Author(s): David Hancock
Kuwarddewardde: a forbidding, mysterious and ancient land.The Arnhem Land plateau (known locally as the Stone Country) covers an area of 32,000 sq kms and generates much of the fertility of the Top End of Australia. The region is stunningly beautiful and unique - both physically and culturally.The traditional home to more than 50 clans of the Bininj (Aboriginal) people of western Arnhem Land, the Stone Country has long been a refuge for them, and rare fauna and flora.People have lived in the Stone Country for tens of thousands of years - their presence attested to on the walls and ceilings of rock shelters, from drawings of small dynamic images of hunters and their quarry that date back over 30,000 years, to ¿contact¿ art that depicts the arrival of Europeans in northern Australia less than 200 years ago. The rock art of the Stone Country (which includes parts of modern-day Kakadu and Nitmiluk national parks) is prolific and extensive, representing the longest continual record of human settlement and endeavor of any place on Earth.To European newcomers, the Stone Country was an unwelcoming, hot environment with rugged cliffs, bare, layered sandstone boulders and difficult-to-navigate terrain. For Bininj, who crisscrossed the plateau for centuries, food and shelter was plentiful and routes between the coast and inland regions were easy to travel.Each year, water runs off the highly weathered sandstone of the Stone Country during the tropical wet season, filling some of the largest rivers in northern Australia that bisect tropical woodlands and floodplains before reaching the coast .