Day 6 – third day at Kakadu: Marrawuddi Art Gallery, Mamukala Wetlands and Ubirr rock art
Lorraine, was this the morning I met you coming back from the toilet block in the wee small hours when both of us got lost? You said you’d met another wandering woman, trying to find her way back to her campsite. It’s such a big campground that getting lost must be common when you’re half-asleep, there are no lights except for the toilet block and you’re trying to recognise familar silhouettes.
The ‘ambience’ of the night was quite striking – ‘the silence is deafening’ certainly applied, and the alignment of several planets with each other and the moon was impressive. The eerie cries of bush thick-knees in the distance added to it all.
Once dawn broke, I heard peaceful doves coodle-ee-dooking (Geopelia placida, TICK) and later saw, flying overhead, a small flock of black cockatoos – possibly red-tailed blacks (Calyptorhynchus banksia, which would have been a TICK if I’d positively identified them).
A healthy breakfast, then back on the bus. On the way to Mamukala Wetlands, we stopped off at the Marrawuddi Art Gallery , a First Nations-owned gallery where all the artworks are created by Bininj (Aboriginal people) from Kakadu and the wider West Arnhem region. They also had an excellent selection of books on the area.
Outside, Jerri was approached by two “Gardening Australia” fans – I’m sure this happens a lot. The men were biosecurity vets employed by the government, patrolling the Top End all day every day for weeks at a time, looking for signs for brucellosis, Japanese encephalitis and bovine tuberculosis. Their job is to sample maggots from dead animals to detect these diseases, working 6 am to 11 pm five days a week, covering all of the NT coast and islands. They warned us to take care in Arnhem Land (tomorrow’s trip) – not to approach dingoes as they can be aggressive, and to wear skin protection since Japanese encephalitis is rife there. The encephalitis virus is spread by mosquito bites – the mosquitoes in evidence here are orange, unlike those at home.
The Mamaluka Wetlands has an impressive hide from which to watch birds. On the walkway in, there are several warnings to keep away from any animals, not just crocs. Freshwater crocodiles are more passive than salties, but you don’t want to tempt fate. The more aggressive salties don’t usually come this far inland unless they are washed in by high water.
Water levels were dropping, the wetlands were in the process of drying out, and the vegetation, including the massive spreads of waterlilies, was dying off with it.
The hide was busy with human visitors, including a group of either birdos or professional photographers.
The information boards in the hide were detailed and informative. I think it’s worth reproducing some of the wording since it sets the stage for what we were seeing – water rules life and death here.
Water leads to dramatic changes
[The map on the wall] shows that Mamukala is a small part of the vast South Alligator wetlands. These wetlands are formed by floodplains, billabongs, creeks and rivers. The seasonal coming and going of water shapes the lives of the plants, animals and people.
On the surrounding higher ground, woodlands escape the amazing changes that affect the wetlands. At their edges they provide important homes for some of the animals found in both habitats.
In Guldjewg, the monsoon season, creeks spill into the floodplains covering the area with a vast blanket of water. Much of this water comes from Nourlangie Creek and the many smaller creeks from the woodlands. During times of really big flood, the South Alligator River breaks its banks. It spills huge amounts of water, up to three metres deep, over the entire plains.
In Banggerreng, when the rains ease, the water level begins to drop. Water drains off the wetland through a network of drainage channels and creeks that flow into the South Alligator River.
During Yegge and Wurrgeng [the season we were in], the early dry seasons, [the] drainage channels begin to dry up. Water left on the wetlands slowly evaporates. Although the deeper billabongs and swamps may hold water throughout the year, most of the floodplains and paperbark swamps eventually dry up. This leaves the ground hard and parched under the scorching sun of Gurrung and Gunumeleng.
Dabbling in the water and feeding on the vegetation underwater were green pygmy geese (Nettapus pulchellus, TICK), and several jacanas stalked along the lily pads. Some jacana chicks were around, too.
An intermediate egret (Mesophoyx intermedia, TICK) kept an eye out for fish …
… fish that scoured the algae at the edge for food.
We also saw a whistling kite and a channel-billed cuckoo (Scythrops novaehollandiae, which is migratory and incidentally has just arrived at home in the Northern Rivers for its spring/summer stopover), and heard dingoes howling far off.
Back to camp for lunch, then our ever-energetic guides drove us to the Ubirr rock art site.
On the walk in, some of the eucalypts were seen to be painted with horizontal ochre bands, indicating recent ‘sorry business’ (grieving rituals). We wouldn’t have been able to go to certain places affected by that, but luckily for us Ubirr was open.
A small selection of the rock art …
There is also a painting of a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), believed to have become extinct on the Australian mainland some 2,000-3,000 years ago.
Jerry takes his Daleks with him everywhere he goes. He has even imported them to the high Arctic and the Galapagos Islands (eek).
Smoke continued to fill the air of the ‘Stone Country’.
The views from the top of the rock stacks were very impressive – big country. Photos do not do it justice.
The next day was scheduled to be a visit to West Arnhem Land.