Tag Archives: bill neidjie

Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock

“People need to come here and relax, sit on country, feel the spirits of this country and go home and feel the same way.”
– Natasha Nadji, Bunidj clan

One of my favourite spots in Australia to sit, relax and feel the spirit of the country is on top of Ubirr Rock looking out over the Nadab floodplains and taking in the 360 degree view. The feeling is exactly what Natasha Nadji, granddaughter of Bill Neidjie, is talking about. The landscape and view is breathtaking and the cultural heritage and history is humbling and incredible. I truly feel the spirit of the Gagudju country as I look out over this landscape. I feel a strange connection to Ubirr, 4 visits can attest to that. I actually feel home.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Ubirr Rock Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Kakadu National Park in Northern Territory, the Top End of Australia, is listed not once but twice as a UNESCO’s World Heritage site. Kakadu – or Gagudju as Kakadu is a European spelling error of Gagudju – is listed not only for natural but also for cultural values. I have written at lengths about Hawk Dreaming, a closed off non public site. In this post I will focus on two of the main public sites – Ubirr and Nourlangie (another spelling error, should be Nawurlandja).

Gagudju Country

Bill Neidjie - copyright Mark Lang - www.marklangscapes.com

The Gagudju country will tell you the story of at least 25,000 years of occupation meaning at least 250 generations of Australians have lived and died here. 250 generations is a number so great it is hard to conceive and is why I balk when people say Australia is a young nation with no history. Oldest land in the world; oldest still living culture. Gagudju people had already been trading with the Macassans sailing over from Indonesia, but European contact in the late 1800’s proved catastrophic to 25,000 years of culture. From several thousands living here the number was already down to probably less than 100 in the 1920’s. Today, none of the old Gagudju people remain. Bill Neidjie, see photo kindly provided by Mark Lang, lived for about a year at Ubirr when he was very young and he was the last of the original Gagudju. Fortunately Kakadu National Park starting in 1979 was handed back to aboriginal management and ownership so a new generation of Gagudju can grow up and learn Gagudju law on their land.

As you sit on top of Ubirr reflect on this and the fact that this is no museum. The landscape isn’t constructed. Ubirr has several major rock art shelters with some very impressive and important drawings and they weren’t brought here for an exhibit. This is real; this is a home. People lived here for 25,000 years and it’s still almost untouched by civilisation.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Nourlangie Rock Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Almost untouched. Almost. There are paved roads. There are fences, signs, tourists, tour guides and rangers. There are opening hours for the sites. 8am to sunset. You won’t exactly have the place to yourself. Ubirr and Nourlangie being the two main sites of Kakadu are easily accessible with paved roads and car parks for coach busses so they get very busy in the middle of the day. It is a good thing as many people will come, experience and learn; but it can be a bit hard to ignore the crowd and truly feel at one with the country. Arrive very early or very late in the day to avoid the crowd. Also; the tour guides pointing out where a few scenes from Crocodile Dundee were shot should be banned! There are more important stories about Ubirr. For true untouched Kakadu you have to go to Hawk Dreaming. At Ubirr you have to work harder to take it in and ignore the people.

The rock art at Ubirr and Nourlangie is incredibly impressive. I am spoiled though having visited every accessible cave in Hawk Dreaming and experiencing amazing rock art up close and personal with just me and a guide, no crowds, no fences and completely untouched. I long for more when I view the art at Ubirr and Nourlangie standing on a boardwalk, behind a rail. You can’t sit in the cave and dream yourself tens of thousands of years back. You view from a distance in the company of tourists. Ubirr and Nourlangie are still incredible and do catch some of the aboriginal ranger talks, they’re fantastic. I’m just completely spoiled having had Hawk Dreaming all for myself twice. My dream is to someday be allowed off-limits access to Ubirr and be allowed to stay after sunset. Watching the moon light up the flood plains from the top of Ubirr must be true magic.

