Take the kids on a journey of cultural discovery through the Top End.
The dot paintings patiently crafted by Indigenous artists are ever-present in the Northern Territory. But there's another style of art unique to the local people of Arnhem Land.
It's called 'rarrk', or 'crosshatch', and it's one of the many discoveries we made on a recent family holiday to the Top End now being eagerly retold by the kids at show-and-tell!
Rarrk involves painting parallel lines away from the body, using a brush made from grass or hair. In traditional times, ochre would be applied to paperbark, or even people, and the lines symbolised the tribes to which you belonged. Today we're using acrylic paint on canvas. Our teacher is Manuel, a softly spoken local from Top Didj Cultural Experience and Art Gallery in Katherine. His steady hand and true eye create amazing artworks considerably better than my attempt at a fantail stingray!
Manuel explains how traditional stories of hunting and the Dreamtime were told through painting, pausing briefly to help the kids correct a shaky hand or wobbly line. The kids paint lotus leaf, yams and goannas in stripes of white, black and brown. Their artworks now sit proudly on their bedside tables.
Learning to paint in the local style is just one of many memories we collect in Katherine. William is fascinated to learn about early Australians hunting with spears for kangaroo and birds and even tries his hand at it, throwing a spear at a mock kangaroo and hitting it. He's got a certificate of achievement to prove it placed neatly next to his rarrk painting.
In Kakadu National Park, we soak up the Guluyambi Cultural Cruise, drifting slowly down the East Alligator River. Hilton, our friendly skipper and an Arnhem Land local, tells us the river borders his traditional lands and the Kakadu. The river is fringed with huge pandanus leaning into the water. Upstream, amazing ochre-coloured rock walls gaze stoically over the ancient land. Wildlife is everywhere, and we spot crocodiles on every stretch of water.
Around a bend, the kids spot rock paintings, Hilton points out that they are covered in kangaroo blood. Eewww! We pull into the riverbank and gather around our guides who share stories of their ancestors - living off the land, collecting water with paperbark and painting their faces with ochre, which the kids are quick to do themselves when they find some ochre in the rocks!
The Territory is a tapestry of old stories told by locals such as Manuel and Hilton, but there's also a more recent history. We learn about major events such as the bombing of Darwin in WWII and the formation of the Royal Flying Doctor Service down at Darwin Wharf where the kids are captivated by interactive displays, theatrettes, holograms and virtual tours.
I'm uncertain about visiting the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin. "Just another museum," I muse, but there is colour and movement everywhere. The displays are lifelike and there is a craft centre for the kids to play. All over Darwin we experience fun and informative learning centres. These places are practically theme parks - the perfect way to share some amazing Australian history with the kids.
Culture Club: Our top five cultural experiences in the NT's Top End
- Top Didj Cultural Experience, Katherine
- Royal Flying Doctor Service /The Bombing of Darwin, Darwin Wharf
- Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), Darwin
- Guluyambi Cultural Cruise, Kakadu National Park
- Bowali Visitor Centre, Jabiru, Kakadu National Park
For more information visit Tourism NT