Stories from the sea
Jetstar Magazine actually titled it Stories from the Land, but we were thrilled to see that the article written by Kerry Sharp featured Roque and our Sunset Dreaming tour.
With the tide running out and an hour left before another stunning Top End sunset, Larrakia man Roque Lee steps onto a freshly exposed Darwin Harbour sandbar and hands out the spears and woomeras he’s brought with him on the tour boat Snubfin.
The fun-loving, traditional owner gathers his guests around and describes how his countrymen first hand-crafted and used these ancient, rapid-fire hunting tools to gather fish, turtles and other creatures — and how they still use them today to harvest food from the sea.
His uncles taught him well as a boy. He hooks a bamboo spear along the upper edge of the wooden woomera, takes aim and sends a lethal weapon whistling through the air. It pierces the wet sand and quivers to a stop many metres from the enthralled travellers. They take up the spears to try it for themselves, most with surprisingly good results that reinforce the efficiency of this ancient hunting technique. For tens of thousands of years, the succulent fresh bounty from this vast tropical harbour, its tidal rivers, tributaries and extensive mangrove forest fringe have been a vital food source for the Larrakia — the traditional custodians of Darwin and its saltwater country.
“The elements dictate the best place to be on the harbour each evening,” says Darwin-born Roque, a talented traditional artist with works in public spaces and galleries around the country. He’s one of 14 children of Mary Lee, who was warmly embraced by visiting US President Barack Obama last year, as a survivor of World War II enemy bombing raids on Darwin on 19 February 1942.
“Tonight we’re on the Fannie Bay Sandbar and next week we’ll be on a beach up the back of the harbour.”
Roque exudes enormous pride in his people’s culture and is in his element showing it to the world. That’s why he teamed up with Sea Darwin Cruises owner and skipper Jim Smith three years ago to present “Sunset Dreaming”. It’s a unique interactive encounter that starts with a traditional “Welcome to Saltwater Country” as the open-decked Snubfin leaves historic Stokes Hill Wharf enroute to the sandbar. Within a minute of heading off, guests onboard are suddenly enthralled by a family of humpback dolphins breaching the glassy surface.
This 90-minute cruise comes complete with craft lessons in how to create unbreakable string from hibiscus bark, and with a bush-tucker tasting platter that includes barramundi dip and other land and sea delights.
Sunset Dreaming is one option among a growing list available for global travellers to delve below the surface of Darwin’s rich and ancient Aboriginal traditions. …….
Meanwhile, back down on the harbour with Sea Darwin Cruises’ sandbar activities over and everyone settled aboard Snubfin for a fast-ride back to the wharf, Roque Lee pipes a haunting didgeridoo serenade from the bow to toast the blazing red sun sinking quietly behind him into the Beagle Gulf. It’s perfect for reflecting upon how Darwin’s earliest inhabitants, the Larrakia people, designed and created their own unique ways to hunt and gather bounty from the land and sea to survive for tens of thousands of years in this tropical saltwater country