Kakadu: Boating With Sharks, Crocodiles and Wisdom
Going on a river cruise in Australia’s Kakadu National Park is quite unlike any other cruise you are likely to undertake.
You won’t come across many places in the world where you find yourself sitting in a boot which is floating on waters teeming with crocodiles and sharks.
Yes, you read correctly, sharks.
A cruise where the captain informs you that because we are so close to the sea, naval laws apply and buoyancy vests are required.
However, if the boat gets into trouble throw your vest one direction, then swim for your life in the other. Apparently crocodiles are attracted to the colours red and yellow.
Even if you can’t swim, you’ll learn fast, drowning will be the least of your problems.
In Kakadu, there are a lot of river cruises on offer, most of them run by commercial operators.
I can only assume that they would try to wow you with all kinds of facts. My impression, from what I could hear from the shore, was that they spewed all kinds of biological information about the local wildlife.
My other fear was that they would try to make the wildlife perform tricks.
We were looking for something different and opted for the only cruise we could find run by the local indigenous people. It was aptly named a cultural tour and ended up being a fantastic experience.
There were no jumping crocodiles or performing monkeys, not that there are any monkeys in Kakadu. The facts I learnt were about the traditional way of life.
- the safest time of day to be out on the river
- how to make use of the different trees lining its banks
- what made the people living in this harsh environment different to the ones living further south.
Our guide was well rehearsed. Essentially, he was no different to any other theatre performer, except his stage was an aluminium boot.
He was extremely entertaining.
Although he rattled off a plethora of insights, it all came across natural and unforced. The scope of his knowledge was enormous.
He was friendly, welcoming and incredibly funny. You just looked, listened and took it all in. It was how things would have been in ancient times. No books, no television, no internet, just a good storyteller.
It makes all the difference and it’s a special talent, not everyone is gifted with the ability to make a story come alive.
It was impossible to take it all in.
I did glean and retain enough information to leave me with the feeling I had been part of something special. I wasn’t just being fed useless facts and figures.
At no time did it feel like I was paying to be entertained. This was about shared and honest knowledge.
I learnt why the spears made on the river from the roots of the certain trees were special. They floated, somehow another version of the boomerang, only for use underwater.
Boomerangs in Kakadu were only used for music and were ceremonial.
Hearing much of what I had learnt over the past few years being verbalised by an elder reinforced my belief in my own story.
One thing I had struggled with writing the book came freely spoken from his lips.
The use of traditional punishment. He made it all seem so everyday, so normal.
The first spear goes in the calf, for the second offence it goes in the thigh. For the third it goes through your midriff and then it’s curtains.
Again water was important, even though it was everywhere. Certain trees retained fresh water and you could drink from them.
And respect. Once you’d drunk your fill you had to plug the hole so others could benefit from it.
If you didn’t, the punishment was severe. And back to the spear.
I forgot about the sharks and crocodiles. I didn’t want to get out of the boat for a different reason.
I just wanted to sit there all day and listen.
Have you been inspired in a similar way?
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