Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: Kakadu II
Date: October 10, 1994 03:13Continued from Part I

19:45 Edith Falls National Park (Katherine), Northern Territory :: 6 SEP 94

The trip algorithm left out a few noteworthy 'instructions.' For example, the geological formations, aboriginal rock art and exceptional flora/fauna. Experiencing these was the whole point of the trip. But before getting to that it's necessary to round out some other important information.

Your average North American believes in four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter-well, those of us in Vancouver and Seattle know but one season, rainy, which takes a few weeks off some time between the beginning of July and the end of August. In Oz, mother nature opted for something very different. Here there is 'The Wet', and 'The Dry'. The meanings of these terms vary somewhat from region to region. The basic idea is that between June and October, The Dry, nearly no rain falls at all. What precipitation does fall comes mainly in the heart of The Wet between December and February-March.

The regional variations can be profound. Most of the central continent receives very little rain throughout the year and The Wet might more appropriately be called The Damp. In sub tropical Queensland and New South Wales it is The Dry that is sometimes Damp, while the wintertime rains may only double the summertime accumulation. The Top End and Far Northern Queensland remain bone dry throughout The Dry but receive a thorough drenching during the monsoonal Wet.

The significance of these weather patterns for travelers becomes clear when one considers that most national park attractions appear to revolve around water whether that water be boiling, rolling, rushing, falling or simply lingering in a lake. So when the namesake of a National Park like Alligator Creek turns out to be a dry gulch, the traveler might rightfully feel misled. It's particularly off-putting when the Parks guide advertises SWIMMING as among the activities in which one may engage and it's 30 degrees centigrade, in the shade. Very disappointing let me tell you.

The rivers and creeks in Kakadu National Park, set smackdabinthemiddle of Australia's Top End, are susceptible to these seasonal fluctuations. Fortunately, enough rain falls during The Wet that even after several months of Dry, many river systems have not completely drained the summer accumulation. For example, the annual water level variation of the Alligator River exceeds 4 meters, but the river remains deep enough to allow boat tours throughout the year. Incidentally, the Alligator River is only river system in the world contained entirely within a National Park so it's not affected by public, commercial or industrial pollutants other than those introduced by park visitors and staff.

2:14 Edith Falls NP (Katherine), Northern Territory

I don't know what the weather was like here millions of years ago. Whatever went on meteorologically factored in the creation of the Arnhem Tableland, a vast plateau covering much of the Top End. Perhaps half of Kakadu consists of this tableland while the other half is the bottom of a one-time low sea that ate away at the high plateau. The escarpment at the edge of these two lands forms the primary geological feature of the park and most of the interesting sites in the park lie on or near the escarpment.

About 50,000 years ago the Aboriginal people discovered what we now know as Australia. Long before the Europeans arrived the Aborigines successfully inhabited the entire continent. During this time over 400 distinct languages had formed and the hunter/gatherer societies had developed what experts now describe as the world's most sophisticated "primitive" art forms.

Nearly all of these languages are lost. The hunter/gatherer lifestyle became politically and economically impractical within the modern context forced upon the land. The last Aboriginal rock painting was completed by Barramundi Jim at Nourlangie Rock.

17:30 Daly Waters, Northern Territory :: 7 SEP 94

Actually, that's not entirely true. Aborigines still paint stories and images on rock, though the public primarily sees Aboriginal art applied to didjeridus, bull roarers and bark paintings. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Cylus in Katherine. We talked for a good while about this and that and when I remarked that the Kakadu guide's information was that no new rock art was being painted in Kakadu, Cylus grinned and suggested, "that's just because he doesn't know where to look."

8:00 Daly Waters, Northern Territory :: 8 SEP 94

When you're walkabout in Oz and in unfamiliar territory look for rock art to point you in the direction of food. Cylus explained to me that the heads of long-necked turtles are painted at river's edge to point in the direction of their nearest favoured habitat.

A few words about Daly Waters. Composed of a few knock-about buildings-one of them for sale, if you're interested-a general store, the Northern Territories' oldest pub (expanded to include run-down hotel and caravan park) and an auto wrecker. Just outside of town, about 200 meters from the pub, there appears to be a rodeo ground.

History speaks better of the town. John McDougal Stuart traipsed through the center of what became Daly Waters when he crossed the continent from Adelaide to Darwin, the first European to complete the journey. This town apparently marks the transition from the desert land of the Red Center to the Top End's bush and about 500 meters from where I sit in the caravan park, John Stuart supposedly carved his initials in the Stuart Tree after finally beating the desert that had twice turned him back in previous attempts.

The overland telegraph connecting Adelaide and Darwin was constructed along Stuart's route and stockmen drove their cattle along it. Soon Daly Waters became the last rest stop on the route south to Alice Springs.

Unlike the telegraph the Stuart highway, built in 1942 for transporting military, doesn't follow Stuart's route and, alas, bypasses Daly Waters by about 1 kilometer. So much for Daly Waters, home of the Northern Territories' first and shortest lived McDonald's hamburger restaurant: opened 11am, closed forever 6pm the same day.

Continued in Part III

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --