We are heading into the ranges we saw in the distance yesterday and they slowly reveal all their beauty the closer we get, sheer cliffs, streaked with colours, lined with cracks and crevices. The track in is rough with grass as high as the bus itself and some very boggy ground to get through. The bus stops, we clamber out and see caves in front and a billabong behind – a perfect place to live, close to food, water and shelter.
Can you imagine sitting on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by rock paintings, overlooking a billabong and across the vast wetland whilst enjoying a cup of tea? Yes, I have to pinch myself.
We are told that Hawk Dreaming is off the map and it is true you must have permission to enter but it is reasonably well known. Around a 1,000 visitors a year come here so considering that Kakadu has around 124,000 visitors it is a special place to have the privilege of entering. Our tour guide with Arnhemlanders is Ryan and he has an enthusiastic, intimate knowledge of Hawk Dreaming. The paintings are intriguing, obviously some completed recently but others depict older type sailboats indicating they may be at least a couple of hundred years old. Others are more difficult to define their age but I’m not really too worried. Red Ochre is often the only colour left as it soaks into the sandstone but depending on how open the art is to the elements will determine how long they will last so some may well be thousands of years old. I love that much of the art is intricately accurate in its replication of a particular animal or fish – inside and out. The paintings were used to educate, or warn or tell the stories of how the land was made and all done with purpose often painted over others previously. A few willing, agile members of the tour climb up to see some more paintings and learn you should never disturb a green ants nest – thankfully I didn’t get bitten. Apparently green ants can be effective against headaches but I’m not sure if this just means if you have a headache find a green ant to bite you and you will forget all about the headache or you eat them and they act like an aspirin. It is interesting to see blue featured in one of the paintings which we later found out came from bluo used to keep our whites white – so we can pretty much guess this ones age.
Time for lunch? As we have been bouncing around the country side we have been ‘tasting’ things like Rosella, Water Lilies, Figs and other interesting tidbits as well as being told about seeds, medicine plants. Some of our group even bare their recent wounds to have some sap from a plant squeezed onto it – guaranteed to form a skin to help heal the sore and keep it from getting germs into it.
Our special treat for the afternoon is to visit a teaching cave that was used by the famous Kakadu Man to help his children understand the white mans language and ways. Kakadu Man, Bill Neidjie, Big Bill, is spoken about with a great deal of respect and reading up about him it is quite clear why. Obviously a strong commanding personality but also quite a character insisting that he have his ‘a wake’ before he died so he could enjoy it.
Our tour ends with a look around Jabiru with an uncertain future now that the mine nearby is to close up within the next few years.