Thursday, December 04, 2008

Making Links

presenting at Making Links

At Hope Vale primary school, Cape York.

Well I reckon the only reason I have not been blogging is because I have been talking too much. I have one occasion above where I co-presented about the Digital Story Telling (DST) project in Hope Vale with Samia Goudie. This was at the Making Links conference in
Melbourne (Link above). Before that I did my first ever international keynote at a Marine Educators conference (IPMEN).
And also presenting at Hope Vale school the DST project that the kids made, again with Samia.

And all this talking and sharing leads to more sharing and talking. And you always end up learning more and becoming more inspired to carry on.

Because sometimes it seems overwhelming the amount to do and learn, the current threats to the wellbeing of this groaning over- populated planet. All the personal issues of being in the middle of your life or maybe more and seeing a huge momentum developing and realising how finite our individual terms are.

So maybe I'll go back to having a bit of meandering time on my blog. Hope so.

Oh and good news. Just won a grant to help us develop curriculum from the Two Bays project that links the Old ways with the New. Linking traditional knowledge, understanding Sea Country with Science practices in a model of Ocean Literacy principles to create innovative curriculum for kids. Yay.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tidal Ancestor

Tidal Ancestor

If the tides had an answer
to the unfathomable question
and the tides, toing and froing
conjured up the perfect shell;
would the heart be open to it?

Tidal pull, tugging at the heart's complexity
dark, somewhere trying to hear itself,
within sounds continuous, insistent motion.

Silence, is a streamlined space
garnished with shaker insects
and water flow.

Saltwater, transparently clear to crocodile murky in a couple of hours;
light today so clear you could see every tree on Cape Flattery.

So, we all emerged from the tides,
pulled shorewards by the desire to walk
on this land.

Connectivity and separation,
sunlight fusion,
the stranded starfish, found by the
children at low tide and left out
to die slowly in the sun.

Land and sea, land and sea, land and sea,
land and sea

Connies Beach,
Cape Flattery,
Cape York,
October, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Packed and ready to go..

I have been in Queensland for a week now and hope to make our way to Cape Flattery tomorrow for a month long project with the Hope Vale Aboriginal Community
We have been getting ready in Cairns and I had planned to have a bit of down time beforehand. This was not to be, as my daughter Aurora was very ill with fevers, so we were in and out of emergency and doctors surgerys and had many nights of no sleep. But she is now much better and we are now in Cooktown. Ready for the big sand dune drive and our time in Guugu Yimithirr Country.

This year the program is very full and we have extended it by a couple of weeks. I am very involved in the digital story telling project and am working as one of the trainers as well as helping run overall program. The link in the title is worth following if you are interested in finding out in more depth the aims and also methodolgy of the DST component. There will be lots more about what is happening on our Pelican website.

I am looking forward to setting up my tent and getting my feet on country and being part of our once a year camp community on the beautiful coastline of Cape York.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A delicate triumph

Dare I celebrate with this gentle unfolding of a magnolia bloom? Dare I celebrate a Winter that is passing? Dare I celebrate this early warming of blossom and flower?
Dare I think that my time, my year of difficulty could result in something resembling a delicate unfolding of good possibility and certainly good intent?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Catchments to Coast - Triabunna

Pelican is heading for home. The East Coast of Tassie pictured above is now slipping under the horizon behind us as we motor sail across Bass Strait. We were escorted by dolphins as we sailed into Banks Strait towards Tasmania and this morning were shadowed into the vast sea paddock between Tasmania and the mainland by a big pod of squeaking, whistling Bottle-Nosed Dolphins.

Our stay in Tasmania was all too brief, particularly as we have sailed all the way down here. We did two events, one from Swansea and one from the port town of Triabunna (Aboriginal word for Native Hen). Both towns are part of the East Coast catchment of Glemorgan Spring Bay.
And it is with the Natural Resource Managers of that particular council that we may be setting up a new Two Bays kind of project. Triabunna sits in a wonderful deep harbour and we thouroughly enjoyed meeting the people from there and having a tiny bit of time to explore on land.
Below is a photo of a woodchip pile. This enterprise is situated just outside of Triabunna. Some people may be aware of the controversies surrounding the logging, woodchip, pulp mill industries in Tasmania. These industries are the mainstay of the economy and there has been a constant struggle between the green movement and the people who run and are employers in these industries. The Australian Greens party was formed in the 70s in response to the planned damming of Lake Peddar and the Franklin. A company called Gunns basically has the monopoly of the forestry industries and also many agricultural projects (wineries) and is a big player in Tasmania. In fact, the Premier of Tasmania, who resigned while we were there, left his position in the main due to his too obvious connection with these powerful industrialists.

For me the highlight was meetinig a local artist, Vita, pictured below with one of our crew, Julia and Aurora.
She is nearly 92 and going strong, painting very interesting abstracted landscapes with a joyous sense of colour. I hope to meet with her for longer if the planned project takes off in early 2009. She thought that our boat, Pelican, was the most beautiful boat she had ever seen. And she added that she hasd seen plenty of boats in her lifetime. We think so too!!

Friday, May 23, 2008

the crossing

It is pitch dark outside as Pelican gently rocks to the long slow swell of Bass Strait. The cook is reading, my daughter is making paper dolls with our new volunteer on Pelican; Julia, a young Marine Biologist from Germany. The skipper and first mate are in the wheel house, making sure that we don't hit a tanker or a whale . Estelle, another of the old Pelican crew is tidying up the galley. And I am blogging! I will put in my communal time after dinner and do the dishes!

