Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sandstone Walk

The Bardedjilidji Sandstone Walk coursed through elegant towering sandstone pillars which radiated the heat. In the wet season this dramatic landscape would have been full of overflowing billabongs surrounded by lush forests. For us geologists the natural magnificence of these weathered sandstone formations was beauty enough. Bardedjilidji is the local word for "walking track".

Some natural caves were still adorned with Aboriginal art and blackened in places from smoking fires. Being inside the shade of a cave provided an immediate temperature drop. We noticed some pits, shallow small saucer like depressions, in a few slabs in the floor of the caves. We were not sure what use they had but conjectured perhaps they were used for milling seeds for food or a place where stone was ground to make ochre paint. 

We noticed some signs of buffalo in the area and kept alert. Buffalos were imported to Australia in the early 19th century as they were suited to the tropical conditions and would be a good meat source for the remote northern settlements. Australia has both the river type from western Asia, with curled horns, and the swamp type from eastern Asia, with swept-back horns. Inevitably some buffalo escaped, whilst some where abandoned as settlements failed and a feral population spread. 

Not only the European settlers enjoyed this tasty meat, Aboriginal people hunted Asian water buffalo with long knives, axes, spears and, more recently, with guns. By the 1970s, feral buffalo numbers were so high that they were destroying wetlands and harbouring diseases that could affect native species and livestock. The Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign, developed to protect the meat export industry, has all but eradicated feral buffalos from the wild except from in Kakadu. It was agreed that a small herd of tuberculosis-free buffalo could remain to continue the supply of this bush meat. 

We'd learnt from our cruise that crocodiles lay their eggs in reeds, so we were particularly wary when the track went through reed beds for a 100m length or so. 

Our three litres of water we carried went down quickly. Although the layered sandstone landscape is stunning the torridity was oppressive.  I'm glad it was only few kilometres walk as it was really too hot to be out for long. 

Reminds me of Brimham rocks back home

The indentation in the flat stone is possibly from grinding seeds to make a flour or from grinding ochre for painting

Early rock art was generally hand prints of red or yellow ochre - the oldest dating back more than 40,000 years

The wind and sands of time have carved some extraordinary features into these escarpments

Maximise the sun protection it's 40C in the shade

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos - normally only solitary or in their breeding pairs

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