The jabiru bird had a wingspan of about 2.5 metres and was coming in to land, but it did so in a way that I had never really seen before. Rather than landing in a straight line like a plane does, it ceased flapping and gradually lowered in a circling flight around its landing spot. I was surprised at how much I was entranced by this bird. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s just that I don’t really notice them. But this jabiru bird was different – I hadn’t seen anything like it before.
Melbourne is a wonderful city which has most of what you would want in a large city, but it is like other cities that I have seen before. International cities, such as Melbourne, still have their differences from each other but the similarities are growing in terms of architecture, shops, food and even culture. Rather than the large differences existing between countries, the differences are greater between cities and other, rural parts in the sane country. My colleagues had told me that I would certainly find difference at Kakadu National Park; they said it was one of those places is unique to Australia.
Kakadu in the Northern Territory is Australia’s largest national park and a World Heritage site. Half of it is actually owned by Aboroginal Bininj / Mungguy people who lease it back to National Parks, jointly manage it with Parks Australia and have 10 of the 15 board members. This in itself makes it a little different from other places.
The difference was also pretty apparent in the five metre long saltwater crocodiles that glided just a few feet from our boat. It was a strange sensation seeing something that was so calm and gentle in its movement that was terrifying when you thought what it would to do to if you dropped overboard. They have a dismissive air about them, as though you are nothing to them sitting there in your boat on the water. But if you are in the water, they would make nothing out of you pretty quickly. Here is a short video of a crocodile in Yellow River, Kakadu
We actually met one local Aboriginal guide who had been on national news for braving the crocodile infested rivers (there can be 10,000 crocs in the park) to rescue somebody who was trapped. He talked to us about the land and showed us how to kill and eat ants that had a fresh, lemon taste. I had tasted many insects in Cambodia which were tasteless and it seems that the secret is just eating them raw. In Cambodia, we also found a love for passion fruit and were introduced to a tasty, tiny version of the fruit growing here. The fruit must have been a “super” fruit going by how far he threw his spear just afterwards.
The secret to throwing a spear is the woomera which is wooden and about 2 to 3 foot long. The woomera is held in one hand while the other hand places the butt of the spear on the woomera’s hook, effectively increasing the length of the thrower’s arm. This meant that when he threw the spear, there was a gasp, as his smooth throw launched the spear about 100metres. He must laugh at the strain javelin throwers cause themselves to throw it 90metres.
The absence of large colonial settlements has meant that ancient Aboriginal rock art has remained in astounding detail. There were huge rock galleries with multiple paintings on them, each telling different stories, and some dating back to 20,000 years ago. There were pictures of plants and animals, some of which no longer exist, There were parables and moral teachings, and there were paintings explaining Aboriginal history and culture, such as of Namarrgon, the Lightning Man.
Strangely though, it wasn’t any of these places that made me draw a deep breath and realise that I was in a place different to where I had ever imagined I would be. We were sitting on a small stoney and sandy beach just north of Darwin. The moon was full and in the sky despite the sun setting opposite. Old style planes from a nearby airport rose up into the sky over the heads of some local people gathering shellfish and mud crabs on the shore line. I sat and couldn’t quite take it all in.
Australia is more than a country of cities and beaches; it is a land foreign to others and unique to its own.