How old is Kakadu?

Kakadu National Park is home to some of Australia’s most beautiful scenery, but how old is it?

Depending on how you frame the question there are a lot of ways to define the age of Kakadu, by geological formation, presence of Aboriginal culture, or designation as a national park.

Geological formation

140 million years ago, much of Kakadu was under a shallow sea, with rocky escarpments forming sea cliffs and the Arnhem Land forming a plateau above the sea. As the park has aged, new rocks have been exposed at the Arnhem Land escarpment. These rocks are estimated to be over 2.5 billion years old.

Aboriginal culture and heritage in Kakadu

The earliest pieces of rock art in Kakadu date back 20,000 years, however, it is believed that the land the park encapsulates has been home to Aboriginal people for over 65,000 years. The local Aboriginal people moved around the park’s land as the seasons changed, looking for food and comfortable places to escape the rain in the wet season. There were no permanent settlements, but generations had favourite camping spots they regularly returned to.

Local Aboriginal people believe that the land was formed during the Creation Time as creation ancestors travelled across the landscape. Some of these ancestors are still active today including Namarrgon, who is responsible for violent lightning storms each tropical summer, and the Rainbow Serpent who carved out waterholes and rock passages, she is responsible for forming the habitat of Kakadu for all creatures. These stories do not have a date attached to them but the time in which they took place is referred to as the ‘beginning’.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park was first established in April 1979. The establishment of the region into a National Park  was first suggested in 1965 when a cultural shift was occurring across Australia to recognise traditional owners and their land interests. At the same time there was a push for areas to be named as National Parks in order to preserve them for conservation. For over a decade, discussions continued with Aboriginal communities from the area and traditional owners about the declaration. It was during this time that the name Kakadu was first suggested as recognition of Gaagudju a local Aboriginal language.

UNESCO World Heritage

The Kakadu National Park is dual-listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list for both natural and cultural significance. It is one of only four places in Australia with a mixed listing. It gained this recognition in 1981, and additional areas of the park were also recognised in 1987, 1992 and 2011.

The park describes itself as a culturally living landscape. With over 5000 sites of Aboriginal community significance, Kakadu’s archaeological sites document the way of life for Aboriginal people over tens of thousands of years. The rock art throughout the park documents Indigenous history and creation stories, creating one of the longest historical records of any peoples in the world.

The escarpments and stone country of Kakadu was formed over two billion years of geological history. Additionally, the land of Kakadu National Park has been relatively unimpacted by the European invasion of Australia.

As you can see, many important dates in Kakadu’s history signify the various aspects of its age. You can learn all about the land’s history when you visit Kakadu National Park.

Join the 5 Day Kakadu Tour with Koolpin Gorge and experience Kakadu for yourself!

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