Monday, August 10

The ultimate Aboriginal art gallery

Having lived in Australia for almost two decades I’ve inevitably seen many images of Aboriginal rock art. However, nothing could have prepared me for the real thing. The preserved art sites we visited at Ubirr and Nourlangie were truly magic. Some of the images we saw dated back 4000 years or more. They were created long before the Pyramids of Egypt.

Ubirr was the first site we visited. A 47km road winds north of Jabiru to the edge of the East Alligator River. The road ends in a rough rock ford crossing, known as Cahills Crossing. From here you cross into Arnhem Land, a remote wilderness that stretches across the top of Australia. This is restricted Aboriginal territory, accessible only by permit.

We arrived at the river’s edge as low tide was turning. This proved the ideal time to see huge crocodiles idling in the sunny shallows. I’ve never seen so many crocodiles in the wild in such a small stretch of water. We spotted at least half a dozen in a 60-metre arc. As we watched, one enormous beast, easily four-metre long, eased itself out of the water on the opposite mud bank and gave a small yawn. We were left in no doubt who was king of this domain.

Ubirr had five separate art sites. Each is accessible via an easy circular 1km walking track. The most spectacular site called the Main Gallery sits under a broad rock ledge, spanning almost 20 metres. Most of the paintings here are relatively new, painted within the last 1500 years. I was fascinated to learn that the act of painting itself is far more important than the actual images themselves. As a result, newer art is often painted over older pieces. At the main gallery at least three layers can be glimpsed.

The x-ray paintings were everything you image them to be; bold, evocative and colourful. They display all manner of local food including fish, wallabies, turtles and goannas. Nearby a rock even boasts a faded image of a thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, an animal that became extinct on the Australian mainland more than 2000 years ago. The Almangiyi, or long-neck turtle, was probably my favourite image.

We completed our walk at Ubirr with a short climb to a rocky lookout offering expansive views across the Nabah floodplain. Given that we were visiting during the Dry Season, only a few remote billabong water holes could be seen dotting the green, fertile plains. As the wind gently cooled us it was easy to fall in love with Australia all over again.

Our second art site was almost due south of Ubirr, roughly 80kms away. Nourlangie was an exceptional location. A 1.5km circular walk took us along the shaded base of a towering rock plateau where we saw some of the most astonishing art imaginable. Without a doubt the most impressive of all was the Anbangbang Gallery where dramatic red and white images of Namarrgon, the creator of lightning, and his wife can be found. The size, colour and power of these images have to be seen to be believed.

We completed our time at Nourlangie by climbing up to Gun-warddehwardde lookout which offers an uninterrupted view of the dramatic Kakadu escarpment in the distance. As we left the area we briefly stopped at Anbangbang billabong to watch teeming birdlife go about its day. We shared this magnificent sight with just one other couple, making for a wonderfully private moment in the heart of Kakadu.

1 comment:

rhonda said...

We didn't get to Ubbir but we loved Nourlangie. It all gives a new perspective on the Aboriginals and their beliefs.