> Hi all
> Firstly this email isn't strictly about birding, but to tell people about
> a trip to Western Arnhem Land that is being run by Monica Yeung of
> Gondwana Dreaming, Canberra in September <>.
> This trip will focus on fauna and flora of the area (neither are
> particularly wellknown), geology, and Aboriginal culture and
> cross-cultural perspectives. While birdwatching will be a highlight this
> won't necessarily be a trip for 'twitchers'. Guides will be myself and
> my Kunwinjku relatives.
> Monica is presently putting together an itinerary with costs, and with
> Russell's permission will post that at a later date. I've included an
> article about Baby Dreaming below my signature which will give readers
> some idea of the flora, fauna and culture. I also have an anthropology
> program (written for study abroad programs) which I'm happy to send to
> anyone interested. Aspects of this program will be included in the trip.
> To raise money for a generator for Baby Dreaming I am selling greeting
> cards. Most are illustrated with birds from 'Australia's Top End'; one
> has a traditional X-ray painting of a baby spirit. They retail at $3.50
> and $4 respectively. If anyone would like cards or can sell some for us
> please contact me at <>.
> Lastly, Syd Curtis and Gordon Brooks sent several pairs of binoculars for
> which we are very grateful. According to my daughter-in-law, my son
> Peterson was 'like a little boy' as he practised using them. He has
> taken them back to Baby Dreaming where the residents are already learning
> to use them.
> Thank you
> Gudjekbinj (Baby Dreaming) in Western Arnhem Land is a place of sacred,
> quiet waterholes edged with lacy ferns and myriad wildflowers shaded by
> great paperbark trees. There is sandstone escarpment and caves with
> ancient paintings on their walls and tracts of open forest. Gudjekbinj
> is also the home of my adopted sisters Esther and Miriam. Kunwinjku
> people of the Ngalanbali clan they are the senior traditional custodians
> of this beautiful country.
> Gudjekbinj an area of about 165 squ. kms. is 350 kms from Darwin, an easy
> drive until Cahill's Crossing at the East Alligator River which separates
> Arnhem Land from Kakadu National Park. Here the river is tidal. At low
> tide there is no water on the crossing, at high tide there may be over a
> metre. It is not a rare sight to see the vehicles of those too impatient
> to wait for the water to drop, swept off the road to perch forlornly
> among the rocks protruding from the swirling water. What makes it even
> riskier are the large estaurine crocodiles which inhabit the area. I'll
> never forget making this journey one dark night in a small 4WD , my two
> young children in the back and two 3 m. crocodiles pacing the car as I
> drove across the causeway.
> The dirt road winds through park-like scenery that takes one's breath
> away. On the right lie towering ancient escarpments and outliers, to the
> left emerald floodplain spotted with blue billabongs on which grow pink
> lotus Nelumbo nucifera in wild profusion along with white and mauve
> waterlillies (Nymphea spp.). In the late wet /early dry season
> (March-May) great golden mats of the little fringed waterlily 'Nymphoides
> aurantiaca' cover the shallow water. The wetlands are a magnet for
> waterbirds - Pied, White-faced, White-necked Heron, egrets, crakes, quail
> and button-quail and raptors.
> The shallow waterholes are very important for hunting, but they also pose
> some risk. A sister-in-law hunting in thigh-deep water for file snake
> here, instead grabbed the tail of a small crocodile - my relatives still
> laugh remembering her reaction.
> The road continues past the small town of Oenpelli (Gunbalunya) and then
> the now-defunct uranium mine of Nabarlek (Nabarlek is the name of a tiny
> rock-wallaby) . The towering Numbawah is the next obvious landmark. This
> huge rock pillar that seemingly looms out of nowhere is a dangerous
> place. My relatives tell of the pilot who landed his helicopter on its
> crown. The giant tower began to shake and the pilot was lucky to escape!
> The next place of interest is Diarrhoea Dreaming. This dangerous site
> was the subject of a painting by Peterson's younger brother, now dead (I
> cannot name him for cultural reasons). In this story two pregnant women
> who visited this area were stricken with pains and diarrhoea, and later
> died after consuming berries. Incidentally few Top End fruits are
> poisonous but it's well worth knowing one's botany before trying anything!
> A sandy track on the right of the main road leads to the little
> outstation of Gudjekbinj. It winds past Bargibong, a beautiful waterhole
> with sandy beaches and a low rock waterfall. This billabong is only one
> of many in the area which supplies the residents with fish, file snake,
> mussels and freshwater crocodile. Incidentally the best time for fishing
> is when Manbadje, speargrass (Sorghum intrans) drops its little black
> seeds early in the dry season. There are many such 'calendar' plants.
