Daily Archives: August 16, 2015

East Arnhemland (Part 1 – The road to Nhulunbuy)

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To travel into most of Arnhemland you need a travel permit, then to stay there you need another permit. Depending upon where you plan to visit you need other permits so a little preparation is required to enter this area. Permits are obtainable through the Northern Land Council and we got the most helpful lady you could wish for in the Katherine office. The first bombshell she dropped was “Are you going for the Garma festival?”. We pleaded ignorance and was informed it was the biggest indigenous event of the year, four days of celebrations, all sounding very exciting and just what we were after, however whe told us it had been sold out for months. The second bombshell was it was a public holiday in NT and she enquired whether we had accommodation booked. Errrr no, was our sheepish response. We had only booked accommodation twice in 8 months on the road, preferring to leave it to fate wherever we went. I vaguely mentioned a few of the places we hoped to visit and we were given a phone number to call in Nhulunbuy to arrange camping permits. A short telephone conversation with an equally helpful lady in the Nhulunbuy office of, and we had another two permits arranged and we were ready to go. Then we had a chance meeting with a very special man called Jimmy Wavehill.

Jimmy Wavehill is the last surviving founder of the Aboriginal land rights movement, who walked off NTs Wave Hill station in the first protest of a campaign that began in 1966. We had seen him walk into the NLC office in Katherine and as he exited we engaged in a conversation. Sporting a grand cowboy hat, this sprightly 80 year old still had a boyish twinkle in his eye that made me smile. He gave us a short version of the story and invited us to the 50th anniversary next year, at Wave Hill. He left the boys with a message to pursue their dreams and work hard, then strode outside to his Landcruiser, where we grabbed a quick photo opportunity with him. An inspiring character, full of energy, and one of the few remaining widely respected elders.

We met up with the girls for lunch in the park and the remains of our hot chicken was used to produce our very own birdshow with approximately 40 black and whistling kites swooping within metres of us to catch bones thrown in the air by the kids. The video footage is awesome! We were ready to go.

Katherine to Nhulunbuy is some 720km, predominantly unsealed road and though not mentioned on the travel permit, a roadside stop is permitted. We chose to do it in a single day, starting from the beginning of the Central Arnhem Road where it meets the Stuart Highway. Despite an early start we didn’t reach our campsite at Guwatjurumurru (Giddy River) until late. The sun was going down fast and we had to squeeze into a spot next to a couple with two kids. Chris and Emi were very accommodating and kindly offered to house our trailer for 3 days while we visited Cape Arnhem. The kids explored around the edge of the pools and river, then went to bed. When the campfire overlooking the river died down, and the full moon had risen, I got out a spotlight and spotted two crocodiles. Only small ones, possibly even freshwater crocs, but we weren’t going to swim here despite some inviting shallow pools.

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Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Natural World, Northern Territory, Offroad, Photos, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

East Arnhemland (Part 2 – Garma 2015)

We had only found out about the Garma festival the previous day and managed to get entry to witness the biggest annual indigenous festival in the region, and in fact Australia. For four days the grounds are host to weaving demonstrations, jewellery and spear making demonstrations, arts and craft, many bands, ranging from local to well-known ones and much more. The main arena hosts demonstrations of local cultural song and dance from many different clans. Little shelters around the main arena provided focal points to observe the crafts. There was a didgeridoo store selling “raw” ones, and an expert was giving students tuition on how to make them.

Local Yirralka rangers demonstrated how to make spears, from the initial wood-straightening over a fire to the binding with wire of the metal tips. Hannah, Oscar and I watched a weaving demonstration, then proceeded to create our own pieces (pendant in my case because it was small).

The clan ceremonies performing next to the main stage were the most interesting. Each clan would take turns to showcase their dances, songs, and music, encouraging audience participation as the day progressed. Some dances were very similar across clans and it was great seeing the youngsters jump up and join in when they recognised a dance. We were invited to share a mat with some lovely ladies from one clan and one of their young girls coaxed Hannah up to join in the Emu dance, and Hannah happily joined the group trying to learn new dances. Taken under the wing of an older girl Hannah thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself and was oblivious to the huge crowd watching. It wasn’t long before many more followed her and even Amanda had a go.

An art gallery was secreted amongst the trees to one side, offering a temporary diversion. The kids were too nervous to enter the youth area unaccompanied though, which was a shame as it offered a wealth of activities from basic table tennis through to circus trick training and fun science activities brought from Questicon in Canberra.

The kids discovered a mine truck simulator provided and run by Rio Tinto, and after patiently waiting they each got to try driving around the virtual pit mine in a 20+ tonne mine truck.

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Evening entertainment was provided by famous names such as Neil Murray and Emma Donovan and the Putbacks.

The indigenous culture is very strong in Arnhemland and it was great to see it thriving. Garma opened a window for the kids to see a very different way of life that exists in their own country and hopefully they will remember what they have seen, possible even return in the future to get a better understanding.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Northern Territory, Offroad, Photography, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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