The Botanical Walk in Elsey National Park loops around a creek that runs into the Little Roper River. It is an easy walk (~1.5 km) and can be done comfortably in about an hour. The walk is self-guided with interpretative signs identifying native plants and trees by both their Aboriginal and western names. The signs sometimes include how the plants are used by Aboriginal people. It is fairly remote and I only saw two other people when I was there (6 Aug 2010). You can drive near to the south end of the Botanical Walk loop on John Hauser Drive or take a 1 km trail from the Riverside Walk by the Roper River (~600 meters below Stevie's Hole), as I did. See also a travelogue with more plants and trees found on the Botanical Walk.
The Mangarrayi people know the Cabbage Palm (Livistone mariae ssp. rigida) as Miririb. They harvest the soft central growing shoot, which can be eaten raw, cooked in ashes or boiled in water. The fleshy roots of the juvenile Miririb are also dug up and eaten. Miririb is considered sacred in some places. This is important to its conservation, since removing the central growing shoot kills the palm. It is a relic of the past. Widespread in rainforests 50 million years ago, in today's drier climate they are restricted to a few locations in northern Australia. BTW, the Red Cabbage Palm (Livistona mariae) found in Palm Valley is different.
The bark of the Karlayarr (Weeping Paperbark or Melaleuca leucadendra) is used to make shelters, store food, make coolamons for babies, and to wrap bones.
The trail to the Botanical Walk goes past (actually more like over) the confluence of the Waterhouse (from the west), Little Roper (from the south) and Roper Rivers. The first two combine to form the latter. The water was low when I was there, but I am guessing that this place gets totally drowned during the wet season. It is ~500 meters from Stevie's Hole to the confluence and another 100 meters until the turn toward the Botanical Walk. It is another kilometer southwest along the Little Roper River to reach the Botanical Walk loop. Again, there are blue arrows and signposts that mark the trails. I was a bit nervous walking that last kilometer by myself. It was a swampy area and looked like perfect crocodile habitat.
An excellent web page on Elsey Station history tells us that: "The Elsey Cemetery, which is only about three hundred metres from the original homestead, contains the remains of several men who became famous through Jeannie Gunn's book and later the film We of the Never Never, published in 1908. She had already published The Little Black Princess in 1905. Among them are those of Aeneas James Gunn, The Maluka, John McLennan, Tom Pearce, J.H. George Conway, William Cleary, Jack Angus Grant and Edward Liddle." However, be sure to read the section at the bottom of the web page called A Different Point of View!
Aeneas Gunn, who died of malarial dysentery on 16 Mar 1903, is buried in the cemetery; however, "The Little Missus," Jeannie Gunn, was buried in her hometown of Melbourne. Her memorial in the Elsey Cemetery says: "Whilst never returning to Elsey Station, her thoughts always remained with her husband Aeneas GUNN, 'The Maluka" and of the place called the Never Never." The grave of Bett Bett, the Little Black Princess (Dolly Bonson), who lived to the age of 95, is also in the cemetery. See a separate travelogue for pictures of other gravesites.
There are also several gravesites whose occupants have not been identified. They are called "The Unknowns." Let us not forget them. See a separate travelogue about The Unknowns.
The turn to the original Elsey Station Homestead site and cemetery is ~12 km south of the current town of Mataranka. The road heads to the southeast. It is ~7 km to the cemetery and another 0.5 km to the original homestead site on Elsey Creek that runs east then north to the Roper River. There is almost nothing left at the original homestead site, since World War II roadworks all but destroyed the site (there is actually more to see at the cemetery). Now there is a memorial sitting at where the men's quarters outbuilding was located, and a signboard that says that the homestead was originally established by Abraham Wallace in 1880, and taken up by Aeneas and Jeannie Gunn in 1902. Aeneas died the following year and Jeannie returned south. While she was there, with the help of the men, Aboriginal women, and Cheong (the Chinese cook), Jeannie turned the homestead into a comfortable dwelling. She later wrote the book, "We of the Never Never," about her time there.
A replica of the Homestead, that was built for the film made about the book, is located at the Mataranka Homestead Tourist Resort. Their website provides a more detailed history:
"After securing the first pastoral claim in the area in 1879, Abraham Wallace travelled from the Darling Downs in NSW to Bowen Downs in QLD where he and his nephew, J.H Palmer, purchased 2,728 head of cattle. They drove the mob around the gulf and down the Roper to Stanley Billabong at Warloch Ponds - named after surveyor Gilbert McMinn horse - Elsey station was established.
Wallace committed suicide eight years later and a succession of owners took on Elsey Station before a new manager Aeneas Gunn, and his bride Jeannie arrived in 1902, Tragically, Aeneas died of malarial dysentry on the 16th March 1903, and was buried in a small cemetery close to the homestead. Jeannie left Elsey and returned south, but the Territory remained in her. She wrote of her time here, and of the characters that have become famous through her now classic work, 'We of the Never Never.'"
For an even more detailed and interesting history of Elsey Station, see this website.
It's really extraordinary when you dwell on it. Just 100 metres from an extremely popular spring you can swim in the river and have it all to yourself.
The top half metre is nice and warm while further down it progressively gets bracingly cooler.
There's a ladder provided at Waterhouse Creek yet it's rarely used. I was amazed.
You can hear the chatter from 50 voices just up the track but none will venture further.
Perhaps it's to do with the croc warning sign I'm standing next to!
So I swam there for half an hour until I managed to get a passer by to join me.
The crocs are only "freshies" who won't harm you unless you actually annoy them.
There are plenty of walks around the area. Especially in Elsey National Park. There are walks around the Roper River where you can see the Mataranka Falls.The forest along the river is called monsoon forest.
There's also a botanical walk with signs explaining the aboriginal use of the different plants. This walk is only 1,5km and easy-peasy.
You can also hire canoes in the park.