Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Arnhem Land has restricted entry and the only two ways to get there is with a tour or by obtaining a permit. Its population is predominantly Aboriginal people, whose traditional culture remains largely intact. We spent one day on a guided tour and had a local take us to rock art sites and explain the paintings which were incredibly detailed, some dating back many thousands of years. We viewed a burial site which still had the bones intact but were not allowed to take photos in this sacred area.
Our guide Thomo is a lovely gentle man, as most of the Aborigines here seem to be. They are very shy and will only speak to you if you start the conversation. Thomo is also an artist and we were fortunate to be able to buy one of his paintings.
We enjoyed this visit to Arnhem land so much that we purchased a permit and drove in ourselves for a second visit. The permits are very strict, you must drive straight to your destination with no stopping on the way. We visited the art centre and watched some of the men painting, most of them sitting on the ground. In this region the men paint and each art work is a cultural story. The women weave baskets from grasses that they collect and colour with local dyes. They are so patient and their work is so detailed.
During the dry season the locals are busy burning off the scrub so the sky is usually a little hazy from the smoke. Arnhem land is a wonderful place, you can feel something special when you drive across the river and enter this area of wetlands, escarpments, lush green grasses and wildlife everywhere. The Aboriginees here still hunt and gather and are working at keeping their culture alive. The entire area is alcohol free as they know how destructive it is for their people. The closest place for them to buy alcohol is over two hundred kilometres away. We would love to visit more of Arnhem Land, maybe next time.