- WED 19th JULY – SUN 1st OCT -
NORTHERN TERRITORY LIBRARY

An exhibition examining Ludwig Leichhardt’s epic journey from Queensland through the gulf country and Kakadu to Port Essington from 1844–1845. Using hand–coloured etchings, original journal entries and artefacts collected along Leichhardt’s original path, artist Simon Normand illuminates the disparity between the facts of the journey and what was ultimately reported.   

Exhibition Dates:    
Wed 19 Jul – Sun 1 Oct  
Tue-Thu & Fri 10am-5pm  
Wed 10am-8pm  
Sat & Sun 1pm-5pm  
Official Opening:   
Wed 9 Aug 5.30pm  

VISUAL ARTS AUSTRALIA
Presented by Northern Territory Library

Along Leichhardts Songline…About the exhibition.

“Every time you visit Country it comes closer to you” -Marra elder Maureen Marrangulu Thompson.

In 2014 I created a map to show an indigenous perspective for the new Limmen National Park. I had visited this country many times over the last two decades documenting songlines of the region through fascinating conversations with patient old songmen and women from the Roper region. My motivation was to simply illustrate the cultural diversity of the area by including all the indigenous language and the important Dreaming paths within. The region covers over 9300 kilometres and in some areas I failed completely as I discovered many places with no known names and no language. When I asked elders about the country around Rosie Creek and the Cox River I got nothing. The old men could only say:

“That place is empty country….”

Descriptions of the promised land ensured cattlemen Followed Leichhardt’s path.  Leichhardt’s own journal proved profoundly prophetic:

"I’ve often thought sadly of the day that will not be long in coming when many of these robust bodies will be pierced by the whiteman’s bullet.” (L.L Letter May 16 1844)

In 1845 Ludwig Leichhardt was the first European to explore this country, now known as the Savannah Way. His journal documented his journey through the remarkable, but now largely uninhabited landscape.  Along the way Leichhardt named The Four Archers, The Limmen River, Roper Hodgson and Wilton Rivers,  on his way to Port Essington, via the Arnhem Land escarpment. Between Borroloola and Roper Bar he came into contact with Garrawa, then Yanyuwa, Marra, Alawa and Ngalakan people.  The Marra word for The Four Archers is Barrkuwirriji but no-one seems to have recorded its meaning and now the language is close to extinction.

The same goes for Yurlhbunji, the ancient Ngalakan crossing and ceremony place now known as Roper Bar, where Leichhardt famously crossed on Oct 24 1845.

On the anniversary of this day in 2016 I visited Yurlhbunji and looked at the ruins of the old Roper Bar police station – a solitary place where so-called "savage natives" were locked up for nearly 100 years.  Here at the Bar, the freshwater meets the salt and, on the day I visited, a stingray was gliding across the shallows in the morning light.

“About a mile up the river, a ledge of rocks crossed the bed, over which a considerable stream formed a small fall and rapids, above this was a fine sheet of water overhung with shady tea-trees, casuarinas, and Pandanus, which made this crossing place extremely lovely.”   (L.L. Journal Oct 24 1845)
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As it turns out, in 1845 Leichhardt was constantly met and welcomed by “my friends the natives.” His descriptions of the country vividly illustrate the ever changing landscape and the people who lived with it. Remarkably, in every case, the locations where he crossed the river with his aboriginal guides were important ceremony places and hunting grounds. Some of these places have rarely been visited since.

At the Hodgson River, petraglyphs cover the basalt crossing point:
"About three miles to the westward of our camp the water ceased, and the creek formed a dry creek bed, covered with Casuarinas. It was joined by two Pandanus creeks with steep deep channels, and well provided with water- holes. I had to go down the creek four miles in order to avoid some steep rocky ranges; but we turned afterwards to the Northward and travelled over an open well grassed country to the Roper River. About four or five miles from the last creek- which I shall call Hodgson Creek in honour of Pemberton Hodgson, Esq- the river divided into two almost equal branches, one coming from the Northward, and the other from the North-West by West. I named the river from the Northward the Wilton after the Rev Mr Wilton of Newcastle who kindly favoured my expedition." { L.L . Journal Oct 24.1845}
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At the Cox River crossing, elaborate stone configurations mark an important Alawa and Marra dancing ground. While the Four Arches ford is known by the Mara people as the ancestral home of Garrimala the Tiapan, where Ngak Ngak the sea eagle is custodian:.

"There were four very remarkable flat topped cones of sandstone, which appeared like a plateau cut into four detached masses. These I called the Four Archers in honour of my excellent hosts, messrs David, Charles, John and Thomas Archer of Moreton Bay." {L.L. Journal .Oct 13.1845}

Unable to cross at the Limmen River near its mouth Leichhardt skirted the swamps around the Yiyintyi Range and finally crossed the Nathan River after passing dancing grounds and numerous shell middens. All along he saw the marks of human habitation. The place was teeming with life:

“Not a breath was stirring and the notes of the laughing Jackass and some few small birds, alone showed that there were other beings enjoying the beauty of the august solitude. John Murphy shot the Torres Strait pigeon which we had once before observed; but it was it was exceedingly shy and rare and only seen in pairs. We proceed 3 or 4 miles up the creek and found a crossing at the fishing place of the natives. In an old camping place near this fishery, I saw a long funnel shaped fish trap, made of the flexible stem of Flagellaria (Rattan).” (L.L. Journal Oct 10.1845.)

