How old is Kakadu?

How old is Kakadu?

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 09/26/2019

Reading time: 3 mins

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 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, 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. As they travel they look 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 would regularly visit.

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. 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, instead it was simply 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 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 made the list in 1981. In 1987, 1992 and 2011 additional areas of the park were also recognised.

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 contain 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.

Related article: What landscapes will you find in Kakadu?

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.