Saturday, January 31

Day 156-Kakadu

Braving equatorial heat and monsoon rains, this National Park, Australia's largest, is host to a vast number of plant and animal species. This time of year, heavy rains are a daily occurence, and massive sheets of water pour off the rocky plateau forming the southern boundary. The ensuing waterfalls are spectacular and dangerous, the rivers downstream bisect the woodlands of white barked eucalyptus, where emerald green grass grows higher than a man head, and scattered about are the mounds of cathedral building termits, more than 3 meter high. The rivers overflow, flooding roadways (most are impassable this time of year) and vast plains and forest of pandamus and paperbark trees, they now become home to wading storks, cranes and herons, yellow bellied pythons and water rats. Signs warning of saltwater crocodiles, migrating up the seasonal waterways are common place. As the Wet passes, some low lying areas will retain there water level and become billabongs, and the wildlife will become more concentrated, some will seek shelter in the drying mud until next year. Along river banks and hilltop ridges monsoonal rainforest of ghost gum are scattered about, home to the cockatoo and every other type of raucous bird.

But this huge park, Unesco listed, is also home to a 50,000 year old, still-living human culture. Among the marshes, forest and billabongs, wander the Bininj people, one among the many clans of Aboriginal people that this country is famous for. Still they hunt for possum, snake, wallaroo and forage for pandamus fruits, palm hearts, and medicines. They appear aloof and unconcerned and in fact are rarely seen off of their settlements out in the bush. Along the rocky escarpment, in hidden overhangs and folds, they have left traces of their past. Stories of creation and hunting tales are inscribed in paints of yellow, black, and red ocher. They tell of a time long ago when the earth was perfect, the Dreamtime. I spend the day wandering among these rocks, admiring the ancient paintings and gazing out over the broad and timeless landscape. I stop to have a brief conversation with a shy black wallaby, I feel as if still, the world is a perfect place.

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