Now, where were we?
I left you last time on the highway heading toward Katherine. Nearby is a beautiful
river gorge. Northern Territory has these places, like oases in the desert. As you
discovered, to the east there is Kakadu which is a wildlife haven, and occasionally there
are surprises along the way like Mataranka Thermal Springs, where the bats and spiders
were. Katherine is where the crocodiles scared me half to death without even showing so
much as their beady little eyes above the surface of the water.
haven't reached the red desert yet. That is further south as we get down toward Alice
Springs, and what is called the Red Centre. At the moment the terrain is very lightly
wooded - and to tell you the truth I had forgotten that until I read it somewhere during
the week. Remembering the endless hours of driving through uninteresting spindly trees, I
was suddenly reminded of the amazing termite mounds which proliferate in that area. They
are often taller than a man and can be several feet across (but don't quote me on the
width statistic - you know what my memory is like!) I have a photo of them somewhere
which I will dig out of the archives later, just to prove it to you....
I found it...
That's not an aboriginal man - most people
in the Northern territory look that brown!
While we're on the subject of termites, I read an interesting statistic this week -
Australia contains over 75 percent of the world's venomous snakes. I know that has nothing
to do with termites, but it fits in the general category of 'wildlife'.
Do you get the
feeling that this place is crawling with life? Then you're right!
You may recall that we are travelling in a cramped little campervan, and the weather is
'stinking hot', but it's a great feeling to drive down the highway with all the windows
open (don't mind the dust layer covering everything - a bit of dust never hurt anyone),
and to endure the heat bravely, perspiration pouring off you in streams. Somehow you know
you're alive when you face the elements head on, don't you?
But it's nice to find a few outposts of civilisation every now and then, you must also
admit. So when we come to the Hard Croc Cafe, would you like to drop in for a nice cold
drink? Well, sorry we can't because that was way back on the road out of Darwin and I
forgot to mention it... but... what say we stay overnight at Katherine, and go swimming in
the river to cool off? Ah, can't fool you that easily can I? You've heard about those
little crocodiles they have there, haven't you? Well I hadn't so I was all keen to
have a nice dip. How about a swim across the river - oh, yes great idea! It is beautiful,
too. The water's cool and inviting. There is a rope in a tree which you can swing on, so
people must swim here.
I eagerly climbed
the tree and did the necessary gymnastics to throw myself into the river, then swam
leisurely over to the far bank. It was only as I decided it was time to swim back that I
was informed that it was not uncommon to meet crocodiles along the banks of this river...
oh, only small ones mind you, but I didn't care if they were new born babies, I wasn't
staying around to admire them, I was outta there! My swim back was anything but leisurely,
I can assure you. My imagination had a field day as with each stroke I could almost hear
the monstrous beasts snapping at my heels. The next day when we took the obligatory river
cruise, what do you think I did when the guide suggested a quick dip to cool off? Dived
got to be joking.
The cruise was very enjoyable by the way. The boat passes through the gorge between
magnificent cliff faces, which are dotted with small holes, home to some species of bird
which unfortunately must remain nameless (my memory again). These birds can be seen
swooping in to deftly enter their homes in the cliff face, then popping out again and
flying off to do whatever it is birds do.
We're moving along a bit faster now - I don't want you losing interest before we get to
the famous Rock. I am under no illusions about my abilities as a story teller, and to keep
you in suspense too long would be to risk an anti-climax when we eventually reach there. I
want you to feel the same sense of awe as I did when I first spotted that amazing landform
rising up majestically out of the red dust. But there I go again... we must move on!
I suppose I spoiled Mataranka for you by mentioning the bats and spiderwebs last time.
I'll try and give you an idea of the place as we drive there now, seeing as the damage is
already done. See these gates - we have to keep getting in and out of the van to open and
close them all the way down this track. Someone must have some stock animals and be trying
to keep them in. When we get to the camping area, we'll be able to go to the undercover
open air cafe and play the juke box, have a hit of table tennis, or just sit and enjoy the
welcome change of scenery. There'll be thick semi-tropical bushland nearby, and after
we've had a nice cold drink we can make our way down the path to investigate!
