January 01, 2014

Another Crocodile Story. Arnhem Land. Northern Territory, Australia.

One of Australia's far flung places is East Arnhem land. In the north eastern corner of the Northern Territory (NT), Aboriginal land since it was proclaimed as a reserve by the Australian Government in 1931, and off limits to tourists, except for a few places, such as Nhulunbuy (also known as Gove), on the coast.

It is fairly easy to get to Nhulunbuy. You can take the harder, more exciting route in the dry season from Katherine on a rough unsealed road for 700 km (note, permits from the Northern Land council are required), or there is a flight most days from Cairns going to Darwin (or vice versa) which stops off at the tiny 'International' one hut terminal. Staying and exploring the area requires a permit from the local Land Council.

The town is not a thing of beauty, a mining settlement built by Nabalco (now part of Rio Tinto Zinc) to mine the plentiful bauxite, and then refine it to alumina. It is antiseptically clean compared to the bush surrounding it, and only a stopping off point to explore the surrounding areas. Paydays for the miners are fun days, the police patrol in groups of four for safety, and the Walkabout hotel (pub) is full. The main bar is shaped like a breast, with a nipple at the end, and topless waitresses are flown in from Darwin to serve the drinks. An interesting experience if you have never been to a remote mining town before.

As all food is flown in, you may well find the local crocodile meat is cheaper than anything else on the menu. And they taste, well, pretty good. It depends what they have been fed on, live chickens seem popular in the farms around Nhulunbuy, giving a fishy chicken taste to the white meat. Crocodiles tend to dominate NT life, the daily paper Territory News is obsessed with croc stories. They are a danger, with both children and adults being taken in this part of Arnhem land, but there are many other ways to die out here, and the chances of you coming face to face with one are slim (or so I thought).

The saving grace for Nhulunbuy is the Gayngaru wetlands, a ten minute walk from the main street. A beautiful nature reserve, easy walking with bird hides to watch the amazing wildlife, and stunning sunsets. Over 200 birds regularly visit Gayngaru, as well as larger more deadly creatures such as Buffalo, and the odd saltwater crocodile.

I was edging close to the water on my second evening, crushing reeds under foot, to take a photo of a bird drying its wings on a branch, when there was a huge commotion and a large scaly tail disappeared into the water. I had surprised the crocodile which had been resting on the bank, he took flight first, but only by a micro second, as I was running in the opposite direction back towards the town as fast as I could.

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  1. Looks like a great place to visit, it's funny how we manage to miss the beauty of our own backyards :)