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Kakadu & Top End

Kakadu Highlights

Buladjang

Koolpin Lower Falls, January

Buladjang, or "Sickness Country" is an area of the Upper South Alligator Valley of special importance to the Jawoyn people who own the land. This is where the Bula spirit ended his travels and left his spirit underground long ago in the dreamtime. He had walked South from the coast, taking his wives with him, and created the landscape as he walked and hunted and leaving his image in rock shelters. If his spirit is shown disrespect by anyone disturbing this land, he becomes angry and brings sickness or disaster.

In geological terms, the Buladjang contains high levels of uranium and unusually high concentrations of arsenic, mercury and lead. This may have been at least part of the reason why the area became known as "Sickness Country". During the 1950s and '60s this part of what is now Kakadu National Park was the site of about a dozen small mines through the South Alligator River valley. The mines pulled high-grade uranium, gold, zinc, lead, silver, palladium, tin and copper from the ground. All mining ceased in 1964.

The importance and power of traditional beliefs is evident in the story of a small knoll close to the river, known as Guratba by the Jawoyn. It was mined in the fifties and sixties for uranium, after the Jawoyn of the area had been taken away to camps by the government during World War II. The miners gave it the name "Coronation Hill" as uranium was discovered there the year of Queen Elizabeth's coronation. Mining stopped when the price of uranium on world markets slumped. In the late 1980s, an alliance of mining companies applied to the federal government to mine the hill for gold and other minerals. The Jawoyn, now politically organised and aware, fought the proposal because of their concern over Buladjang and the Bula spirit. The nation's attention was on these subtle, semi-secret beliefs of Jawoyn elders which threatened billions of dollars in export earnings for the nation. Finally, in 1992 the Federal Government decided not to allow mining of the hill because of the Jawoyn opposition. Today Coronation Hill is one of several old mines in the valley.

The following two sections are taken from a Kakadu National Park brochure. Jawoyn words are shown in italics.

Jawoyn Creation Ancestors

Bula, the most important Jawoyn creation ancestor, came from the northern saltwater country with his wives, the Ngalenjelenje. As he hunted across the country he created the features of the landscape and left his image as paintings in rock shelters. Bula then went underground in the upper South Alligator River valley where his ngan-mol (spirit) lies today.

Jawoyn are responsible for looking after this country and preventing disturbances which could upset Bula and cause universal destruction.

When Bula created the country he brought with him other creation ancestors. These included garrkayn (brown goshawk) who created part of the landscape and brought the law with him, barrk (black wallaroo), belerrk (gecko lizard), ngarratj (white cockatoo), gupu (plains kangaroo or antilopine wallaroo) and bolung (rainbow serpent).

Bolung lives in the plunge pool below the Gunlom waterfall and is an important life-giving spirit. However, if disturbed, Bolung can also cause dangers such as lightning storms and big winds. Bolung is particularly dangerous during the wet season.

Buladjang (Sickness Country)

Much of this region is known to the Jawoyn as Buladjang or sickness country. Jawoyn say that if people disturb Buladjang country they will become unwell. Scientists say a correlation can be made between the location of potentially harmful mineral deposits such as uranium and the location of major Bula sites.

That ends the quote from the park brochure.

Several important bushwalking areas lie all or partly within Buladjang: Yurmikmik — Motorcar and Kurrundie Creeks, Dinner Creek, Koolpin Gorge(Jarrangbarnmi) and Gunlom.

For more information about the Jawoyn people, see the Jawoyn Association website. We particularly recommend having a look at their

You don't need to stop there. The rest of the Jawoyn Association website has lots more interesting information.

For more information about Aboriginal religion in general, see the Religion and Ceremony page on the aboriginalculture.com.au website.

Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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