By John McCredie
In the North of Australia is a land area called Arnhem Land. It is an Aboriginal reserve that covers almost 100,000 square kilometres and has some of the most remote communities in Australia. You could say that the Aboriginal people own this land and whilst that is essentially true, the idea of ownership has quite a different meaning in their culture.
Recently I was privileged enough to be able to visit the communities of Ngukurr and Numbulwar in the south east of Arnhem Land. I was there with a group of people helping to complete some repairs to a church property, but it also gave us the opportunity to explore the land and the four wheel driving available.
To visit many parts of Arnhem Land, you need a permit and a good reason to be there, but once you are you quickly realise what a unique part of Australia this really is. Travelling through the place is generally restricted to the dry season because once the build-up occurs and the wet sets in, access is often cut by flood waters and rising rivers.
To get around properly, you really need a good 4WD vehicle and there are plenty of places to discover, especially if you have a few locals who can show you some of the hidden treasures of this Land. When one of our indigenous friends asks if we’d like to go and visit a billabong that is well off the normal maps and roads, we jump at the chance. And it is well worthwhile. A billabong, whilst cut off from the main river system throughout the dry season can still hold a great number of large sized barramundi and catching them proves to be reasonably easy.
If you love travelling along endless red dirt roads in your 4wd, then you won’t be disappointed out here. And the remarkable thing about this barren dry landscape is the many river crossings and billabongs that are scattered around just waiting to be explored.
Whilst crocodiles are always a threat in any of this land, you very rarely see them in the south of Arnhem Land and the locals know which waterholes and rivers are safe for swimming and which ones you might become a meal in. I highly recommend taking their advice! Apart from the Crocs, Kangaroos and Emus, the most common other animal present in this part of the world is the Water Buffalo which is quite a frequent sight on the many flats and especially near waterholes.
The township of Ngukurr is located on the Roper River some 350 kilometres east of Mataranka. It was our base for this trip and is a major aboriginal community. The people here are friendly and make great company and know so much about the land and how to survive out here. Ngukurr has one of the best Art Centres around and is worth a trip in just to have a look and maybe make a purchase.
As a four wheel drive destination, South Arnhem Land is one of the best I have been to and was a great opportunity to discover more about aboriginal culture and their way of life. Travelling the roads in this area is usually trouble free and in most cases the roads were in good condition. However as always it is so important to make sure your 4×4 is well maintained and in good condition. Sections of road can easily change from good to bad and accidents are quite frequent in these areas with rollovers being a common occurrence and we saw a few examples of the results. Speed and a sudden change of surface to soft sandy roads contributing to many of these accidents.