New Economy Journal

Kakadu Circle of Life

Volume 1, Issue 7

November 2019

By - Nilmini De Silva

Piece length: 736 words

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Images are © Nilmini De Silva Photography 2016
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The Circle of Life—Kakadu Dreaming

If I could go back in time
We would arrive in Kakadu before the old ways were disrupted
When Bininj fished in the north and Mungguy hunted in the south
It is the time of Gurrung now
Six seasons were always celebrated here
Not just the Wet and the Dry that the Guhbele know
Seasons determined by subtle changes in the landscape
Right now the bright yellow kapok are blooming—heralding change
Adding a vibrancy to the landscape
Where floodplains are drying out
And smoke from a cool burn hangs loosely in the air
The freshies will start to lay their eggs soon
Before the floodwaters come to stake their claim
The magpie geese fatten on the bulbs of the spike rush
Exposed now the water levels are so low
Their honking echoes through the billabongs
Signalling the time to hunt them is near
A bush tucker feast that has marked this time for generations
A tradition soon to be celebrated at the Mahbilil festival in Jabiru.

I’d like to slip into the rhythms of Bininj life
Understand their Dreaming while relaxing in a paperbark shelter
Observing the Circle of Life unfolding on the billabong
Sung into existence by their ancestral spirits
There is never a dull moment and so much to learn
The sea eagles are diving for barramundi
A wondrous skill—thrilling to behold
The egrets patiently stalking fish and frogs
Their knife edged beaks primed for stabbing at their prey
A comb-crested jacana effortlessly balanced on a lily pad is showing off its skills
Crocodiles lie still, submerged in the shallows; crowding into the billabongs that haven’t run dry
In the distance a brolga teases me with a hint of its elaborate mating ritual
I’d like to go hunting with the women
My digging stick and dilly bag ready for the harvest
Water lilies, sedges, grasses; sweet and bitter yams
Fish, freshwater turtles, crabs, mussels, Magpie geese and goannas
Must all be gathered while keeping the crocs at bay
The billabongs are stocked with bush tucker—a feast I didn’t even know existed
There is enough for all if we hunt and harvest observing Tribal Law.

The billabongs were far more than a bush supermarket
Full of cultural and spiritual significance
Determined by clan boundaries
Passed on from one generation to the next
Through Creation & Kinship stories
Stories shared so you could ‘Care for Country’
Language, art, ceremony, and kinship they all connected you back to Country
Kinship determined by your father’s moiety and your mother’s skin group
Back in the day the clans here spoke twelve languages
Including Gagudju from which this park gets its name
Not all these languages survived after the Guhbele came
Then came other invasions—feral animals and weeds
Cane toads, buffalo, donkeys, horses, pigs and cats, transformed this landscape
Mucking up the billabongs; muddying the waters & trampling prized bush tucker
Some species like the quoll might eventually be lost forever
But shared ownership, weed control and culling is helping to keep the pests at bay
We are creating new connections and learning from each other
Biodiversity and Conservation mixing with Culture and Spirituality
The land is recovering—sacred places are singing their songs once more.

If I could go back in time
I’d spend time in a stone shelter
Where the flickering flames of a fire would keep the flies and mossies at bay
Once home to Gukburlerri for hundreds of generations
I’d like to learn from the oldest surviving culture on earth
Living with few possessions yet possessed by this land for 50,000 years—maybe more
I’m happy the stories of the ancestors are still passed on
Images painted on the rock—a window to their past
Closely guarded secrets only revealed
When you’ve earned your right to receive them
As knowledge grows so does your Connection to Country
You could paint over other people’s paintings
But touching up of someone else’s art was taboo
When we peel back the layers we see revealed a culture’s evolution
Art was done for fun, but also to record events or to bless a hunt
We came here to celebrate a milestone in Steven’s life
A mere 55 years in that Circle of Life but a good time to take stock & reflect
So we pause; to drink a toast to the past and look forward to a future together
Always thankful for these shared moments in our journey of discovery.

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