Arnhem Land

General Information | Trips that go here

The Arnhem Land Region is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500km from the territory capital Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km² which also covers the area of Kakadu National Park, and a population of 16,230. In 1623 Dutch East India Company captain Willem van Colster sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape Arnhem is named after his ship, the Arnhem, which itself was named after the city of Arnhem in theNetherlands.

Arnhem Land has been occupied by the indigenous people for tens of thousands of years and is the location of the oldest-known stone axe, which scholars believe to be 35,500 years old. The Gove Peninsula was heavily involved in the defence of Australia during World War II.

Arnhem Land is also notable for Aboriginal rock-art, some of the finest examples of which can be found at Ubirr Rock, Injalak Hill, and in the Canon Hill area. Some of these record the early years of European explorers and settlers, sometimes in such detail that Martini-Henryrifles can be identified. They also depict axes, and detailed paintings of aircraft and ships. One remote shelter, several hundred kilometres from Darwin, has a painting of the wharf at Darwin, including building and boats, and Europeans with hats and pipes, some apparently without hands (which they have in their trouser pockets). Near the East Alligator River crossing, a figure was painted of a man carrying a gun and wearing his hair in long pigtails down his back; the latter identified him historically as a Chinese labourer brought to Darwin in the late 19th century.

One Yolngu prehistoric stone arrangement at Maccasans Beach near Yirrkala shows the layout of the Macassan praus used for trepang(sea cucumber) fishing in the area. This was a legacy of Yolngu trade links with the people of Makassar on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The trading relationship predated European settlement by some 200 years.