Sab Lord, the outback legend

Born in the Bush and at home there forever

We meet Sab Lord on an unpaved airstrip in Arnhem Land. Arriving from Darwin after a one-hour flight in a twin-engine Cessna 310, we will spend the next three days with him in the bush. We are a group of four and eager to hear the secrets first hand.

Sab Lord, die Outback-Legende, kennt den australischen Busch wie kein Zweiter / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sab Lord, the outback legend, knows the Australian bush like no other / © Photo: Georg Berg

There are few people other than Aborigines who are as intimately connected to the life and primal nature of the Northern Territory as Sab Lord. He grew up in the open air because his parents did not yet have a house. He made friends with Aborigines of the same age, learned their language and helped out on his father’s buffalo farm at an early age. He did not start school until he was 13. In faraway Sidney, everything was foreign to him, and he only learned how to tie his shoes at boarding school. Influenced by such extremes, he is now able to put himself perfectly in the shoes of his customers, who come from all over the world. Whoever books a tour with Sab today will not only get to the best spots the Australian outback has to offer. His rough, rugby-influenced, but at the same time humorous and cordial manner, allows trust to grow quickly and curiosity increases the more he tells. He casually points to a plant. It is a screw palm, which is called Pandanus in Australia. Only in the course of the day, we grasp the meaning of the short lesson.

Mit den Luftwurzeln einer Schraubenpalme können die Aborigines viel anfangen / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Aborigines can do a lot with the aerial roots of a screw palm / © Photo: Georg Berg
Durch Quetschen der Schnittkante mit einem Stein, erhält man einen Pinsel / © Foto: Georg Berg
By squeezing the cut edge with a stone, one gets a brush / © Photo: Georg Berg
Mit solchen Pinseln wurden schon vor 20.000 Jahren Felsmalereien hergestellt / © Foto: Georg Berg
With such brushes rock paintings were already made 20,000 years ago / © Photo: Georg Berg

But first, at Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris Lodge, we get our rooms for the night and a briefing on the basics of life in the bush. Consistent sun protection and insect repellent from dusk on are mandatory. Everyone fills up his water bottle, because during the walks in the sun, the body needs one liter of water per hour.

Taschenlampen, Insekt-Repellent und große Flaschen Sunblock sollen unbedingt benutzt werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Flashlights, insect repellent and large bottles of Sunblock should be used without fail / © Photo: Georg Berg

On the map of the lodge we try to orient ourselves. A photo on the wall reminds us of Max Davidson, who designed this property and lived here until his death. Max, similar to Sab, found many great rock paintings and was accepted and respected by the traditional landowners. But the land on which the luxurious lodge stands is leased and the contract must be renewed every ten years.

Der verstorbene Outback-Pionier Max Davidson (rechts) mit Big Charly, einem Familienvorstand der traditionellen Landeigentümer (Fotoreproduktion) / © Foto: Georg Berg
The late outback pioneer Max Davidson (right) with Big Charly, a family head of the traditional landowners (photo reproduction) / © Photo: Georg Berg

Whether Big Charly’s descendants will continue to lease the lodge to Max Davidson’s daughters in the near future remains to be seen. Currently, the lodge is booked by guides such as Sab Lord for their small, demanding groups, and the style of accommodations and meals is correspondingly individual. It is to be feared, however, that here the life’s work of the person who has been here on the trail of the wonders of the past will be forgotten. Even if because of the remoteness here certainly no mass tourism with the usual concomitants will move in, Sab fears that the full occupancy could have priority and if a general contractor would get the contract, only offers for large groups would be made.

Auf der Landkarte sind in der entlegenen Gegend keine Straßen mehr eingezeichnet. Sab Lord zeigt die Geländestellen, zu denen er uns bringen wird / © Foto: Georg Berg
The map no longer shows any roads in the remote area. Sab Lord shows the terrain sites he will take us to / © Photo: Georg Berg
Sab Lords Safari-Fahrzeug ist startklar auf dem weitläufigen Gelände der Davidsons Lodge / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sab Lord’s safari vehicle is ready for takeoff on the spacious grounds of Davidsons Lodge / © Photo: Georg Berg

Our first longer hike with Sab Lord leads us to a rock massif, in which there is a cave system with many wall paintings and cult sites. Not everything may be photographed and especially burial sites are absolutely taboo. To this day, the caves provide shelter for people, especially during the rainy season. So we enter a space comparable to the privacy offered by an apartment. Thus, we gradually understand why a visit to these sites is allowed only to a few guides, who are known to the traditional owners and can be held liable for the integrity.

