Published in 4×4 Australia Magazine 1987
The Gagudju clan of Aboriginal people has lived in this land for eons. Some would say 40,000 to 50,000 years. This land with its prolific plant life, with its vast expanse of waters, with it’s teeming wildlife. This land with its tropical climate, its large rock shelters, its abundance of food.
Here the Gagudju lived, loved, procreated, hunted, fished, danced and told campfire stories to their offspring of the DREAMING and the DREAMTIME. The land was good to them and they were good for the land. They taught an oral history to their descendants and left an indelible mark on the rock faces of the Arnhemland escarpment with their stylised X-ray paintings in the pastel colours of ochre.
As the environment around them changed throughout the millennia, so they adapted to these forces and altered their lifestyles. They lived in harmony with nature and became part of the ecosystem of Arnhemland.
Thousands of years marked time in which a deep traditional culture grew as the Gagudju people retold their history and related their dreaming of the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, Fire and Water and the Great Earth Mother, Imberombera, the symbol of fertility and creator of life, the original great ancestress from whom all things emanated.
The first Australians had arrived across the land bridge, which had existed at that time and now formed the big escarpment on the western edge of Arnhemland.
Then, about 3000 years before the present time, the Egyptians sent out world expeditions by land and sea. They skirted the northern coast of Australia and were seen and made contact with the people of Arnhemland. Time passed and then the Macassans from the islands in the Indonesian Archipelago started trading with the peoples of Northern Australia. Then came the Dutch explorers, the French and finally the British.
Our recent history records show that Jan Carstensz, a Dutch navigator, aboard the yacht ‘ Arnhem ‘, first made contact with aborigines in 1623. Then came Pool, Tasman, Dampier, and later, in 1802, Matthew Flinders added some features of the Arnhemland coast to his charts. In the year 1818, Captain Phillip Parker King ‘discovered’ and misnamed the Alligator Rivers. Then in 1845 Ludwig Leichhardt walked across the Australian continent from the city of Brisbane. It took him fifteen months to achieve this goal under trying conditions. He was the first white man to stand on the edge of the Arnhemland escarpment. Over the next 142 years the white man was to leave his impact on the people of Arnhemland forever by being responsible for the destruction of an age-old culture and by decimating the indigenous peoples of the north.
The lush environment, which supported thousands of inhabitants over the ages, was suddenly introduced to the Asian water buffalo, Timor ponies, pigs, camels, goats, horses, donkeys and a variety of exotic flora including salvinia, water hyacinth, mission grass, rubber grass, Para grass, hyptus and the dreaded mimosa pigra.
By the early 1970’s moves initiated by the then Northern Territory Reserves Board, were under way to establish a National Park in the northern portion of the Northern Territory. In 1972 the Alligator Rivers Wildlife Sanctuary was proclaimed. A review report on the Alligator Rivers Region environmental fact finding study, commissioned by the Federal Government and the Mining Industry, recognised the national park values of the area. This, in particular, included the wide variety of unique landscapes, vegetation and wildlife types, it’s great biological, anthropological, archaeological and scientific significance, and it’s value for a variety of recreational activities.
On 5th April 1979, Stage One of Kakadu National Park was proclaimed encompassing an area of 6144 square kilometres within the Alligator Rivers Region with the exclusion of the Ranger Uranium Mineral Leases. On 28th February 1984, Kakadu Stage Two was proclaimed encompassing an area of 6929 square kilometres within the Alligator Rivers Region. Then in June 1987 Stage Three came into being which included the total area of the Goodparla and Gimbat Station pastoral leases. They encompassed an area of 6726 square kilometres bringing the total area of Kakadu National Park to 19799 square kilometres.
The Gagudju Association, who was granted the land under the terms of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, owns Kakadu National Park. The park is leased back to the Commonwealth Government for an indefinite period. It is staffed and managed by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and employs 55 staff. Included within the staff make-up are Aboriginal Traditional Owners who serve in an advisory capacity and also Aboriginal Rangers and administrative staff.
