Time for one of Chris’s top ten bucket list destinations. We were not entirely sure it was the correct time to head out to Cobourg, but we took a chance and organised permits for the 300km 4WD trek. The principle reasons for choosing Cobourg Peninsula as a destination was the isolation, wilderness aspect but also Victoria Settlement has been a long time interest for Chris; a very early attempt by the British to establish a presence in the North.
Leaving the Digger Caravan in Jabiru, Kakadu we head safely across Cahill Crossing, entering West Arnhem Land. What we thought would be a rough track out to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, Cobourg Peninsula was surprisingly easy travelling, in 4WD terms.
On arrival we greeted by rangers Colin and Andrew who were very welcoming and informative. As it was relatively late in the day, we proceed to make camp. We also found a location suggested by Colin to collect firewood, the chainsaw got a good workout cutting enough timber for three nights. While evenings can be slightly cooler on the tip of Cobourg Peninsula, the campfire is mostly for assisting in combating the plague of mosquitos. After sunset under a first quarter moon we headed down to the beach to look for turtles but only managed to find a croc laying on the beach in the poor moonlight so we retreated to the campsite. Later, I thought it might be appropriate to have a late-night shower, just as I was leaving the shower I missed stepping on a two-metre-long brown snake by less than 10cm.
The following days we explored the 4WD coastal track leading down to Kuper and Stewart Points. This coastline was just nothing less than a pristine environmental masterpiece, it might sound funny but it reminded me of locations and experiences trekking through remote coastal regions of Southern Tasmania. Incredibly we stumbled on a mobile phone hotspot, so posted some pictures on Instagram. Later that night, better prepared, we explored the beach for nesting turtles and luckily came across a large green sea turtle laying her eggs. This was one very special treat for both of us and on its own justified our trip to Cobourg Peninsula.
One of the most astonishing revelations we learnt about this region, is the interaction the local indigenous people (the Arrarrkbi) had with the Macassan trepang fishing fleets from Makassar in southern Sulawesi (Macassan History and Heritage). Still being extensively researched by historians today, the extensive impact of the trepang industry on the Indigenous Australians was going hundreds of years prior to European colonisation. Arnhem land rock art, recorded by archaeologists, appears to provide further evidence of Macassan contact as early as the 1500s. At the height of the trepang industry, the Macassan crews established themselves at various semi-permanent locations on the coast, to boil and dry the trepang before their return voyage home, where they would to sell their cargo to Chinese merchants. We were advised there are accounts, prior to British colonial occupation, of Australian Aboriginals travelling back with Macassan vessels and visiting places as far north as Hong Kong and returning to home to Arnhem land.
On our final day on Cobourg we chartered a vessel to cross Port Essington to the colonial, Victoria Settlement (1838-1849), there is no road access to this location. Victoria Settlement had been the third of three failed military settlements the British attempted to establish in this region. A military settlement was considered important at the time as it was feared other European colonial powers would attempt to claim sovereignty of the northern section of the Australian continent. This poorly documented stage in Australia’s history is most likely due to it being a dismal failure. At least one third of the occupants died in the eleven years at the settlement. I have always held a strong desire to visit the ruins of this settlement. Maybe in some quirky way growning up in Hobart with its rich colonial history has contributed to my desire to visit Victoria Settlement.