Wednesday, August 27, 2008

off to Arnhem Land

Tomorrow we are off on a 3 day tour to Arnhem Land which is the north-eastern corner of the Northern Territory. Now an area controlled by the Northern Land Council and inhabited by local Aborigines.

Arnhem Land is an area of 97 000 sq. km. It extends from Port Roper on the Gulf of Carpentaria around the coast to the East Alligator River where it adjoins Kakadu National Park. The region was named by Matthew Flinders after the Dutch ship Arnhem which explored the coast in 1623.

The coast has one of the longest histories of exploration of any area in Australia. It is likely that the first Aborigines, making their way across the Indonesian archipelago some 40-50 000 years ago, arrived on the Arnhem Land coast. Certainly by the fifteenth century the coast was being regularly visited by Indonesian and Malaccan sailors and traders.

In 1644 Abel Tasman sailed along the coast and in 1803 Matthew Flinders, as part of his circumnavigation of Australia, charted the complex coastline. The inland areas were explored by Ludwig Leichhardt, who travelled through the area on his 1844-45 journey from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, and David Lindsay, the South Australian surveyor, who, in 1883, was commissioned to explore the central and eastern sections of Arnhem Land. He met with strong resistance from the local Aborigines. At one point his party was attacked by over 300 men

The area is now inhabited by around 20,000 Aboriginal people, and access is strictly limited with permits required so the easiest way to explore is with an organised tour. We should see plenty of gingas, rock art, and hopefully sea turtles on the Cobourg peninsula.

Yesterday we found our first rock wallaby, tricky creatures to spot.

We also witnessed our first controlled bush fire, and they are pretty violent even when you know that they are being monitored. Non-Aboriginal people are now realising the value of this age old practice- now that traditional burning is back, the landscape is once again abundant with native flora and fauna. Patch burning in the cooler weather prevents wildfires, repairs country and encourages biodiversity.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos are quick to rummage through the ash looking for cracked seeds.

Large numbers of black kites surround the periphery of the burn to pick off fleeing lizards and small mammals.

So tomorrow we cross the East Alligator river ford, and will return on Sunday.

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