Photographing Ubirr and Nourlangie

Ubirr and Nourlangie can be as frustrating as they are fascinating. It takes a long time to get to know these places and create great images, Ubirr and Nourlangie will really test your skills for composition and shooting photos in difficult light. These are huge chaotic areas of savannah floodplains and rocks and won’t easily present some simplicity for you. It’s made even harder by the many closed off sections, the crowds, the opening hours. I still only have a few shots that I’m reasonably happy with and still; they’re not really art more like good stock images. Ubirr especially keeps kicking my behind every time I visit. Few photographers have mastered Ubirr and Kakadu. Mark Lang is at the top of my list, having spent 3 years here in the company of Bill Neidjie, his work truly captures Kakadu and is what I strive for.

I have presented two stitched panoramas above which are my favourites from Ubirr and Nourlangie. The Ubirr panorama is not from the top of the rocks, but at the beginning of the climb looking North towards Cannon Hill in Arnhem Land. The afternoon light is still harsh but has warmed a bit and creates shadows compared to midday light. I lucked out and had a few clouds, most days in the dry season have none but this was late September and the buildup season was starting. I used an ND grad filter on the sky to bring out the colour. The Nourlangie Panorama is from the gun-warddehwardde lookout and is the spot for a good shot of Burrungui, the upper part of the rock. Again; lucked out with some nice clouds and it’s early enough in the day to still have light on the rock. Later in the day this is all in shade.

Actually; I’ll dig out a nice old 1998 slide and present this as well. This is in January of 1998 in the wet season. It shows how green Kakadu gets in the wet and how dramatic the thunderstorms are. Also shows how I was just beginning to learn photography – and usually did bulls-eye compositions! I want to experience Kakadu in the wet again and re-capture dramas like these:

Ubirr in the wet season

Photography tips for Ubirr and Nourlangie:

  • The dry and the wet are two different worlds here as you can see. I recommend doing both, I want to experience more of the wet myself. The wet has amazing dramatic weather, everything is green, less people, but everything may be completely closed off and the humidity is unbelievable. The dry has clear dry days, but more people and less dramatic light. Try April or May just after the wet, or September or October just before the wet. Avoid June, July and August if you can.
  • As great as it is sitting on top of Ubirr, it’s hard to shoot anything worthwhile from the top. Everything is below you and the horizon so the image becomes very flat and distant. Climb down and get closer to subjects so you can compose with some foreground and middle ground.
  • Beat the crowd, get there very early or late afternoon! In the middle of the day you’ll be fighting tour crowds for position.
  • Ubirr is great in the late afternoon, enabling you to shoot north and east getting all the main subjects in the frame.
  • Nourlangie, the gun-warddehwardde lookout is only good before about 11am. Get there at 8am if possible. There are some great lookouts a short distance from Nourlangie like Nawurlandja and Mirrai which are great for sunrise and sunsets; I want to explore these some day.
  • Ubirr and Nourlangie open around 8am so sunrises are not possible. They are open till sunset but be aware the rangers kick you out as soon as the sun hits the horizon. They don’t want people falling off Ubirr in the darkness of course, but this means no dusk light for us photographers. I have never stayed at Ubirr for sunset. I had planned to, back in September 08 but being by myself at Hawk Dreaming with all the time in the world including dusk light and with no people proved too great a temptation!
    As you stand on the Hawk Dreaming savannah at sunset you can actually see Ubirr in the horizon and all the flashes going off on compact cameras set to automatic mode!
  • Check reflections off the rocks, they can burn out if you’re not careful as they’re usually the brightest part of a scene. Perhaps underexpose by about a 1/3 stop.
  • Watch your step at Ubirr! Don’t look through the viewfinder and walk as you’re likely to fall off or at least break an ankle.
  • Do visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Culture Centre as it is brilliant. Spend a few hours there and you will learn so much about Kakadu and aboriginal culture. Knowing a place also means connecting to the place resulting in a better experience and better images!

Last but not least, experience!

