Kakadu National Park Australia

Kakadu National Park Australia

The name Kakadu comes from the mispronunciation of ‘Gagadju’ which is the name of an Aboriginal language spoken in the northern part of the Park. Kakadu is ecologically and biologically diverse. The main natural features protected within the National Park include:

* four major river systems:
o the East Alligator River,
o the West Alligator River,
o the Wildman River; and
o the entire South Alligator River;
* six major landforms
o estuaries and tidal flats,
o floodplains,
o lowlands,
o the stone country,
o the outliers; and
o the southern hills and basins;

* a remarkable variety and concentration of wildlife;
o over 280 bird species
o roughly 60 mammal species
o over 50 freshwater species
o over 10 000 insects species
o over 1600 plant species.

Aboriginal people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40 000 years. Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites. There are more than 5000 recorded art sites illustrating Aboriginal culture over thousands of years. The archaeological sites demonstrate Aboriginal occupation for at least 20 000 and possibly up to 40 000 years.
Kakadu wetlands

Kakadu National Park AustraliaThe cultural and natural values of Kakadu National Park were recognised internationally when the Park was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is an international register of properties that are recognised as having outstanding cultural or natural values of international significance. Kakadu was listed in three stages: Stage 1 in 1981, Stage 2 in 1987, and the entire Park in 1992.

Approximately half of the land in Kakadu is aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and most of the remaining land is currently under claim by Aboriginal people. The areas of the Park that are owned by Aboriginal people are leased by the traditional owners to the Director of National Parks to be managed as a national park. The remaining area is Commonwealth land vested under the Director of National Parks. All of Kakadu is declared a national park under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Aboriginal traditional owners of the Park are descendants of various clan groups from the Kakadu area and have longstanding affiliations with this country. Their lifestyle has changed in recent years, but their traditional customs and beliefs remain very important. About 500 Aboriginal people live in the Park; many of them are traditional owners. All of Kakadu is jointly managed by Aboriginal traditional owners and the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Water Resources through a division known as Parks Australia. Park Management is directed by the Kakadu Board of Management.


Kakadu Escarpment

Kakadu was established at a time when the Australian community was becoming more interested in the declaration of national parks for conservation and in recognising the land interests of Aboriginal people. A national park in the Alligator River region was proposed as early as 1965, but took until 1978 for the Australian Government to make arrangements to acquire the titles over various tracts of land that now constitute Kakadu National Park.

Kakadu National Park was declared under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 (NPWC Act) in three stages between 1979 and 1991. The NPWC Act was replaced by the EPBC Act in 2000. The declaration of the Park continues under the EPBC Act. Each stage of the Park includes Aboriginal land under the Land Rights Act that is leased to the Director of National Parks or land that is subject to a claim to traditional ownership under the Land Rights Act. Most of the land that was to become part of Stage One of Kakadu was granted to the Kakadu Aboriginal land Trust under the Land Rights Act in August 1978 and, in November 1978, the Land Trust and the Director signed a lease for the land to be managed as a national park. Stage One of the Park was declared on 5 April 1979.
Nourlangie Rock

Stage Two was declared on 28 February 1984. In March 1978, a claim was lodged under the Land Rights Act for the land included in Stage Two of Kakadu. The land claim was partly successful and, in 1986, three areas in the eastern part of Stage Two were granted to the Jabiluka Aboriginal Land Trust. A lease between the Land Trust and the Director of National parks was signed in March 1991.

In 1987, a land claim was lodged for the land in the former Goodparla and Gimbat pastoral that that were to be included in Stage Three of Kakadu. The other area to be included in Stage Three – the area known as the Gimbat Resumption and the Waterfall Creek Reserve were later added to this land claim. The progressive declaration was due to the debate over whether mining should be allowed at Guratba (Coronation Hill) which is located in the middle of the area referred to as Sickness Country. The traditional owners’ wishes were ultimately respected and the Australian National Government decided that there would be no mining at Guratba.