Kakadu National Park became a World Heritage property in 1981. At the end of this same year I ceased my tour business into the Alligator Rivers and Kakadu area. Being one of the early tour operators in this area I was on hand to see the development and had been involved in the original plan of management of Kakadu representing the Northern Territory Four Wheel Drive Association.
Due to overseas travel and other interests, it has taken six years to finally revisit legendary places like Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. On this, my 75th journey on the Jim Jim track, it was to be a nostalgic return to the magic of the Kakadu bush.
It was early morning as we sped past the famous watering holes of the Humpty Doo Pub and the Bark Hut Inn along the Arnhem Highway. This sealed road was started in the early 1970’s and completed as far as the Ranger Uranium Mine during 1978. It straddles all the major rivers and their floodplains. Early morning wildlife included birds such as pelicans, Jabiru storks, egrets, hawks, kingfishers, kookaburras, and some wallabies. Sadly though, the teeming herds of water buffalo, which used to roam the Marrakai Plains, have disappeared due to culling and the brucellosis eradication program.
Leaving from Darwin it is 40km to the Arnhem Highway turnoff. The western boundary is 107km from this point, marked by an appropriate signs and information boards. The flora of this part of the country is tropical woodland savannah as indeed is most of the flora of the north. Tall eucalypt trees, together with palms= trees and grasses, form the heartland of the bush where the Gagudju people roamed for millennia.
Our first port of call was at 2 Mile and 4 Mile holes. The turnoff is 18km from the entrance to the park. Although the sign reads ‘4×4 only’, the track has been upgraded for 2wd access with small camper trailers.
2 Mile Hole: 13km north from the Arnhem Highway. A cleared camping area with fireplaces, wood, rubbish bins, boats and fishing, no swimming (crocodiles!!), no toilets, no tap water. A very pretty spot with lots of bird life and fishing possibilities.
4 Mile Hole: 34km from the Arnhem Highway. Drive past a large billabong on the way, which is choked with Salvinia weed. Bird life here includes Jacana, Ibis and Egret. Lots of camping space but very little shade close to the water. Popular boating and fishing spot. Very scenic. No swimming, no tap water, no toilets.
Red Lily Lagoon: Turnoff 37km from 2 Mile Hole exit. Turn right off highway. 23km to the lagoon. 4×4 recommended. Boating and fishing. No facilities. Definitely no swimming. This track also follows through to the old Jim Jim road.
Kakadu Holiday Village (formerly South Alligator Motor Inn)
5km from the Red Lily Lagoon turnoff along the Arnhem Highway. All amenities including fuel. Camping, caravans, chalets, motel accommodation, restaurant, river cruisers, bar, store, 4×4 tours. The holiday village lies 2km from the South Alligator River.
South Alligator River Bridge: River cruises, picnic area, toilets, rubbish bins, boat ramp, no drinking water. A popular area where recreational fishermen launch their boats in search of the elusive Barramundi. WARNING. Large crocodiles are prevalent in this area. The river is tidal and flows at 10 knots on an outgoing tide.
Mamukala Nature Trail: 7 kilometres east along the Arnhem Highway from the South Alligator Bridge.
East Alligator River turnoff: 37 kilometres from the South Alligator River Bridge. Here we leave the comfort of the sealed highway and drive along a well-corrugated gravel road to the East Alligator River, which is the border of the Kakadu National Park and the Arnhemland Aboriginal Reserve. Along the way we visit the following places:
Gadjuduba camping area: 9 kilometres along the East Alligator road on your left. 2km track in. Grassed camping area set amongst tall melaleuca paper bark trees. Fireplaces, very little wood, toilets, rubbish bins, bush boat ramp, fishing. No tap water and no swimming. This campsite is on the edge of the Magela Swamp. It is very picturesque and is teeming with water birds including Pacific black duck, Magpie goose, Teal duck, Burdekin duck, Whistlers, Jabiru, Pelican, Cockatoo, Kookaburra, and other parrots. We camped here overnight and during the night Black footed Native rats visited our camp. Later feral pigs, buffalo and crocodiles could be heard making their nightly calls. WARNING: Definitely no swimming and take plenty of mosquito repellent.
