Ubirr Rock, Northern Territory

We are leaving for five weeks in the Kimberley very soon. We fly into Darwin in the Northern Territory, pick up our 4WD camper, and drive across to Broome in Western Australia. We will follow the Gibb River road, an unsealed road, closed by floodwaters during the Wet. It should be open in late May, so we have three weeks to explore this fabulous country, before we take to the water with Onetide to explore the coastline. Studying the guides and maps reminds me of our last flight to Darwin, and the trip we took through Kakadu National Park in 2002. Looking through those old pics, taken with our first ever digital camera, I have found some of a famous tourist attraction to share with you.

panorama from Ubirr Rock

panorama from Ubirr Rock

This is the view from Ubirr Rock, a large rocky outcrop in Kakadu, which has provided shelter over many thousands of years for the indigenous people of Australia. Testimony to these people is the fabulous art gallery under the overhangs of the rock.

There are many stories attached to these rock art images. For example the Rainbow Serpent is a very important spiritual being for indigenous people all over Australia. Rainbow Serpents, or Rainbow Snakes, are powerful Creation Ancestors, and believed to be one of the oldest artistic symbols used in the world.
In Kakadu, Aboriginal people describe the Rainbow Serpent as the ‘boss lady’, all powerful, ever present and usually resting in quiet waterways unless disturbed. Common features of Rainbow Serpents in this area are that they are generally female, they are associated with water, they will eat anything except flying foxes, and they dislike loud noises. If irritated, they are capable of causing serious natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.
At Ubirr the Rainbow Serpent is known as Garranga’rreli (pronounced garr-rarn-gar-ree-lee). In her human form, she was called Birriwilk and travelled through this area with another woman looking for sweet lily roots. As she passed through Ubirr she painted her image on the rock to remind people of her presence. She rested in the forest at Manngarre, digging a hole in the cool sand. The heap of sand from the hole became a rock where a huge banyan tree now grows. Birriwilk stopped to rest in the East Alligator River: the round rocks in the middle of the River near Cahills Crossing mark the place where she rested. From here she crossed the River into Arnhem Land, where she remains in a quiet water hole. Her visit to Ubirr is part of a Creation pathway that links Ubirr with Manngarre, the East Alligator River, and other places in Arnhem Land.

Another story tells how Lightning Man (Namarrgon), is responsible for the violent electrical storms which occur on the Arnhem plateau. Namarrgon and his family came from the sea and traveled Australia for many years. He uses the stone axes that are mounted on his head, elbows and knees to split the dark clouds and strike the ground, creating lightning and thunder. In addition to his axes, he also has a band wrapped around his body. This band belongs to thunder and works side by side with the axes to shake the earth and the heaven.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing this famous cultural icon in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. It attracts about 250,000 visitors a year. Thanks to Jake for asking us to find  a tourist attraction to share!

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32 thoughts on “Ubirr Rock, Northern Territory

    • yes they are protected … even so i believe a lot of rock art is damaged by visitors trying to take home a souvenir (who are these crazy people?) … i really hope they survive in this century

  1. Thank you for the fascinating share of mythology. I hope you have a great trip and come home wth lots of stories to tell and photos. Will you be completely off line?

    • pretty much … there is internet at a few places up there so i will try to post when it is available … even just a few photos … we leave in a fortnight

  2. Very interesting about how earlier people looked at things in their archaic ways. We are still in the archaic era, I think! Why aren’t they being renewed?… Is it the economy?
    Awesome pics! 🙂

  3. What fascinating stories! Strange how the snake or serpent figures in so many ancient mythological stories! A perfect entry for the challenge Christine 🙂

    • yes, i guess the rainbow was a powerful symbol in the sky that spoke to early man even as it does to us … you can understand how it might have looked like a rainbow snake!

  4. How wonderful to have this opportunity to take so much time to just wander and soak up all that you’ll see. You have such an intuitive response to nature and the spirituality of a region, I know it will be an incredible time. Wonderful!

  5. Great images and I loved the stories behind the paintings – so good that they have been passed down through the generations long enough for them to be recorded for posterity. Such a sense of continuity 🙂

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