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Top End seasonal calendarTop End Seasonal Calendar


Each month we bring you scenes and description from western Arnhem Land or other parts of the Top End - showing the country, bush food, and other aspects of Aboriginal life. On this page you can visit:

The main photographs and text are by Wayne Miles, an outstanding photographer from Darwin.

July and August are the time of the cool dry season in the Top End. The nights can be chilly but days are mild with clear blue skies. Most of the plants and grasses have dried out, and the creeks have slowed to a trickle or diminished to still pools. The dry season is a time when many of the mammals breed, including the gliders, northern brush tail possum and the northen quoll, the largest of the native carnivores in the Top End.
Northern Quoll
Northern Quoll

July - In the Paperbark Swamps

During the height of the rainmaking season, the paperbark swamps of the Cobourg Peninsula in Gurig National Park are totally submerged in floodwaters. By July-August, in the season also known as "Angurduyirruk", cloudless blue skies reign and the waters slowly contract to the deeper parts of the swamps and billabongs. These black, cool waters now become sanctuaries where the last of the water lilies flower, where the long necked turtles fatten and burrow deep into the soft black mud in preparation for the drier months ahead, and where the crocodiles and barramundi that have not retreated to the tidal sections of the great rivers are now trapped.

Flying fox and Paperbark Swamp
Flying fox superimposed on image of Paperbark Swamp on Cobourg

Easy pickings for the Aboriginal spears and turtle sticks that will soon seek their prey. Paper bark (Melaleuca) swamps provide ideal living and breeding conditions for a diverse range of fauna. Many could not survive elsewhere. Vital links in this ecosystem are the flying fox (pictured above) and the larger black flying fox, both of which compete at this time of year for the rich, nectar bearing blossoms, high in the paper bark tops. Their squabbling signals to the Aboriginal hunters that the fox's fat reserves are now reaching their peak. In this condition they are one of the most prized food sources in all the north.

August - Hunting for Crocodile and Turtle Eggs

On the Mary River flood plain, a cool monsoonal forest stands in complete contrast to the hot dry bushland that surrounds it. A crystal clear spring-fed creek bubbles its way through a tall shaded, forested refuge, which at this time is home to wallabies, fresh water turtles, crocodiles, fish, reptiles and birds of prey. August is a time of much stillness, of cloudless blue skies. The bush growth appears to stagnate as if all is dried. The finding of water is now the most important task of all living things. To the Aboriginal people, permanent fresh water systems such as this sustain wildlife through August to October, the driest months, and harbour an abundance of edible bush fruits.

Digging Freshwater Crocodile Eggs
Digging freshwater crocodile eggs, monsoon forest at Point Stuart near Darwin

At this time, the blossoming of the small Turkey Bush signals that fresh water crocodiles are laying their eggs in the sandy banks of permanent waters and that long necked turtles have reached their peak in fat reserves. For those who understand the signs, the harvest and hunt for this prized bush tucker can now begin.

Having collected bamboo lengths from a clump on a nearby river bank, Geoffrey Campion of Arnhem Land sits cross legged straightening the shafts over a fire, preparing them as spears to hunt fresh water crocodiles, turtles and fish. Spikes or prongs are then bound onto the shafts using strong bush string. This is then sealed in native bees wax that is collected from the base of tall Stringybark (Eucalyptus) trees. When this Stringybark flowers it signals the sweet nectar "sugar-bag" (native honey) is ready for harvest
Straightening bamboo for spears
Straightening bamboo for spears

Text and photographs copyright Wayne Miles 1999

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