Our very first week in Australia was a constant cycle of fruitless job applications and disappointment as we were repeatedly informed there were no jobs in Darwin. (You can read more about our first days in Australia here) So, when I saw an advertisement on Facebook for an all-rounder at a remote resort, I jumped on the phone and called them. The only downside was that it was an unpaid position. I could volunteer for two to three weeks in exchange for food and accommodation. The bonus was that I would be flown to the property and there would be an opportunity to go out on tours and see the area. With nothing left to lose in Darwin, I decided to leave Darwin (and James) and go to Davidsons Safari Arnhem land.
To say I didn’t know what to expect is a vast understatement. Arnhem land is east of Kakadu, around 200 kilometres from Darwin. You need a permit to visit the area. Therefore, no backpackers go there and I was left completely clueless as to what I should expect. Would I hate it? Would I be working with a bunch of wild bush men? I had no idea.
In the end, my wildest dreams could not have come close to the experience I had. It will be hard for any other experience in Australia to come close to what I experienced in Arnhem land. The area has another worldly feel about it. There is a feeling that this place is just special. Seven hundred square kilometres of beautiful scenery, sacred sights and millennia old aboriginal art work. I was simply blown away by Arnhem land.
From the moment I flew over Mount Borraidale, I knew the landscape would be stunning. The landscape is formed by rugged escarpments, flood plains, billabongs and creeks. However, once you have your feet back on the ground you are surrounded by nature’s finest. The wildlife is awe inspiring, especially the crocodiles. And there are plenty of crocs to be seen!
There is nothing more intimidating than sitting in a tin boat five metres from a four-metre salt water crocodile. But, where else in the world can you see these ancient beings in their natural environment. These certainly aren’t the Adelaide rivers’ jumping crocodiles. This is real eco-tourism. Nothing is done to encourage unnatural behaviours. The wildlife is wild.
While the gigantic reptilians are infamous for their size, the bird life at Arnhem land is overpowering in its diversity. I’m not a twitcher and have never had any interest in birds before but even I became engrossed. From the giant Jabiru to the tiny Jakana, the species of bird in this region is incredible. Even in the short time I was there I was captivated by the sight of white bellied sea eagles swooping across the sky with a cat fish in its claws. Flocks of whistling ducks and magpie geese swarm the skies as you sat on the billabong enjoying one of many glorious sunsets. Arnhem land is ethereal in its beauty.
But the beauty of Arnhem land is not limited to the scenery and nature. I majored in History at university, so getting the chance to see ancient art work was simply incredible. Being able to observe art that was thousands and thousands of years old had my inner nerd weeping with happiness. My mind was boggled over the age of the pieces I was viewing. When someone turns around and tells you you’re looking at a piece of art that is 50,000 years old it’s beyond comprehension.
Part of the charm of Arnhem land is how untouched it remains. Due to the risk of damaging the art nothing is dated. This leads to intense speculation about the age of pieces and the more you learn the more you speculate. Could that be 1,000 years old or 10,000 years old? Does that depict a story, a myth or simply dinner? This speculation is all part of the fun.
The beauty of the aboriginal culture is on every rock face. People for generation upon generation have expressed their lives on the rocks of Arnhem land and I feel privileged to have witnessed this beauty.
To see these amazing sights, I worked for 4-6 hours a day either in housekeeping or food and beverage. Contrary to the bad press about the treatment of backpackers, I wasn’t treated like a slave. The other staff were great people who had all once been backpackers themselves. This position was a backpacker’s dream. Clean and comfy accommodation and great food. The stuff I can’t afford to buy!
I took a risk in leaving Darwin with no real knowledge of my destination but it paid off. I got a chance to see the ‘real’ Australia. These aren’t the famous sights of the Eastern seaboard but Arnhem land fast became one of my favourite places in the world. Where else can you wake to the noise of nothing but whistling kites? Look out the window at a glorious sunrise before going to view some of Australia’s most valuable art sights. This experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity!