Kakadu National Park Local Custom Tips by tiabunna Top 5 Page for this destination
Kakadu National Park Local Customs: 7 reviews and 11 photos
Our 'family' in VT2!
I can't claim to be expert on Aboriginal society. Relatively few 'whitefellers' can make that claim. Fortunately Zig (VT 1+1), our tour leader and organiser, has spent many years with the Aboriginals of the Kakadu area and tried to give us some concepts of the Aboriginal kinship traditions going back many thousands of years – and about as different from materialistic modern western society as would be possible. It was soon obvious that a complete understanding would take years to acquire, and also that Aboriginal cultural traditions were ideally adapted to a society living in a sometimes demanding environment. The following is my poor summarised interpretation of an utterly different perception of the world – and I thank Zig for helping me to refine it this far. If you have a serious interest, please do not treat this as a reference – go to an authoritative source!
In Aboriginal culture, everything in the universe is inter-related in some way – from the “Dreamtime” ancestral beings, to everything around and to the community. The universe (ie everything) is divided into two halves, ('moieties' if you're an anthropologist). Then, to complicate matters, people also fit into subsections within each moiety. NB that the details of all this vary in different Aboriginal societies across Australia. In the Kakadu area, there are 4 subsections per moiety, ie a total of 8, and these define “skin names”, each of which can be male or female. When you are born in Aboriginal society, quite apart from your biological family connections, you are 'related' in a metaphysical sense by your skin name to everyone else! These skin names are determined by a set formula, rather than by the choice of your biological parents.
Skin names define how people must relate to each other, so you can meet a total stranger and know through skin names that you are expected to relate to them in a certain way. If the skin names determine that the person is your 'brother', you relate as brothers. Unless you are female, in which case you are not allowed to associate with him! So the the kinship rules also set the relationship taboos of society and determine who you may marry – traditionally, a “wrong-way” marriage meant a death sentence! The kinship rules also create obligations to assist your 'skin relatives', so Aboriginal society is about sharing whatever you have, such as (traditionally) a freshly killed kangaroo.
To help us gain an appreciation, Zig spent quite a while working out skin names for our group, a fairly complex process as he had to ensure the names would not breach cultural taboos: eg, married couples had to have names which allowed them to marry. Within our 4WD, my name was Na-kamerrang, which meant I was able to be married to Pauline. VTer adelaidean turned out to be our daughter! VTer rosie235 is our niece and both of them could mix with VTer feelingfabulous. Unfortunately Fab became Pauline's brother, so she was not supposed even to talk to him. We solved that by making him sit in the back of the 4WD! LOL
Later, when we went on the Animal Tracks Safari tour, our guide Patsy (her 'whitefeller' name) turned out to be my “mother” through the kinship system, though she is half my age. The system has a way around that kind of situation: it refers to her as my 'little mother'. But she still has 'mum' status, and I would be expected to relate to her in that manner.
It's a fascinating system and it has worked, in Aboriginal society, for thousands of years.
Lighting the fire by twirling a fire stick
Photo 1 Lighting the fire by twirling a fire stick
Photo 2 Fish, cooked to perfection
Photo 3 Damper (bush bread, something like scones)
Photo 4 Watching the chefs
Photo 5 Who would prefer to be inside a restaurant?
“Bush tucker” for those unaccustomed to Australian terminology, is the traditional diet of Aboriginal people, derived from all manner of local plants and animals depending on what is in season. It seems a little incongruous to categorise a meal in the open as a “Restaurant Tip”! So I guess this is a “restaurant tip” without a restaurant! We had this eating experience on the Animal Tracks Safari tour and I’m glad to say it was a great meal and experience to top all but a very few restaurants. Unless you’re looking for waiters!
After a fascinating afternoon with Animal Tracks, the main event was the evening meal. First though, we had to light the fire with a fire stick – none of this nonsense with matches. Lessons were free.
Patsy had some fresh barramundi (generally considered about the best-eating fish in Australia) which she steamed in stones under the ashes with leaves a-la-Aboriginal. While she was doing that, Rachel put together some excellent damper which was cooked directly in the ashes: the ash just dusted off when it was cooked.
The witchetty grub (we had only enough for a taste) was not unpleasant, with a slight nutty taste; the lily stems were vaguely like less-flavoursome celery; some buffalo which also was roasted was generally considered tough and with a very ‘gamey’ flavour; but the barramundi was the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere and cooked to perfection, while the fresh damper was a perfect accompaniment. Throw in some of the ‘bush carrots’ we’d collected, wash it all down with tea and coffee from a billy, and you wouldn’t eat better.
To cap it off there was a superb sunset – again, who needs to be locked inside a stuffy restaurant!
Fire burning alongside road
Visitors to northern Australia, arriving during the “Dry” season, tend to be suitably amazed and concerned that seemingly endless bushfires cover the countryside. Rain is rare during this period, humidity low, and nights cooler. Relax, the fires you see are deliberately lit by land managers, often with incendiary lights dropped from the air.
The reason for this extensive “burn-off” is to clear away the old long grass before it dries out totally and then provides fuel for much worse wild fires. It also establishes clear ground for new pasture to grow in the next wet season.
On our travels we saw many fires and drove through several. Because they burn at low intensity there was no risk, just flames alongside the road and billowing clouds of smoke. They do make an interesting tale though!
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