Fw: from the Top End

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Fw: from the Top End
From: "Tony Russell" <>
Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2003 18:36:20 +0930
> 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
> Denise
> 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
> mothers.
> 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

Birding-Aus is on the Web at
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the message
"unsubscribe birding-aus" (no quotes, no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • Fw: from the Top End, Tony Russell <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU