Singing the Land, Signing the Land

Crossing the flat on returning to the boat, I was much struck by one particular spot on the border of a creek ... Several flights of large curlews were seen passing over the boat, and resting on the flats in its neighbourhood ... I had stripped to swim across a creek, and with gun in hand was stealthily crawling to the outer edge of the flat where my intended victims were, when an alligator rose close by, bringing his unpleasant countenance much nearer than was agreeable ... My only chance of escaping the monster was to hasten back to the boat, and to cross the last creek before the alligator, who appeared fully aware of my intentions. It was now, therefore, a mere mailer of speed between us, and the race began. I started off with the utmost rapidity, the alligator keeping pace with me in the water. After a sharp and anxious race, I reached the last creek, which was now much swollen; while the difficulty of crossing was aggravated by my desire to save my gun. Plunging in I reached the opposite shore just in time to see the huge jaws of the alligator extended close above the Spot where I had quilled the water. My deliverance was providential, and I could not refrain from shuddering as I sat gaining breath upon the bank after my escape, and watching the disappointed alligator lurking about as if still in hopes of making his supper upon me.

John Lort Stokes, in A. Millar, 'I see no end of travelling': journals of Austrahan explorers, 1813-76, Bay Books, Sydney, n.d., p.114

Crocodiles and the milky way


Crocodiles and the Milky Way; moiety - Yirritja; clan - MaƋgalili; painter - Naminapu Maymuru-White, 1988
ochre on bark, 81 x 34 cm.

This is a story from Djarrakpi about the journey of two fishers, Ancestral Beings, who died by drowning in the sea. The left-hand panel depicts their bark canoe, the floating body of a dead man and their boat paddles. The crocodile, the mangrove tree, the sea monster and the king fish are all Ancestor figures whose offers of help were refused, as the men had decided to die. The mangrove tree (top right) is manifested as a hollow log coffin (see also ITEM 4.3 in Imagining landscapes). The Milky Way is the Yirritja moiety's land of the dead, the stars being the spirits of dead people.

The baines river and its side channel just above curiosity peak


Thomas Baines, 1820 - 1875, The Baines River and its side channel just above Curiosity Peak, Victoria River, North Australia, 1868
oil on canvas, 45.7 x 66 cm
Australian National Gallery, Canberra.

This painting of a crocodile landscape shows the outlook of an early European explorer of Aboriginal land.

When you laying down in the night
look at star.
I was laying down. . .
I look star. . .
It make me remember when I was young.
When young I think that star really river. . .
river and creek.
You call it Southern Cross,
that other star.
We say it spear and crocodile.
So, I just look.

Bill Neidjie, Stephen Davis & Allan Fox, Kakadu man... Bill Neidjie, Mybrood, n.p., NSW, p.54

The australian flag


Representation of the crocodile on the Australian flag.


CA. W. Guggisberg, Crocodiles, Wren Publishing, Mt Eliza, Vic., 1972.

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