Dreamtime by Air 2005 – Part 8

(Click on photographs to see a larger version. Note: Some file sizes are quite large; not recommended for people using a dial-up connection.)

Previous installment is here.

A map of the trip is here.

Thursday 18 August 2005 – Jabiru to Gove

Jabiru (S12 39.50 E132 53.58) -> Ramingining (S12 21.38 E134 53.850 -> Gove (S12 16.16 E136 49.10)

Ranger Uranium MineRanger Uranium MineWe got out early for the buffet breakfast at the Crocodile Hotel, so we were the first to eat. Afterwards, we found our way to the Jabiru shops, to buy a newspaper and some other supplies.

This morning featured a bus tour of the Ranger Uranium Mine. We had done the tour before, but found it interesting to see again. It covered the essentials of how they extract yellowcake. While we were looking at the mine workings from near the main road in, one of the mapping aircraft had time to make two low passes directly over us.

After the tour, we flew to the Ramingining airstrip in Djadawitjibi country and visited the Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation (BAAC, pronounced bark) community. This is in one of the “Kava Licence Areas” of Arnhem Land, where traditional practice is permitted but regulated. While we were at the arts centre, the shop on the lower level of the building (open restricted hours) was doing a brisk business in kava, among other commodities.

RaminginingPhilip Gudthaykudthay (pronounced “g’day g’day”), one of the best known of the local artists, was at the arts centre. Eric alsotalked with artist Bob ? who did linocuts. He is also a musician who has toured widely. As at any arts centre, the quality of the work varied from unskilled to overwhelmingly good. This centre had a high proportion of very good works, and many in our party made purchases. Jean was tempted by some of the paintings, but resisted buying anything. (“I have no place to display any of them!”)

Next we flew over the North Arnhem Land Coast, overflew the Wessell Islands and landed at Gove (Nhulunbuy). The township of Nhulunbuy (Nool-un-boy) (-12 11S 136 46E) is situated on the Gove peninsula in northeast Arnhem Land. There are around 3500 people in Nhulunbuy, mainly employed in the mining activity that mines and refines bauxite into alumina, with a further 10,000 indigenous Australians in the area. As the town is on Aboriginal land, you need a permit to visit from Dhimurru Land Management.

Walkabout Lodge, NhulunbuyVehicle tour of Melville Bay, Yatch Club, Yirrkala Community; viewed mine workings and coastal scenery. Sunset over sea with champagne and strawberries at the Yacht Club. Overnight at Walkabout Lodge Nhulunbuy NT (Gove) (08) 8987 1777, where we had stayed before.

Dinner was very slow coming, as the small number of staff was overwhelmed by cutomer numbers. The quantity of food was massive, with most having barramundi as a main course, ending with pavlova or eclairs or mud cakes. It was an enjoyable meal regardless.

Friday 19 August 2005 – Gove to Roper Bar

Gove (S12 16.16 E136 49.10) -> Dhuruputjpi (S13 03.20 E136 10.30) -> Roper Bar (S14 44.26 E136 10.30)

We left Gove after rising for a 6:15 breakfast, and 7AM bus journey to the airport.

At Dhuruputjpi Aboriginal outstation, we were met at the airstrip by what seemed the entire clan, with a water ceremony with spears and clan colours, and led into the settlement.

Dhuruphutjpi outstationWelcome to DhuruphutjpiArts and crafts were on display, with many shell and berry necklaces in bright colours. Women demonstrated piercing the shells and making string from native brush, although most used fishing line.

There were also bark paintings, and a demonstration of making a stringy bark didgeridoo with good quality tools.

We were taken to a nearby swimming area, where the children swam and most of our group played games with other children. A group of men went off hunting geese (with a shotgun). Geese were plentiful at the time.

Mussels arranged for bookingMaking a didgeridooBack at the village, mussels were arranged for cooking, showing an appearance we had seen on bark paintings. John from Fiji helped with other food preparation; he has introduced Fijian customs like baskets for food. An underground oven (lined with rocks) was used to cook the geese and vegetables.

We had a chance to sample the food, but most of it went to the community residents. Our group was also provided with salad sandwiches, fruit, and other edibles.

Our plane at DhuruputjpiIt was a pleasant, low-key day. When it was time to leave, the community did a wind ceremony to send us on our way to the plane for our afternoon flight to Roper Bar.

We spent the night at Roper Bar Store Motel (08) 8975 4636 (-14 44S 134 31E). We had a short bus tour of the Roper Bar, and the old disused ruin of the police station. David organised a bus trip a short distance from the motel so we could see the view from the plateau. Meanwhile Tim refuelled the aircraft, with a pump that took over 500 revolutions for the single 200 litre drum.

Roper Bar StoreRoper Bar, the only settlement on the Roper River, lies 606km south of Darwin, 312 km east of Katherine and 1235km from Alice Springs. It is 120 km from the sea, is another 50km from the Port Roper turn-off.

Roper Bar river crossingThe Roper River was first explored by Ludwig Leichhardt in 1845 as he made his way from Moreton Bay to Port Essington. Leichhardt crossed the river at Roper Bar, a rocky shelf which conveniently lies at the high tide limit on the river. He named the river after John Roper, a member of the expedition. The rock bar nominally separates the tidal salt from the fresh water.

It became a common stopover point for drovers on the coastal route from Victoria River Downs and the Kimberleys to North Queensland. In the 1880s and 1890s it gained a reputation as a wild, outback outpost. Today the town is a small settlement with a police station, a very basic hotel/motel, the Roper Bar Store, a caravan park and roadhouse facilities.

Evening view from Roper Bar MotelWe enjoyed staying at the Roper Bar Store motel. The food they arranged was more than plentiful, and the barramundi was delicious. They breadcrumb it and then very briefly deep fry it before completing the cooking in an oven. David handed out sound earplugs which were better than the ones we had, so we really didn’t hear the generator running overnight close by our rooms.

Continued in part 9…

Page last updated 28 May 2006