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.