Kakadu National Park is a large, natural preserve located in Australia's Northern Territory. It is classed as one of the World's Heritage Sites and rightly so. Within its boundaries of wild, natural and thankfully, minimally developed bush land, stand rock paintings, dating from as recent as a mere 25 years ago up to 40,000 years ago and possibly far beyond although this is not a unanimous view; ochre pieces, used as paint and paintings of extinct animals have been found that have been carbon dated to 50,000 years in the past. The aborigines, the undisputed first human inhabitants told their stories and explained their world on the faces on ancient geological formations, some of the oldest known to man dating to 2,500 million years ago (dinosaurs didn't roam until about 2,350 million years later).
The aborigines like to call themselves "The Indigenous Ones", a reference to their sense of origin that is not shared with the scientific world, having documented their trek to the great southern land from Asiatic lands. Nevertheless, they believe some or all of their ancestors were born of nature, from deep below the Earth, and remain alive forever but in spiritual form. This is the Dreamtime, also known as the Dreaming and is broadcast through their rock and bark paintings, beadwork, baskets, sculptures as well as their music and dance.
Some of the most well-preserved and fascinating paintings can be located in two areas of Kakadu National Park, Ubirr and Nourlangie. These areas are easily accessible by visitors and remain one of the most visited attractions in the Northern Territory. Ubirr especially has one of the most impressive and extensive collections of paintings, considered to be upwards of 20,000 years old based on evidence of human occupation dating to, and beyond that time. Then there are paintings dating back to 1985, equally impressive!
Ubirr Rock is an escarpment of prominence and offers a delectable gallery of history, biological interpretation and Dreamtime stories. Turtles, X-ray fish, and human figures offer classic evidence of pre-ice age inhabitation and imagination, of a land once covered by seas. High above on an overhanging rock, one can see the ancient, faded painting of a Thylacine also known as a Tasmanian tiger, once only known to be roaming the Tasmanian countryside. Its extinction in the Northern parts of the continent attributed in part to the dingo population was not universal and once Tasmania separated from the mainland after the ice age, the tiger was free to roam and populate until human intrusion decimated the species with the last known tiger dying in captivity in 1932.
The most well-known painting here consists of the skeletal spirit Namondjok, a Creation ancestor, who overlooks a chorus of mystical figures in headgear, xray women and a scattering of fish. Not far from here, evidence of a more recent event is played out. A tall ship sails, possibly sighted in the 18th or 19th century with native arms reaching out in friendship or perhaps, alarm at the pending doom that ascended on the aboriginals, eventually cast aside as pests and not human in the eyes of Europeans eager to covet the land.
Nourlangie Rock holds ancient drawings and paintings and modern era art from the 1960s one of the original paintings displays Nabulwinjbulwin, a female-eating spirit who mercifully kills his victims with yam before devouring! The Mimi spirits dance along the rock face where, according to the locals, live and hunt with their spears. The people of Kakadu, known as the Gagudju and considered the traditional owners of Kakadu National Park working in tandem with the Federal Government, see these spirits as very important and are often concerned that the balanda (a non-aboriginal) may pose a threat to the conservation of their ancient stories of the Dreamtime. They are willing to share with the world but mindful of a brutal and intrusive past that almost wiped them from the face of the Earth. We owe it to the Gagudju to respect and honor their past and be thankful for the pleasure they have extended. Big Bill Neidjie, last living speaker of the Gagadju language and responsible for opening up the park to visitors, wrote his feelings in 1986*
I worry about that placesecret place.
That got painting there, inside cave.
It got to be looked after because
My father, granddad all look after.
Now me, I got to do the same.
So should we all.
*Bill Neidjie, 1986 (traditional owners of Kakadu and Federal Government of Australia)