With his arm elbow deep in muddy water Eddie looks up and winks and mentions that if this mud crab gets a hold of his fingers we had better watch out as we will all know about it! We were out on the Mangrove flats that the people of Ngamagkoon belong to. Eddie is part of the Sampi family, made well known by the Eagles player Ashley Sampi, a Bardi from the mob at Ngamagkoon.
The 5 of us began our journey in Broome 4 days previous. We were on what we called a “listening journey”, as part of a programme I run called OnEARTH for Global Mission Partners. We were there to listen to country, to story, to legend, to the people of the Dampier Peninsula -
Before the arrival of Europeans, the natural environment on the Dampier Peninsula provided plenty of bush tucker for the indigenous people. Creeks, tidal areas and the ocean are full of fish, dugong, mud crab and oysters and the vine thickets provide fruits and berries to make a varied and nourishing local diet.
Dampier Peninsula people still have a strong affinity with the sea and bushland, as we discovered along our journey.
After driving from Broome we arrived in Looma (120km S/E of Derby) with a population of around 400. We stayed with Natasha and Jamie Short, a wonderful couple who pastor the People’s Church as well as look after the community youth centre. They are fantastic people. Jamie is a White fella from Perth and Natasha, an Aboriginal from the Halls Creek area. They have been serving at Looma for about 7 years now and have 2 great kids.
After lunch and a swim down on the stunning Fitzroy River we drove up to Derby to visit the Whites. Paul and Laurel White pastor the Derby Baptist Church among other activities. They have bought the Aboriginal Training Centre just out of town and have big plans for growth and extension. Whilst there we did some manual labor… we raked up truck loads of dry leaves (fire hazard) and were asked to remove the stumps of 2 recently cut down Boab trees- hmmm??!!
Laurel White looked after us while we were there. She is a great lady, she has a wonderful gift of hospitality and generosity! Paul, her husband and pastor at the church is a pilot and was away in Perth during our stay. Outside the life and ministry of the predominantly white church Paul and Laurel have some amazing relationships and ministries in Aboriginal communities.
Kimberly Aid - This business has began as a result of RFDS having bigger planes and not being able to access smaller community airstrips around the Kimberley. Paul and Laurel have got a bunch of medical people and pilots to donate their time to assist in evac when RFDS can’t make it in.
Kingdom Aviation – Paul and Laurel run a 3 plane ministry that flies all over the Kimberley sharing their faith, serving the poor and running programs in schools, parent support group, and other training.
Dentistry – Laurel is a dentist nurse and in her work in Derby has made many an indigenous persons dentistry journey easier as a result of special favours and ‘working the system’ that does not always serve people from remote communities very well at all. Her willingness to make all sorts of tough things just ‘happen’ for people who otherwise couldn’t get there was wonderful! She tells a great story too!
After 2 nights in Derby we drove ‘the back way’ on some very out of the way tracks to get to Cape Leveque up on the top of the Dampier Peninsula. Upon check in at Kooljaman we drove over the hill toward our beach campsite, as we rounded the hill the most amazing view was taken in to gasps from all on board – this place was paradise! Kooljaman is jointly owned by Djarindjin and One Arm Point Aboriginal Communities and sits 220km north of Broome. We visited one of these communities on the road on the drive up the Peninsula -
Some 200 km from Broome, there are two communities very close together with about 60 Aboriginal (Bardi) people in Lombadina (first settled in the late 1890’s by Thomas Puertiollano who sold the land to the Catholic Church) and over 200 in the more traditional Djarindjin. We called in to Djarindjin specifically to catch up with Barry Ennis, the Principal from the Lombidina/Djarindjin School. We had heard through Sabrina Haan/ABC radio National that the EON Foundation from Perth had been helping the school set up a organic community Kitchen Garden. Barry showed us around the garden but was also good enough to spend time sharing with us the history of the the area. This community is not without some of the usual issues we read about in the media in remote Aboriginal regions, but there was something about the place that we all loved. We sensed a slowness and peace about it, a friendliness that drew us in.
On our first night at Cape Leveque (and every subsequent one!) we made our way down to the Western Beach and watched the sunset – undoubtably some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen!
On Friday we went to One Arm Point community (Ardiyooloon). This community is the home of the Bardi and Jawi people who were the traditional inhabitants of the area. These people are still active in hunting around the local area and in most cases still using traditional hunting methods as they hunt for sea turtle or goorlil (we saw the evidence of a fresh catch along the beach!), dugong (odorr), and many many of the amazing fish (aarli) up there. They also collect the trochus shells and make jewellery, oysters, mud crabs and more. These people are proud of their hatchery on the point where they nurture all sorts of creatures in giant tanks.