“If you respect the land then you will feel the land. Your experience will be one that you cannot get anywhere else in the world”.
– Brian Baruwei, Wurrkbarbar Clan

Finding a Tree in The Kimberley

You would be forgiven for thinking “how hard can it be to find a tree?”. Often it is actually akin to finding gold. Especially when you’re looking for that solitary tree in just the right spot with just the right light that you can isolate in just the right composition. Much of nature and indeed the Australian outback is incredibly messy and extracting a beautiful composition out of chaos is the very essence of landscape photography. Finding a tree is a never ending quest!

I love the mornings when bush camping. Waking up before dawn and rolling out of my swag. Getting my tripod and camera gear. Walking into the bush all alone in the crisp morning air. Experiencing the world with little to no sounds at all. Connecting to nature, to the rocks, the trees, the light, the smell. Looking for a spot to shoot dawn and sunrise. The experience doesn’t last very long as the sun is fast approaching but every second experienced at dawn is pure bliss.

One of the places in the Kimberley I explored at dawn was Manning Gorge. Here my never ending search was successful; I found a tree. A beautiful gum tree at dawn in very gorgeous and very soft light. The usually chaotic nature let all the elements come together here and created a close to perfect composition for me:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Gum Tree at Dawn
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Only a few minutes later and the sun has jumped above the horizon and I managed to find another tree; a young Boab tree bathed in the rays of the rising sun. I chose to hide the messy foreground using the spinifex grass to simplify the composition:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Boab Tree at Sunrise
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I will end with the words of Bill Neidjie and as I search for more trees; I will look in the morning and say “nice tree this!”

Bill Neidjie: Tree grow, every night he grow. Daylight. He stop. Just about dark, he start again. Just about morning, I look. I say, “Oh, nice tree this!”

The Hawk Dreaming Aboriginal Art Experience

I wish to take you on a journey into one of the Hawk Dreaming rock art shelters and try and make you feel what it is like to travel back in time. It is a difficult task describing this in words (time travel is a bit hard too), but do come along on this illustrated trip as we explore a Hawk Dreaming aboriginal rock art shelter.

I am often asked how large is Hawk Dreaming and I don’t actually know, it’s not marked on a map of course. We’re only allowed access to a small area anyway but it is a significant and beautiful area along the East Alligator River with around 15-20 art sites included Bill Neidjie’s cave and important sites like the painting of the Warramurrauungi – the creation mother. All the paintings we can access are found around the large range shown here in my panorama:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming Ranges Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is a stitched panorama shot from the river looking southeast towards the ranges. It was a hazy sunset but with good clouds and light above the rocks. I am trying to shield the camera as it was so windy on this night that I had to hook my backpack to the tripod to prevent it from blowing over! I managed to get some sharp exposures and I am very happy with this shot, it is quite successful I reckon at expressing the open expanse of the Hawk Dreaming floodplains and the ranges.

The art sites are found in shelters in these ranges. Look at the full size version of the panorama above and you see some of the shelters as horizontal lines along the side of the range. One of them is a large spectacular cave accessed through a bit of climbing. It has a huge collection of art on the walls and grind holes in the rock. It also offers a magnificent view North and if one was allowed to bring a swag up here it would offer a truly special place to sleep. I have attempted to capture the feeling of sitting in the shelter in the following panorama. This stitched pano required a lot of work in PTgui. It is shot at 17mm so I could include the cave as well as the view. But 17mm means distortion and a very tough stitch. In the end I got what I wanted, a pano of looking out of the cave:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Rock Art Shelter Lookout Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

As you sit here in the rock shelter and lookout over the glorious landscape then think back tens of thousands of years and have a look around. There are grind holes on the floor from grinding paint and flour. There is still charcoal on the floor leftover from fires. There is absolutely nothing to break the illusion. You are back in time. No fences, no signs, no roads, no people! This is not a museum. This is real; this is authentic and you are right there in it, experiencing traditional living with the land lifestyle. Imagine a clan of Bunitj people sitting right next to you, laughing, eating, painting, sleeping. Living in this very shelter. It is a great place to live, the land here provides plenty of food and the natural shelters make for perfect homes. It is a slice of magical time travel.

