In the drive up and down the coast from Perth, the serpentine Darling Scarp sits to the west. The Noongar people, who lived here before the Europeans but are less than 4% of the population of Western Australia now, saw the Scarp as a dreamtime creature, a rainbow serpent called Wagyl, who was responsible for the emergence of the Swan and the Canning Rivers. They saw the Wagyl shape the land by its tracks, scouring out the course of the rivers and creating bays and lakes when it rested. Piles of rocks were its droppings, and its scales became the forests and woodlands of the region.

Some call the dreamtime “time out of time” or “everywhen” when one is joined to primeval mind. It is the arch of existence that liberates one from one’s ordinary conditioned reality. Not to be taken literally as some academics do, it connects the topography of the land to the topography of the mind. The traveling trails of dreaming are songlines that cut across the continent, quite like how the Ganga and the Sarasvati have parallels in the physiological structures of the brain and songs of the poets.

Sadly, the dreamtime offers no protection from the present and the last two centuries have been a period of unspeakable suffering for the Noongar. The ones amongst them who cried out were banished to the penal settlement of the inhospitable Rottnest Island, just off Perth, and, until sixty years ago, they were subject to the Native Welfare Act, in which one-third of the people were placed in state-run concentration camps and nearly a quarter of the children forcibly adopted. These stolen children like other aboriginal children were removed from their families by the Australian government agencies and church missions under acts of parliament. In December 2007, the Australian prime minister issued an apology to the indigenous Australians for this mistreatment.

Mt. Eliza, known in Noongar language as Kaarta gar-up and Mooro Katta, which is now a part of Kings Park that overlooks Perth, is a sacred mountain to the Noongars. The swan-like shape of the water below it must have generated mystery and awe. Strong buildings or skyscrapers are not sacred places because they represent the power of man. Perth pays homage to this latter power not only with its marvelous buildings but also with its theater, opera, and performing arts.

About fifty years ago, a few pioneers from Perth set up vineyards in the Margaret River area, and these wines have attained international fame. Named after the eponymous river, the area is also famous for its beaches, caves and surfing spots.  It was a cold July day so we were not thinking of the sea and the beach; it looked like a good day to visit a cave and sample a few wineries.

The town, which is two-and-a-half hour from Perth, is just a few streets and its economy is organized around the traveler. The road to it runs along picturesque tree-lined avenues along the highway. The forests around this and other caves have karri and marri trees that are common in southwest Australia.

Three weirs have been constructed on the Margaret River within the town. They come with fish ladders to enable the upstream migration of native fish and lamprey. The river and its tributaries have many permanent pools that are a summer refuge for various river animals including water birds, turtles, water rats, fish and crayfish.

The land between the town of Margaret River and Indian Ocean is of limestone rocks. The caves of the region are a result of the dissolution of limestone by acidic water caused by erosion over thousands to millions of years. These caves have their own underground drainage systems that contribute to the erosion. One of the biggest of these is the Mammoth Cave that has fossils of fauna over 35,000 years old, including those of marsupial dog and the giant marsupial herbivore Zygomaturus, which was like a pouched pygmy hippopotamus.

It is easy to reach Mammoth Cave although its entrance through the trees, with whistling birds and attractive flowering plants, is easy to miss. The cave chambers are huge with boardwalks and platforms, which help see the details. A seasonal stream meanders through the cave. At many places the stalagmites rise from the floor as pillars of decreasing size that do not quite make it to the ceiling and clumps of stalactites descend from the ceiling, and there are places where they meet to form pillars. This was one of the underground haunts of the rainbow serpent.


Subhash Kak

Subhash Kak

Subhash Kak is Regents Professor at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. Born in Srinagar and educated in Kashmir and Delhi, he has lived in the United States since 1979. He has has written six volumes of poetry in English and Hindi and another fourteen books on a wide variety of subjects that include history of science and art. He was the anchor in Raga Unveiled, which is a four-hour long documentary on Hindustani classical music.