> Past Bargibong the track winds between ancient rocky outcrops. This
> place is called Kikkiyow (Little Bird Dreaming) , and truly it resounds
> with bird song late in the year, for instance the sweet whistles of
> White-lined Honeyeater (I will be returning in May to carry out a
> biological survey of this area).
> Flying among the spinifex (Triodia sp.) here the visitor might see a
> rare blue butterfly 'Adaluma urumelia', and further back among the rocks
> live species endemic to the Arnhem Land escarpment, Black Wallaroo and
> the Oenpelli Python.
> At the base of the sandstone are little rock shelters, the homes of 'old'
> people now long gone. Ancient paintings are also found here, of
> pregnant women and of mermaids. Mermaid and baby spirit dreamings are
> the main dreamings of the area.
> Baby spirits live in waterholes where they sometimes leave tiny
> footprints in the sandy banks, my relatives say. In the dry season the
> babies turn into djalangaridjalangari ('two wings') - dragonflies.
> Other baby spirits inhabit little red termite mounds on a hill near the
> outstation, and woe to the person -man or woman who damages any of these
> mounds, for multiple pregnancy is the result! Then there is Lost Baby
> Dreaming, a picturesque patch of pandanus for babies who haven't found
> Baby spirits protect and feed their mothers, thus reflecting the
> important role that reciprocity on the part of all play in Kunwinjku
> family life. Young children learn to care for older relatives, but also
> for babies, the latter role acknowledged with the title of ' little
> daddy' or 'little mummy'.
> Nature sows and maintains the vegetables and fruit in this garden of
> paradise. The hard work comes from gathering in the harvest! For
> instance 'long yam' (Dioscorea transversa) which grows in the white sandy
> banks of the creeks has a long white root that when cooked is better than
> the best mashed potato! Indeed it was such a highly valued food item
> before the introduction of flour that all its various parts had their own
> names. However procuring long yam is really hard work, for one must
> first find a decent root and then dig sometimes to a depth of nearly two
> metres. And such strenuous work is not left to the young - my sister
> Esther was digging out such roots in her mid-seventies.
> The outstation consists of a few dark green metal-clad buildings each
> with a wide verandah and a sheltered cooking and washing area to one
> side. The pit toilets and shower facilities are outside. Power is
> supplied by solar energy, and water is drawn by pump from a spring below
> the houses.
> Esther and Miriam run a tight ship making sure the area is kept clean and
> tidy, and everybody pulls their weight. No alcohol is allowed. My
> sisters are deeply respected like older Kunwinjku women in general.
> Indeed among my relatives it is a compliment to be called 'old lady'!
> The little settlement is surrounded by open forest dominated by Darwin
> Stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta [so named for the four teeth around
> the rim of the bud]). The bark is used for the X-ray paintings of the
> Kunwinjku which are represented in major galleries throughout the world.
> However debarking kills the tree and so paper is more commonly used now.
> The hollow stringybark saplings are used for didgeridoos, callled mako
> by the Kunwinjku. Particular birds are prolific in the stringybarks eg
> Northern Rosella, Silver-backed Butcherbird and Black-tailed Treecreeper.
> In other areas the forest is dominated by Woollybutt (Eucalyptus miniata)
> and Cooktown Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys). Woollybutt produces
> mass of glorious orange flowers in the early dry season (May-June), and
> its inner bark is used for medicine. Cooktown Ironwood has a very hard
> wood which was used for making spearheads. The twigs and foliage are
> used for cleansing dwellings when someone dies.
> The middle storey of the forest consists of broad-leaved trees often with
> fleshy fruits. Some like those of Green Plum 'Buchanania obovata' are
> delicious; others, well.......
> Late in the year the gorgeous lolly pink flowers of Andardjek (Grevillea
> goodii) form a carpet on the forest floor. Also here grow Wirdilwirdil
> (Haemodorum coccineum), the bulbs of which are used to provide pink
> colouring for the baskets and mats my sisters weave from pandanus..
> It goes without saying that the Kunwinjku care for their land. They know
> each plant and animal intimately, and all must protect the habitats of
> their respective dreaming animals or spirits. A man with Python Dreaming
> will not kill that snake, and must nurture its habitat; only the senior
> custodian can remove bark from a tree near the Baby Dreaming site, and
> even then she sings to the spirits to explain what she is doing. Each
> year the country must be 'cleaned up', ie burnt to remove the tangle of
> tall, dry grasses. A person who does not take care of his or her country
> is the subject of gossip.
> Kunwinjku children begin to learn how to care for each other and for the
> country while they are toddlers. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all our
> children could learn such lessons?
> Denise Goodfellow (Lawungkurr Maralngurra)
> 61 (0)8 89818492
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