Now. Look up and look behind you and what you see is this panoramic view:

Shelter art pano - 1000pix web

Tens of thousands of years of living here is documented on the walls in layers and layers of painting. Again; this is no museum. This is time travel; this is real. The paintings range from just having fun recreational paintings to very important sacred paintings. A lot of it is food sources and dreamtime stories and ceremonies. Very interesting are the paintings of encounters with white people and before that, meetings with the Macassan traders in the year 14-1700. I apologise for the large watermark but have to protect this image as it is sacred art and is something I shot for the present custodians of Hawk Dreaming. I’m afraid I can’t show you close-up of the art; you’ll have to visit and see yourself!

If you have visited other rock art sites in Australia I think you have spotted why this Hawk Dreaming experience is unlike any other. This is so real it becomes a time travel. Again; no fences, no crowds, no lines, no boardwalks, no signs, nothing that turns the experience into a museum like viewed from a distance feeling. Hawk Dreaming enables you to sit down in a shelter and take it all in with no filters between you and the authentic experience.

I trust you enjoyed this trip in Hawk Dreaming sitting in a Bunitj clan rock shelter. It defines the word special and I can only attempt to capture a bit of this in my photos. It feels like ‘my country’ like home to me.

Developing a Hawk Dreaming

I am developing all the RAW files from Hawk Dreaming as no. 1 priority. I want to get all the landscape and aboriginal art shots to Dwane from the Djabulukgu Association Inc  as quickly as possible; to reassure him I am definitely a man of my words and honour my end of the agreement! You will hardly find any other photographers with photos from Hawk Dreaming and I am very happy and privileged to have been allowed to shoot there.

Hawk Dreaming has some large open floodplains so it is possible to shoot some very isolated subjects with a horizon far far away. This is shot with just a bit of dusk light left and I like doing these sort of arty simple compositions. Simple compositions are the hardest to achieve, isolating subjects in the natural chaos of nature takes a lot of searching.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Pandanus Palm Glow at Dusk
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I previously blogged about watching dawn and sunrise from a rock shelter and the next shot is the sun just making it’s appearance on the hazy stage. I used a 2 stop (I need to get a 4 stop) ND grad filter, without it the foreground would be pitch black. It may look a bit dark at small size but the larger version is clearer. It was still very dark as the haze and mist softened the sun and I want the picture to reflect this.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Sunrise over Cannon Hill
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is just a taste of the upcoming hundreds shots that Hawk Dreaming provided me and yet I could easily go back and shoot many more in this awesome place.

It is a Hawk and Photographer Dreaming! It’s very easy to escape into the screen while developing these shots.

In the big smoke. Miss my country.

I am quoting Bill Neidjie again; writing about his country and why he loves the bush in his book ‘Story about Feeling’ he says:

“We like white man alright. We like im city.
But city make you sick of it. Better this…”

I am now hanging out with friends in the big smoke; in Sydney. It is a culture and climate shock indeed coming here from Darwin; Kimberleys and Hawk Dreaming. Sydney is gorgeous but I don’t really like it anymore. Too big, too busy, too narrow streets, too claustrophobic, too many cars, too much traffic, too many people. No aboriginal presence like in Darwin, no history, no art etc. It is not Australia to me. The real Australia is the outback. I think I am going more and more back to my roots. Have no need or use for cities anymore. Just want to go back to “my country” – the outback. City make you sick of it.

It is also bleedin’ feckin’ cold here! Only about 20 during the day and 10 at night; I am close to being in suspended animation. I am used to 35-40 during the day, 25-30 at night. I can deal with the high temperatures; I actually love it. I can’t deal with the cold. Used to walk around in shirt, shorts and thongs (flip-flops). Now I wear 4 layers of clothes. For the people back home that know me: Yes you read right. I wear thongs (known as flip-flops in rest of the world). I have the photos to prove it. I love ’em! I certainly still hate sandals with a passion! And Crocs shoes! Hate ’em even more! But thongs good!

