The Aboriginal Art Of Australia’s Kakadu National Park

Aboritinal Art in Kakadu National Park
Kraig Becker

Australia’s vast and wild Northern Territory holds a number of wonders for visitors to discover, not the least of which is Kakadu National Park. Spread out across more than 7600 square miles, the park is the true embodiment of the Outback with a rugged and unforgiving landscape that includes some of the most breathtaking scenery that can be found anywhere on the entire continent. But Kakadu is more than just pretty scenery as it also holds important keys to understanding Australia’s past in the form of Aboriginal art that is scrawled across rock faces throughout the region. That artwork offers important insights into the history of the indigenous people who have inhabited Australia for more than 40,000 years and continue to have a lasting impact on the country.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Kakadu is one of the rare destinations that earned that distinction by scoring points for being significant both for its cultural and natural wonders. Travelers need only visit the spectacular Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls to understand why the park earned the nod in the area of natural significance, as those locations are postcard-perfect representations of just how beautiful our planet can be. Both places require a little work to reach, but the payoff in both cases is a stunning waterfall dropping majestically into a serene pool of water.

Kakadu’s historical and cultural significance is also found at the sites of Nourlangie and Ubirr, where Aboriginal artwork adorns the rock faces in spectacular fashion. Since Australia’s indigenous tribes had no written language they would often leave messages for one another in the form of pictures on the sides of cliff faces. Those images could convey important messages such as which animals lived in an area and which were best to eat. Other images represented characters from Aboriginal legends, which were typically passed along orally from one generation to the next. Those characters gained a level of immortality by surviving on the rocks in Kakadu for hundreds of years.

The artwork that is found in Kakadu is simple in design but often surprisingly detailed. The artists tended to draw what they saw around them, so much of what is depicted on the rocks there is straight out of the daily lives of the Aboriginals. For example, at the Ubirr site there are numerous drawings of fish, the very distinct outline of a kangaroo, a couple of turtles and even a white man. That particular image clearly reflects the growing interaction with the Aboriginals and the strange outsiders who began visiting their lands just a few hundred years ago. The simple figure is depicted using white paint, which was surely no coincidence, and he is clearly wearing shoes and standing with his hands in his pockets, something that the indigenous people had no knowledge of prior to Europeans coming to their country.

Aboriginal Art in Kakadu National Park
Kraig Becker

Each of the images was created using ochre, a colorful mineral that is plentiful throughout the region. The soft material comes in a variety of yellows, whites and reds, although the industrious artists found ways of creating still other colors by mixing it with animal fats and other natural resources around them. In Aboriginal tradition, it was forbidden for female members of the tribe to gather the ochre, although they could use it in their artwork once the males had taken it from the earth. The location of the ochre pits remain sacred ground to the original inhabitants of Australia even to this day and some are still used for collecting the mineral for use in traditional ceremonies.

Because it can’t be carbon dated it is impossible to know exactly how old the artwork at Ubirr and Nourlangie actually is. But judging from what is on the wall it is possible to estimate an approximate age. For instance, Europeans haven’t been living in Australia for all that long, relatively speaking, so the image of the white man is probably no older than 300 years. On the other hand, visitors to Ubirr will notice an image of a Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which have been extinct on the continent for at least 2000 years.

While the artwork in Kakadu has survived for centuries it remains a fragile piece of history that could be easily lost forever. The original artists never meant for their works to stay on the rocks indefinitely, as they were often erased or painted over with new artwork much like a blackboard. The images found in the national park have survived through the years in part because most of them are sheltered from the elements by overhanging rocks. That natural protection has kept this aspect of Aboriginal culture alive and on display for visitors to Kakadu to appreciate generations after the artwork was originally created.

Australia’s Aboriginal tribes wandered the country for millennia before Europeans began to arrive. Those indigenous peoples had an intimate relationship with the land and that shows through in their artwork and the places that they painted those indelible images. In Kakadu, where the landscapes are so beautiful and dramatic, that connection with the Earth can still be felt. It is as ageless as the artwork that marks the passage of time, sending us a message from the past that is undeniably powerful and humbling at the same time.

Aboriginal Art in Kakadu National Park
Kraig Becker

Racing Boats Made From Beer Cans At Australia’s ‘Top End’

Darwin's Beer Can Regatta raises funds for the Lions Club
Kraig Becker

Tucked away in a remote corner of Australia’s Northern Territory – known as the “Top End” in the local vernacular – sits the bustling and vibrant city of Darwin. A bit of a hidden gem for travelers, Darwin boasts warm, tropical weather all year long, not to mention some of the most spectacular sunsets that you could ever hope to see. Visitors can elect to relax on a tranquil beach, sail the open waters of the Timor Sea or venture deep into the vast and wild Outback in search of crocodiles and wallabies.

