We are standing in the bird hide. It's a long, wooden structure that floats out over the water. One side of it is completely open to a vast expanse of water and marshland, which stretches as far as you can see, although it is just a small corner of the whole flood plain and river system of Kakadu.
It's a window onto a primeval world. There is nothing to see out there that is not completely natural, nothing that shows the hand of man. It is just as it has always been.
There are thousands and thousands of birds. Egrets stalking through the reeds, or standing motionless, listening. Whistling ducks and Burdekin ducks diving under the water. Swamp hens, cormorants, magpie geese, pied stilts. Dozens of kites, gliding and soaring in the air, sometimes dropping suddenly like stones onto their prey, sometimes getting into fights with each other. A jabiru stands among the water lilies, waiting for the right fish.
Unseen by us, but their presence known to all the birds, are crocodiles, frogs, snakes, lizards, and dingoes.
It is the reliability of the seasonal changes, over thousands of years, that support this abundance of life - the alternation of the hot, dry season, with the monsoons and the floods. The indigenous people have understood these changes. They know how the cycles of the seasons affect the land and all its life forms, and they have passed down this knowledge through their generations. It is necessary to understand it, and all of the intricate details of it, in order to live on the land, to be sustained by it, and to leave it unchanged.
I read these translated words of a traditional owner of the Murrumburr clan, which are among the information on the back wall of the hide:
'About March, the end of the rain, the speargrass in the woodlands starts to seed, and the seeds go brown and start to drop. That's when we know to collect the (magpie) geese eggs. We always leave some eggs in each nest. When the waters go down, the geese are not fat, so we don't hunt them. August and September is when we start to hunt for geese, just enough to feed everyone.'
This year was the driest wet season in 25 years. Many areas of Kakadu broke lowest rainfall records. The water on the floodplain dried up much earlier than usual. More than half the population of magpie geese did not nest, because they could not supply enough food to feed their young.