I am here for a few days to hang out with new and old friends. I am actually staying in a super nice house with friends who are not here. I’m housesitting while they’re in Europe. Ironic! I will shoot a bit here; but already have lots of Sydney images so trying to capture something different this time like this one:

Sydney Duotone Panorama. Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I shot a stitched version of this, this is just a single shot so I’d have something to post. I find myself more and more seeking some sort of art angle on my shots and becoming less and less interested in reality. It’s reality but not as we know it. I capture the data and already have the final image in mind when I shoot the photo; I visualize the end product before shooting; an end product usually quite different from the actual scene. I capture data; but the end product is created in the digital darkroom – in this case quickly thrown together in Lightroom 2.1. The original data is still the most important though. Garbage in means garbage out!

I spent a lot of time sitting in the sun in the back garden of the unit I live in. It’s very relaxing and quiet, you wouldn’t know central Sydney is a 10 minutes walk from here. There are small lizards in the garden I play with. Until I get cold. I still wake with the sun, meaning 5.45am here in Sydney. Miss my country.

In the footsteps of Bill Neidjie and the Bunitj Clan

Imagine sitting in a shelter, a large natural rock cave 30 meters above ground. Look out over the floodplains and you have a timeless uninterrupted panoramic view. No roads, no power lines, no people. Look down and on the rock you sit on are grind holes from thousands of years of grinding paint and food. Turn around and study the rock walls close up. Aboriginal art in several styles from up to 40 to 60 thousand years old grace the walls. No signs, no fences, no people. No sounds. Just you and the power of Hawk Dreaming; country of the Bunitj clan in Kakadu National Park.

Then the sun rises. The world awakens. Sounds of the wildlife of Hawk Dreaming fills your ears. I feel almost embarrassed to mix in the loud shutter sound from my camera. Sounds like a gun in this natural soundscape. There is nothing to distract you; nothing to remind you that the year is 2008. It might as well be 10,000 years ago and you really expect a family from the Bunitj clan to be there as you sit in their home and their shelter and watch the sun rise.

080920-IMG_7913

I have blogged about Big Bill Neidjie and Hawk Dreaming before and first visited this magical place in 2007. I wanted to return this year and further explore and photograph this area as I cannot image a more special and powerful sacred place in all of Australia. Nowhere else will you find a place with amazing floodplain landscapes and one of the highest concentrations of aboriginal art sites in Australia. Certainly no place with access to as there are probably more places like this in Arnhem Land but they are totally off-limits. Hawk Dreaming has it all.

I hired a private charter for 3 days (from now on this is the only way I’ll go on tours!) from the only company allowed to bring people into Hawk Dreaming – the super good Aussie Adventures. Les Thorne – known as “the white aboriginal” to his friends for his deep love and knowledge of aboriginal culture and history – was my brilliant guide and teacher. My aim was to shoot landscapes at Hawk Dreaming and see and learn as much as I could about the aboriginal art and history. I am extremely fascinated by and feel connected to aboriginal culture though I only know just a tiny bit about the incredible 60,000 years of history.

The 3 days were absolute magic and spectacular. With my own guide, teacher, mate and 4WD I got all the landscapes I wanted with 2 sunrises and 2 sunsets at Hawk Dreaming. I got to see the roughly 15-20 art sites that we were allowed to go to and Les kindly shared his deep knowledge. A personal highlight for me was sitting in Bill Neidjie’s cave where he lived from 1975 when the land was finally given back to the Bunitj people – Bill played a huge part in this – almost up to his death in 2002. In Bill’s cave you will see rock art and that is 10,20,30 thousands years old – and rock art that is perhaps 20 years old! Bill’s children and grandchildren would paint rock art and paint things they learned in school in the Oenpelli community such as the British alphabet and an image of Sydney Harbour Bridge! A strong and powerful place; an experience burned in my memory forever.