Thirty years later the Widdamarra People of Rosie Creek, like the Binbingga People from Bauhinia Downs were completely wiped out.; their language and knowledge of place completely lost. Having little stone country to escape to, the the Alawa and Marra cattlemen of the Cox River were given permission to “disperse the natives” and whole communities were raped, massacred and poisoned with impunity.

In the 19th century the new colonists and their cattle were attacked, guerrilla style, by warriors with woomeras and stone tipped spears. To “make people quiet” the South Australian Government equipped its police with Henry- Martini rifles made in South Africa to shoot elephants at 1000 yards. The last few Mara elders still living around the Roper still remember their parents hiding from the Troopers until the late 1930’s.

After leaving the Roper River, Leichhardt turned his horses North up Flying Fox Creek, and unknowingly, into the stone country of the Arnhem land escarpment. Across an almost impenetrable landscape he still found places of beauty:

“Here the drooping Tea Tree, growing in a sandy peat, attained a stately height. The sandy slopes around the swamps were covered with Banksia, the Melaleuca gum and Pandanus, and a rich profusion of grasses and sedges surrounded the deep pools of spring water.” (L.L Journal Nov 10. 1845)

By the hottest time of the year,  he reached the top of Jim Jim Falls and was exhausted. To the people of the stone country, November is the time when Namarggon, lightning man, strikes at clouds with stone axes. In the stone country the first lightning hits the ground where the country is rich in iron ore. Namarggon’s children are sent down in the form of Yamidj (Lightning Dreaming) the Long Horned Grasshopper. In the dreaming Yamidj and his companions left round yams and red ochre as they travelled across the plateau.

“Whilst on this expedition, we observed a great number of grasshoppers, of a bright brick colour dotted with blue, the posterior part of the corselet, and wings were blue, it was two inches long, and its antennae three quarters of an inch.”
(LL.Journal, Nov. 17.1845)

At the top of Jim Jim falls, Leichhardt appeared as a reincarnated spirit figure, white faced and complete with ceremonial headdress (a large calico hat). One hundred years later, ochre painted images of Leichhardt have been found on cave walls nearby, recording men on horseback for the first time. He is depicted holding his rifle overhead as a lightning charged spear, the image of Namarrgon emblazoned on his chest. It is no wonder that the people of Kakadu approached him at the bottom of Jim Jim with great curiosity and bestowed him gifts in accordance with traditional lore.

“A little before sunset of the 21st four natives came to our camp, they made us presents of red ochre, which they seemed to value highly, of a spear and a spears head made of baked sandstone.”{L.L. Journal Nov21.1845}

Fourteen months after leaving Queensland (and presumed dead), Leichhardt arrived at Port Essington in the far North of Australia. His lengthy journey traversed country where white man had no history. His journal musings indicate a mind keen to meet and know the indigenous people and their stories. Yet he was still a colonist; a man charged with the mission of ‘opening up’ country for European pastoral incursion and botanical curiosity. On his return to Sydney, he was hailed the “prince of explorers”.  

"This exhibition aims to acknowledge the descendants of people that still live along Leichardt’s path between the Gulf Country and Kakadu. It aims to show that, although so much has been taken away and lost, the country is far from empty."
Simon Normand, November 2016.
 "For some years now, I have been traveling to the NT, walking the country and communicating with local aboriginal people who have helped me locate some of the places associated with Leichhardt's 1844-1845 journey from Brisbane to Port Essington."  My research has inspired this series of hand-colored etchings, which will exhibit alongside various objects associated with sites along the explorer's journey route and notes from his original journal.  I will also create a new contextual map, illustrating where Leichardt's journey intersects with traditional Aboriginal tribal boundaries.

"For some years now, I have been traveling to the NT, walking the country and communicating with local aboriginal people who have helped me locate some of the places associated with Leichhardt's 1844-1845 journey from Brisbane to Port Essington."

My research has inspired this series of hand-colored etchings, which will exhibit alongside various objects associated with sites along the explorer's journey route and notes from his original journal.

I will also create a new contextual map, illustrating where Leichardt's journey intersects with traditional Aboriginal tribal boundaries.

SUPPORT THE EXHIBITION BY PURCHASING A SIGNED, LIMITED EDITION (10) ARTISTS BOOK CONTAINING ORIGINAL HAND-COLOURED ETCHINGS OF ALL PRINTS FROM THE EXHIBITION.

Each limited edition hand bound Artist's Book, features original artwork etchings and a full record of associated materials.
To register your interest for a book please fill out the form below.

Leichardt Book

To support the exhibition or for more information please fill in the form below..

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