In 1996, the land in Stage Three, apart from the former Goodparla pastoral leases, was granted to the Gunlom Aboriginal Land Trust and leased to the Director of National Parks to continue being managed as part of Kakadu.

The arrival of non Aboriginal people


The Chinese, Malays and Portuguese all claim to have been the first non-Aboriginal explorers of Australia’s north coast. The first surviving written account comes from the Dutch. In 1623 Jan Carstenz made his way west across the Gulf of Carpentaria to what is believed to be Groote Eylandt. Abel Tasman is the next documented explorer to visit this part of the coast in 1644. He was the first person to record European contact with Aboriginal people. Almost a century later Matthew Flinders surveyed the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1802 and 1803.
The Ubirr Aboriginal Rock Art site

Phillip Parker King, an English navigator entered the Gulf of Carpentaria between 1818 and 1822. During this time he named the three Alligator Rivers after the large numbers of crocodiles, which he mistook for alligators.

Ludwig Leichhardt was the first land-based European explorer to visit the Kakadu region, in 1845 on his route from Moreton Bay in Queensland to Port Essington in the Northern Territory. He followed Jim Jim Creek down from the Arnhem Land escarpment, then went down the South Alligator before crossing to the East Alligator and proceeding north. A more plausible, if prosaic, explanation for the origin of the name of the park is that Leichardt applied the colloquial German term for a cockatoo, although this is unlikely to sit well with the indigenous historians.
Rock art painting at Ubirr

In 1862 John McDouall Stuart travelled along the south-western boundary of Kakadu but did not see any people.

The first non-Aboriginal people to visit and have sustained contact with Aboriginal people in northern Australia were the Macassans from Sulawesi and other parts of the Indonesian archipelago. They travelled to northern Australia every wet season, probably from the last quarter of the seventeenth century, in sailing boats called praus. Their main aim was to harvest trepang (sea cucumber), turtle shell, pearls and other prized items to trade in their homeland. Aboriginal people were involved in harvesting and processing the trepang, and in collecting and exchanging the other goods.

There is no evidence that the Macassans spent time on the coast of Kakadu but there is evidence of some contact between Macassan culture and Aboriginal people of the Kakadu area. Among the artefacts from archaeological digs in the Park are glass and metal fragments that probably came from the Macassans, either directly or through trade with the Coburg Peninsula people.

The British attempted a number of settlements on the northern Australian coast in the early part of the nineteenth century: Fort Dundas on Melville Island in 1824; Fort Wellington at Raffles Bay in 1829; and Victoria Settlement (Port Essington) on the Coburg Peninsula in 1838. They were anxious to secure the north of Australia before the French or Dutch, who had colonised islands further north. The British settlements were all subsequently abandoned for a variety of reasons, such as lack of water and fresh food, sickness and isolation. It is difficult to assess the impact of these settlements on the local Aboriginal people and the type of relationship that developed between them and the British. Certainly, some Aboriginal labour was used at the settlements. Exposure to new sickness was an ever-present danger. As in other parts of Australia, disease and the disruption it caused to society devastated the local Aboriginal population.

Buffalo hunters

Water buffalo in the wetlands
Water Buffalo had a big influence on the Kakadu region as well. By the 1880s the number of buffaloes released from early settlements had increased to such an extent that commercial harvesting of hides and horns was economically viable.

The industry began on the Adelaide River, close to Darwin, and moved east to the Mary River and Alligator Rivers regions.

Most of the buffalo hunting and skin curing was done in the dry season, between June and September, when buffaloes congregated around the remaining billabongs.

During the wet season hunting ceased because the ground was too muddy to pursue buffalo and the harvested hides would rot. The buffalo-hunting industry became an important employer of Aboriginal people during the dry-season months.


