Our first day was spent in Broome, where we were welcomed to country by Dianne Appleby, a Yawaru woman who introduced us to the seven local seasons (Green grass time is good for hunting goanna; kangaroo fatten up in the honey season… ) She said all her countrymen and women from her parents’ generation back were ‘walking encyclopedias’ of knowledge about weather, food and medicine. Dianne also told us she liaised with Woodside regarding their gas expansion project on behalf of her people, hinting at the challenging complexities of The Kimberleys’ environmental politics. She was the first of many inspiring people we met.
Our ‘cross cultural training’ introduced us to some basic elements of local languages and included an explanation of Aboriginal kinship systems. Later we met various representatives from environment groups based in Broome and one from government.
We also heard from BJ (Dr Barry Traill) – who was to be our expert and entertaining guide through both the political and the ecological terrain of Northern Australia for the next six days. We were visiting one of the few great wilderness areas left on earth, he told us. He shared the crucial observation that when indigenous people leave the land, species disappear. The idea that land needs human management was one of the central themes of our field trip.
Next day, off in the bus up the Dampier Peninsular to red-cliffed Point Leveque and indigenous-owned beach resort Kooljamin, where we met the Bardi Jawi Land and Sea Rangers, and heard about their IPA (Indigenous Protection Area) management plan. Next day they showed us their workshop, plant nursery, and boats, plus the heavy-duty leaf blowers they use to beat up the flames for strategic burning off. Bibido told us that when one person gets a job as a ranger on their own country, the benefits ripple out through family to as many as a hundred people.
That afternoon a seaplane took us to Freshwater Cove/Wijingarra Bard Bard, a tiny settlement in a marine wilderness area with no road access. Peter Tucker has lived there in the dry season for many years. He is committed, with senior traditional owner Donny, to getting some of the young Worrorra ‘mob’ back onto their country and has set up a small tourist operation to provide employment.
The Wandjina Tours mob took us on walks to see ancient cave paintings, bowerbird bowers and an old carved baobab tree. We were also taken by boat to Langgi, a beach where, surrounded by a tribe of towering black rock formations, Donny ( in his reflector sunglasses) told us creation tales of Dunbi The Owl. Our cheeks were daubed with red ochre before approaching special places, and we were smoked with eucalyptus on our return.
Next stop was an AWC (Australian Wildlife Conservancy) property, Mornington Station, reached by helicopter ride over spectacular outback country. Mornington is a great example of an unworkable pastoral lease now transformed into a conservation property. We met a team of young research scientists who presented informative talks and powerpoint presentations on quolls, fire, de-stocking, and feral cats, and also acted as drivers and tour guides. After we swam at a stunning Fitzroy River waterhole, they poured champagne and Pinot Noir for us to quaff on the cliff top while watching the sunset turn the pink rocks blazing orange.
Early next morning we were taken bird watching and saw a flock of Gouldian Finches flying back and forth from baobab tree to the waterhole below.
I think we all went home from our trip inspired, slightly dazed, and with much to reflect upon.