Ehrfürchtig betreten wir die riesige Höhle, in der seit zig Tausend Jahren Menschen wohnen und ihre Toten bestatten / © Foto: Georg Berg
Reverently we enter the huge cave where people have lived and buried their dead for tens of thousands of years / © Photo: Georg Berg
Sab Lord zündet ein von Termiten bearbeitetes Stück Holz an. Ein altes „Hausmittel“ der Aborigines, um mit dem Rauch die Mücken zu vertreiben / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sab Lord lights a piece of wood worked by termites. An old “household remedy” of the Aborigines to drive away mosquitoes with the smoke / © Photo: Georg Berg
Sab Lord kann über jedes Wandgemälde viel erzählen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sab Lord can tell a lot about each mural / © Photo: Georg Berg

Having grown up with the Aboriginal children who were employed by his father on the buffalo farm, Sab spoke the Bininj language, which is now considered almost extinct. So he knows very well the forms of oral tradition, which thrives on things being retold over and over again. He himself is also a great storyteller.

Die Andreaskreuz-Spinne hat ihr Netz mit spiraligen Fäden verstärkt / © Foto: Georg Berg
The St. Andrew’s cross spider has reinforced its web with spiral threads / © Photo: Georg Berg

On the onward journey, the car’s fan belt suddenly causes problems. But as for everything, Sab has a solution for that too.

Die Macken des alten Toyotas werden mit Bordmitteln repariert. Das Geheimnis ist in diesem Fall eine Spraydose mit hochkonzentriertem Insektenschutzmittel, mit der bestimmte Stellen im Motorraum gefügig gemacht werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
The old Toyota’s quirks are repaired with on-board means. The secret in this case is a spray can of highly concentrated insect repellent, which is used to make certain spots in the engine compartment compliant / © Photo: Georg Berg

We arrive at a body of water and get into a lonely boat waiting for us. It is a billabong. Billabong is the name given in Australia to a river which flows only during the rainy season, but which in the dry season consists only of disjointed partly but still large bodies of water. On such a billabong Sab celebrates the perfect sunset and seems to have contracted the whole nature for it.

Diese Wasserlilien wachsen oft in Gewässern mit vielen Krokodilen / © Foto: Georg Berg
These water lilies often grow in waters with many crocodiles / © Photo: Georg Berg
Der Ibis ist an seinem langen, schlanken gebogenen Schnabel leicht zu erkennen. Die breiten kräftigen Flügel ermöglichen einen schnellen Flug / © Foto: Georg Berg
The ibis is easily recognized by its long, slender curved bill. The broad powerful wings allow a fast flight / © Photo: Georg Berg
Katja Bockwinkel vertritt auf dieser Reise das Tourismus-Marketing des Northern Territory in Deutschland. Sab Lord kennt sie schon lange und genießt mit ihm den Sonnenuntergang auf dem Billabong / © Foto: Georg Berg
Katja Bockwinkel is representing the Northern Territory’s tourism marketing in Germany on this trip. She has known Sab Lord for a long time and enjoys the sunset on the Billabong with him / © Photo: Georg Berg
Ein Schwarzstorch, der in Australien Jabiru genannt wird, gönnt sich einen frischen Fisch / © Foto: Georg Berg
A black stork, called Jabiru in Australia, treats itself to a fresh fish / © Photo: Georg Berg
Trotz Tarnung nicht vollständig versteckt: Ein großes Salzwasserkrokodil / © Foto: Georg Berg
Not completely hidden despite camouflage: A large saltwater crocodile / © Photo: Georg Berg
Auch der blaue Eisvogel versucht, im Wasser seine Beute zu finden / © Foto: Georg Berg
The blue kingfisher also tries to find its prey in the water / © Photo: Georg Berg
Der Jesusvogel kann über das Wasser laufen. Sein Trick: Mit extrem langen Zehen kann er auf den Pflanzen an der Wasseroberfläche stehen / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Jesus bird can walk across the water. Its trick: With extremely long toes it can stand on the plants at the water surface / © Photo: Georg Berg
Die Sonne verabschiedet sich / © Foto: Georg Berg
The sun says goodbye / © Photo: Georg Berg

