The camp at Mt. Borradaile stands on the traditional land of the Bunidj people. It is Stone Country. We flew in over Cooper Creek and were met by Jade and Clint in a clapped out bus and a Jeep. The departing Outback Spirit group ahead of us warned about mosquitoes!
Charlie Mangulda is the traditional owner of Mt Borradaile. Charlie’s close friendship with Max Davidson, a buffalo hunter resulted in Davidson’s Safari Camp. It was Max who understood the significance of protecting the sacred sites which Charlie had shown him. Max has now passed on but Charlie has continued to allow his family to run the Safari Camp. Our first expedition was to one of the sacred sites.
We were dreamily wending our way up a narrow section surrounded by Kentia palms when we heard great shouting and yelling up ahead. The guide ahead of us had confronted a wild buffalo who eventually sloped off into the bush. Even Clint was a little unnerved, imagining the buffalo charging down our narrow gorge, impaling unsuspecting tourists. The afternoon highlight was the revelation of Aburga, the huge Rainbow Serpent painted into the ceiling of a rocky overhang. We were privileged to observe what would normally be considered a secret men’s site.
Next morning, we set off to the old Buffalo Camp to view more rock art. In a huge cavernous underhang, among flitting bats, Jade pointed out a burial site, the paperbark still wrapped around the bones high up in a crevice. No photos here and the group fell silent as we realised how privileged we were to observe what would be forbidden in times past. Jade showed us artifacts such as a punishment spear, with jagged barbs.
We moved on to the Brolga Camp. The art here is considered women’s business. There is a huge painting of a woman lying with legs open and vulva displayed. Overlaid are stick figures of other women, some possibly giving birth. Typically sexual organs are overemphasised in paintings of women and men. Above the woman are hand prints and grass markings.
While these are recent, grass markings are considered the earliest form of art and possibly date back to 55,000 years ago. Most of the art we observed is considered to be over 3000 years old. On our return to base camp we stopped by the duck pond.
In the late afternoon we travelled up another waterway to Mt Borradaile, passing poisonous swamp mangroves and herons, egrets and darters.
Clambering out at the base of Mt Borradaile, our first stop was the Mangulda gallery showing ‘sex, sex, sex’ as one woman elder reportedly told our guides. The highlight here was the famous Two Sisters – a sacred secret story perhaps a creation story. One of the sisters has her arm severed at the elbow, on the right.
We headed up to more recent art of ships, coloured with Reckitts Blue, rifles, a pistol and gloved hands. These paintings are less than 300 years old and show the influence of Westerners, On our return, we frightened a Nabarlek, a tiny nocturnal rock wallaby with a bushy tail.
Our return to camp included watching the sun set over the billabong while we floated home nibbling cheese and crackers with a glass of wine!
Our last morning began with a visit to view archeologically important Maliwawa figures. It is thought these figures showing human and animal interactions are as old as 6000 to 9000 years old. Other paintings included animals with intricate hatching perhaps demonstrating dissection methods. Jade showed us a message stick used to communicate between distant clans.
It was a hot morning so on our return by the creek we stopped to paddle our feet. This didn’t stop some skinny dipping in the crystal clear water.
Our visit to Mt Borradaile had humbled and filled us with awe at the treasures of the ancient Indigenous culture of Arnhem Land. We were so grateful to be shown these by such a knowledgeable and patient guide as Jade.