We arrived at the Katherine Gorge (or NITMILUK to use it's traditional
name)just after midday, enjoyed a Cappuccino then headed down for the
Our guide - Russell - was a 25 year old aboriginal man, a member of
the Jawoyn (Jarwin) tribe, the traditional owners of the land. He was
exceptional, lucid, well informed and self deprecating.
We had booked the three gorge tour. Just after we left he announced
we had to head back to pick up some extra passengers. Reading between
the lines only four people booked on the two gorge tour and they
offered them a free upgrade to the three gorge.
As he brought the boat back in and accidentally smashed it on both
sides into the boats either side he said 'Welcome to WISHMELUCK
tours.' And that was the fun tone of the rest of the afternoon.
I have the vaguest memory of being on Katherine Gorge once before
(with my parents and mum's school in the early 1990's but really the
memory is so vague that I may or may not have been here before).
But it was spectacular.
We walked past aboriginal artwork to the second (main gorge) travelled
again down that by boat. Then walked again to a third gorge.
We retraced out tracks, he gave the boys a chance to drive the boat,
we swam in the first gorge, then he gave us a little digeridoo
performance and then headed back to disembark.
Each gorge has it's own boats. At the start of the wet season they
float all the boats over the gorge dividers downstream to service them
during the rainy period. Then just as the wet season finishes they
tow the tour boats back up to their gorges for the dry season (tourist
Russell pointed out to us a life jacket high in the trees from the
1998 Australia Day floods.
I had a few chats with Russell on the way. He'd been working the tour
boats for about 18 months. He is the only member of the Jarwin people
on the tour boat staff and was clearly very happy in his role. He said
'this is the best job I've ever had and probably the best job I will
It's a great role for him as he able to educate people about his tribe/
people and have a fair bit of fun in the process. He got three
quarters of the way through year ten, went back to school, finished
year eleven and then left. He had essentially been doing work for the
dole projects until he started on the NITMILUK tour operation.
Russell is clearly a very bright guy. He now regrets not finishing
his secondary education. I couldn't help reflecting how he has missed
out on the advantages of life that are just so easily available to us
as a result of being in Sydney.