On entering the thick vegetation we'll notice an immediate drop in temperature as we take
refuge in the trees. Vines twist and coil their way around the other plants creating a
jungle-like atmosphere and it is hard to believe we are a few steps away from what seemed
like semi-desert! It is all made possible by the thermal springs I suppose. Remember
pushing through the spider webs - well, believe me, that's not something I relish, but if
that's what it takes to have a swim in the pool, I'll do it. And so I did. It was worth
every ghastly second it took, too. The water is crystal clear and inviting, and an hour or
so splashing around in that water and I have forgotten all the discomfort it took to get
Eventually, it's time to head back to the van for tea (no, not the drink, that is what we
call our evening meal!). The more observant reader will perhaps be asking at this point,
"What about the bats?" Well, they were placed in juxtaposition to the spiders
for dramatic effect last time, but they really occur quite separately. (It's called poetic
license). I can't remember when I first became aware of them, but they did give me quite a
It was while
walking along the
path earlier I think, that I became aware that those long black fruits
hanging down in the tall trees over there weren't some strange tropical fruits after all,
but fruit bats!
Fascinating... thousands of them... quite cute really once you became
accustomed to the idea and decided they weren't interested in your blood. It really got
interesting though when they all decided to leave about the same time I did. What a noise!
Thousands of bats screeching and flapping and moving off quickly in a thick black cloud.
That got the heart racing! The photo I have put in above doesn't give much of an
idea of how it was, because they were only the tail-enders - but who thinks of taking a
photo while surrounded by screeching bats??
(I said last time that they were going to their cave for the night. It occurred to me
during a moment of reflection that perhaps I was wrong - do bats go to caves at night? Or
is that where they spend their days? Maybe someone more knowledgeable about bat behaviour
can let me know about that one and I will pass it on to anyone who is interested. (Which
reminds me, I have learned a lot more about Darwin since I began this series and for
anyone who is interested I can send a short supplementary issue with some more
information. I will only do this if requested, so let me know.)
I must take a break at this point and do some homework. It doesn't pay to rush off without
looking at the map and studying the lay of the land a bit. I learned that when I left
Darwin in a mad rush to escape the humidity, and forgot to tell you about the crocodile
farm, Litchfield National Park, Howard Springs, and the famous Hard Croc Cafe, which you
must still be angry with me for telling you about after it was too late! If I hadn't been
so keen to get started when I sent the previous emails out while they were still hot off
the press, I could rewrite the whole thing and put things in some sort of decent order.
But, it's too late now. I promise I'll get to it all eventually.
I won't leave you in suspense this time. (It was obviously too much for some of you,
judging by the desperate pleas for the next edition. The more self-controlled readers have
simply waited quietly for the story to continue, which is admirable, but I confess that I
find you impetuous ones heart-warming).
Today I will leave you with two quotes.
The first is by the famous poet and bush balladeer (author of Waltzing Matilda), A.B.
"Banjo" Patterson, written in 1898.
"Far in the north of Australia lies a little-known land, a vast half-finished sort of
region, wherein Nature has been apparently practising how to make better places. This is
the Northern Territory of South Australia... The decline and fall of the British Empire
will date from the day that Britannia starts to monkey with the Northern Territory."
And this, the second, is something written 100 years later in 1998, by the creator of a
website (the address of which I will be happy to share with you should you ask, assuming I
can find it again when I need to!) Commenting on the above quote, the author writes:
"This rather ominous prophecy reflects the way many Australians still view the
frontier lands of the Northern Territory, usually known as "The Territory", or
simply "NT". Even the name conjures up a distant, untamed province and, to an
extent, it really is like this: just one percent of Australians (170,000) live here, in an
area covering nearly twenty percent of the continent. This tiny population and lack of
economic autonomy explains why The Territory has never achieved full statehood, only
gaining self-government from Canberra in 1978."
On that note, I will bid you a fond South Australian farewell, with the promise that I
will come and pick you up from Mataranka sometime soon, and we'll keep going down the road
to Alice. Meanwhile enjoy the flies, the spiders, the bats and the reptiles...
(Translation provided free on request)