Jabiru – East Alligator River Cruise at Ubirr

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

DSC_0123As its name implies, the East Alligator River is home to a healthy population of crocodiles, healthy that is for the crocodiles, not so for the barramundi fish or the careless tourists who wander to the river’s edge to see “Nigel” up close. “Nigel” is the Cecil of Kakadu Park having DSC_0128starred in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation series on the park. Park rangers captured him and fitted him with a tracking device to follow his whereabouts throughout the river, billabong and pool system.

Neville, our guide pointed out the 67 crocodiles, some with eyes barely visible other lounging on the banks, hawks and wallabies. With passion and engaging humour he told us of his aboriginal heritage. His father was an illusionist or sorcerer and Neville is a painter and educator in local schools. As a Lightning Man he is forbidden from painting his own image. No Lightning Man figures for him. Selfies would be entirely foreign to aboriginal culture.

The art comes through his body as he feels it and draws it with red ochre and yellow paint. I found it interesting that the aboriginal colours in Australia are the same as in Canada – red, white, yellow and black. I wonder if it has to do with the pigments available in the rock.

The East Alligator River separates Kakadu from Arnhem Land which is aboriginal territory. Permits are required for balanda, people who are not aboriginal to travel there. Cahill’s Crossing is a cement roadway across the river, passable only during these dry season months. In the wet water will cover it to a depth of 3-5 metres making the river 27 metres wide. Just a few weeks ago a woman tried to cross it when the water was fast and high. Her vehicle was swept across the roadway with 6 hungry crocodiles nearby hoping for dinner. Nigel nosed his boat up to the car to bring her to safety. We stay well away from all rivers!

Neville brought us over to the Arnhem side of the river to introduce us to “country.” Country is without the preposition, “the.” Country is landscape, stories, songs, teachings, language. It is what has given aboriginal people life and sustained them. Depending on which scholar you consult they have been here between 20,000 – 50,000 years.

From the forest he found a stick to which he attached a modern steel tip with strips from another plant a spear thrower and hurled it from a height almost across the river, retrieving them later from the boat.

In aboriginal culture there is knowledge that can be shared with balanda, some with non-initiated aboriginal children, some with aboriginal women and some with aboriginal men. What we learn is only a very small part of their complex culture.

Tuesday afternoon was for R & R. We read, Geoff did lengths in the Jabiru community pool and I did laundry, my favorite household activity. By the time I’d hung the last sock, the first shirt was practically dry it is that hot and dry here.

~ Catherine

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