Jabiluka billabong: 12 kilometres from the Gadjuduba exit and 5 kilometres along a winding track. Very scenic, no facilities, no caravans, no swimming, bush camping only.
East Alligator River: 16 kilometres on from the Jabiluka billabong exit. This is the border crossing into Arnhemland Aboriginal Reserve and Gurig National Park. Permits are required to visit these places. Cahill’s Crossing across the East Alligator River is named after legendary buffalo shooter, Paddy Cahill, who lived in this area around the turn of the century. The crossing was the scene of a recent fatal crocodile attack. The river is tidal and fast flowing. WARNING: Crocodiles and sharks frequent this area. Picnic area for day use, boat ramp, popular but dangerous fishing area, toilets.
The Border Store: At the East Alligator River. Store, petrol, no diesel, soft drinks, no alcohol, some groceries, souvenirs and snack foods.
Mel Camping Area: Near Border Store. Caravans, camping, tap water, showers, toilets, and disabled facilities.
Ubirr (Obiri Rock): Day use only. 3km from the Border Store. 1km nature walk. Toilets. No camping. At Ubirr the many fantastic rock paintings gives one an impression of how life might have been thousands of years ago. The paintings are set under large overhangs in the rocky Kombolgie sandstone outcrops, created natural living shelters for the pre-history dwellers. The scenic beauty of the Ubirr area is breathtaking and must be one of the highlights of a visit to Kakadu. Most of the paintings depict hunting, fishing, family life, spirit figures and warring clans. There is also a distinct painting of a Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). The rock art also depicts more recent times with men carrying firearms and axes.
Back along the Arnhem Highway it is 3km to the township of Jabiru.
Jabiru Town: Fuel, newsagent, post office, supermarket. No caravan park, no camping, no motel accommodation. The town houses employees of the Ranger Uranium Mine.
Ranger Uranium Mine: 11km from Jabiru. Conducted tours of the mine. Airport, and aerial tours of the Kakadu Wetlands.
Kakadu National Park Headquarters: 2km along the Kakadu Highway. All information about the park and its history. Avery good display.
Malabanbanju Camping Area: 13km along the Kakadu Highway from Park HQ. Caravans, camping, toilets, no tap water. No swimming.
Baroalba Camping Area: Adjacent to Malabanbanju. Caravans, camping, toilets, no tap water, no swimming.
Iligadjarr Nature Trail: This walking trail is situated between Malabanbanju and Baroalba camping areas. The distance of the trail is 3.8km across a grassy floodplain and wooded areas. Views of many water birds and prolific flora in the area. You may even be lucky to see a crocodile sunning itself. An informative step-by-step guide is available from Park HQ. Iligadjarr is the name of the spirit File Snake.
Nourlangie Rock, Nangaloar and the Blue Paintings: 4km south along the Kakadu Highway from the Baroalba camping area, you turn off along a sealed road towards Nourlangie Rock. 6km down this road another track turns off to the Nangaloar fertility paintings, Koongarra saddle and Baroalba Spring.
Nourlangie Rock is another main rock art site where occupation in the shelters of the rock formations took place over the millennia. ANPWS have constructed boardwalks to, and along the main galleries to give visitors easy access, and to protect the paintings from dust and human interference. Toilet facilities and Picnic tables at Nourlangie billabong. No camping. Day use only. The Blue Paintings art site is situated close to Nourlangie Billabong. A 1.4km nature walk links all the sites together. No facilities and restricted access.
Muirella Park: Back on the Kakadu Highway it is 7km to the Muirella Park turnoff and 6km of sealed road to this recreational site. Caravans, camping with generators, camping without generators, toilets, showers, disabled facilities, tap water, boat ramp, fishing. No swimming. A pretty spot good for boating and fishing. Nature walk through swampland.
Sandy Billabong: 5km from Muirella Park along a rough track. No caravans, no facilities, and no swimming. Beautiful billabong with a profusion of lilies and bird life. Good for the serious photographer and a quiet place to relax. Day use area.