Deftly blending that famous Aussie-hospitality with a laid back vibe that is all its own, the city has a unique feel to it that is unlike any other you’ll find on the continent. While Darwin is a growing city that is likely to play a vital role in Australia’s economic future, its inhabitants certainly know how to leave work behind and have a good time. Nowhere is that more evident than the Darwin Lion’s Beer Can Regatta, an annual event that is equal parts beer bash and charity fund raiser, with a hefty dose of nautical mayhem mixed in for good measure.

As the name implies, this regatta features boats made almost entirely out of beer cans, which the owner and his friends have no doubt put a lot of effort into emptying. Those cans are then combined with a variety of other materials – such as PVC pipe, plastic water jugs and whatever other buoyant items they can find – to create a mostly-seaworthy vessel that is capable of competing against other entrants both in aesthetic value and speed out on the water.The actual regatta takes place on Darwin’s popular Mindil Beach on a Sunday in July. The most recent version was held a few weeks back and featured a variety of boat designs that both amused and impressed the substantial crowd that gathered to take in the festivities. Notable entrants included the “Crocket Ship,” which bore a more than passing resemblance to the crocodiles that are so common in the Northern Territory, and the “Grog Monsta,” a massive boat constructed from more than 50,000 cans that came equipped with a powerful water cannon designed to harass any would-be rivals.

The Beer Can Regatta is an all-day affair that includes a number of activities both on and off the water. For instance, kayak races allow youngsters in attendance to get in on the action while a spirited tug-of-war competition gives teams a chance to flex their muscles. A thong-throwing contest (the shoes not the underwear) is also quite popular with this year’s winner managing to toss his footwear an impressive 51 meters.

An entrant into Darwin's Beer Can Regatta
Kraig Becker

But the real highlight, of course, is the competition between the crews of the various beer can boats. Throughout the day they challenge one another to a variety of races in the waters just off Mindil Beach, earning prizes as they go. The enthusiastic crowd cheers them on while some of them get an early start on building their own boats for next year by emptying a few cans on their own.

Those preliminary races are just a warm-up for the real competition, however, as it is the Battle of Mindil that caps the competition and determines just who is the true champion of the event. During the battle the teams search for “booty” hidden under the water while using water cannons, flour-bombs and balloons filled with tomato juice to rain down destruction on their foes. The first few minutes of this final competition are pure chaos as the boats attack each other with little regard for finding the hidden treasure, which is simply represented by a plastic bottle tied to buoy hidden out on the course. In order to win the battle, the “booty” must be claimed and then taken to shore and delivered to the starters’ table. That gives other teams an opportunity to steal the prize for themselves, although, by that point of the competition some of the boats wouldn’t exactly be described as ship-shape any longer. Once the booty has been placed in the hands of the judges, the Battle of Mindil is over and the champion of the Beer Can Regatta is crowned.

While the event is a raucous affair that features plenty of eating and drinking, it is all done for a good cause. Sponsored by Darwin’s chapter of the Lions Club, the Beer Can Regatta is used to raise funds for a number of local causes. For 40 years the Regatta has brought the city together while managing to raise thousands of dollars that go directly back into community projects. The premise of racing boats made primarily from beer cans may sound silly, but it has some serious implications for the city.

The date for the 2014 Beer Can Regatta has yet to be decided but you can bet that next year’s competitors are already planning their entries. After all, if you want to launch a winning boat, you need to start emptying beer cans early.

Gadling Gear Review: Headphones For All Budgets

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 headphones
Polk Audio

A good pair of headphones seems to have become mandatory equipment when traveling these days. Smartphones, tablets and MP3 players have put a host of entertainment options at our fingertips and the headphones we carry with us have an impact on the overall experience. But choosing which models to spend your money on can be a challenge as there are now more options available than ever before. Here are three excellent choices, each in a different price category, that you’ll appreciate having in your carry-on the next time you hit the road.

Polk Audio UltraFocus 8000 ($299.95)
The UltraFocus 8000 headphones from Polk Audio sit squarely at the high end of the portable audio market. They carry a price tag of $300 but deliver numerous features and an incredibly high level of performance that will leave budding audiophiles very happy. These headphones feature active noise cancellation, built-in controls and a microphone for Apple devices, numerous audio adapters and much more.
While the price tag of the UltraFocus 8000’s are likely to give many buyers pause, those who are in the market for high-end headphones will likely be very pleased. Everything about these cans screams quality, starting with the packaging, which conveys the sense that you are buying a luxury item. Lightweight and very comfortable, Polk Audio has spent a lot of time getting the design of these headphones just right and once adjusted to fit, it is easy to forget you even have them on. The plush earpads do an excellent job of sealing out environmental noise and continue to feel good even during extended wear.

