Archive for the ‘Meet the Locals’ Category

Aboriginal Guide Thommo Nganjmirra

I promised to dedicate a whole blog post to fabulous Bininj artist Thompson Nganjmirra.
Admittedly, that was over a year ago… Mea culpa!

Thommo is a Kunwinjku speaker from West Arnhemland. His home, the Djalama clan country, is in the Goomadeer River region, in the stone country west of Maningrida. Thommo can look back on a long artistic tradition in his family, all members of the Nganjmirra family are outstanding painters and artists.

His paintings tell about his connection with his country, like the story of Likanaya and Marrayka, the two ladies who became Yawk Yawk (freshwater mermaids).

Yawk Yawk

Yawk Yawk

You can find Thommo’s art at Injalak Arts in Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) as well as in Darwin, where Leslie Nawirridj, another senior member of the Kunwinjku family of artists, has added some of Thommo’s work to the portfolio of Kunwinjku Aboriginal Art.

Meet Leslie at the Parap Markets on Saturdays or at Stokes Hill Wharf on Wednesday evenings while you’re in Darwin!

Thommo at Twin Falls

Thommo at Twin Falls

For a few years Thommo has been sharing his time between his Bininj family in Gunbalaya and his Balanda family (us) here in Jabiru, where miraculously he finds the peace and quiet to paint (as our place isn’t necessarily one of calm and tranquillity when we prepare for the next tour).

Curious why people from all over the world come to Kakadu to visit Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls he went along on a tour with Steve a little while ago. Since he liked what he saw he now joins our tours a couple of times a week, teaching us Balanda (non-indigenous people) a thing or two about bush tucker, bush medicine and the Bininj way of looking after country.

In the afternoon, while some of our passengers brave the cold water and enjoy a swim at Jim Jim Falls, he usually gets out a canvas and starts painting, happy to share his stories with those who are intrigued by the intricate details and fine crosshatching that make his art so recognisable.

NAIDOC Week Celebrations at Bowali Visitor Centre

Celebrating NAIDOC Week at Bowali Visitor Centre
Image courtesy Kakadu National Park

Thommo is a man of many talents and an equal number of commitments!
Last weekend, for example, he treated visitors to Kakadu National Park to a painting demonstration and workshop at Bowali Visitor Centre as part of the NAIDOC week festivities.

If you’d like to meet Thommo on one of our tours, please contact us prior to booking to check his availability. We look forward to hearing from you soon!



Kakadu’s Estuarine Crocodiles

Many moons ago I blogged on crocodile management in Kakadu National Park and I also gave a brief description of the two different species of crocodiles native to the Top End.

Back then I closed with the words “A lot more is to be said about Kakadu’s crocs, so watch this space!” Many thanks to those who persevered and kept watching, you well and truly deserve to find out more about Crocodylus porosus, the Estuarine (Saltwater) Crocodile.
So, let’s meet these locals – from a safe distance!

Estuarine Crocodile

Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

Now, every time an incident (like this one) occurs that involves the world’s largest reptile – and Australia’s largest estuarine and freshwater predator respectively – there are calls for the culling of ”salties”. And the quarrels erupting in the wake of an incident make me cringe every time! If people stopped doing silly stuff, putting their own lives and that of others at risk and made an effort to understand this species in its natural habitat a bit better, we could move away from the croc cull debate and just pay these animals the respect they deserve.

Many of those who are in favour of croc culling remember the “olden days” in the Top End, when crocodiles were on the brink of extinction as they had been hunted extensively for their skins – and for fun. Back then swimming was considered safe in places like Twin Falls Gorge. Steve even remembers jumping off the Mary River Bridge on the Arnhem Highway and swimming in Yellow Water Billabong as a teenager! Those were the days when the few surviving crocs generally shied away from people – their only predators.

At the top of the food chain crocodiles play a key role in maintaining a natural balance in our wetlands and river systems, they have done so for many thousands of years. Crocodiles are important predators and help control the population of species such as wallabies, fish, waterbirds as well as feral pests like pigs.

But back in the 1960s and 70s, as a result of human intervention, the balances in the wetland ecosystems were thoroughly out of whack. The introduction of buffaloes and pigs some 120 years earlier and decades of extensive crocodile hunting had disastrous effects on the Top End’s wetland habitats.

“Saltie” in Freshwater Billabong

Since 1971, when estuarine crocodiles were awarded full protection under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, their numbers have increased to what ecologists and park rangers call a healthy level – back to normal! Populations are now levelling out in most rivers in Kakadu National Park, with exception of the East Alligator River in which the number of estuarine crocodiles is still increasing. Garry Lindner, Field Supervisor, Crocodile Management and Coastal Surveillance Officer with Kakadu National Park, reckons there may be as many as 10.000 estuarine crocodiles in Kakadu these days.

