An Introduction to Kakadu
Kakadu is a biological wonderland, teeming with mammal, reptile, bird and insect life. There are nearly 60 species of mammal found here, including kangaroos, dingos, possums, bats and dusky rats. The park is famous for its reptiles, the most awesome of which is the dangerous Australian Saltwater crocodile, found patrolling waterways throughout much of the park. Frill-necked lizards are also common, along with large monitor lizards, which are known in Australia as goannas. Kakadu is also home to water pythons, and highly venomous snakes such as the king brown and the deaf adder. Because of the rugged and isolated nature of much of Kakadu, there may be many species that have yet to be described by modern science. Moreover, Kakadu is a paradise for waterbirds. There are pelicans, egrets, herons, ducks, spoonbills and sea eagles. There are the shy dancing brolgas (or cranes) and the jabiru (a type of stork). Magpie geese congregate by the hundreds of thousands. All these birds breed and feed around the waters on the flood plain.
But Kakadu is not only home to the wildlife. The area boasts the longest continuous surviving human culture in the world. Aborigines have been living in this region for at least 40,000 years. The descendants of these First Australians still live in Kakadu today. Kakadu and the Arnhem Land Escarpment contain one of the longest continuous records of rock art in the world, with around 5,000 galleries of Aboriginal paintings. In recognition of its unique attributes, Kakadu has been accorded double World Heritage status by the United Nations on the basis of both its natural and cultural attributes.
Approximate number of species:
A Land of Many Seasons
Depending on where you live, the seasons may each have defining characteristics, or may be relatively indistinguishable. In southern Florida, for example, winter and spring are both relatively warm, whereas in Norway, winter is a time of freezing, and spring is a time of thawing. Nevertheless, the spring, summer, fall and winter are the generally accepted seasonal divisions of the year.
But Australia's Kakadu sees seasons of varied extremes -- so varied, in fact, that the park's longtime aboriginal inhabitants have divided the year into six distinct seasons.
|Gunumeleng (October, November, December)
Gunumeleng is the pre-monsoon season of hot weather, which becomes increasingly humid. Along the creeks of Kakadu, the air is heavy with the scent of blossoming paperbark trees, which in the evenings attract colonies of feeding fruit bats. Thunderstorms build in the afternoons and scattered showers bring a tinge of green to the parched earth. As the streams begin to run, "old water" washes into the permanent billabongs from stagnating pools, causing localized fish kills. Waterbirds disperse as surface water and new growth becomes more widespread. Barramundi move out of the waterholes, and downstream to the estuaries. It is the time people moved camp from the floodplain, to shelter from the violent storms of the wet season.
|Gudjewg (January, February)
Gudjewg is the time of violent thunderstorms, heavy rain, and flooding. Heat and humidity generates an explosion of plant and animal life. Magpie geese nest among the sedgelands. It is egg gathering time. Flooding may cause goannas, snakes and possums to seek refuge in the trees, where they are easily caught.
Banggereng is when most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young. Expanses of water recede and streams run clear. Violent storms flatten the two meters high spear grass; hence, the nickname "knock'em down storms."
|Yegge (April, May)
Yegge brings early morning mists that hang low over the plains and waterholes. The shallow wetlands and billabongs are carpeted with waterlillies. Drying winds signal it is time to commence burning the bush in patches to"clean" the country and to encourage new growth for grazing animals. Early season fires are insurance against destructive fires in the hotter months. The woolly butt Eucalyptus miniata begins to flower and when flowering ceases by early August, less fires are lit.
|Wurrgeng (June, July)
Wurrgeng is the "cold weather" time with low humidity, days of 30 C (86 F) and nights as low as 17 C (63 F). Creeks cease to flow and floodplains quickly dry out. Magpie geese, fat and heavy after weeks of abundant food, crowd the diminishing billabongs with a myriad of other waterbirds. Burning continues, dampened by the dew at night. By day, the birds of prey patrol the firelines as insects and other small animals escape the flames.
|Gurrung (August, September)
Gurrung is windless and hot, and the land seemingly lies dormant. It is still "goose time," but also a time to hunt file snakes and long necked turtles. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the sandy beach of Field Island, where goannas rob the occassional nest. White-breasted woodswallows arrive as thunderheads build again with the return Gunumeleng.
Native Peoples in Kakadu
The last century has almost certainly produced one of the biggest and swiftest social and environmental changes in the human history of the Alligator Rivers Region. For many centuries, the people of this area were accustomed to occasional external social contact via the Timor Sea (Van Diemens Gulf).
But it appears that the establishment of a British settlement (Victoria) on the shores of Port Essington in the late 1830s marked the beginning of an escalating wave of external cultural devastation, which will not reach its peak until the Bininj way of life has been completely consumed. The introduction of foreign plants and animals, diseases, alcohol and tobacco; the forced possession and modification of clan land; disruption of burning patterns and other traditional practices; social re-arrangement into communities and the subsequent large scale adoption of non-aboriginal ways has made these very different people in less than 200 years.