Tag Archives: Aboriginal art

August 28, Part 2

We finally stopped at a remote spot where incredible rock formations surrounded us. We were here to explore Wanjina rock art. The Wanjina are mythical ancestral beings, elemental spirit beings that originated in the sea and sky. It is believed the older paintings are at least 4,000 years old, though some paintings in this region are made or renewed even today. The figures are alien-looking beings, with large eyes and no mouths.

Wanjina Spirit Figures

Wanjina Spirit Figures


After spending a fair bit of time examining and learning about the paintings, we continued exploring the area. The rocks are astonishingly shattered and worn, with roots prying open cracks and trees perching on ledges. One rock looked to me like a huge face. We saw a gigantic spider–bigger than my hand, even with fingers spread—and gave it wide berth. (We were later told that it was not a type we needed to worry about.) Everything else was fascinating and quite wonderful.
mitchell-rocks-1-lighter mitchell-rocks-2
Then on to our campsite, which was not far beyond, at a site on the King Edward River. Here, rocks jut up at one end of camp, and the river runs along one side of the small bit of flat area where our tents are to be put up. Pandanus and huge paperbarks cluster along the riverbanks, and rock slabs rise up from or slope into the water in various places. Large numbers of ducks sat on the far shore, watching us was we set up camp.
King Edward River

King Edward River


With camp up, it was time for a dip in the clear water. The submerged parts of the rocks along the water’s edge were covered with some sort of moss or algae that made them unbelievably slippery. If a rock was at a slant, you couldn’t stand, or even sit in one place—you’d just keep sliding. It made getting into and especially getting out of the water a bit challenging–though it was definitely worth the effort.

As the sun began to approach the horizon, more birds began to arrive and/or began singing. Butcherbirds, whistling kites, cockatoos, and myriad unknowns joined us in camp. Other than the heat and flies, this could be paradise.

The sunset was beautiful. The moon was the tiniest sliver in the darkening sky. The cockatoos have squawked good night. Mim is preparing damper for us to enjoy after dinner.
king-edward-river-sunest
The heat from our cooking fire drove a big spider out into the open, and it disappeared in the dark. Then a grasshopper jumped down the back of my neck. These generated a half hour of bug and spider stories. But then conversation returned to adventures in Australia–those we’d all had and those we anticipated in the morning. Nice evening.

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Trip 3:Thursday, August 24 Part 1

(This time, part 1 of 4)

Woke to the caroling of butcherbirds and the harsh call of the blue-winged kookaburras (which are as raucous as laughing kookaburras, but have a different call—just noise, no laughter). The ground is littered with the orange flowers of the woolybutt gum trees that surround us.
Woolybutt Flowers lighter
The caroling of the butcherbirds increased as the sun rose and was joined by other bird songs. The sun coming up on the red rock walls around us was dramatic and beautiful. The air is fresh, and cooler than it has been. An all together delightful morning.

Then on the road again. The stark, magnificent beauty of this strange land draws me in again, deeper with each passing mile. I thank God for this trip–not just returning to Australia, but the opportunity to go farther out.

We drove to a parking area that identified itself as the access point for Nganlang, another Aboriginal art site. (I’m including a photo of the sign, because I’ve found that it is often spelled differently online—one site says “now known as Nganalam.” And yet Nganlang still shows up on some academic sites. So name change or just perpetuated error? I may never know.)
Nganlang Sign
Red-winged parrots fluttered nearby, as we hiked the estimated 10 minutes to where we’d see the art. Brilliantly weird, majestic, worn and shattered rock was so remarkable that it would have been worth the visit without the art. (Be sure to click on the thumbnail images, to see the photos at full size, or you’ll miss the details. These rock formations are worth seeing.)
Nganlang Rocks 1 Nganlang Rocks 2 sharper Nganlang Rocks 3
However, the rock paintings were wonderful, as well, strange and otherworldly. Trusting the information panels at the site, I feel fairly confident saying the two large figures with rays or feathers coming out of their heads are Gangi Nganan, said to be the very first of the Mirriwung, an indigenous group in this region. The second photo features many layers of paintings, showing that the site was used for a long time. Here, mythic creatures blend with everyday life and food animals. The first images were scraped into the rock, while the white, yellow, and red painted images were later (though still, in most cases, centuries and even millennia ago).
Gani Nangan figures Newer Aboriginal Art
Another delight was coming across a cluster of empty mud nests built by fairy martins. Fairy martins are members of the swallow family. They build their remarkable nests on vertical rock walls, though generally in protected areas, such as a caves. On my first trip to Australia, I had seen fairy martins dashing in and out of a cave in Katherine Gorge, but did not see the nests. This time, I saw the nests but not the martins.

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August 21, PART 2

The earth became redder as we continued on, and the trees became greener. The road was rough, the weather hot, the flies, dreadful, the scenery, brilliant. In the distance, we could see smoke rising from a brush fire. It must have been a big one, as the smoke rose to the clouds from an area miles long.

We eventually rolled onto the historic Bradshaw Station, an area of roughly 3,475 square miles. The remoter areas of the station are now used by the military, and we had seen evidence of that back in Pine Creek, where a fair number of jeeps and gents in camo had also stopped.

This part of the station is known for the antiquity of its Aboriginal rock art, which apparently appears throughout this region, and the afternoon held a stop at a rock “gallery” where huge stone outcrops offered both shade and “canvas” for ancient paintings rendered in white and red. Clouds of butterflies heralded our arrival and pandanus lined our route as we hiked amid the rock walls. It was surprisingly cool in the shadow of the rock.

Pandanus

Pandanus

Butterfly

Butterfly


The paintings were, on the whole, less complex than many I’d seen in Kakadu National Park, on my first trip. However, they were still fascinating, and one could easily recognize many of the creatures depicted, along with the handprints that connect painters with the rock and their work.
Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal Art


Then back on the road, across the harsh and ancient land. My heart sang, resonating again to that special something that this land possesses that so touches me.

Pulled into Menu Camp around 5pm. This area was a spot where drovers used to stop to eat, which is how it got the name Menu. There was a nice campsite set up already. It is, in fact, permanently here, just for the camping outfitter with whom I’m traveling. It offers a screened dining area, a creek-water shower, and a dunny (outhouse/toilet) that faces the sunset.

This is a spot of great beauty—but also of many flies. After putting up our tents and getting our gear stowed in the tents, Athena, Belinda, and I set off to explore a little before dinner. We wandered amid trees and then down to the creek, which is narrow but clear and lushly surrounded by pandanus.

Menu Camp

Menu Camp


Dinner was great fun. This is an excellent group of bright, charming people, and Kate is an excellent camp cook. After dinner, we sat around the campfire, sipping coffee and admiring the dazzling splash of stars overhead. I was delighted beyond measure to see the Southern Cross again.

Then we headed for tents and sleeping bags, as we have another early start tomorrow. Alas, the coffee proved to have been a mistake, as despite what by now was full-fledged exhaustion, sleep evaded me for far too long. Sigh.

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