Audio performance from these headphones is beyond impressive. They deliver extremely clean, undistorted sound even at very high volume levels. In fact, your ears are likely to beg for mercy long before these headphones begin to show any signs of struggle. In the low-range, bass comes through with impressively solid thumps while the mid- and high-ranges blend nicely, providing an audio experience that is sure to delight music lovers, particularly when looking for respite from a busy airport.

I was also impressed with the active noise-canceling functionality that Polk Audio integrated into these headphones. Powered by two AAA batteries, when switched on this feature blocks out an exceptional amount of ambient background noise, making it easier to hear music, movies or anything else you want to listen to. Active noise canceling is great on an airplane for instance, as it will block out much of the sound generated from the jet engines, which can interfere with your enjoyment of audio. I would have preferred if these headphones were powered by a rechargeable power source rather than replaceable batteries, however, and I was disappointed to learn that they won’t function at all if those batteries go dead. That means if you run out of juice while on a long flight, you won’t be able to listen to anything until the batteries can be replaced. Other active noise-canceling headphones from competitors will allow you to listen even when not powered on and it’s a shame that this high-end model can’t do the same.

The UltraFocus 8000 headphones cleverly integrate audio controls into the outside of the right ear cup giving you the ability to adjust volume, and pause and advance tracks with the quick touch of a button. If you’re listening on an iPhone, you can even answer calls with the built-in microphone, which does an excellent job of picking up the wearer’s voice. After adjusting to the placement of these controls I found I preferred them to an inline remote and mic that most other headphones use.

Polk Audio ships these headphones with an excellent soft case and more adapters than you’ll ever know what to do with. All of those extras help to extend the feeling of purchasing a high-end product, which you would expect out of something in this price range. Make no mistake, the UltraFocus 8000 headphones are expensive but they deliver excellent audio performance, a comfortable fit and good active noise canceling in an attractive and high-quality package. For the audiophile on the go, these are an excellent choice.

Munitio SV earphones
Munitio

Munitio SV Earphones ($129.99)
If the high-end, luxury headphones are out of your price range there are plenty of other options available in the mid-range as well. Take for example the Munitio SV earbuds, which deliver very good performance at a price point that is much more friendly to the wallet. They also have the advantage of slipping into a carry-on bag without adding any extra weight or bulk.

Munitio put a lot of thought into the design of this product even though you wouldn’t necessarily think so at first glance. The flat, tangle-free cord is a nice touch for instance, particularly for travelers who may not always be so careful with storing their earphones when they are in a hurry. An in-line mic and remote allow owners of Apple devices to control their gadgets and make phone calls, while the buds themselves are made from aircraft-grade aluminum that adds durability without weight. They feeling of quality in a compact package is undeniable.

In terms of audio performance the Munitio SV earphones are quite good. They offer a surprising amount of bass for such a small product and mid-range sounds are solid as well. At the high end, however, I noticed that things weren’t quite as pure, although there was no noticeable distortion across the entire spectrum. Overall, most listeners will find these earbuds to offer very clean sound even at high volumes. This isn’t a product designed with the audiophile in mind but they do deliver excellent performance that will exceed the expectations of most consumers.

Since these earbuds are designed to fit snugly into your ear canal, Munitio ships them with three sizes of silicon tips. This helps to dial in a personal fit, although most competitors offer a wider array of choices. As a result, I had a hard time getting one of these earbuds to stay in my ear. If I had a few other size options I’m sure this wouldn’t have been an issue, but since one of my ears fell between sizes, it was tough to keep it securely in place. Without a proper seal, outside noise can trickle in as well, which interferes with audio performance. As a result, the Munitio SV’s didn’t do as good of a job as I would have liked isolating me from background noises. Your mileage will probably vary, however, depending on personal fit.

If you want a quality set of earphones with very good audio performance that won’t break the bank, the Munitio SV are a solid choice. They ship with a nice soft case that makes them easy to take with you wherever you go and the tangle-free cord and in-line remote are welcome touches.

RHA MA150 earphones
RHA

RHA MA150 Earphones ($19.95)
At the low-end of the earphone market, at least in terms of price, are the RHA MA150 earbuds. With a price tag of just $20 you wouldn’t expect much in terms of audio performance but we’ve reviewed several RHA products in the past and have been continually impressed with the quality of the sound they deliver while remaining very affordable. In terms of overall bargains, it is tough to beat their products and the new MA150’s are no exception to that legacy, delivering good sound in a no-frills product that is easy on the wallet.

