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Chris Bonner and his wife Marelle live on a farm in the beautiful Scenic Rim of South East Queensland where Chris uses his camera to showcase the scenery and wildlife of the area. Besides wider Australian travels, he has also produced a portfolio of pictures from across the world including  the wildlife of Africa to e magic of the Amazon to the history and beauty of Europe.  While Chris' primary motivation is to share his experiences, photos are available for sale in digital or print format. 

All profits from photo sales go to a Cambodian charity www.newhopecambodia.com. Non-profit organisations may apply to receive free photos for Promotion or Fundraising.

Arnhem Land and Kakadu Safari

Arnhem Land borders the Kakadu National Park, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria and covers 97,000 Square Kilometers. To visit, one needs permits from the Northern Land Council and/or the Dhimmurru Aboriginal Corporation. Hence it is recommended to access Arnhem Land with one of the few licensed tour operators. We went with Lord’s Safaris. Sab Lord has lived in the bush, mostly the Territory all his life and has cultural ties to the Aboriginal community. We shared this experience with our NZ friends Bill and Cathy McEwan giving them something completely different to beautiful NZ.

Enroute to Arnhem Land we got our first taste of the incredible Territory Wetland birdlife at Fogg Dam and Leaning Tree Lagoon where the tree seemingly has kept leaning and fell over. Spoonbills, the first of many Forest Kingfishers, Red-tiled Black Cockatoos, and a common Cormorant looking splendid drying its wings

Then to Arnhem Land for lunch at the Injalak Art & Craft Centre featuring traditional paintings and woven art where the collector could spend well over $1000 on one piece. For those that can’t get to Arnhem Land, their artists and their art travel to State Capitals for Exhibitions. 

It was interesting to hear these folk speaking in English as well as Kunwinjku, one of more than 100 Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in the Northern Territory. Arnhem Land is perhaps the one area in Australia where indigenous culture is still dominant, despite a long history of interaction with other cultures, such as the Macassens and then the Europeans. Arnhem Land today has weathered all the storms and it has managed to stay as a last frontier and homeland of around 20.000 people.

Photos

An interesting drive across Arnhem wilderness areas and cattle stations took us to Davidson’s Safari Lodge for the night. Davidson's Arnhem Land Safaris is situated in the North-West corner of Arnhem Land near Mt Borradaile, can only be accessed by 4WD or air. It lies a vast subtropical savannah that has been described as a national treasure trove depicting ancient human occupation, and a pristine wilderness area hosting myriad ecosystems and wildlife.


Davidson's occupies in a remote 700 sq-km, exclusively leased area nestled against the Arnhem Land escarpment and features a registered aboriginal sacred site.

Waking up to a nice sunrise featuring the Sandstone escarpment that surrounds the Mary River wetlands….

….before heading out by boat across wetlands in the shadow of Mt Borradaile…..

checking out a few of the 236 varieties of birds that inhabit the Mary River catchment including Jabiru, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Pelicans, Magpie Geese, White-bellied Sea Eagles, and Giant Egrets.


A Giant Egret with the sun’s angle giving him a metallic look….


...and Black-winged Stilt checking out its lunch menu

Kingfisher spots a morsel....

....and a Jacana or Jesus Bird  walks on water with the assistance of Lily Pads.

A pelican and a Jabiru seem confused by their identity ...


...While a Swamp Harrier has the advantage of an aerial perspective

….then the stunning sight of a Jabiru launching into the evening sky.


Plumed Whistling Ducks huddle to discuss the day then take to the sky as the boat approaches, only to huddle again on the next bank.

A Caspian Tern and a Nankeen Kestrel sweep the wetlands while Brolgas patrol the grassy banks.

Not to forget the Crocs. Mary River is home to one of the largest crocodile populations in the world . There’s Estuarine (Salties) on the left who can eat people anywhere and Freshies on the right who live only in fresh water and don’t have a taste for humans.

After a hectic afternoon the boat pulls to the bank for the traditional sundowner. 

                                                               If you don’t finish your wine before we speed back to camp you’ll need a firm grip and a steady hand.




Sab Lord’s knowledge and passion for the bush with his knock-about, irreverent humour, was a particularly knowledgeable and entertaining host. He has hosted Royalty and more recently Boris Johnson but it’s a pity Boris took Sab’s advice on Brexit.



The next morning we set out in a reed cutting boat to access the sandstone escarpment with it’s aboriginal art. The shallower reedy wetlands need a boat with a special cutter to cut a channel through the reeds.


The escarpment featured massive rock formations that provided human shelter for over 50,000 years and offer magnificent galleries of rock art as well as burial sites.


Including the famous depiction of a Macassan boat. In the 18th century Muslim traders from Makassar visited Arnhem Land to trade, harvest, and process sea cucumbers.


