This day we went into Arnhem Land, home to the oldest living culture in the world. As Luke told us, there is a site "just down the road" in the Madjedbebe rockshelter near Jabiru where archaeologists have found evidence of human occupation 65,000, or possibly as much as 80,000 years old – or at least 95% likely to be older than 70,000 years old. You can read more about it here, here and here.
But first we went to the Border Store to get lunch boxes and transferr to a bus (by no means as luxurious as Kimberley Rose) driven by a specialist local guide. We crossed the ford at East Alligator River, proceeded along the Arnhem Highway for a short distance, then turned off to the Enquire Waterhole, a picturesque location with water, Paperbark trees, lush green flood plains, birds and probably crocodiles, although I didn't see any.
Next we went to a nearby rock art site which was similar in appearance to Ubirr, both being elevated rock formations looking out over wet lands and flood plains. There we saw some exquisite rock paintings and were told about the antiquity of habitation and the archaeological periods which are detailed in the adjacent table obtained from The Nomadic Explorers.
Our guide demonstrated the pigments used in the paintings, red and yellow ochre, charcoal and white clay. The ochres in particular were valued culturally and were traded as far away as the Flinders Ranges in South Australia and Walgi Mia in central Western Australia. The red ochre is hematite a reddish variety of iron oxide. It is the most durable of the colours used. We were told that over time it seeps deep into the pores in the rock. This article in "The Conversation" provides information about the pigments, their use and durability.
Nearby was an ancient "classroom" where boys and young men were taught hunting skills by the elders. The evidence for this was in the rock far above our heads where spear points are still to be seen wedged in a crack in the rock.
A pleasant lunch was provided in the shade of a rock cliff. I wandered off to photograph a pretty flower which protects itself with thousands of fine spikes that stick in the skin. Luke later advised that the plant is called Cheeky Hibiscus, cheeky being a term used to describe anything that is somewhere on the spectrum from annoying to dangerous. It was definitely annoying.
Next stop was Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), a small Aboriginal community 17km east of the East Alligator River in Arnhem Land and home to Injalak Arts an Indigenous art centre where one of the activities is screen printing. We were treated to a fascinating demonstration of the process which featured a Water Monitor design. Some of our group purchased screen prints or other art.
We returned to the Border Store for refreshments and to peruse souvenirs and books. I bought the book "Dark Emu" by Bruce Pascoe as recommended by Luke. It's a fascinating insight into aboriginal life as recorded in the reports and diaries of the earliest explorers and settlers, a book every Australian should read.
Then it was back to Hawk Dreaming, but those who thought they could have a brief rest before dinner were wrong. Our host had plans and many of us set out to watch the sunset from an elevated rock platform that overlooked yet another billabong and flood plain.