This article was written by Dr Helen Dauncey, one of the participants in the trip. She also provided the photos.
Hold your mouse cursor over the photos to see a caption. Click on the photos to see enlargements.
This three week walk into Arnhem Land took us along Birdie Creek to its headwaters, across the grasslands to the upper gorge on the Katherine River and back down Fanny Creek to meet the Katherine River again at the end. We stared from Manyallaluk, 40 minutes east of Katharine, where we picked up Lazarus and Ricky, our two Jawoyn Aboriginal guides. After leaving the Toyota in the middle of a paddock we set off across beautiful grasslands dotted with spectacular oranged blossomed Eucalyptus miniata and salmon gums.
After a hot walk, by lunchtime on day 1 we had reached Birdie Creek, which we followed for about 60 or 70km north east right to its beginnings over the next week.
Lunchtime on day 2 we tasted our first black bream, caught and cooked by Lazarus and Ricky.
The fish were cooked in a ground oven of hot coals and rocks, sheets of paperbark, leaves and finally sand. The fish were stuffed with lemon flavoured paperbark leaves. Delicious!
Julie named each campsite and our first amazing one was on the 3rd night, it was called Paradise. A sandy beach, a huge swimming hole and a sheer cliff and the ever present fresh water crocs to keep us company as we cooled off.
We walked over waterfalls, under waterfalls and through grasslands with plenty of red tailed cockatoos overhead. It rained briefly during one afternoon so Ricky and Lazarus built a humpy at the next camp in case it rained during the night.
Although it didn't rain that night we did get a few visits from some mild mannered buffalos. When they came into the camp after we'd gone to bed, Lazarus shouted to us to get up and climb the nearest tree for safety. Unfortunately Cameron obeyed but didn't stop to put any clothes on. Also unfortunately, we don't have a pic of that.
Camp 5 Julie called the Split Camp Washout - half of our group camped on each side of the creek and it rained most of the night. Those of us without flies or tarps just got wet. I slept fitfully in a council bin liner amongst soaking gear but fortunately next day it was hot and everything dried. Lazarus and Ricky also got totally wet so at the next camp, a flat sandy beach dotted with tall paperbarks (called Paperbark Forest Camp), they built another bigger and better humpy. Dennis got instructions and built a whitefella one too. Naturally, it didn't rain.
Next morning we saw our first rock art site and what a beauty. The rock art of Arnhem Land is known to be the first recorded endeavour of man and also the longest continual endeavour of man on planet Earth, so that's a thought to focus the attention. The first etched rocks and ochre paintings are now thought to have been done about 50,000 years ago, 15,000 years before the oldest art elsewhere.
In keeping with the wishes of the Aboriginal traditional owners of the area, we have not included any photos of this site.
We walked for the next few days through dryish swampy land with an abundant flowers, lots of the rare black wallaroos, many antelopine wallabies and plains kangaroos, a couple of snakes, beautiful waterlilies and dozens of overhangs with art, big and small. Five Waterfalls Camp was another wonderful camp spot, with crocs and turtles and great swimming.
We walked along one side of a narrow gorge, which was only 20 or 30 metres wide in some places, climbed half way down a 150 foot waterfall and finally, after a steep and rocky descent, rested for a couple of days at the Edith Falls Lookalike Camp where we all had some juggling lessons from Gary using pandanus nuts, swam with the crocs and ate more fish.
Next day after some cross country kilometres we arrived at the Katherine River and had reached the halfway point of the trip. The helicopter brought food in and took us all 3.5km down river so we could enjoy the spendour of the Upper Katherine Gorge as we walked (and swam) back, its rock art sights, its many waterfalls, the millions of butterflies in a mini side-gorge and the sheer cliffs. Sadly Michelle left the trip at this point.
On Day 12 we turned back towards home crossing some beautiful grasslands and, because it looped back on itself, found the very beginning of Birdie Creek.
Further over we came to the pristine upper reaches of Fanny Creek which was just about all gorge for one 15km stretch. Spectacular. And the campsite that night was perfect, another cliff, huge swimming hole and sandy beach. I think Julie called it Honeymoon Camp and, while there, she also found an enormous beetle.
It was a marvellous addition to the trip to have Ricky and Lazarus there to tell us some of their stories as we sat around the fire each night and explain the art to us at all the richly decorated overhangs we found. We ate bush tucker - dogs balls were a bit dry and tasteless for me but I loved the billy goat plums, we used bush medicines and learned about the uses of the fibres and the trees. What a treat it was to have these young men with us.
For the next 5 or 6 days we saw more amazing art and more gorges and ate more black bream for lunch.
We eventually hit the junction of Birdie Creek and the Katherine River 50 or 60 km downstream from where we had been 10 days earlier.
As an unexpected and added bonus, when I got home I found that I had taken off several kilograms. All in all, a just about perfect holiday for a 60 year old, almost but not quite past her prime.
If you would like to see more photos from our Jawoyn Explorer see the Arnhem Land Gallery
More information about our In Leichhardt's Footsteps trip which will also be accompanied by Aboriginal guides.
Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia email@example.com
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