Adding to the magic; I was actually sort of on assignment. Every commercial photo from Hawk Dreaming has to be approved by Jonathon Neidjie, Bill’s son and the current custodian of Hawk Dreaming. Of course no art shots can be sold; not that I would ever do that anyway – that is not my art to sell! Les got me in touch with Dwane Baker, manager from the Djabulukgu Association, at the Bowali Visitor Center in Kakadu. Dwane had Jonathon on the phone and I showed a few of my shots from Hawk Dreaming last year (fortunate I had these in my bag). Dwane seemed to really like them and quickly asked if I would supply them with copies of the landscape files I shot and also help shoot and document the art sites? If so I could shoot and sell all the landscapes I wanted. They really wanted some landscape shots from Hawk Dreaming and also the art documented and I was more than happy to agree; I get my landscapes and I help Dwane, Jonathan Neidjie and Hawk Dreaming. Making a small contribution that way is an honour. Thanks to Dwane and Jonathon for all the help and setting up an agreement so smoothly and quickly in 15 minutes, something that I know from Les can usually take a long time. Very much appreciated, I know I was very very lucky and fortunate. Must be my amazing photography skills and country boy charm 😀

So I was on a mission and shot photos from dawn till dusk. Landscapes and art sites, rock climbed with tripod etc. to get pristine shots of the art sites for Dwane and Jonathan. I had a fantastic time; absolutely loved it! I have enough photos (the two featured here are quick and dirty previews) and stories from Hawk Dreaming to last a year so stay tuned on this blog.

I’ll end with my ongoing relationship with mosquitoes. Me and Mossies. We go way back. I donated quite a few liters of blood to the mossie community in the Kimberleys and continued my contribution in Hawk Dreaming to the fantazillion of mossies that call the East Alligator river (brilliant name you white folks; there are no alligators in Australia!) at Hawk Dreaming home. Standing by the river at dawn ready for sunrise and a wall, an armada of mossies attack me and Les. I empty a full can of toxic and highly flammable but effective Bushman mossie repellant on my body and clothes. Had I still been smoking and lit a ciggy I would have exploded, I was that saturated in chemicals. The repellant helps some. Little bit cheeky them mossies though. Climb under my shirt and get fresh blood! Les escapes to the Landcruiser leaving my blood as the only food source. So as you watch this sunrise shot from Sunday morning; know that I payed for it in blood!

Hawk Dreaming Sunrise 21-sep-08

Hawk Dreaming. home of the Bunitj clan.
I will return.
Feels little bit like your country is now a part of me!

 

Bill Neidjie

Rock stays, Earth stays.
I die and put my bones in cave or earth.
Soon my bones become earth, all the same.
My spirit has gone back to my country, my mother.
This story is important.
It won’t change, it is law.
It is like this earth, it won’t move.
Ground and rock, he can’t move.
Cave, he never move.
No-one can shift that cave, because it dream.
It story.
It law.
This law, this country,this people,
no matter what people,
red, yellow, black or white,
the blood is the same.
Lingo little bit different,
but no matter.

Country, you in other place.
But the same feeling.
Blood, bone, all the same.
This story,
this is true story.
My people
all dead.
We only got few left.
That’s all, not many.
We getting too old.
Young people.
I don’t know if they can hang onto this story.
But, now you know this story,
and you’ll be coming to earth.
You’ll be part of earth when you die.
You responsible now.
You got to go with us.
To earth.
Might be you can hang on.
Hang on to this story.
To this earth.
You got children,
grandson.
Might be your grandson will get this story,
keep going,
hang on like I done.

– Bill Neidjie

Hawk Dreaming and Big Bill Neidjie

I have been preparing this story for some time. It’s a story of great importance to me. It’s a story of great meaning to me. It’s the story of one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited and the story of an amazing person. Maybe that’s why it has taken me forever to write this. I’m not much of a writer anyway so I have been staring at the blank screen many times without ever typing a single word on this story. I never seemed to get started, couldn’t find the perfect words and afraid to use my own ordinary words for this extraordinary story.

