Leaving Cooinda and Yellow Water behind, we began the long, rough drive deeper into the wilderness. The great, craggy walls of the Arnhem Plateau rose in the distance, looking like the lost world from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale.
If “Arnhem” doesn’t sound like an Aboriginal name, that’s because it’s not. The top end of Australia was sighted in the 1600s by Dutch traders who were looking for spices in India and the Molucca Islands. They thought it was desolate and not worth checking into further, as they didn’t see any real profit in it (no spices, gold, silk, tea, or other trade goods), but they still managed to leave a handful of Dutch names behind in this area: Van Diemen Gulf, Groote Eylandt, and Arnhem Land. This particular stretch of coast was visited in 1623 by Dutch explorer Willem van Colster. Van Colster’s ship was named the Arnhem, after an ancient ship-building town in the Netherlands, and he named this bit of land after his ship.