Standing out on the rocks surrounded by clear blue waters glistening in the sun, the energy is buzzing as eager, young and old Bardi Jawi people pull in one coral trout after another.
We are at Deepwater Point on Bardi Jawi country. We have journeyed here to take part in a 5-day biodiversity survey coordinated by the Bardi Jawi ranger group. Lofty has offered to film and put together a short documentary about doing the survey. Basically, the aim is to observe animals and plants that live in the area and collect as much data about them as possible. To do this we use traps and cameras, observe tracks and scats, listen for birdcalls and spotlight at night. And when we get the chance, we go fishing.
This week was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It is so special to be on country with Traditional Owners, learning Bardi Jawi language and cultural knowledge about local animals, plants, land and sea.
The Bardi Jawi mob are no strangers to tourists because of the beauty of their country. Cape Leveque is a major attraction to any tourist that can muster up the confidence to drive the 90km of sandy pindan track. The Rangers (male and female) are a warm and welcoming bunch of characters. At first we were shy of one another but after a few days of working in the field and a couple of shared meals around the fire, we were joking and sharing stories.
What really struck me after these 5 days was the richness of Bardi Jawi culture and how different Indigenous culture is to non-Indigenous culture in Australia. I felt an element of culture shock and surprise at various cultural protocols. Equally, the intimate knowledge that each ranger revealed about plants, animals, land and sea blew me away. They showed a living connection to the land and sea and a passion for caring for it.
In my time off, I was lucky enough to learn how to use a hand line by the master herself, Bernadette. As the saltwater mob pulled in fish after fish (blue bone, giant mullet, mangrove jack and bream) I looked on in awe with my line in hand, no idea how to use it and too intimidated to try. Bernadette, a Bardi Jawi elder with a cheeky twinkle in her eye and a witty sense of humour, showed me how to tackle up and launch my line. She was nimble with her fingers and threw the line with such precision, putting anybody with a fishing rod to shame. That evening we feasted on a large coral trout (caught by Bernie). Later, Kevin (also a Bardi Jawi elder) took me under his wing and furthered my hand line education. I am eternally grateful that I can now fish legitimate, Bardi Jawi style.