Well I suppose I will never pen the perfect words nor shoot the perfect picture. All I have are my words; my pictures. So here goes. The story of the Hawk Dreaming area in Kakadu National Park and of indigenous Australian Big Bill Neidjie, Gagudju Man.

Hawk Dreaming in Kakadu National Park

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming Wetland at Sunset Panorama
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming is a small closed off  area inside Kakadu National Park in Australia and no other landscape and place has had the impact Hawk Dreaming has had on me. This sacred place is truly magical for me and I was lucky enough to get to experience it on my own tour – just me and the great Andy from Aussie Adventures. That really allowed me to take it all in without the distractions of other people – just the way I like it, just me and the landscape.

Hawk Dreaming map Hawk Dreaming is a closed off area and there’s only one way to visit – on tour with Aussie Adventures, the only company allowed to go into Hawk Dreaming. I’ve already written about how I got my very own tour of Hawk Dreaming in August 2007, click here to read it. Perhaps you have visited Ubirr Rock in Kakadu National Park? If you stand on top of Ubirr Rock and look North you are looking at Hawk Dreaming! Click the map on the right to see large size, click here for Google maps link.

My Hawk Dreaming

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming & East Alligator River
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I spend 3 days in this magical sacred land and I tried to savour every single second and take it all in – and shoot heaps of photos at the same time. What makes Hawk Dreaming so special is that it’s just you and the timeless landscape. It’s the complete opposite of Ubirr Rock. Ubirr is very impressive landscape and great aboriginal art, but it’s loaded with tourists, there are paved roads, the art is fenced off meaning you can’t get close etc. All of this is of course necessary to preserve and protect the art and the land but it does take away from the experience with all those people, signs, paths, roads, fences etc. I am constantly reminded of reality and can’t really connect to the landscape the way I would like. It is ‘touched’ landscape.

Hawk Dreaming is almost completely untouched. When you drive around Hawk Dreaming, when you visit the caves and see the art everything is pristine and untouched. No people, no paved roads, no signs, no fences. You are right there and there’s no filter between you and 60,000 years of history! It’s a humbling and spectacular experience. Hawk Dreaming truly is the crown jewel of Kakadu National Park. The following panorama is a wide view over Hawk Dreaming, the East Alligator river and Cannon rock. Ok, there is a small path made by the Aussie Adventure 4wds but besides that everything is completely timeless, untouched and authentic landscape. For me it’s like travelling back in time to thousands of years ago. The smoke in the air is from bush fires but even that is authentic. No bloody powerlines or paved roads ruining my view here:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

View from Cave in Hawk Dreaming Panorama
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

As you can see Hawk Dreaming is also one of the places in Kakadu where you get more open savannah country (naturally there are a lot of trees in Kakadu) and this allows for longer open views of the landscape and the sunset as well. This particular Hawk Dreaming sunset is actually looking due South straight at Ubirr Rock:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Pandanus Palm & Termite Mounds
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

No other place, no other landscape has ever had that great an impact on me. Yes I love Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the Red Centre very much but there are too many people and taken as a whole experience I would say that Hawk Dreaming has had the most impact on me on my 6 trips (so far) to Australia . This is partly because Hawk Dreaming is just magical and carries at least 25,000 years of history and partly because I had the whole place to myself so I could really take in the place and forget about the outside world. Like I told Michael and Alicia at the bush camp, all I needed was an internet connection and I could easily live and work there for the entire dry season!