Kakadu surely is crocodile country – just about any body of water near sea level may be the natural habitat of a “saltwater” crocodile!
Bininj/Mungguy are familiar with the crocodiles on their land and know not to be complacent. They have a lot of respect for “Ginga” and many of their stories remind us to always be on the lookout for cheeky crocs.

Painting by Thommo Nganjmirra

Painting by Thommo Nganjmirra

The best way to safely observe crocodiles is by joining one of the commercial boat cruises. Generally, the late dry season is the best time of the year to see crocodiles in large numbers, when the floodplains dry up and the billabongs shrink.

Another good spot to see crocodiles is the viewing platform at Cahills Crossing. But please observe all warning signs and do not enter the water. Do not become a croc’s dinner!

Cahills Crossing - Spot the Croc!

Cahills Crossing – Spot the Croc!

Estuarine crocodiles are amazing creatures, it’s worth having a closer look at some of their features:

  • Crocodylus porosus is a large amphibious and carnivorous reptile inhabiting tropical and subtropical freshwater rivers, coastal and open seas, tidal rivers and billabongs from the Kimberley to the central east coast of Australia – and may be found as far as 300km inland.
  • They feed mostly on fish, but may take turtles, birds and large land animals (wallabies, dogs, pigs, horses, cattle, buffalo) as well.
  • The saltie shows a distinct sexual dimorphism, meaning the males grow larger and often at a faster rate than females. An average size male reaches 5m, larger specimen may grow over 6m long, weighing over 1,000kg.


  • The snout is broad and rounded. The teeth of crocodiles are set in an irregular row and more conspicuous than those of alligators when the mouth is closed. Teeth are replaced continuously with new ones growing from below in the same socket. In older animals this process slows down until it eventually stops.
  • A palatal flap closes the entrance to the throat to prevent drowning. When feeding in the water, they have to keep their head above the water which is achieved by lifting the tail out of the water to counterbalance.
  • A saltie’s nostrils are prominent on the tip of the snout. Stalking crocodiles are very inconspicuous when drifting only their noses, eyes and the distinct cranial platform behind the eyes may be visible above the water.


  • The croc’s skin is covered with scales, or scutes. Many of these scutes, particularly the ones on the back, are reinforced with so-called osteoderms, bony plates that are vascularised (supplied with blood via small capillaries) and act as heat absorbers or radiators, to help control the body temperature.
  • Salties are excellent swimmers, under water or at the surface. When chasing prey or fleeing from other individuals (during territorial fights in the breeding season), they can plane along the water surface at high speed by help of their thrashing tail. Crocs also use their muscular tail to propel the body out of the water to lunge at prey in a surprise attack, which these ‘sit-and-wait’ predators are feared for.
  • Estuarine crocodiles have a complex social hierarchy. Large males are dominant and territorial (aggressively defending their territory against other male invaders) and are thought to mate with most of the females in their territory.
  • Crocodylus porosus breeds in the wet season. After courtship at the end of the dry season (from September onwards the crocs become more aggressive and activity levels increase with the higher ambient temperatures), mount nests made of tall grasses and other compostable materials are built at the onset of the wet season. The breeding season ends around March, depending on weather conditions. The female lays on average between 45 and 55 eggs and at normal field temperatures incubation takes about 80 to 90 days.
  • The sex of crocodile hatchlings is determined by the temperature in the nest, rather than genetically. As a guide, crocodile eggs incubated at temperatures below 31˚C produce females and a mixture of sexes is produced between 31˚C and 32˚C. Embryos incubated between 32˚C and 33˚C hatch as males.
  • Females aggressively guard the nest, with varying success, from predators such as goannas or snakes. When the hatchlings are ready to emerge from the nest, they call with a characteristic and a rather hard to describe rasping “tshirp”. The mother so encouraged digs up the nest and collects the emerging hatchlings in her snout. She may undertake several trips until she’s helped the entire clutch to the water.
  • Even if the nest escapes wet season flooding, only a small percentage of hatchlings reach maturity (only about 1% of the hatchlings make it to a length of 2m). Many small crocodiles fall prey to fish, birds, goannas, snakes – and other crocodiles.
    The ones that do reach maturity and even become dominant “boss crocs” may live up to 70 years or longer.

Be Crocwise!

Read on here if you want to find out more:

Gordon Grigg & Carl Gans: 40. Morphology & Physiology of the Crocodylia. Fauna of Australia:

Kakadu National Park, Park Note, Crocodiles:

NRETAS, Be CROCWISE, Living with Crocodiles:

If you’re thinking about putting a boat in the water you definitely need to check out the following link as well:

Kakadu National Parl, Park Note, Fishing & Boating:


Gunumeleng — The Wet Season is Here!

It’s November and the wet season is upon us once again.

