Dreamtime by Air 2005 – Part 7

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Previous installment is here.

A map of the trip is here.

Wednesday 17 August 2005 – Smith Point to Jabiru

Smith Point (S11 09.0 E132 09.0) -> Oenpelli (S12 19.51 E133 00.33) -> Cooinda (S12 54.16 E132 31.93) -> Jabiru (S12 39.50 E132 53.58)

Arnhem LandWe managed to get early showers, although as people had used the solar heated showers the afternoon before, there wasn’t any hot water. This is not a problem in the tropics, as the cold water felt quite comfortable. The truck arrived with the makings for breakfast around dawn. We left Smith Point before 9AM, and had a good view of the coast as we took off and flew in a southerly direction. Lots of river deltas and meandering rivers in this very flat country.

Injalak Arts Centre, OenpelliLanding at the air strip at Oenpelli (-12 19S 133 03E) in western Arnhemland about 70 km from Jabiru, we were met by someone from the local art community and taken into town. Oenpelli is home to about 1,000 native people from the Kunwinjku tribe.

Artist at InjalakWe were taken to the Injalak Arts and Crafts Association art centre. A number of the artists were there, working on their projects. As is often the case in the towns, the grounds were filthy, with rubbish scattered all over.

Our group was escorted by Aboriginal guide Garry to view ancient rock art at Injalak (a hill which was part of the Arnhem escarpment) overlooking wetlands. The scenery is stunning, being in the heart of what is known as stone country. Oenpelli is just across the East Alligator river, and you can see the river in many photographs.

Dr George Chaloupka, acknowledged rock art expert of the NT Museum, had personally recommended this site to David Marks through his technical adviser at the Museum. He accords it a high priority in terms of interest and describes the location as having numerous painting sites with many different stylistic rock art examples. We visited some of the 13 separate rock art galleries.

Rock Art at OenpelliGarry pointing out features of rock artOne image seen often was Namarrgon, the lightning man who causes the spectacular lightning storms of the wet tropics. However the main items were food, mostly a wide variety of fish. The art looks bright and recent, although some must be very ancient.

Our guide Garry did a wonderful job, taking us through the maze of rocks. You never knew which bits of art would be revealed at any turn. It is a very popular place with tourists, and there were several other groups on the hill at the same time.

There is a burial area here, with the bones painted with red ochre visible.

The men were taken to view a site sacred to men only. We certainly saw a remarkable number of fine rock painting sites in a very small space. You do need to be able to climb and scramble a little to reach some of the sites.

Rock art at OenpelliView of Oenpelli from rock art siteWe finally emerged near the top in an area with a fine view back towards the town. The country looks green and lush. We made our way down the hill and were driven back to the town.

Lunch was ready for us to collect from the local store. Of course, a number of our group were going through the art available, and some transactions involving freight took a while to organise.

By about 2 p.m. we flew back south to Cooinda (-12 54E 132 31S) in Kakadu National Park, to another fairly limited dirt air strip. A bus took us to the hotel to join the Yellow Waters cruise on this famous wetlands area of the South Alligator River. A commentary was provided about the birds and other fauna and flora while on the cruise. We had been on this cruise previously, but probably the dawn cruise. It’s worth several visits, especially if you can manage to do them at different times of day.

Crocdile, Yellow Waters, Kakadu NPSea Eagle, Yellow Waters, Kakadu NPThis cruise tends to have a lot of salt water crocodiles sunning themselves. We also saw several sea eagles in trees, and later saw their nest. As usual here, there was a lot of large bird life, like darters. The jabiru were mostly distant when we saw them or hidden in tall grasses. We also saw what looked like a few Burdekin ducks.

Back at the hotel bar at Cooinda, Eric couldn’t resist a photograph of the stone effect hand basins in the wash room before we headed back to the air strip.

Late afternoon a very short flight north to Jabiru (-12 40S 132 50E). We did manage some photos of the Ranger uranium mine as we came in to land at their air strip. As usual a bus awaited to take us into the townshhip.

Stone effect hand basins, CooindaWe stayed overnight in safari style accommodation at Lakeview Park, Jabiru (08) 8979 3144, which offers unique accommodation designed by award-winning Troppo Architects for the climate and experience of Kakadu. Lakeview Park Kakadu is ideal for families and groups as well as business people and backpackers, offering bush bungalows, “6 packs” (6 rooms sharing common facilities), cabins and ensuite van sites.

We had very nice shadecloth-sided bush bungalow cabins, with an excellent outside bathroom a few steps away. Jean was able to get a little rest, and Eric was able to do the much needed laundry while we relaxed. The Lakeside is nicely vegetated with good lawns and lots of tropical trees. Birds wandered around the area.

There was a shortcut through some bush from the Lakeside to the famous Crocodile Hotel, with its stairs up the front and back legs. The restaurant was about where the stomach would be. Fittingly, the business centre was in the jaws.

We’re told the buffet costs $42. They had a pretty fair range of foods, mostly reasonably well done, enough that all of us found something we liked. After a week of eating too much we certainly didn’t sample everything.

One new staff didn’t really know how to open a bottle of wine with the highly inferior cork puller she had been given. We feel sorry for these remote hotels, as staff turnover is considerable, and they often seem to lack the time for appropriate hospitality training. We also feel sorry for the new staff, who should get more training before being pushed into work. Easy for us to say, when the local TAFE specialises in hospitality training.

Several of us sat around talking and drinking for an hour or so after completing dinner. It was a comfortable place. They also had a left handed guitarist who did a very good job. He was also quick to change his playing to suit the age of the audience.

Jean left after dinner and walked back to the Lakeside alone. She felt quite safe, but could not find the path we’d taken earlier, so went along the road to the main entrance, and then got lost in the sprawling grounds of the resort. Eventually she spotted a staff member, who guided her to the bunglaow, remarking that lots of people get lost there.

Continued in part 8…

Page last updated 28 May 2006