Aboriginal art in Hawk Dreaming

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The cave I showed you the view from is just one of the many caves in Hawk Dreaming with  aboriginal rock art. As I mentioned before, Hawk Dreaming is very special in that you get to climb the rocks to get to the caves and then study the art right up close and personal. The shot on the right is from the same cave as the panorama view above, the cave wall and art is a few meters behind me. The shot clearly shows you no fences, no signs, no people so you can really study the art up close and discover how very impressive it actually is.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The X-ray art (like the big Barramundi fish where you can see the bones etc) is very detailed and have beautiful drawn fine lines (and on rock mind you, not smooth paper). At Hawk Dreaming I had time – and the whole place to myself! – so I could really take it in and let the place and the art sink in. It does truly boggle the mind to sit there and think that people have lived here for at least 25,000 years. The pigments in the paintings have been dated by scientist to be at least 18,000 years old. It saddens me deeply to think how fast Europeans with no understanding of these people wiped out 65,000 years of indigenous history of living of the land and protecting the land. The first humans arrived in Australia as long as 65,000 years ago and aboriginals have lived in Kakadu for at least 25,000 years. That’s 250 centuries. Took less than 1 century for that to be completely changed after Captain Cook and his so-called ‘discovery’ of a country where humans had already lived for tens of thousands of years. Europeans arriving in Australia was inevitable but at least we could have acknowledged the indigenous people of Australia and tried to co-exist instead of declaring it Terra Nullis – uninhabited, which translated to “up for grabs!”. Which brings me to a very important part of the Hawk Dreaming story, a very important person.

Big Bill Neidjie, Gagudju Man

Big Bill is a legend and unique among the Aboriginal people for many reasons – and he grew up in Hawk Dreaming! Here’s Big Bill, as photographed by Australian photographer Mark Lang, click to see large.

Bill Neidjie

Big Bill Neidjie at Hawk Dreaming
Copyright Mark Lang

A big thank you to Australian Photographer Mark Lang for sending me this striking photo of Big Bill and letting me use it on this blog. Please check out Mark’s beautiful photography – some of it from Hawk Dreaming – at www.marklangscapes.com. Mark has spent 3 years with Big Bill at Hawk Dreaming and is currently working on a book. Mark’s gorgeous shots from Kakadu and Hawk Dreaming are also featured in the Gagudju Man book about Big Bill, more about that later.

Bill Neidjie was one of the driving forces behind creating the Kakadu National Park in order to protect and manage his land for years to come making sure that indigenous Australians govern the national park. Big Bill has been awarded the Order of Australia for his services to conservation. Bill himself returned to live in Hawk Dreaming area in 1979 and is buried at Hawk Dreaming – and one of the caves in Hawk Dreaming has a drawing of Bill’s hand as a child. Jonathan Nadji, Bill’s son now lives in Hawk Dreaming and carries on Bill’s work of protecting the sacred land. Big Bill is also a legend for arranging and attending his own wake! You can read a bit more here on wikipedia and there’s a great article about him here including the wake story – but you should really let Bill tell it himself by buying his book!

Gagudju Man book cover Big Bill felt that something should be written down about the way aborigine used to live, the history should be documented for generations to come so the book Kakadu Man was born. It was re-issued last year as “Gagudju Man” and you can find it on bookshops in Australia or order it online here. It is incredibly fascinating to read Bill’s stories about growing up in Kakadu, aboriginal law, how the white man changed their life and the book also features gorgeous photos from Mark Lang – see the cover photo on the right. It is a fantastic book and must buy if you have the slightest interest in this or have visited Kakadu National Park!

Photographing Hawk Dreaming

I shot hundreds of shots during my short stay at Hawk Dreaming trying to take it all especially in the very short golden hour of the tropical Northern Territory. The sun light is unbelievably bright during the day and you only have a very short time of soft warm light and then it’s pitch black – so work fast! I feel I got some good shots at Hawk Dreaming but I could spend months here shooting, I definitely only scratched the surface during my 3 days there and hope to return and shoot some more.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Cannon Rock at Sunset
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming Savannah landscape
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

More shots from Hawk Dreaming in my Kakadu Gallery.

Epilogue

If you made it this far despite my feeble writing skills then I’m very impressed! Hopefully I was able to tell you this story and convey how special Hawk Dreaming is without boring you to tears or you falling asleep on the keyboard. There really is so much more to tell but this post is long enough already and I’m not a good enough writer to truly express how I feel about Hawk Dreaming anyway. I’ll end by saying that if you are in the Northern Territory then you really should go to Hawk Dreaming! It will stay with you forever!