We spent our holidays with our daughter and her partner in the top-end: first in Darwin, then Katherine where our daughter works as a nurse specialist in an Aboriginal medical clinic called Wurli Wurlinjang, and then camping in and around the district including Kakadu. It is haunting country, lush and harsh. Lil, our daughter, reminded us that during the wet season being outside can be overwhelming, if not because of the heat, but also because the mosquitoes are just everywhere. We encountered enough to realise that if we were to return to this beautiful place not to come in the wet season. And of course, up here, it is crocodile country and we saw many! At one point we went to Cahill Crossing that borders Kakadu and Arnhem Land and at this river crossing we counted 10 crocs, and one huge male (over 4 metres people reckoned). It was so big and daunting that we saw a Barra jump three feet in the air to get over it such was its fright.
The Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr was a reminder of the rich history of connection the first peoples had to the land, some of the art works being listed as over 5,000 years old. One significant art work depicted the Rainbow Serpent and the mythical creation stories surrounding it, and it made me think of the ancient Biblical creation stories and how important they and these stories must have been to early communities in making sense of their origins. Across all cultures it seems true to say, where we come from is so important; it gives us a sense of identity. But what was equally fascinating was that the local clans tended to paint over original works, and in one area there was a rock depiction of a European man, with hands in his pockets, hat, and pipe. What would the artist be thinking and feeling as he or she painted this image?
Prior to all of this, however, and by far the most amazing thing that entranced me during our trip, was our boat cruise on Yellow River. This billabong and the flood plains surrounding it, is an incredible natural zoo hosting a huge variety of birds – kingfishers, eagles, jabirus, brolgas – and also hoofed animals like brumbies, wild boers and buffalo. We saw all of them at different times. But the main attraction was of course the crocodiles. As we finished our tour and headed back a buffalo appeared on the river bank where, unbeknown to it, a 3 metre croc lay in waiting. We watched and waited for the kill. It didn’t happen. (See back of bulletin) We had a deadline that the croc did not keep. But we were very aware that the croc is on the top of the predator chain, and the buffalo would be mauled to a slow and painful death.
And I guess I returned home with that picture vivid in my mind and thinking how precious yet precarious life is: how it can be full of beauty and wonder but also cruel; that, we can never really know what lies ahead on its banks as we forage in the reeds of our daily routines. In it all, perhaps, the secret to life and living well is finding balance, in learning to navigate it as best we can, and in keeping perspective. Life is just so rich and changeable and the call of faith, as this weeks readings inspire us to, is to keep steady and to maintain a deep compassion for all. For when life does get tough, then love can go deeper. That is our faith identity!