Yellow Water Billabong
Dawn comes early on the Yellow Water Billabong. I’m here because the billabong is in the heart of the vast and unspoiled Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, one of the few places left to experience the continent the way it was before the Europeans came. It’s also where Crocodile Dundee was filmed, though I made a solemn promise to you, dear reader, that I would never, under any circumstances, juxtapose the two words ‘Crocodile‘ and ‘Dundee‘, so you won’t find me mentioning anything about that here.
As we can see from the air, the billabong carves a series of lazy S-curves through low wetlands, and in the December through March season, simply called ‘the Wet’, the billabong and others like it expand to flood much of the lowland areas. In the dry season, the waters recede and the land dries out in a cycle that has been going on as long as the collective aboriginal history here can remember.
A haven for wildlife and yes, there be crocs
Crocodiles are everywhere in Northern Australia: in the ocean, in rivers, and in lakes. And so are the signs warning the careless not to swim, not to walk too close to shores, even not to stick hands out over the railing beside the boat I was on. For these crocs are fast. They see you long before you’ll ever see them, and, using their powerful tails, can literally jump out of the water.
A four-hour trip down the billabong reveals an ever-changing landscape from narrow tree and vine-lined channels, to more open wetlands, and a feast of birdlife. Come on along and we’ll take a look.
Etched ridges and plunging waterfalls
Further to the east in Kakadu, dramatic mountain ridges rise out of the lowlands to dominate the landscape.
Here, Jim Jim falls plunge 250 meters through a narrow gap in one of the ridges. It is possible to reach them by land in the dry season but the dirt road at this time of year is still flooded.
An ancient culture comes to life
Nourlangie, one of those mountain ridges, is not only of interests to geologists, it’s home to stunning aboriginal rock art, dating back to as long ago as 20,000 years. I was barely able to make it to the site, since it is at the end of a road still flooded with wet-season water that had receded just enough to get the rental car through.
There are about 5,000 rock art examples in Kakadu.
This detail below of the tableau above depicts Lightning Man. He makes lightning and thunder. As I was later researching the art, I read the word ‘thunder’ and at that precise moment, there was a a bone-shattering thunder clap just above me. So tell me: does the spirit of Lighting Man still live?
A final glance at Kakadu
Flying back to the Jabiru airstrip, I was mesmerized by the lushness of the landscape spread out before me. And mesmerized too that, for as far as the eye could see, there was not a single building, not a single road, no visible evidence of human habitation. Just the planet. As it once was.