28 September 2008

mayi dupbar*

It's always about the food.

Up early on our day off. Can’t sleep in (damn diurnal rhythms). Pelican’s tech-guru N and I prep pancakes on the barbie with fruit salad, yoghurt and honey (the maple syrup went out in sympathy for the armies of bananas which have fermented on this trip). A lovely long brekky with coffee and tunes.

It’s a fitting start to our Sunday after Pelican's four huge days supporting a group of Hope Vale community members to retrace, by kayak, a sea route used by the Guugu Yimidhirr Aborigines to Lizard Island to collect (you guessed it) food: wild arrowroot and yam, clam shell, sea gull eggs, turtle, wangay, fish, dugong and pigeons. The original inhabitants paddled in dugout canoes from the main camp at Cape Flattery to Lizard, via Rocky Island, South Direction Island and North Direction Island.

Our first night’s anchorage is at Rocky Isle, a protected rookery for Torres Strait pigeons. We have time for beachcombing before picking up the kayakers who will arrive after their first day's paddle. The shoreline is paved with flat white stones and the sand is spangled with driftwood, prongs of bleached coral and manmade flotsam. We return to the boat with the kayakers and an armful of rubbish and rouse a few hands to help prepare the meal: freshly-hooked barbecued fish, jacket potatoes and salad. Camping is not permitted on Rocky so Pelican sleeps with 29 people under her wing.

On day two, the kayakers paddle from Rocky Isle to North Direction Island, which rises like a pudding from the sea. Our mooring there is tenuous, with gusts bulleting the boat, and reefs surrounding us. So after unloading support people and camp gear, Pelican and crew depart for the sheltered waters of Watson’s Bay at Lizard for the night and a quiet meal of ganguruu (kangaroo) and mediterranean vegies on the barbie (with thanks to E and crew for giving me the night off!).

We motor back to North Direction on day three to pick up all the kayakers. With 25-30 knot winds and a messy two-metre swell, some paddlers are not keen on completing the last leg to Lizard Island. With them aboard, we sail back to Lizard and moor at Mermaid Cove, a secluded bay where a rock ledge shelters a lively reef. It's decided that we'll wait to see if conditions ease enough to complete the last leg tomorrow. After a tiring day of loading and unloading people and gear, N and I squeeze in a late afternoon snorkel. Sunlight streams through the water onto bright blue, fat-fingered starfish. Giant winking clams and baby clam nurseries ogle us from below. Neon reef fish duck in and around coral bommies. We stick our heads up just in time to catch a sunshower. As we return to the boat a turtle swims by. What a world! After visiting the shore camp we enjoy a late dinner of baked spangled emperor, rice, cucumber salad and coconut-lime sambal.

Day four and we are three paddlers short. The kayaks must all be returned to Lizard. In the interests of logistics, I, along with two other Pelican crew, put my hand up to jump in a kayak. Not without nerves, as the instructors focus us on how to handle a capsize and our skipper talks about retrieval procedures. Conditions are still rough, with 25-30 knots, frequent gusts and lots of chop, but we're paddling downwind and have Pelican close by. As we launch the kayaks from North Direction Island, an eagle circles us overhead. I'm too busy staying upright to notice, but those remaining on Pelican declare goosebumps. This is the final leg of an historic voyage. After an hour’s paddling, we approach the shallow waters of the lagoon at Lizard, all eight kayaks with sails up, cruising the rest of the way in. A welcome party of three ngowia (turtles) greets my paddle honcho J and I as we are among the first to arrive.

What a journey. Kudos to the kayakers who completed it, and brought to life part of their cultural heritage. It is hard to imagine making this voyage in pursuit of food, as the Guugu Yimidhirr once did.


*Yummy food in Guugu Yimidhirr

18 September 2008

postcard from cape flattery

At last... back where the sun shines! We are anchored at Cape Flattery, at the southern end of the Cape York Peninsula.

We sailed from Cairns a week ago, arriving that evening in Cooktown for a community sail the following day. We took a group of school students and marine scientists out to the reef to undertake water quality monitoring. After last dash provisioning in Cooktown (including an all-important last icecream for a month), we sailed to Cape Bedford, where we anchored for a couple of days, doing sail training. We've had five Hope Vale fellas aboard for the first week, undertaking training with us towards their coxswains certificates. Great bunch of guys (that's them above in celebration mode as we arrive at Flattery).

Bit of a perk for me to sit in on most of the training and beef up my boatiness.

On Tuesday we sailed north to Cape Flattery, where the Hope Vale community will set up camp on the beach over the school holidays. This will be the base for a whole bunch of activities, including digital storytelling (there is a whole media tent with computer editing facilities), a kayaking trip following a traditional dugout canoe route to Lizard Island, music and dance workshops, basket-weaving, spear-making, turtle and dugong research... and of course sailing!

ailing north from Cape Bedford, we had a bumper catch off Low Wooded Isle, a favoured fishing spot of skip's which always provides. Northern bluefin tuna, spotted mackerel and coral trout: five in all. We have since feasted amply on sashimi and barbecued fish, rice and salad.

The only food issues so far have been frostbitten greens and fermenting fruit. Since we are quite remote and catering numbers are a bit 'fluid', I've been swallowing my tongue every time I see space appearing in the fridges! Have
also been helping with meal planning for the community camp – up to 120 people for three weeks with only eskies, a simple woodfire grill and gurramah (underground camp oven) to play with. Luckily there is a cook in charge of the camp kitchen (I had been wondering!) and he used to be a chef in the navy.

Today was our first community sail at Flattery, with the marine scientist involving Hope Vale kids in seagrass monitoring activities. Privileged to have a traditional owner aboard. We are learning lots. Many dugongs sighted, one curling up through the water close by the boat.

Will write more soon - my battery's dying!

04 September 2008


(pro-ROHG) verb tr.: 1. To discontinue a session of something, for example, a parliament. 2. To defer or to postpone.

Sometimes new words come along at just the right time.

Spring has sprung and we are into our second week of continuous sunshine! Those of you living beyond the reach of proper winter will probably not understand my unfettered crazy-woman bliss. Suffice to say, it is like falling into a very deep mire of fetid baby-poo-like sludge while you’re sleeping and wondering, when you wake up, why everything is suddenly rank and it’s difficult to move without clenching inwardly against the tide of crap… until five months* later you’re miraculously hauled out of the baby-poo-like sludge, whisked to a day spa and washed, pummelled and spruced back to life, whereupon robed courtiers who look very much like Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords escort you to a candy-striped sunchair where a glass of bubbles awaits your pleasure as wardrobe, hair and nail attendants get to work on further sprucing.

Well, it is very much like this. Of course it isn't actually this. That would be stupid. Or very amazing.

But back to my main reason for posting. Tomorrow I leave the country. (Not Australia, Gippsland, aka the country. Ha!) For Cape York, via Cooktown, via Cairns, via Melbourne, via bus, train, J's place, train, skybus, plane, car, boat, etc.

I can almost smell the salt air! Yippee! does not even come close. Business as usual (winter, under-employment, everything in my life that doubles for baby-poo-like sludge, etc) is hereby prorogued for a month.

Spring has also returned my kitchen mojo, courtesy a genius creation of barley, mushroom and mozzarella burgers. Which are so meaty that I’m toying with getting the kids (the ones I’ll be working with, who only eat meat – and then only the lips-n-a$$holes kind) to make and eat!

Hehehehe. I am pure evil.


*because that is how long a real winter lasts.