Each month we bring you scenes and description from
western Arnhem Land or other parts of the Top End of Australia - 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
September - Baking Heat and Cool Waters
in Katherine Gorge
The cool fresh waters of Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk
National Park have long served as an oasis for its traditional
owners, the Jawoyn tribes. September is the first month in the
extreme end of the "Hot Dry Spell" when the days are
searingly hot, dry and dusty.
The sun-parched earth is now sucking the wetlands of
its moisture and surface water is becoming preciously scarce. Fuelled
by the strong easterly breezes, "fire raging" is now sweeping
the land, scorching the red earth. In its wake, a smoke haze filters
the evening light to fiery sunsets.
Whilst the untrained eye the stone country now appears arid and lifeless,
to the Aboriginal people now is the time of plenty. It's the time of
"purifying", the transitional period from the dry to the wet.
Animal tracks on sandy banks along hidden gorges leave telltale signs
that Rock Wallabies and marsupials are reluctant to leave their water
supply. The Aboriginal hunters know that when the Red Flowered Kurrajong
is blooming on deadened sticks, animals of the stone country have retreated
to the safety of their hollows and rock burrows. Most revert to hunting
by night to avoid the blistering heat of the day. This is no deterrent
to the skilled hunters now prowling the jagged escarpment, boomerangs
and spears ready.
||At this time of year Red Flowered Kurrajong (Brachychiton)
is a common flower of the Katherine region, a vermilion dash of
brilliance dotting a scape of ochres and black. For the Aboriginal
people the bark of the Kurrajong, both red and yellow, is an important
source of fibre for weaving.
Strips of the outer bark are pounded to yield a soft fibre that is
rolled on the thigh to produce an extremely strong ply bush string or
rope. This string is then used in the making of traditional "dillybags",
clothing, baskets, ceremonial belts and other artifacts which require
fibre fastening. After roasting to remove dangerous irritant hairs,
the globular yellow seeds are also eaten.
October - Hot Dry Season on Cobourg Peninsula
Jutting from the Northern Territory's coastline is
the Cobourg Peninsula, home of the Gurig National Park. Here the Aboriginal
people still retain a strong relationship with the sea, living, hunting
and working together harvesting the resources the ocean offers, especially
from within the mangrove forests. The entangled forests of the mangrove
are considered the nurseries of the sea.
Rich in organic matter, they provide food and shelter
for a multitude of marine life, especially crustaceans and fish like
the Barramundi. The mangroves are a favoured harvesting ground of
the north's saltwater tribes. At this time of year, also known as
"Barligarj", fresh water is scarce, the humidity is high and
the late fires are still racing through the dry bush lands.
|In the mangrove habitats, however, little is affected.
Its ecosystem is nourished by the ebb and flow of constantly changing
tides which support a rich bounty for those who know when and
where to hunt. The Aboriginal people regard the Mud Crab as the
best bush tucker of all.
||The blossoming of the Orange Woolybutt in the tall
open woodland forests on the shores nearby indicates now is the
best time there is to harvest this most prized crustacean.
Text copyright Wayne Miles 1999
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