Stories from the gate


By Deb Sorensen

Kakadu National Park — We had been having trouble with the pump. After a couple of days of not working properly, the first public toilet block you get to when you enter Kakadu via the Northern Entry Station was open for business. The toilets were, however, a little worse for wear.

The one on the end was not flushing properly. I was just about to unroll a bit of toilet paper to test it again when I noticed the roll was oddly shaped. After getting a stick (a very handy implement around these parts) from outside, I poked at the roll. Out sidled four furry brown legs. My heart stopped. Attached to the legs was a funny brown body and four more furry brown legs.

As I flattened myself against the opposite wall, this huge furry brown spider, about the size of my outstretched hand, slid up the wall and over the top into the next cubicle.

With pounding heart and outstretched stick, I eased open the next door. The spider was clearly pissed off by this stage, and as soon as I raised my trusty stick, it leapt off the wall and straight at me.

Luckily, it landed at my feet, rather than on my person. Having gained a rather shaky advantage, I shepherded the spider out of the toilets and into the bush.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I went back to the renegade toilet. I noticed movement in the bowl. What now? A huge, lurid green frog with silvery glazed eyes, that's what. I could have used the stick, but in this situation an even better implement is a National Parks and Wildlife Service issue plastic toilet brush. The frog climbed cooperatively on board and was duly deposited in the bush also.

Although, on a world scale, humanity is fighting against the environment and to its detriment, for a little while there it seemed nature was about to

reclaim the toilet block at the northern entry of Kakadu National Park.

Life is teeming here. Despite some damage wrought by introduced species such as the water buffalo and the impact of Europeans, Kakadu remains a wilderness with a bounty of life.

Travelling to work at dawn and then home after dusk, the wildlife we encounter on the road is daily testament to that. Frozen in the headlights we have seen spotted owls, northern quolls and agile wallabies. On the edges of the road, dingoes are momentarily lit up by the headlights. Pythons as thick as a person's upper arm slither across the road; some of them span half the road in length.

Over the wetlands, the air is thick with insects and after three or four trips you can barely see through the windscreen. The insects also provide for teeming bird life on the flood plains.

Insects and spiders are the staple diet of the green tree frogs, which are also partial to the occasional dip in the odd toilet bowl. The scientific name for this frog, Litoria caerulea, actually means blue even though the frogs are unmistakably lurid green. The mistake was made by European scientists who named this species after having seen only pickled specimens.

Maybe the green tree frog I encountered was after the furry brown spider, or maybe its waterhole had dried up and it was seeking another one.

The latter explanation could well have been the case since the wet season is well and truly over and there has been no rain at all for several months.

Although only two seasons are commonly referred to up here — the wet from November to March, and the dry from May to September — Aboriginal people of the region recognise an annual cycle of at least six seasons. In the Gun-djeihmi (Mayali) language these are:

Gunumeleng (mid-October to late December). The pre-monsoon season. The weather is hot and becomes

increasingly humid. Thunderstorms build up, and the first rains bring a tinge of green to the parched earth.

Gudjeuk (January to March). The time of violent thunderstorms, heavy rain and flooding. Heat and humidity generate an explosion of life. Magpie geese nest.

Banggerreng (April) is when most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young. Water begins to recede, but there are still violent storms. This is also called "knock 'em down season".

Yekke (May to mid-June). Early morning mists hang over the plains and waterholes. Drying winds signal it is time to begin the controlled burning of the bush. When the woolly butt trees (Eucalyptus miniata) stop flowering, fires are generally no longer lit.

Wurrgeng (mid-June to late July) is "cold weather". Humidity is low, and daytime temperatures hover around 30°. Creeks stop flowing and water levels recede.

Gurreng (August to mid-October) is windless and hot. Magpie geese are still hunted, as are file snakes and long-necked turtles. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the sandy beach of Field Island. Thunderclouds begin to build again for the return of Gunumeleng.

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