Aboriginal presence is strong in the Northern Territory and Arnhem Land is the biggest Aboriginal freehold area in Australia. It covers almost all the eastern half of the Top End. Arnhem Land is a vast and remote region with spectacular escarpments, rock art, flood plains, animal life, beaches, mangrove wetlands and plant life.
Most of Arnhem Land is closed to the independent traveller and access is by limited permit only to Oenpelli, Gurig National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula and the Gove Peninsula township of Nhulunbuy.
Oenpelli is a Aboriginal community town in Arnhem Land and is about 70 kms from Jabiru. East Arnhem Land is famous for its bark paintings and Oenpelli has its own community Cultural Centre where you can see these artworks. If you buy here, you are assured of getting the genuine article and all proceeds from sales return directly to the community.
Nhulunbuy is on the north-eastern tip of Gove peninsula and is surrounded by white sandy beaches and stunning blue ocean. Aboriginal arts and crafts can be seen in the cultural centre in the township and at nearby Yirrkala. Originally Nhulunbuy was a service town for the bauxite mining industry, but it is now an administrative centre for the area. In 1963, the people of Yirrkala made a major step for the land rights movement, when they protested against mining on their traditional land. While mining didn't stop the protest did win them compensation. It also paved the way for greater self-management of traditional Aboriginal lands.
The Cobourg Peninsula is remote wilderness and includes Cobourg Marine Park and Gurig National Park. Marine life includes dugong, sea turtles, crocodiles and dolphins. These animals are protected and can only be hunted by Aboriginal people using traditional hunting methods.
To Cobourg Peninsula's north is Port Essington, a beautiful natural harbour that has the remains of an old British settlement at Victoria. There is also evidence of early Aboriginal occupation and the influence of Macassan trepangers in the area. Seven Spirit Bay is a particularly beautiful loation.
Groote Eylandt is a large island off the coast with a manganese mining operation and is part of the Arnhem Land region. Although it bears a Dutch name meaning "great island", it was visited for thousands of years beforehand by Indonesian fishermen, who caught trepang and traded with the indigenous inhabitants there.
A permit is required for road travel in Arnhem Land and can take up to two weeks to finalise. It can be organised at the Northern Land Council offices in Darwin or Jabiru. Many visitors prefer to see Arnhem Land through an organised tour operation.
Image: Cape Arnhem - Australia's Outback Northern Territory
Attractions in Arnhem Land:
- Fishing - choose a dinghy or charter a boat for legendary fishing, birdwatching or crocodile spotting expeditions with indigenous guides
- Nambara Arts and Crafts Centre - Aboriginal owned carvings, paintings, weaving, necklaces and ceramics. Open Monday to Friday 8.30am - 4.30pm and Saturday 9am -noon.
- Buku-Larrngay Arts Museum - a museum of Aboriginal arts and artefacts. Open Monday to Friday 8am - 4.30pm, and Saturday 8am - noon.
- Dhamitjinya (East Woody Island) and Galaru (East Woody Beach) - for insight into Aboriginal lifestyle and culture - crabbing, fishing, flora and sightseeing.
- Injaluk Arts & Crafts Centre - screen-printed fabrics, woven baskets, traditional bark paintings and more. Open 9 - 5 daily.
- Gurig National Park - fishing for a large variety of catch including Barracuda, Queenfish, Trevally, Barramundi, Mangrove Jack, Golden Snapper, Jewfish, Red Emperor, Coral Trout, Cod, Stripey, shellfish, squid and mud crabs
- Tours - Port Essington and Victoria Settlement, wetland huts for birdwatching
Northern Land Council Address website
PO Box 42921
9 Rowling Street
Casuarina NT 0811
Phone: (08) 8920 5178
Fax: (08) 8945 2633