X is for Art

a-to-z-letters-xX is for X-RAY PAINTINGS

X-ray paintings are typical of the Aboriginal paintings which can be seen in the Wet Season caves and rock overhangs where the communities lived during the floods and heavy rains.  The paintings span centuries and are frequently painted, layer over layer, by succeeding generations of artists.

Some of the themes can be narrowed to particular time eg images of guns will only occur after the mid-19th century. Paintings of sailing ships may be more ambiguous as it’s known that the Macassan traders worked the northern coast of the Northern Territory. What’s interesting to me, is that these drawings aren’t by people who lived right beside the ocean, rather a little inland.

Our tour guide, Peter aka Mongrel, points out some of the less noticeble art work at Ubirr.

Our tour guide, Peter aka Mongrel, points out some of the less noticeble art work at Ubirr. You can see a sailing ship to the left of where he’s pointing and further left, Mabuyu. P Cass 1991

Mabuyu

Mabuyu

Only specific people within the community who had the traditional responsibility could “touch up” the important paintings, which I believe was last done nearly 50 years ago. It’s interesting to me to look at photos taken back in 1991 when I first visited, with some taken last month. Paintings were a form of history keeping as well as telling cultural traditions and animals to hunt.

Long necked turtles are still hunted in the billabongs in Kakadu.

Long necked turtles are still hunted in the billabongs in Kakadu.

I’m not going to try to explain the intricacies of the X Ray Paintings as I’m no expert. There’s an article here by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The style of painting is still reflected in some art work by Arnhem Land artists.

A hunting scene shows men with spears. The Aboriginal people were, and still are, excellent hunters in their tradiitonal land.

A hunting scene shows men with spears. The Aboriginal people were, and still are, excellent hunters in their tradiitonal land. You can see people, fish and a turtle.

My photographs are taken at two sites, both in Kakadu National Park. One is Ubirr and the other is Nourlangie (or Burrunggui). There are a couple of galleries in each place, and it’s well worth visiting each. Do take time to sit down and have a breather and a sip of water. The longer you look, the more pictures you’ll see. At Nourlangie’s Anbangbang gallery, the iconic image of Namarrgon, the Lightning Man is the most popular feature.

Anbangbang gallery hosts these amazing paintings including the LIghtning Man with the arc between his arms.

Anbangbang gallery hosts these amazing paintings including the LIghtning Man with the arc between his arms.

Archeologists have dated Nourlangie’s Anbangbang gallery as having been in use for over 20,000 years. So much for Australia being a young country!

The person on the left is without a doubt, a white man.

The person on the left is without a doubt, a white man.

Nourlangie art low

The image on the left has a Wandjina vibe to me but I could very well be wrong.

Why visit: to see ancient art tell a story of life before white settlement, and stories of traditional culture and hunting.

TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

The closer we get to the end of the alphabet, the fewer options for Aussie-isms, perhaps we really are lazy after all!

Today I leave you with a beer closely associated with my  home state of Queensland:

XXXX: Fourex beer is manufactured on Milton Rd in Brisbane, close to the famous Lang Park Rugby League grounds. XXXX is a Qld icon!

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J is jumping into Jabiru

a-to-z-letters-jJ is for JABIRU

Jabiru is both the name of a bird and also a town in the Kakadu National Park. It’s a stopping point into Arnhem Land, that vast stone country on the eastern side of the Territory’s Top End. It’s also famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view for its uranium mines, Ranger (about to close) and Jabiluka. This link reveals why the local people opposed the white man’s mines for their encroachment into sacred sites and dreamtime storylines. They also knew that some areas were “sickness” areas which they avoided, and these are closely linked with the presence of uranium. Of course many balanda (white people) also oppose uranium mining for its land destruction and its risks.

A Jabiru in a run-off near Jabiru, March 2013. © Pauleen Cass

A Jabiru in a run-off near Jabiru, March 2013. © Pauleen Cass

Jabiru township services the local community and provides health services as well as general facilities such as a small supermarket. It also hosts the Holiday Inn Crocodile Hotel, famous for the fact that it is constructed in the shape of a croc, with its legs providing the steps to different floors and its glowing red eyes at night. Of itself the town is not especially photogenic, so today I’ll be showing you photos of some of the places I mention.

All the sites I mentioned in the C for Cooinda post are easily accessible from Jabiru and a standard vehicle will serve to visit them. You only need 4WD for some of the more challenging places like Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls or Koolpin Gorge. Although cut off by heavy rain and flooding during the Wet Season, one of Kakadu’s more imposing sites is most easily accessible from Jabiru and that’s Ubirr, home of wonderful Aboriginal rock art dating back thousands of years.

Views of the escarpment. © Pauleen Cass

Views of the escarpment. © Pauleen Cass

Visitors are inspired to see the open-fronted caves where the Indigenous people sheltered during the Wet Season, or Gudjewg in their language, living their lives, sharing culture, and their kinship stories. It’s also inspiring to look out over the vast flood plains, from the top of Ubirr, and to watch a tropical sunset colour the land and turn the colour of the rocks.

If you’re visiting during the Wet (or Dry) you can also do a boat cruise with Gulumyambi Cultural tours (a different perspective from the Yellow Waters cruise) which teaches you more about Aboriginal culture and life as well as giving you an opportunity to see Ubirr in the Wet and to visit a tiny portion of Arnhem Land. I notice the tours get rave reviews on Trip Advisor too.

Jim Jim Falls near Xmas 1998 in full flood. Photo taken on a scenic flight. © Pauleen Cass

Jim Jim Falls near Xmas 1998 in full flood. Photo taken on a scenic flight. © Pauleen Cass

Kakadu touring can be slightly more limited during the Wet as some touring options are cut off by flooding or higher crocodile risks, but there’s a way around this if your budget stretches to it. Why not take a short flight from Jabiru’s airport? In a heavy Wet this is a great way to see the powering drama of Jim Jim Falls in full flow (by the time the road’s accessible, the impact of the waterfall has diminished), and you will also get a quick view of the uranium mines. Most importantly what you will get is a view over the stone country of Arnhem Land, the completely different sense of place from the open bush and floodplains that you see from your vehicle.

On your drive into or away from Jabiru, do stop and have a look at the floodplains, lotus flowers and waterlilies and birds at Mamukala Wetlands, especially in the Dry tourist season as the birds congregate here when other waterholes dry up. You can see my waterlily photos from April 2012 here.

Mamukala Wetlands

Mamukala Wetlands

Why visit: as a base for your touring, to see the art at Ubirr and the views of sunlit floodplains, and if possible, to take a flight over the escarpment.

FYI: There are a couple of maps on my A to Z planning post which will help you to pinpoint where today’s tourist spots are situated.

TODAY’S AUSSIE-ISMS

We’re a bit light-on for J Aussie-isms.

Jaffle: a sandwich made with a particular cooking implement, that toasts the bread and contains the filling (cheese/egg/ham/tomato or chop all of them together). Delicious over a camp fire. I inherited my jaffle iron from my grandmother many years ago.

Jackaroo (male) or Jillaroo (female): a novice working on a cattle property. This definition says in training for management but I’ve always thought it was about “learning the ropes” at a grass roots level.

Jag: manage to get something (more or less by luck) eg “I jagged a good spot at the outdoor concert”

Jake:  it’s all good, “she’s jake mate”

Joker: a man, usually a bit of an idiot/said disparagingly, but sometimes just means “some bloke” eg “That joker over there”.

Joey:  a baby kangaroo in the pouch, or a small one that’s progressed out of the pouch.