Comings and Goings along Dusty Tracks # 5

Lake Jabiru Spirit at the Mahbilil Festival

Lake Jabiru Spirit at the Mahbilil Festival

Our Latest Dusty Track – After nearly three weeks in Darwin (check out the blog post Music, Art and Food) we were keen to get back into the bush. We headed toward Kakadu and Jabiru but wanted a bush camp along the way. Shady Camp is on the banks of the Mary River about 100 km east of the Stuart Highway on the Arnhem Highway and then 50 km north along good dirt roads, well maybe the odd corrugation but nothing significant by our standards.

It’s a pretty dry and dusty area at this time of the year and the campground is set back a little from the river. Not sure if that’s to protect the campers from the crocodiles or the river banks from the campers. Some large groups of shady trees are blocked with large boulders barring them to all but tents and day use but we managed to find one large tree we could get underneath for shade most of the day.

The next couple of days were very relaxing, out in the bush, not much to do except shelter from the heat and take short strolls, and chat to other campers including Bill and Bunty who have been coming here regularly for years. It’s the end of the dry season and daytime temperatures are getting hotter so there aren’t many people around. Paul takes a drive to Point Stuart one day but the water in the billabongs around there is low so instead of bird watching he stalks the buffalo lazing in the slightly cooler mud to take a few photos. Fishermen launch their boats from a ramp near our camp and a group of four return with their full complement of 8 large barramundi fish. They take huge fillets from them and leave the frame and “wings”. Instead of throwing them out they offer them to the campers and Bill shows a young French backpacker and Paul how to prepare them for cooking. Cooked over the flames and coals they provide a feast for us and the backpackers that night, a bit fiddly but the nicest part of the fish and more than we could eat.

After three nights we’ve got back into the rhythm of the bush and move on to our next destination. We’re going to spend a couple of weeks in Kakadu but first we have a permit for a week camping in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula in the north-west corner of Arnhem Land. We’re leaving the Troopie at the caravan park in Jabiru and spending one night at Merl campground in Kakadu so we can get an early start through Arnhem Land. This is an ideal opportunity to visit Ubirr rock in time for sunset. We’ve both been here before to see the rock art but it’s certainly worth seeing again and the sunset view from the top of the rocks is always special. Last wet season was not particularly wet and it’s now approaching the end of the dry season so water on the flood plain is less than usual but the grass is still brilliant green, and the colours of the land, rocks and sky are great.

Our week in Cobourg Peninsula passed all too quickly, it is a very special place with beautiful bays and rocky headlands around the peninsula and areas of wetlands in the centre. It is far from everywhere and there were very few people around. We’ll try to post more about our time there soon.

Where are we now? – We left Arnhem Land and returned to Kakadu in time to attend the Mahbilil Festival and Gurrung Sports Carnival in Jabiru. ‘Gurrung’ is a local Aboriginal word for the season when ‘Mahbilil’, the afternoon breeze, rises and the magpie geese fly in huge numbers across the wetlands and lay their eggs. The Sports Carnival includes AFL and men’s and women’s basketball and it runs over the Friday and Saturday and the festival runs from midday to midnight on the Saturday. We attend the festival in the afternoon and we enjoy the music while we have a look at the stalls and displays and sample the rich red meat of magpie goose cooked on the coals. A magpie goose cooking competition is part of the festival with about ten dishes entered, all looking very interesting. After the judges made their decision the entries could be sampled and voted for and we hoped to try some but ran out of time before we had to head off to watch the grand final of the football. The reigning premiers were the Minjilang Tigers from Croker Island and they made it three in a row by defeating the Gunbulanya Buffaloes. The pace of the game was extremely fast with the players showing great speed and agility. In this heat we were very impressed as even though they are only short games of two 12 minute halves they had played five previous games during the day. We returned to the festival in the evening and enjoyed a couple more bands and a great atmosphere with kids and adults having a ball under the large trees festooned with lanterns. Here and there we saw larger lanterns in the form of Barramundi Fish and Magpie Geese. Along the edge of the lake are very tall sculptures of ‘spirits’ and in the middle of the lake is a giant orange crocodile with red lights for its eyes.

Where to next? – Our travels through the rest of Kakadu National Park will probably take us close to two weeks. Water levels are low and a couple of the waterfalls don’t have much flow so we may skip them but a ranger has given us some good tips on where there are good pools to explore and which will be pretty quiet. South of Kakadu we’ll pass through Katherine and visit the thermal springs in Mataranka before travelling east along the southern edge of Arnhem Land to Roper Bar and out to the “gulf country”. We’ll pass around the gulf into Queensland and eventually to the east coast around Townsville before we head south. Naturally there are lots of places we’ll want to stop at along the way but time is moving on and we’ll have to as well.

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