Gurruwiling (Arafura Swamp) is the largest freshwater ecosystem in Arnhem Land and one of the largest contiguous paperbark swamps in Australia.
It features large areas of paperbark forest, numerous lagoons, grass and sedgeland plains, floating mat communities, sandstone hills, sinkholes and springs. The swamp is fringed by extensive woodlands along with numerous patches of rainforest.
The Goyder River flows into the swamp from the Mitchel Ranges to the south, along with numerous small streams. It feeds the swamp with freshwater from the catchment and is very important culturally and spiritually. Overflow to the Arafura Sea occurs via the Glyde River winding its way north.
Water is a cultural thing, it is a ceremonial and spiritual thing. Each clan has its own special water places, home of the spirits of the long dead and of the yet unborn.
Healthy freshwater places give us important bush tucker — water lilies, the water chestnuts Eleocharis and many species of fish, turtles and crayfish are there for us.
When our rivers and creeks are healthy the banks are stable and the right trees and bushes are growing there. Strong-flowing healthy springs feed the rivers and creeks and maintain the waters of the swamp through the late dry season.
A long time ago our freshwater places were much healthier than they are today.
By the end of the nineteenth century buffalo had spread everywhere in Arnhem Land. In the 1890s Balanda arrived with cattle and guns to establish Florida Station in the swamp.
The Balanda eventually left, but buffalo and some scrub cattle stayed. Together with feral pigs, which arrived in the late twentieth century, they’re largely responsible for the poor quality of our freshwater places today.
Our freshwater places have clear water that smells clean and we can find plenty of water lilies, water chestnut, fish and turtle.