Missionaries also had a big influence on the Aboriginal people of the Alligator Rivers region, many of whom lived and were schooled at missions in their youth. Two missions were set up in the region in the early part of the century. Kapalga Native Industrial Mission was established near the South Alligator River in 1899, but lasted only four years. The Oenpelli Mission began in 1925, when the Church of England Missionary Society accepted an offer from the Northern Territory Administration to take over the area, which had been operated as a dairy farm. The Oenpelli Mission operated for 50 years.

The extent to which missions have influenced Aboriginal society is the subject of debate. Some writers and anthropologists argue that missionaries, in seeking to ‘civilise and institutionalise’ Aboriginal people, forced them to abandon their lifestyle, language, religion and ceremonies—indeed, the whole fabric of their lives. Others argue that, although criticism can be levelled at the methods used to achieve their goal, the missionaries did care about the welfare of Aboriginal people at a time when wider Australian society did not.
Salt water crocodile in Kakadu.
[edit] Pastoralists

The pastoral industry made a cautious start in the Top End. Pastoral leases in the Kakadu area were progressively abandoned from 1889, because the Victoria River and the Barkly Tablelands proved to be better pastoral regions.

In southern Kakadu much of Goodparla and Gimbat was claimed in the mid-1870s by three pastoralists, Roderick, Travers and Sergison. The leases were subsequently passed on to a series of owners, all of whom were unable for one reason or another to make a go of it. In 1987 both stations were acquired by the Commonwealth and incorporated in Kakadu National Park.

A sawmill at Nourlangie Camp was begun by Chinese operators, probably before World War I, to mill stands of cypress pine in the area. After World War II a number of small-scale ventures, including dingo shooting and trapping, brumby shooting, crocodile shooting, tourism and forestry, began.

Nourlangie Camp was again the site of a sawmill in the 1950s, until the local stands of cypress pine were exhausted. In 1958 it was converted into a safari camp for tourists. Soon after, a similar camp was started at Patonga and at Muirella Park. Clients were flown in for recreational buffalo and crocodile hunting and fishing.

Crocodile hunters often made use of the bush skills of Aboriginal people. By imitating a wallaby’s tail hitting the ground, Aboriginal hunters could attract crocodiles, making it easier to shoot the animals. Using paperbark rafts, they would track the movement of a wounded crocodile and retrieve the carcass for skinning. The skins were then sold to make leather goods. Aboriginal people became less involved in commercial hunting of crocodiles once the technique of spotlight shooting at night developed. Freshwater Crocodiles have been protected by law since 1964 and Saltwater Crocodiles since 1971.


Main article: Uranium mining in Kakadu National Park
The Ranger Uranium Mine.

The first mineral discoveries in the Top End were associated with the construction of the Overland Telegraph line between 1870 and 1872, in the Pine Creek – Adelaide River area. A series of short mining booms followed.

The construction of the North Australia Railway line gave more permanency to the mining camps, and places such as Burrundie and Pine Creek became permanent settlements. The mining camps and new settlements drew many Aboriginal people away from Kakadu. No Aboriginal people are known to have worked in the mines but their exposure to alcohol and other drugs had a huge impact.

Small-scale gold mining began at Imarlkba, near Barramundi Creek, and Mundogie Hill in the 1920s and at Moline (previously called Eureka and Northern Hercules mine), south of the Park, in the 1930s. The mines employed a few local Aboriginal people.

In 1953 uranium was discovered along the headwaters of the South Alligator River valley. Thirteen small but rich uranium mines operated in the following decade, at their peak in 1957 employing over 150 workers. No Aboriginal people were employed at any of these mines.

Early in the 1970s large uranium deposits were discovered at Ranger, Jabiluka and Koongarra. Following receipt of a formal proposal to develop the Ranger site, the Commonwealth Government initiated an inquiry into land use in the Alligator Rivers region. The Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (known as the Fox inquiry) recommended, among other things, that mining begin at the Ranger site, that consideration be given to the future development of the Jabiluka and Koongarra sites, and that a service town be built (Fox et al. 1976, 1977). The Ranger mine and the service town (Jabiru) have had many and considerable impacts on Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people express varying opinions about mining.


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