Riversleigh is a world heritage site based on the abundance of unique fossil deposits found there. To get there we had a relatively short drive from our camp at the O’Shaughnessy River, two short, shallow, but surprisingly slippery river crossings, and the obligatory corrugated rocky dirt road that makes the outback what it is. Whilst it appears to be an unremarkable spot on the surface, the signs provided allow visitors to look past the dusty, dry rocky landscape. For even the more imaginative visitor visualisation of the change in landscape over millions of years is challenging as the fossil record represents eras of marine reef, through to swamps when giant 4m freshwater crocodiles were the apex predators, and then elephant birds whose enormous size meant they couldn’t fly.
One fossil in the rock exposed a cross section of a turtle shell thought to be long extinct, however, as recently as 1995 the gulf snapping turtle was rediscovered in the Lawn Hill river system, thriving as it has done for thousands if not millions of years without change.
A short drive from this hot arid, fly-ridden place brought us to the oasis that is Boudjamulla National Park. The deep gorge and pandanus-lined river is a verdant oasis for fish and birdlife. Water levels were low and the Cascades had no water flowing over them, however the Indarri Falls, less than a kilometre upstream, spilled beautiful green, warm, lime-saturated water into the gorge. The water turbulence at the falls causes a gaseous release of carbon dioxide and the “tufa”, as it is called, is deposited at a surprising rapid rate, 2-3cm annually. The falls are not large, less than 3m in height, and covered in pandanus growth. Below the falls barramundi and turtles abound and we all spent hours exploring every nook and cranny.
The park also offers a number of bushwalks. The Wild Dog Dreaming track leads you along the river bank to a cliff face covered in ancient petroglyph art and more recent Waanyi rainbow serpent artwork. Island Stacks offered a walk on the limestone escarpment above the gorge, but the longest walk up the gorge was closed due to the threat of a grumpy buffalo that had recently been spotted up there.
All the forests were busy with birds and we spotted a pair of large channel-billed cuckoos near the trailer, and a whistling kite’s continual call gave away it’s nest site above the river, high in the outreaching limbs of a Eucalypt tree.
Canoes could be hired to explore but there was no need, and one day we made the decision to swim the one plus kilometre back to camp through the gorge, while Amanda carried our clothes back. The kids jumped on their inner tubes (presents from our friends at Marree Hotel so long ago now) and conquered the journey in no time at all.