29 September 2007

cape country and crays

Our last day at Cape Melville we motored up the coast a few miles to investigate a freshwater spring ashore. A walk through beautiful country, paperbarks and bloodwoods and long crunchy ochre grasses. The vegetation changed and we were upon a rainforest gully and spring. We stopped so Hector Michael and Des Bowen could tell the boys about their own experiences in this country. We pass a couple of dirt bike riders and a German couple in a four-wheel drive and make our way to the swimming hole. Flat granite slabs and boulders provide a platform for firetruck red wattles abuzz with bumblebees. The water is cool and mineral fresh and everyone gets wet. Little streams escape from nooks and tumble down rock-sides. Dragonflies like red biplanes swoop the waterflows. The older boys go climbing and see a rock wallaby. Ranger Mal tells me this is one of the few places on the Cape where fox palms – the iconic tropical palm tree – are endemic. It’s warming to see the Elders get excited seeing their country and sharing their knowledge. On this morning’s little voyage, softly-spoken Hector Michael pointed out a couple of islands nearby which according to local folklore are a mother dugong and her calf. Des pointed out the delineation between Starke and its northern neighbouring lands whose name I forget. He told the story about the government’s attempted sale of large parcels of land at Starke in America - which became the impetus for The Wilderness Society's lobbying for protection of Cape York. This is the same land he drove cattle through in his younger days. I wonder how much of this knowledge will be retained by the boys. I was impressed by one of the older boys telling E and I about the medicinal use of the milky liquid found in the green ant nest, which can be boiled down and used as a pain reliever. Generally I suspect that much of the traditional knowledge will be lost. I hope I’m wrong.

After the swim we went back to our anchorage so the boys could pack up their camp. They had a final boys fire circle on the beach and returned to the boat. We made dinner early in anticipation of a rough overnight sail into the wind, heading south to Cape Flattery. We were right: it was pretty lumpy (the seas, not dinner!). I managed to cook copious amounts of rice and serve 24 curries from the very hot galley in the chop. I emerged a little green and desperate for air but having done the job. I think being at anchor for three days and going below deck immediately in rough seas did it, but I settled in an hour or so and was fine. Up at 5am for another dawn watch (with full moon) and tea-lady duties as we approached Cape Flattery. We anchored and unloaded the boys, Elders and Hopevale teacher (a dedicated young bloke who chose to spend his holidays with us). Pushed through extreme tiredness to clean the galley and then dropped into bed for a powernap and then up again for a few odd jobs and dinner prep, which required a trip ashore to pick up some fresh crays we were given.

Last night I fed The 7.30 Report / Message Stick crew – rationalisation at the ABC means the same crew produce both programs. The crays were on the small side so I cooked them up into a pasta salad and served this along with a green salad and toasted Turkish bread with pesto. My trepidation at dining with news guys – having not read a paper in a week – was unfounded. Dinner conversation was all jokes and who knows who in the small world of Indigenous communities on the Cape. Jeremy Gaia (very amiable Message Stick reporter) made the mistake of asking where I did my chef’s training. More jokes, this time everyone’s suddenly not hungry. Yes, very funny indeed. I didn’t tell them about the little black bugs I sieved from the pasta (which had been onboard for an indeterminate time). Just made sure I served it with lots of cracked pepper… hehe!

The cooking is lots of fun when it's just the crew. We're all real foodies and skip is committed to ensuring we eat well – organic, free-range and fresh where possible – so I just cook the things I like to eat, which is pretty easy as we’re still stocked with fresh stuff. (They also know their coffee. First mate is head coffee fiend onboard and took personal responsibility for having all the espresso pots reconditioned before we left Cairns!) The holus bolus industrial pot stuff is a different experience. I enjoyed supervising the boys to cook for the entire mob... though we use their provisions so we’re all a bit over moo food and bully beef sandwiches!

Anyway, back to the ABC guys, who are here to document Pelican’s work with the Hopevale community. The film crew came aboard this morning to interview skip (and had their first real coffees since leaving southern capitals). They’ll hang around for a few days and also film us on the day sails. The Message Stick program will probably screen in early 2008. Not sure when or whether the material will find its way to The 7.30 Report.

Free day today. Chose not to go ashore in preference to chilling out on the boat - should be plenty of time yet to go and check out the community camp and hopefully some of the famed silica dunes. After a long-awaited shower, several espresso injections and the media bizzo, I edited skip’s log and contributed photos. Also picked up the el-cheapo nylon-string guitar, which skip acquired in Cairns, for a bit. Lovely nylon.

We saw dolphins from the boat this morning – either Indo-Pacific Humpbacked or Irrawaddy, but they didn’t surface for long enough to be properly identified. Also, skip and second mate sighted a croc round the cape yesterday when they went to get a manifold welded (or something like that). Luckily they were on land at the time and not in the duck. Speaking of ducks, there's a pair of cute little birds hanging round the rigging, which skip just chased out of the sailbag. Am yet to get in a decent turtle sighting but will probably spend lots of time on deck in coming days...

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