We arrive just in time for dinner at the Davidsons’ Arnhemland Safaris after a fast night drive through the bush. There is no time left for a swim in the pool.

Swimmingpool und Blick in den Speisesaal der Davidson's Arnhemland Safaris während des Dinners / © Foto: Georg Berg
Swimming pool and view into the dining room of Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris during dinner / © Photo: Georg Berg

The next day we see more rock paintings but also objects of daily life lying ready to hand in rock crevices as if they were shelves. Dominoes, spearheads, carpenter’s tools, but also a hand axe, which, although ancient, still lies ergonomically well in the hand. A miracle that everything is still so well preserved and has not yet been lost. Sab has already made some experiences in this direction and asks everyone to keep quiet about the corresponding places.

Eine alte Queraxt, mit der Holz bearbeitet werden kann / © Foto: Georg Berg
An old cross axe used to work wood / © Photo: Georg Berg
Sab Lord hält einen Dominostein in der Hand, der in einer Aborigine-Höhle hinterlegt worden ist / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sab Lord holds a domino in his hand that has been deposited in an aboriginal cave / © Photo: Georg Berg
Ergonomisch geformter Faustkeil. Das Steinzeit-Handy liegt glücklicherweise wieder an seinem ursprünglichen Fundort. Ein amerikanischer Tourist hatte ihn vor ein paar Jahren mitgehen lassen und damit großes Unheil angerichtet. Im weit entfernten Tasmanien ist der Dieb kurz darauf von Sab gestellt worden, der sich sich an dessen Reisepläne erinnert hatte / © Foto: Georg Berg
Ergonomically shaped hand axe. Fortunately, the Stone Age cell phone is back in its original place of discovery. An American tourist had stolen it a few years ago and caused great havoc. In faraway Tasmania, the thief was caught shortly afterwards by Sab, who had remembered his travel plans / © Photo: Georg Berg
Am Lagerfeuer mit Sab Lord verarbeiten wir die Eindrücke des Tages. In einem Lager, das Sab Lord selbst betreibt, schläft man in fertig aufgebauten Steilwandzelten. Vorher wird das Kanguru-Geschnetzelte mit Gemüse vom Chef persönlich über dem offenen Feuer zubereitet. Gegessen wird dann stilvoll mit Familienerbstücken. Am Lagerfeuer wird der Outback-Macho sentimental und erzählt von seiner Mutter, die ihm das Besteck vermacht hat / © Foto: Georg Berg
At the campfire with Sab Lord we process the impressions of the day. In a camp run by Sab Lord himself, we sleep in ready-built cliff tents. Beforehand, the kangaroo stew with vegetables is prepared by the boss himself over an open fire. Dinner is then served in style with family heirlooms. Around the campfire, the outback macho gets sentimental and talks about his mother, who bequeathed him the cutlery / © Photo: Georg Berg
Das Frühstück krönt Sab mit einem Spiegelei im Outback-Style / © Foto: Georg Berg
Sab crowns breakfast with a fried egg in outback style / © Photo: Georg Berg

We have to leave right after breakfast, because the East Alligator River is only passable by car for a few hours a day and people often fall victim to the numerous saltwater crocodiles.(Australia’s most dangerous water crossing)

Wracks an der Cahills Crossing. Der East Alligator River ist bei Ebbe leicht zu durchqueren. Während der Flut werden Autos schon mal weggespült / © Foto: Georg Berg
Wrecks at the Cahills Crossing. The East Alligator River is easy to cross at low tide. During high tide cars are sometimes washed away / © Photo: Georg Berg

Travel advice: Australia for European tourists

The research trip was supported by the Tourism Office of the Northern Territory

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