Up the Gulf - the Donga awaits!

Jun 27, 2002

The Bottom Line When in Australia try out the Gulf of Carpentaria - one of the real donga regions.

When we say a place is remote we are really using a quaint English expression.

Naturally Australians aren't too likely to want to do that. However, for the sake of Northern Equatorials, the little known Latin word "outbackus", suitably shortened to Outback seems to conjure up some meaning. Outbackus simply means the opposite to outfrontus, essentially a meaningless word, just like remote.

So to correctly portray the desired depth of remoteness, and in the never ending quest for accuracy, Australians generally use other words and phrases that have a much more literal, comprehendible meaning. Examples are the "never never", "back of Bourke", "In like Flynn" and "back of beyond". As can readily be appreciated, these terms give a far greater level of comprehension.

However they do involve a needless waste of verbiage so, also in true Australian style, the whole lot are summarized into one word, the obvious one - "Donga". It is importance to pronounce this word correctly, lest its meaning be lost. The correct pronunciation is therefore Dong gah, and ideally this should be said to everyone you meet prior to coming down under. Once you get the pronunciation speed, "dong,a" just right you will notice the expression on faces change - this is called envy.

Remembering that donga means more than just remote, a full understanding is probably best achieved by a close look at one of the many examples Australia has to offer. One such region is unquestionably the "Gulf Country", and to show its general location we start "up the Cape".

Cape York is the peninsular extending like a long finger in Australia's far north east. The Northern tip of Cape York is the northernmost point of Australia and is clearly visible in any map.

A little over a thousand miles to the west in a straight line is Darwin and in between the two is the Gulf of Carpentaria. Some of the finest wilderness areas in the world are in this area and more exist west of Darwin all the way to the Kimberleys in Western Australia - another thousand miles.

The whole area is full of Aboriginal Culture, the exploits of White Mans attempts to explore the area and the first inhabitants - few in number then and still few in number today. World-renowned sections include the Daintree Rain forest, Kakadu, the "Gulf Savannah" and the unbelievable Kimberley Ranges in the Far West. And let's not forget Cape York itself, a tropical wonderland.

This area is so remote only a fool would attempt to negotiate it unless a highly experienced person. The whole area is of course as beautiful as exists anywhere in the world and it is to stay that way. Apart from protection afforded by Australian Policy and Law much of it is also world heritage listed. As if that wasn't enough it is guarded by an estimated hundred thousand of the last living dinosaurs, the badly misnamed "Salt Water Crocodile. Together with the white pointer shark, almost certainly the two most deadly creatures on earth, after those human things of course. Of the two the Salt Water Crocodile would have to rate as the most dangerous. Contrary to the inference given by it's name it will live perfectly happily in salt or fresh water and on dry land. They are regularly seen hundreds of miles out to sea and over two hundred miles inland.

This whole area is basically untouched and there is good reason for that. For a start the majority is a very long way from anywhere and the roads are just bush tracks. Being fully tropical it rains virtually non-stop for six months and becomes a maze of deep, fast flowing creeks and rivers and the whole area is a quagmire. For most of that time the only access is by air.

For the other six months it is dry as a bone, unbelievably hot and humid and at all times it is simply damn dangerous for a novice - so dangerous in fact it borders on suicide.

However you only need be a little intrepid to get in there amongst the natural action in what is undoubtedly one of the world's most beautiful, remote and dangerous areas.

The trick is to travel with the professionals. They have the best four-wheel drives, medical equipment, food and water. They also have satellite communication and location monitoring. There are always at least two vehicles. The various Companies offer a wide range of options from day trips up to several weeks. Tours can be of the camping variety or you can stay in satisfactory to quite good accommodation.

The main thing is you will live to tell all that will listen about the experience and the operators know all the best spots so travelling with them has those two major benefits.

Apart from the huge Heritage areas you can arrange to be taken to such places as the world's longest and largest "Undara" Lava Tubes with their one hundred and thirty five million year history, the historic "Gulflander" train and its Normanton Railway Station and dozens more attractions.

The tours can incorporate sea and air sections and four to eight days are really required. Naturally that is often too long for the time you have but in two or three days you can still see quite a lot, including some of the Daintree. Most of that area can be crammed into one day if need be. The top of Cape York is a several day event.

I suggest you spend at least a few days up here even if that means leaving out one or two of the usual tourist haunts. A direct assault on the Gulf from overseas is best made via Cairns or Darwin International airports. If you prefer leave this area to last; flying to either location from within Australia is an easy option. The choice is yours - the main thing is to get there! With much of the region World Heritage Listed it is well known to most travel agents world wide so working out a suitable itinerary, and professional guides, should be a simple matter.

The memories of this area will stay with you for life and unlike so many places, what you see today will be subjected to minimal change in the future.

As unlikely as it may be, should there be any doubt as to the correct pronunciation of "donga", it is far safer to leave this word of precision alone. However, the following hints should give your confidence a boost. The most common mistakes are to incorrectly pronounce donga as dong, donger or dong'er.

Clearly apparent, dong, donger and dong'er* have entirely different meanings. Knowing that, as you now do, you can be completely relaxed and enjoy your holiday fully.

* Dong - clobber, belt, hit
* Donger - weapon used to dong
* Dong'er - as in "Dong her”, much worse than to dong a male (dong'im).

Everything is true except for what isn't - in this case some slight doubt exists only in the use of Latin.

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