Here at One Arm Point we stopped and and chatted with a wonderful couple called Brian and Violet Carter. Their son is the Chairman of One Arm Point Aboriginal Community. This lovely old couple can tell some stories! Brian moved to Derby as a pilot in 1956, later married Violet and have lived in One Arm Point community for many many years, to look at Brian you know he is not Aboriginal but to listen to him speak and hear his heart beat, you know he is on the inside! They both sat with us and shared some great insights into the local culture, politics, and … well fishing and tides :) Brian and Violet are both followers of Christ
and asked us excitedly if we had seen their ‘church’. It was a roof and some poles with a piece of shade cloth they were quite happy with – we fell in love with these guys and their beautiful faith and love for life and one another.
Saturday morning saw us pulling into Eddie’s place at Ngamagkoon, just south of Kooljaman. We had asked if Eddie could spend a few hours with us telling us about his people and their culture. He was willing and would even show us the basics of living in a coastal Bardi community. We drove out into the Mangrove Flats and went on foot (with spears) into the thick mud searching (and finding!) some VERY large crabs hiding under trees. After crabbing we headed back to the Melaleuca scrub (not venturing too far in as there were sacred ceremony sites in behind) looking for bush honey and pollen. With our ears against the trunks listening for bees we wandered through the scrub until Eddie found the right spot, cut it open and allowed us to sample the most
beautiful tasting honey and pollen (tastes like sherbet). Interesting, one white person we met, not knowing or respecting much of Aboriginal culture told us with some disdain that “Aboriginal people set fire to everything!“
But Eddie taught us that his people light the bush to thin it, also to make it better for collecting their fire wood, as well as for hunting the stuff in the long grass, such a different window we were now looking through! From there we went out onto one of the most stunning coastal scenes I have seen. The Ngamagkoon people’s land has a creek running out into the ocean where they do much of their spearing and fishing from.
This site was one of untouched bush and mangrove reaching to long white beaches and crystal clear aqua coloured lagoons. After extracting our car from the soft sand we headed back to Eddie’s place to bid him farewell and be told that we were welcome back to his country and community any time.
This time with Eddie was more than we could have hoped for and all voted it as the highlight of our trip that was drawing to a close faster than we wanted. We headed back to camp for one more afternoon sleep (a tradition we embraced…or did we start that one?), a fire with some reflections of our time away, and a dinner of local Barramundi, Kangaroo and … cow! Eddie mentioned that morning that there were a few ‘stray’ cattle around :)
Sunday morning, time to make our way back to Broome for a 1pm flight to Perth. On our return down the challenging stretch of unsealed road we took time to visit Beagle Bay Community. It was looking very nice and manicured after a week of political meetings discussing a report written by an old school mate Steve Kinnane. I read Steve’s book Shadow Lines while we travelled this week. The book follows the lives of his Grandmother (a Mirrawong woman stolen from Argyle Station in the early 1900’s) and his grandfather (an Englishman) through to today. What a brilliant read! (See below)
The Beagle Bay community is located 120 kilometres from Broome. In the centre of the community there’s a beautiful church, built of stone from 1914-1918 by German Pallottine monks, who settled here around 1901.
On entering the Sacred Heart Church you can see a stunning pearl shell altar. Coloured windows create a special mood in the building. But, we forgot it was Sunday and church had already started and we had a plane to catch, so we missed the insides :(
The community’s name was derived from the vessel “Beagle”, which moored at the bay when the priests were looking for a suitable mission place in 1889, ironic really as this was the ship Charles Darwin sailed on. It was much of his work that was used to base most of the atrocities done to our Aboriginal people!
If you are wanting to connect and learn more with the rich lives of the first Aussies, grab a copy of The First Australians (SBS), or Read Steve’s book Shadow Lines (2003, Fremantle Arts Press). One review says that … “Shadow Lines revolves around two people born a world apart, a half caste Aboriginal woman by the name of Jessie Argyle, and an Englishman named Edward Smith. Edward was born in 1891 and emigrated to Australia in 1909 as an eighteen year-old. Jessie was born in the Argyle region in the far north of Western Australia in 1900, and was taken from her family in 1906 under the newly created Aborigines Act of 1905. This book makes the often dry history of Western Australia since white colonisation come alive, and is probably a far better way to learn about the sordid history of this state than by way of the official history textbooks.
What Kinnane has done here is weave together a rich tapestry of historical tales”…read the rest here.
Not everything we saw ‘impressed’ us. Not every road taken in order to work among the people of the Kimberley would be a road I would have taken. This makes neither my road right or the road we observed wrong, just different tracks people take and our reactions to them. We went to look listen and learn from all we encountered, I trust this is what has happened.
Well I have to say that sometimes I love my job – last week was one of those times :)
Thanks to The Wembley Downs Church of Christ (where I hung out for the first 18 years of my life! As our new friend Eddie might say “they grew me up”) for making this trip a reality and for those who travelled the journey Dennis R, Steve M, Matt B and Ken V – What a great a bunch of guys to hang out with for a week, Thanks!