The hole in the roof provided a convenient chimney but also served to spotlight Marelle and Kath.


And a timely shelter for a cuppa break.


The Wilkins Rock Wallaby is interesting because of his bushy tail. I couldn’t actually see any detail of this wallaby in this dark cave but what’s called the Dynamic Range of my camera exposed him on processing.

Considering European names such as Ayer’s Rock have reverted to its Aboriginal name Uluru, it’s unusual that Arnhem, a name given by a Dutch explorer in 1623 survives, considering Arnhem Land has such significance to the Aborigines.


Now back to Kakadu passing imposing rocky outcrops.....


.......as well as seeing some station life action on the way, the ever present termite nests and a curious dingo. Marelle's farm experience coming in handy with the gates.

Sabs bush style tented accommodation near Jabiru welcomed us for the night and was memorable for the privacy, outdoor living and firepit experience.

After adding a Blue-Winged Kookaburra, a Blue- Faced Honeyeater and a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo to the list......

…...it was a day for iconic Kakadu billabongs, firstly Majuk with it’s warmish spring water. and then a swim from the beach at Gunlon, made famous by the Crocodile Dundee movie. 

The day involved driving through the Territory's Savannah country with lunch in the bed of the Mary River and a stop to check out the cathedral-like mounds of the grass-eating spinifex termite, the largest termite mounds in Australia some weighing over 10 tonnes.

Next morning we head to Bamurru Plains Lodge, taking time out for lunch at Mary River. Bamurru Plains provides an exclusive wildlife experience on the Mary River floodplains. Located on Swim Creek Station, this safari-style camp is surrounded by savannah woodland teeming with wildlife. The luxury accommodation with its mesh walls, blends with the surrounding bush and exposes us to the sights and sounds of the bush and floodplains just a short distance from our accommodation.

Wallabies, screeching Corellas, Buffalo mooching onto the wetlands and Cattle Egrets waiting to join them provide entertainment on the backdrop of the rising sun.

Swim Creek Station is a 30,000ha buffalo lease on the Mary River flood plains. They export up to 3000 live Buffalo to Vietnam annually which can be dependent on the monsoon season and roads being open.

As  the sun rises we are awakened by the hoof steps and guttural sounds of hundreds of Buffalo emerging from the scrub in a cloud of golden dust to spend the day in the wetlands with its cool water and abundant feed.

About 80 domesticated Buffalo were brought to Australia from Indonesia between 1825 and 1843 to provide draft animals and dairy products for early settlers living in isolated settlements in the Territory. When early settlements failed, the buffalos were set free and their descendants became feral, thriving in the Australian Wetlands to number 350,000 head by the 1980's. Currently there are 10,000 domesticate buffalo in the Northern Territory with the number of feral buffalo still in the vicinity of 100,000. Buffalo always fared better than cattle in the floodplain environment as they were able to graze in wetland environments and their wallowing fouled up many water holes to be less appealing to cattle. Buffalo also cope with the available vegetation through changes of season much better than cattle.



The Bucket List experience: skimming across wetland with Magpie Geese among a huge variety of other water birds. 


Bamurru means magpie goose, which is apt given an estimated one million of these honking fowls inhabit the surrounding wetlands.



The Magpie Geese and other water birds share the wetlands with Buffalo  and even a Dingo disturbed from its dinner

We do a stately meander through ghostly, flooded paperbark forest before enjoying an Arnhem sunset.

Much of this adventure was through Wetland areas and this is only possible in the dry season. Monsoon rainfall for the 2018-19 wet season was generally well below average and while there was plenty of water during our July Safari, some of the iconic Wetlands could dry up before the end of the tourist season.

Our final day commenced with a drive across Swim Creek Station savannah country checking out Brolgas, Kingfishers, a Bustard looking as big as he can, and amongst the station stock, scrubber bulls, and a buffalo with a white bottom, apparently a species usually only seen in Asia, and a regular Buffalo with attitude.



Then onto the Arafura sea and after a crocodile sunning itself headed into the water we were able to enjoy a wander along the beach.


This coastline would have been a welcome sight to John McDowall Stuart on the 24th of July 1862 when on his 6th attempt and 20,000 Klm  trying  to cross Australia from South to North, battling his way through scrub and wetlands, he finally succeeded, returning mostly on a stretcher, disabled and nearly blind after years of enduring the hardships of this unforgiving country, but becoming regarded as one of Australia's most successful explorers. 

Adelaide celebrated his return on the same day that they buried Bourke and Wills. The Mary River was named by Stuart in honour of Mary Chambers, assumedly a member of the Chambers family, who as wealthy pastoralists and miners, funded Stuart's expedition.

The changing light over the floodplains

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