How did this happen?
1. After spending time talking with an anthropologist on the Cape York trip about Aboriginal art, she (and others) suggested that we simply had to hook up with Davidson's Arnhemland Safaris and go there.
2. I decided this was a good idea.
3. The Lonely Planet Northern Territory guidebook, published in late 1999, gave A$400 a night as the rate.
4. I called and booked us in for three nights. They said they'd charge me A$840. No problem. Because I'd initially asked for two nights, I kind of convinced myself that she must be doing something like two nights' lodging plus permit fees for the Northern Land Council permit to enter Arnhem Land, which is Aboriginal territory.
5. Two days before we drove across into Arnhem Land, I picked up another guidebook published in late 2000 that gave A$600 a night as the fee for the camp.
6. I promptly broke into a cold sweat upon realizing that it must have gone up to A$840 in just two years' time.
7. After arriving at the camp, I confirmed this theory and pulled out of the remaining two nights.
The worst thing of all is possibly that they had things there that you absolutely cannot see anywhere else in the entire world. I've now seen an ossuary, a burial package, painted skulls, beeswax art, very old fragments of Dutch genever bottles and pipes, and a Leichhardt's grasshopper, even. It was mind-blowing. But A$840 a night? The thought of it still makes me angry. But I had no other choice but to go.
Perhaps the thing that got me the angriest was the inflexibility of the staff - even though it was clear we weren't your average wealthy tourists who think nothing of blowing A$840 a night to go to somewhere they aren't interested in and do nothing but fish for fish you could get anywhere else (say, Burketown) and/or just "relax", they were unwilling to do anything about it. In fact, they explained that there was a 24-hour time limit on our presence, so we had to leave camp in exactly 24 hours, precluding us from going on any extended excursions to art sites, etc. So, we didn't see arranged stone circles or anything like that, but damn it, what we did see was amazing.
Frustratingly, the other folks we spoke with were sitting around the breakfast table complaining that they had been dragged around to art sites that they didn't really want to see - they were livid because they had paid A$840 a night and hadn't been fed gourmet meals and/or been able to sleep in luxurious accomodations - lunch was tuna over pasta (kind of like chipped beef on toast, really), and cabins were simple tents with cheap bunk beds in them. So, nobody seemed to have gotten what they wanted. Us, because we couldn't afford to stay longer; them, because they'd paid through the nose to go somewhere whose only truly unique attraction was something they didn't give a shit about: indigenous culture.
If you ever win the lottery, and if you have an interest in Aboriginal culture, go. They have things you cannot possibly see anywhere else in the world. It's a shame about the price, though.