Jim Jim Falls/Twin Falls: This 75km track turns off the sealed road 13km from the Muirella Park entry/exit. The track has always been a notorious 4×4 route and sometimes a trap for the unwary. Some have ventured in with 2wd’s and some have not returned as evidenced along the way. ANPWS have embarked on a three-year program to build a new track, which is shorter in distance, and to upgrade to a 2wd access track for dry season usage as far as Jim Jim Falls. Progress has been slow and parts of the new track have had maximum usage resulting in rapid deterioration. Along one section the bull dust is one metre deep and continuous for three kilometres. The old track is still in existence and although it is corrugated it is in better condition. One and a half to two hours is required to drive the 65km to the Jim Jim Falls car park. From there it is a 1km nature walk to the base of the falls. The camping area is situated just 3km from the car park on the banks of Jim Jim Creek. There, toilets, tables and firewood are provided. Set amongst tall shady trees there is ample camping space. Although the creek runs most of the year it is very shallow. There are however, some waterholes further downstream to cool off in. The creek water is also drinkable. This camping are also serves Twin Falls, which is a day use recreational area only.
It is not known where the name for Jim Jim Falls originated. The falls are fed from the plateau above the Arnhemland escarpment and the water plunges more than 200 metres into a large pool below. The sun never reaches the waters of this pool and consequently it is most likely the coldest water in Northern Australia. Close to the base of the falls there is a rock fall and it is possible to climb up to the top of the falls via this route. At the height of the wet season the waters thunder over the drop but by September it is reduced to a mere trickle. Twin Falls lies a further 10km from the camping area along a very sandy 4wd track. These must be the prettiest falls in the whole of the Top End. Crystal clear waters and high cliffs make this a beautiful setting for a place to relax. A 500-metre swim on your floatie and you will arrive at a pure white sandy beach at the bottom of the drop.
Cooinda and Yellow Waters: Located 2km off the Kakadu Highway and 6km from the Jim Jim turnoff. Cooinda has full motel facilities, including a pub and swimming pool, Caravan Park, camping, fuel supplies and store. The motel is owned by the Gagudju Association and operated by the Four Seasons Motel Group. Bar, fuel and other charges are excessive in comparison to nearby outlets. If you are on a budget holiday, buy elsewhere.
Yellow Waters Billabong: Boat tours, boating, fishing for barramundi, caravans, camping, toilets, disabled facilities. A very scenic place with a good chance of snaring a barramundi. Wildlife abounds including large crocodiles.
Mardugal Camping Area: Adjacent to Cooinda. Caravans and camping. Toilets, tap water, disabled facilities. No swimming.
Jim Jim Billabong: On Jim Jim Creek and the upstream part of Yellow Waters billabong, 2.5km off the Kakadu Highway. Camping, toilets, fishing. No swimming.
From Cooinda/Yellow Waters it is 160km to Pine Creek on the Stuart Highway between Katherine and Darwin. Of this distance 27km is sealed road. The rest of the road is good gravel with corrugations in places. There is also an alternative route to return to Darwin via the Old Jim Jim road. This distance is 220km with 120km being gravel road.
NOTES: Most visitors come to Kakadu during the months of June, July and August. The average daily temperatures range from 20c minimum to 30C maximum. Others prefer to visit during the wet season when most of the floodplains are covered in metres of water. This is the period from January to April. Although road access is restricted to some areas other hard to get at places are accessible by boat. Scenic flights to view the roaring waterfalls are also available.
Areas not mentioned in this article but also under development by ANPWS include Barramundi Gorge and Graveside Gorge (4×4 only). With the proclamation of Kakadu Stage 3 further areas will be developed and upgraded. Areas such as Black Jungle, Waterfall Creek (UDP) Falls, Koolpin Gorge, Christmas Creek art site and Sleisbeck ruins come to mind.
Kakadu National Park is a wonderful place that has been saved from the ravages of mankind for all Australians and overseas visitors to experience and enjoy.
Don’t miss it on your holiday around Australia.