Gunumeleng, the build-up season with its high temperatures and rising humidity,  spectacular displays of lightning and distant, rumbling thunder, tropical downpours and sprouting green has started right on time — and put a stop to our day tours to Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls.

Monday, 07 November 2011 was the last date of operation for this tour.
Park rangers have since locked the gate at the Jim Jim Road turn-off.

Crocodile traps have been removed, boats and infrastructure have been taken out of the water over at Twin Falls as well.  That’s it for another year, I guess…

During the wet season you can still see these spectacular places from the air. A number of operators offer scenic flights (by helicopter or in a fixed-wing aircraft) from Jabiru Airport.

You won’t see these little critters from the air.
The Rockhole frogs really are tiny! But they definitely will be there next year, when we return to the gorges of Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls after completion of the annual mandatory crocodile surevys in the early dry season.

Rockhole Frog

Rockhole Frog (Litoria meiriana)

Steve and I would like to take the opportunity to thank everybody who has come on a trip with us these last few months.
We have met some awesome folks again this year, interesting people from all walks of life with a lot of good yarns to tell. Hope you enjoyed your day out there as much as we did!

We will still be available for our Kakadu Private Charters between now and April 2012. But for now I say


Fishy Facts: Barramundi

Enjoying the dry season, visiting Kakadu National Park’s beautiful sites with a great bunch of people, it has been quite a while since I last found the time to write on this blog, not for want of topics…

I just added a new category to this blog which I named “Meet the Locals” as I think it’s time I introduced you to some of our amazing critters.

First up is a true Top End icon, the Barramundi (Lates calcarifer)!

There are a lot of keen fishermen (and women) out there, locals as well as visitors from interstate and overseas, who know how to catch our famous Barra – but there are quite a few interesting facts about this species that are little known. I actually spent the morning trying to find the answers to a few questions that came up on tour the other day.

Our group had just embarked on the boat trip down Twin Falls Creek after morning tea on the beach. The water was clear and calm, we could see quite a few decent sized Barramundi in the creek and the question was raised whether all Barramundi would migrate into saltwater sometime during their lives.

Mmmmh…I wasn’t sure.
I thought I knew our local Barramundi were migrating during the wet season – but not all of them…
I knew they were all born male, eventually undergoing a sex change – but what exactly happens?

I definitely had to do some homework and find out about the biology and life cycle of the Barramundi:

  • Barramundi can live in both fresh and salt water. They are euryhaline (I learnt a new word today). Lates calcarifer can be found in coastal, estuarine and fresh waters of the Indo-Pacific region.
  • In the wild Barramundi reach sexual maturity usually between 3 and 4 years of age. Yes, they initially mature as males and go through one or more spawning seasons before they eventually undergo a sexual inversion – this is called protandry (actually, I learnt two new words today!).
  • By the following breeding season these fish will have become proper females, able to release many millions of eggs (the highest reported number is 40 million, no idea how long it took these poor researchers to count them…).
  • As a rule of thumb, Barramundi less than 80cm in length are males and those exceeding 100cm are females.
  • Barramundi breed during the wet season. The breeding season starts around late August, when the temperature in the Top End waterways is on the rise again and the large spring tides return.
  • There does not appear to be a definite long range migration. Fish already in the river mouths and estuaries congregate locally for spawning.
  • Other fish may arrive in the estuaries a little later, namely maturing male Barramundi, when the rain of the monsoon season causes the creeks and rivers to flood and allows the fish to travel downstream from places like Twin Falls Gorge – and there’s a good reason for making this long journey, keep reading!
  • Barramundi eggs and larvae will only survive in salt water!
    That’s why all breeding takes place in river mouths where the high tides wash the eggs and larvae into the mangrove swamps and floodplains.
  • Spawning seems to be related to the lunar circle, taking place at night around the slack tide, that short period in time when the flow of the water stops as the direction of the tidal current reverses.
  • The breeding season is usually completed by late February or early March.
  • The eggs are capable of being fertilised for a few minutes only, before they “water harden”. Fertilised eggs will then drift in the current for 12-15 hours until the larvae hatch.
  • For the first 2 days or so the larvae will live on their yolk sac then move on to feeding on plankton which is plentiful in the mangrove swamps and floodplains.
  • The juveniles feed ferociously (and are even cannibalistic) and grow fast.
  • Towards the end of the wet season, the juveniles move from the floodplains into the rivers, many of them ready to migrate upstream, where they will spend the next 3 or 4 years as immature Barramundi boys.

It’s a Boy!

Check out these links if you want to find out more:

The Department of Resources – Fisheries’ website has a lot of interesting information on Barramundi and other fishy locals:

All your Barra-questions answered:

The diagram on the life cycle of Barramundi in this Fishnote is particularly helpful:


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