with its wines, ferns and fungi, flying foxes hanging from tree tops, Wangi Creek winding towards the fall …

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Spiderweb of the Golden Orb

Mr and Mrs Golden Orb weren’t in at the time. The wife is biiiig, the husband tiny, sometimes getting eaten in the heat of the moment or rather afterwards (..it happens).

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Wangi Falls in “winter” (dry season)

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Hundreds of big bats called Flying Foxes

“Can anybody tell me how they manage to poop on you while hanging head down from the trees?”

Lone walk, silence, nobody, just to give you an idea

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DSCN6749I felt great, but, to tell the truth, it hadn’t been such a tough walk, after all, and I kept asking myself what this fussing about age was all about.

 Florence Falls

That’s where I went for a plunge. The water was clear and refreshing …

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Florence Falls, safe for swimming in the dry season

… and full of black fish that occasionally nibble at you just to see if you are good.

Back to the bus over picturesque Shady Creek Walk

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To end the day another two points about Georgia:

  • Best cook (healthy, quick, delicious meals prepared in the campsite kitchen tent)
  • Firm educator with clear rules: drink water, be punctual (always!), drink water, help with the dishes, drink three litres of water, otherwise no beer (I didn’t care for the beer but the three-litre-rule is right in the tropics), heed the signs and stay five metres away from rivers and creeks and drink water again.DSCN6731

I had a tent all to myself.

Good night and see you in Kakadu National Park

coming up sooooooooon

Gerburg

Darwin 2: starting point …

19 Sep

Accommodation

Suppose you don’t want to spend a lot of money, actually,

  • you want to spend as little as possible
  • you want to have company around the clock, like being in a six-bed-room, 12 square meters, mixed male and female piled on top of each other in bunk beds
  • you want to be welcomed by a manager with the nicest Asian smile at 2 o’clock at night who doesn’t mind your late arrival because he still has a lot of tidying up to do
  • you don’t care for fast wi-fi, instead, you want to meet wonderful, relaxed people who – being on a work-and-travel-visa – go to work, do their laundry and their cooking and beer drinking, laughing and chatting at any time of day-night, who are easy-going enough not to bother about cleaning up their mess after warming up a can of Heinz’ baked beans
  • you love the type of air conditioning that converts a sauna bedroom into a cold room emitting a monotonous “white noise” that puts you to sleep and a sudden jerky rumble that startles you every time it turns on or off
  • you are rugged enough not to mind spotting hair of all colors, lengths and types in the shower

then you book into:

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Gecko Lodge is a hostel, give yourself one night and you’ll throw everything your mother ever taught you about hygiene over board!

The less readable sign says:

 Thank Heaven for dirty dishes!
They have a tale to tell.
While other folks go hungry,
we’re eating very well,
with home and health and happiness,
we shouldn’t want to fuss,
by this stack of evidence

God’s very good to us.

And in fact: the work-and-travel folks sometimes earn around 25 Au$ per hour and can buy food and drink at will and still help out a penniless old lady (whose ATM bankcard didn’t work because she had forgotten to tell her bank she was going overseas; thank you, Iva!). Mind: you can get that visa until you are 31 years old. Afterwards, you are simply too old!

I liked Gecko Lodge, it’s out of town, has a small pool, a bus stop right next to it, a good-natured Chinese manager who proudly carries his little daughter around while still doing his job after sunset, nice sociable people from all over the world, a porch, a veranda with chairs and tables, fridges, clean sheets, you name it … geckos (and other mini fauna), too, of course …

Downtown

(remember I’m not Wiki … for real infos, google!)

The library, wonderful building, one hour free internet, air conditioning, café with a view, silence, order, cleanliness

wow-Intersection: at green traffic lights cross right and left and diagonally; you can even take pictures in the middle of the intersection (!!!!)

Stick by the rules, you are being taught in a nice way, so be good, the rules are many, people expect you to abide by them, better start getting used to them:

 

Artists

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Aboriginal women painting and selling their art in the street. They are not from Darwin but further south

To the left of them there was a man painting on a big canvass. He was not unfriendly but he didn’t want to have his picture taken, least of all, a picture of his picture.

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2 WOMEN DIGGING for GOANNA & EGGS; CAROLYN KENTA, ERNABELLA PUKATJA. This is what the lady is writing on the white rim

Without signature and explanation the picture is less valuable.

In the Art Gallery I got to talk to Edward Watts Blitner from the Ngukkurr area and a member of the Marra tribe. At first I was really worried that I might disturb him. He seemed so absorbed in what he was doing, highly concentrated. In the end he turned out to be very open and forthcoming and the only thing I was sorry about was that I had such little familiarity with the Australian accent.

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 painting a Brolga (crane)

The pictures often tell mythological stories which were once told in song and dance cycles at ceremonies, stories about a narrow escape or with an educational intent. One myth is about a man who escaped two hunters that were about to kill him jumping into a billabong and getting transformed into Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent. As a snake he bit his pursuers and killed them. Later the man who had saved his life by becoming a serpent became a Brolga crane and as such was able to avoid further persecution and danger. Fan-tas-tic!

Another story tells about two sisters who loved to dance near a billabong in spite of being warned by their tribe not to do so. Now, if one thing is true: young girls and boys never listen to their elders, anywhere in the world. The consequences for breaking the rules in aboriginal life are rather harsh! You want to have your own way? Fine, you will, but only once. The Rainbow Serpent got upset and transformed the disobedient young girls into Brolgas. Actually, these birds are very beautiful. They live on the waterside where they make dance movements which have been imitated by the Aborigines.

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I had a long discussion with the artist about aboriginal art, which, in his opinion, is a natural kind of flow that comes out of a person, you can’t be taught and you can’t teach it.

My opinion: the exact opposite. You teach, the children sit down and learn, at school, in courses, at home, wherever.

He kept shaking his head: “No, no, no … It doesn’t work like that.”

Now, look at the picture he is painting. Doesn’t it look carefully … painstakingly planned?

I was to understand what he tried to convey to me much later when I talked to Coco, who had lived with aborigines for a long time. (But I still believe in teaching and learning, I just can’t help it).

And I fell in love with aboriginal art …

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Just a little help in reading the aboriginal art iconography – Courtesy of What is Aboriginal Art? By Margo Birnberg, a short introduction to the understanding of aboriginal art 

… and I started getting interested in didgeridoos, musical instruments, which I would get to know better on my trip to Kakadu National Park.

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Didgeridoos are those long artfully painted tubes with a wax rim on top where the mouthpiece is

… my TRIP from DARWIN TO LITCHFIELD AND KAKADU NATIONAL PARKS

How difficult it can be to get there, that is a whole different story which I will tell you in my next letter.

Cheers

Gerburg