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Spend a day with the world’s oldest living culture

As we approach the beach three men stand atop a weathered sandstone cliff, like proud sentinels protecting the island from invaders. Their bodies are adorned with paint and they’ve slashes of scarlet lap laps wrapped around their hips. On their heads sit conical-shaped headpieces standing stark against the cornflower blue Kimberley sky.

As we land at Ngula it’s easy to imagine we’ve stepped back in time, where the land remains much as it has done for centuries. Where caves conceal rock art estimated to be 20,000 years old and traditional owners, the Wunambal Gaambera people, have roamed for 40,000-odd years. Nearby on the tidal flats, mud whelk was harvested and clans set up seasonal camps to devour the seafood bounty.

Stepping ashore on the island we know as Jar Island, we’re warmly greeted by Wunambal Gaambera community members. We’re invited to join a smoking ceremony, an ancient custom to ward off bad spirits and invite positive energy onto the land we walk upon.

Puffs of aromatic smoke rise from a clump of smouldering native plants. We slowly circle the fire, ensuring the smoke washes over our bodies, visualizing negative spirits disappearing with the smoke, and breathing in positive energy.

After the smoking ceremony, a formal Welcome to Country is conducted by respected Wunambal Gaamera elders, who acknowledge traditional owners, past, present and future as custodians of the land we stand upon.

Then there is time to relax in the shaded area on the beach and talk with the Uunguu Rangers. The Uunguu Ranger program cares for Country through fire, feral animal and weed control management, monitoring visitors and looking after cultural sites.

In 2011 Australian law recognized their connection to country as Wanjina Wunggurr (Uunguu) common law native title holders, but they call themselves Wunambal Gaambera people. Their country covers some 2.5 million hectares of sea and land.

The anglicised name of Jar Island came about after pre-1788 pot shards were found by Philip Parker King, thought to have belonged to Macassan fisherman harvesting sea cucumbers (also known as trepang).

But the real attraction here, like much of Kimberley, is the multitude of art sites and rock art galleries. Caves here contain rock art panels depicting elongated human figures, their outstretched fingers reminiscent of elegant long-limbed ladies. Other images show bounding kangaroos and strutting emus. Who were the artists who created such works that have graced these walls for 20,000 years? Looking around, one can’t help but wonder about the daily lives of the people who lived here.

As our Uunguu Ranger guides walk with us back to the beach where our Xplorer tenders await, the pride in their heritage is evident. Who wouldn’t be proud to showcase their heritage from the world’s oldest living civilisation?

A visit to Jar Island is possible alongside our visits to other ancient indigenous sites on Coral Expeditions’ ten-night Definitive Kimberley Cruise voyages between Darwin and Broome.

Note: Jar Island is one of the sites that may be visited on our Kimberley expedition cruises but is not guaranteed as no two Kimberley cruises with Coral Expeditions are the same. Each expedition is crafted by our experienced Masters and Expedition Leaders also taking into account 10+ metre tidal range, weather and sea conditions.

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