“Them ones are better cooked!” our Aboriginal guide Ernie shouted, tossing a handful of writhing maggot-like creatures–or Witchetty grubs, as they are known–into the ashes of the fire in front of us. My stomach turned at the possibility of being the next victim to sample this renowned Aboriginal delicacy. A weird selection of bush tucker, such as unusual looking berries, leaves, honey ants and other wriggly things, lay at our feet. The traditional inhabitants of Arnhem Land still adopt the ancient hunting and gathering techniques of their forefathers. To them, the Australian desert is an oasis, abundant with exotic foods. To the visiting tourist, it seems like a barren wasteland where the inexperienced would surely starve.
The Northern Territory is definitely a special place. World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is like an ancient, outdoor museum brimming with ancient Aboriginal rock art and dramatic landscapes. Swimming in the rock pools and waterfalls in the various National Parks that cover the Territory, I tried to wipe images of “Sweetheart” and her relatives from my mind. “Sweetheart” was a five-metre saltwater croc, who carved a career for herself munching through local fishermen’s outboard motors. She now takes pride of place in the local museum in Darwin.
In my adventure filled weeks, I floated among green turtles in the calm, azure waters above the world’s largest reef garden, scaled the dizzy heights of Ayers Rock at sunrise, explored the world’s largest sand island by four-wheel drive, and came face to face with a possum who certainly pushed the boundaries of friendship. (Never leave remnants of late night snacks by your bedside on the islands!) Each day had brought a variety of new experiences and challenges that could only abound in a country as wild and varied as Australia.
We stayed on a coral cay right on the Barrier Reef, slept out under the stars in a bushman’s swag and even awoke one dawn under a rainforest canopy to a cacophony of king parrots, kookaburras and whip birds.
As Ernie placed a steaming maggot on a gum leaf and held it in front of me, I calmly wondered whose spirit I was about to devour. “Hell, this is Australia–try anything once!” echoed in the back of my mind.