Day 6 |
May 07, 2014

Swift Bay, Kimberley

By Dr Greg Calvert, Tropical Ecologist, Botanist & Herpetologist
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 30ºC
Pressure: 1014 hPa
Wind: E 16-20 knots

The sky was beginning to lighten when I awoke at 6.30am and I went up on deck to have my early morning coffee and to watch the dawn break over another beautiful day in the Kimberley. At 9.45 I went ashore with the first scout boat -meandering and exploring our way up a small tidal inlet until we reached the spot where our Expedition Leader Mick Fogg showed us the area that contained the best of the Aboriginal paintings. Fellow naturalist Malcolm Turner and I did a search of the rock art sites first, checking for wildlife such as snakes. Although we didn’t find any snakes, we did find a Coastal Sheath-tailed Bat and a type of cave-dwelling gecko which interested us greatly. However, it wasn’t until that evening checking the various identification books that we realised we may have discovered a completely new species!

Our guests arrived by Zodiac around 11am. The first group scrambled up the rocks to join our Expedition Leader Mick Fogg as he described in detail the fantastic Wandjina style rock art and marvelled at the great piles of shells that had accumulated around the site over what must have been many hundreds of years.

I waited at the shoreline for the next group to arrive, and took them for a walk along the beach, pointing out all the various shellfish that they would soon see in the shell middens. I explained that this was a highly productive area for the Aboriginal people, and apart from the piles of shellfish, we found a freshwater spring and crabs. I pointed out how some mangrove fruit could be eaten. A young and very inquisitive White-bellied Sea-Eagle arrived and totally stole the show as it circled around and around us, letting everyone get great photos. Finally, I took them to meet up with Malcolm Turner and Mark Watson, who guided them up a narrow and treacherous rocky path to see the mysterious and enigmatic Bradshaw style paintings.

I continued walking guests up and down the beach, moving them between the landing site to the Wandjina and Bradshaw paintings, and soon the tide came in too far for us to be able to walk, and we started using Zodiacs instead. I jumped in one Zodiac and we went for a cruise up the narrow and winding mangrove creek. Large fish darted this way and that in the clear cool water, reinforcing the theme of this area being a bountiful supermarket for the original indigenous inhabitants of these lands. I was more than pleased when we spotted stingrays and a small Epaulette Shark –the presence of these animals further proving my point.

In the afternoon, we returned to the ship for a quick lunch and Silver Discoverer was then relocated several kilometres further north. Once the anchor was dropped, we went ashore again to be in yet another fantastic landscape of giant rusty sandstone boulders. The guests were allowed to do a lot of exploring here, particularly around two giant rock massifs that were liberally adorned with Wandjina style rock paintings. Since this was my first time here, I was just as keen as anyone to explore the site, and we all enjoyed speculating what some of the various animal figures were. Some of the Wandjina figures were enormous, stretching right underneath low ledges and overhangs, and nobody worried about getting dirty as we all lay on our backs under the rock ledges photographing the various paintings. One particularly fearsome figure was most likely a Debil-debil figure. Only a few metres away we found human bones, still wrapped in paperbark shroud and painted in the traditional manner with red ochre.

Some of the particularly fascinating paintings for me were the hand stencil of a very young child, and one figure that someone suggested might be a flying dragon lizard, but what I thought was probably a depiction of a sugar glider! The botany was particularly fascinating, and I encouraged a few guests to try smelling the Native Basil, Apple Ragwort and Native Lemon Grass.
In the evening I joined the rest of the Expedition Team in The Explorer Lounge for a Venetian Reception, followed by our recap and briefing.
Mick described the next day’s activities on the Hunter River and Mitchell Falls, after which Mark Watson gave an excellent summary of the iconic Boab Tree. For my first recap of the voyage I described the various ways plants and animals get rid of salt and why humans can’t drink salt water. Brad Siviour finished the session off with a very interesting and entertaining talk relating the Kimberley Dreamtime mythology of why the sun rises and sets every day. Everyone seemed very pleased with the day and all the things they had seen and learnt, and I was feeling the same way.