For a set of inexpensive earphones the MA150’s still feel very solid in your hand. In fact, if someone didn’t tell you how much they cost it would be easy to estimate that their price is twice what it actually is. The cables, silicon tips and earbuds themselves are all very good for this price range and they feel like they’ll have a level of durability beyond what you would expect for $20.

In terms of audio output, these earphones are certainly over achievers. I was impressed with the low-end bass that came through very nicely for such a small and lightweight product. Mid- and high-ranges were also handled well, particularly for a product that is this affordable. Again, the MA150’s perform like a product that is two or three times the price, which is certainly hard to complain about. Set your expectations accordingly and I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

As mentioned, these are no-frills earbuds that don’t include a remote, a mic or any other features. They do come with three different sizes of silicon tips, however, and unlike the Munitio SV’s I was able to find a comfortable and solid fit for both ears. If there is one upgrade I’d like to see, it would be the addition of a tangle-free cord like the one found on the offering from Munitio. The cord on the MA150 seems prone to tangling for some reason, which can be frustrating at times.

Designed for the consumer who just wants an inexpensive, yet quality pair of headphones the RHA MA150 earbuds deliver on their promise of good audio performance at a rock-bottom price. You’ll have a difficult time finding earphones that perform at this level in this price range. Sure, they will be overpowered by competitors that cost more, but that’s not the point. For a cheap, dependable and surprisingly good performance you can’t go wrong here.

President Obama Pledges Support To End Wildlife Trafficking In Africa

President Obama pledges support to end Wildlife Trafficking in Africa
Kraig Becker

While visiting Tanzania earlier this week President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to helping end illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa. The President indicated that he was ready to get serious about stopping poachers by announcing the formation of a special task force charged with investigating the subject and by pledging $10 million to assist in training local military and law enforcement on methods to deal with the threat.

The Obama Administration first indicated it had an interest in joining the fight against poaching last November when the illegal activity was deemed a threat to U.S. security. Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, promised that the U.S. intelligence community would lend some of its considerable resources to combating the problem and she announced that $100,000 would be used to help launch new law enforcement efforts. Those funds were just the start, however, as the new $10 million aid package should have a deeper and more lasting impact.

Perhaps an even bigger indication that the President is getting serious about wildlife trafficking is the formation of a new Presidential Task Force on the topic. The task force will feature representatives from the Interior, State and Justice Departments who will be given six months to develop a strategy on how the U.S. can assist in the fight against poaching. The results of their investigation could have lasting repercussions with how the U.S. interacts with African nations for years to come.

While numerous species are targeted by poachers the two most common animals that are hunted and killed illegally are the elephant and the rhino. The elephant is prized for its large ivory tusks, which are sold on the black market and used to make luxury items that are seen as a sign of wealth and prosperity in certain areas of the world. The rhino is hunted for its horn, which is commonly used in traditional medicines throughout Asia. The horn is said to be useful in treating fevers, rheumatism, gout and other ailments. Many believe that it can assist with male virility too, although there has been no scientific evidence to support the rhino horn having any medicinal properties at all.

Sadly, illegal wildlife trafficking has pushed rhinos and elephants to the brink of extinction in certain parts of Africa. If the U.S. can play a role in helping to end the practice of slaughtering these animals, it would certainly be a worthy cause to take on.

Statue Of Liberty Reopens For First Time Since Hurricane Sandy

Statue of LIberty in New York Harbor
Public Domain

One of the most iconic symbols of American freedom is set to reopen just in time to celebrate the nation’s birthday. The Statue of Liberty, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy on October 29 of last year, will welcome visitors for the first time since that day with the arrival of a morning ferry at 8:45 a.m.

When Sandy made landfall in New York City last fall, the storm surge hit Liberty Island. While the statue itself weathered the storm quite nicely, its surrounding support structures were not so lucky. Docks leading to the island were severely damaged, as were the electrical and phone systems. Several of the walkways had to be repaired and the entire site was littered with debris. Fortunately, none of the historical areas were affected by the storm, which made it easier to conduct repairs.

In the aftermath of the storm both Liberty Island and Ellis Island closed to visitors. After both sites were assessed for damage the repair crews set a goal of having the Statue of Liberty reopened by the Fourth of July. They were able to achieve that goal, although Ellis Island remains closed.

The National Park Service says pre-sales for the reopening have been brisk, so visitors should expect large crowds and delays.

Welcome back Lady Liberty. We’re glad you could make the celebration.