September 27, 2022
Image credit: Shaana McNaught
Growing up alongside the Aborigines of Kakadu and Arnhem Land gave Sab Lord a very different upbringing, making him the ideal choice as a guide in this hugely important part of Australia.
Most of us grew up in cities where wildlife watching meant avoiding pesky magpies in the spring, the occasional blue-tongued lizard, and maybe a flotilla of bats heading home in a procession. similar to that of Gotham at dusk. For Sab Lord, who was born and raised in Kakadu, it was all about crocodiles and buffalo, emu and goanna, snakes and a slew of birds, depending on the season.
“My father was a bison and crocodile shooter. We were basically the first white kids living there (in Kakadu). Dad built a bare block and that became a fully operational buffalo station,” Sab said. His father employed the local Aboriginals, who taught Sab and his brother the customs of the land, their language, and the wildlife that thrives here and fed their ancestors for thousands of years. They involved them in traditional ceremonies and granted Sab rare permission to share culturally significant sites and stories.
“For me, I was extremely lucky, as was my brother, that very few other people ever had that opportunity like we did with the aboriginals in the 1960s and early 1970s who lived still a fairly traditional way of life.
Sab learned a lot about the flora and fauna of the area and developed an understanding of the land, culture and country. Experiences he has used for 30 years to guide the tours of his family business, Lord’s Safaris. He has knowledge that is not accessible to everyone, about places, people, traditions and respect.
“I think the most important thing is my knowledge of indigenous people. I mean, I don’t read stuff out of a book unless it’s about specific issues. I was raised with aboriginal people from a very young age. For me, it was seeing it through their eyes and understanding what they were trying to express to you.
At that time, when Sab’s father started the bison business, Kakadu was not a national park. It became a national park from 1979 to 1991 and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage area in 1981. Sab said that changed dramatically during his lifetime.
“When I was growing up there, we just had freedom. We could do whatever we wanted. The old man was a bit of an environmentalist, probably before his time in some ways. were going and so on. It was good for me because the understanding of the importance of wildlife started with him.
Talking about the number of wildlife in the park, Sab said there are lots of crocodiles. “We don’t have as many emus as before, which is a shame. It has to do with fires and basically different hunting techniques. These days I get excited when I see a pair of them or even one and a few chicks. And I also think that for me, the disappearance of monitor lizards, monitor lizards and snakes, along with the arrival of cane toads, is probably the biggest impact I’ve seen in the last 15 years. Cane Toads have had a huge impact on wildlife here, and not just in Kakadu, but in Arnhem Land.
On tour in the Top End
Lords Safaris, a member of Australian Wildlife Journeys, is based in Darwin and Sab is fast, so tell me the people on his safaris are guests, not tourists. It shows his philosophy of connecting with guests, sharing his knowledge and passion for this incredible landscape and revealing the secrets of the place, its people and their cultures. Sab wants to convey her deep appreciation for the sacred and spiritual nature of the land here and educate guests on the importance of Indigenous culture and art in the past and for the future.
Besides his own tours for Lords Safaris, Sab tours with Australian Geographic. You have the choice between two itineraries of 5 days and 4 nights. The Kakadu and Arnhem Land itinerary includes accommodation at Lords Private Tented Camp in Kakadu, which has permanent glamping tents and is an ideal base to explore some of Kakadu’s many gems, including a sunset cruise on Yellow Water Billabong to see crocodiles, some of the 250 species of birds that have been sighted here, and Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin Gorge), an idyllic area for which permits and local knowledge are required, as guests explore the stunning gorges and the cascading formation known as the Giant’s Staircase.
Some of Kakadu’s famous and lesser known waterfalls, Jim Jim, Twin Falls and the impressive Maguk, will also be a Kakadu highlight.
The tour also includes Arnhem Land, accessible only to a few tour operators of which Lords Safaris is one. Even the route to the Aboriginal community of Gunbalanya is spectacular, with floodplains, billabongs and escarpments a visual feast. Upon arrival in Gunbalanya, you will visit the Injalak Arts and Crafts Center where you can meet and watch traditional local artists in action, as well as visit some of the breathtaking rock art galleries on the hill from Injalak (Long Tom Dreaming or Kurrkabal) with an Aboriginal guide.
Australian Geographic’s premium luxury safari adventure includes stays at Bamurru Plains, an exclusive safari lodge on the Mary River with its floodplains and savannah, a refuge for a myriad of wildlife, and game drives from Arnhem Land Davidson to Mount Borradaile, a recorded Aboriginal sacred site nestled against the rugged and sculpted escarpment of Arnhem Land.
Sab knows these areas like the back of his hand and says the birdlife of Bamurru, in particular, is phenomenal, with 236 species recorded. “You always see a large number, a large number of birds in the plains of Bamurru. At the end of September, there will be 300,000 magpie geese there. At Davidson there is a huge diversity of birds, from the jabirus – my favorite bird because it is so graceful – down to the smaller sandstone birds.
There is no doubt that Kakadu and Arnhem Land are so important to all Australians and Sab hopes that everyone who can will visit this natural and centuries old land. “I have noticed in my life, after more than 30 years of guiding, that there are many people and many children who have never experienced nature. They missed the opportunity to see what nature is. And I believe that by going out, not just with me, but by going out into the bush and experiencing that and sitting around a fire and just experiencing the sounds and noises around them, that will make a difference .
When asked what he hoped his guests would take away from one of his visits, Sab thought long and hard before saying, “Aborigines here still do ceremonies, the land is very important to them. I talk to my guests and try to explain that what you read in a book and what you actually experience here are two different things. I really hope that my guests will develop an appreciation for the sacred and spiritual nature of the places we go, to experience it for themselves.
So go ahead, feel it, see what nature is like.