We are sailing down to Tasmania to hopefully develop a Two Bays project on the East Coast. But it really is just a wonderful excuse to be out on the ocean , on a cold late Autumn night, sailing under a lop sided moon.

My personal life is still in a bit of freefall but being out here is slowly giving me a much needed feeling of peace. Sometimes I wonder about what I am doing and feel like I am floundering in a sea of good intentions.

Particularly now as I am crossing this stretch of water, created during sea level rises over 10,000 years ago, and traversing my own internal changes that are in their own way causing a complete change in the geography of my own life.

Ahh the grandeur and tininess of me, ahh, the joy of watching an albatross skim the surface of the wave - wing outstretched in graceful pleasure of motion and control.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Fringe of Leaves

Probably my bad memory but I seem to recall a Patrick White novel of the same name about Eliza Fraser? And if that is so I would like to read it as I also seem to recall that the novel is based around the true story of a white woman who was shipwrecked near Fraser Island and ended up living for some time with the Gubbi Gubbi people of South East Queensland before being rescued. I may be completely wrong but that would not be new or novel either but ithe title set up a train of thought for this blog.
I have just come back from spending some time at Dangerbridge, which is the name of my Mum's farm in South East Queensland. A family holiday. And it was that, even though it was undertaken at a time of a lot of stress between my husband and I. This was the same area for those events described above.
But I don't want to dwell on the complexities of my marriage but rather at the level of unknowability which hovers in our lives and can make life even more of a mystery than it already is.
At a point in my own life which is demanding deep attention to the emotional life. I find myself drawn to the possibility of understanding these hidden currents and attempting to navigate the swirling waters in the truest possible way.
True to whom?
Is a good life one that is lived by being true only to the self or to the idenified good of others? Is the good of others also good for the self?
I know that I am happiest when acting and being in accord with a strong feeling of connection to others, often through sharing, working together, being together.
It is too late for me to go on with this muddled form of diaristic thinking so will just end on the note of meditation. Of looking out through this pagoda window, through a fringe of leaves, to the world beyond.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Dam at Mum's place

Sometimes it is good to stop for a bit and sometimes you are given space and time to do so. Sometimes the sun shines and sometimes it pours with rain from a dark sky.

Sometimes the moon is etched behind gentle clouds and still manages to shed some Easter moonlight on a field. Sometimes the trees are so very tall and one is brought into the present by the buzz of a dragonfly.

Sometimes one does not know what is up or down and can only muster the strength to stand rock still.

Am I still and how do I know stillness? If I ask these questions, if I ask them enough , will they ever be answered?

Perhaps some time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Old Ways, New Ways

Carolyn Briggs-Boonwurrung Elder and Joy Murphy-Wurunjeri Elder, leading the procession at the Welcome Ceremony

Here is the talk I gave at the Yalukit Wilam Ngargee (People Place Gathering) - Wominjeka Ceremony
and Two Bays Forum

Old Ways, New Ways.

This event is being held on the traditional lands of the Kulin Nations and I wish to acknowledge them as the traditional owners. I would also like to pay my respects to their Elders and the Elders of other communities who may be here today.
I also would like to thank the City of Port Phillip for hosting and supporting the Indigenous Festival. I feel very honoured to be part of the opening night of such a wonderful, creative festival. I have been particularly impressed that it is also a sustainable festival and is consciously monitoring and auditing energy use and creating a carbon neutral event! Finally I would also like to thank Bo Svoronos - for embracing us and bringing us in as part of this event.

I want to give a brief potted visual history of Pelican Expeditions and share some ideas behind our work, before I launch into talking about the Two Bays project.

In 1997 a small group of people came together with the intention to make a documentary about homeless teenagers.
This group included the then filmmaker Garry McKechnie, now Pelican 1s skipper, Peter Malcolm, Tim Oddie and myself
The documentary, If It Doesn’t Kill You, was filmed on an old pearling lugger called Redbill in the Bass Strait wilderness, with 6 teenagers on board.

This experience inspired our group to build a boat to create further projects at sea.
We took 5 years to build Pelican 1 and with the help of trusting shareholders, we were launched by our patron, Andrew Denton, in May of 2004.

As we were building we developed our intentions which can be boiled down to the following vision

● To provide an inspirational focus for the involvement of people with the sea.

• To integrate industry, government, scientific and cultural participation in marine conservation.

• To provide innovative marine education and promote a sustainable future for the world’s oceans.

During this period we received a letter from a young woman from Hope Vale, an Aboriginal community situated north of Cooktown in Cape York.
She had seen IIDKY on TV and wanted to know if we could do a sea program with the youth from her community. At that time Hope Vale was in the middle of a suicide epidemic and she felt a sea program could work with the kids as a suicide prevention program.

This idea has now evolved into an annual two week event during the September school holidays, sponsored by the ANZ bank. We are currently heading into our 5th year there. The project is led by community Elders, who discuss the needs of the youth, and direct the focus of each year’s project. The program involves connecting Elders and Youth on the traditional country of the Dingaal people on Lizard Island. The traditional owners had sometimes not been able to visit this country for up to 3 generations. The opportunity to visit Country and share stories with the young people has proved an important and healing one.
photo: Sandy Scheltema

The program also includes a partnership with Queensland Parks and Wildlife and in particular with Dr Ian Bell. We work with Parks Rangers who engage the young men in a turtle -tagging. During the project a community camp is set up at Cape Flattery and Ian also gave talks in the evening about turtle conservation.
We are talking to Elders about further linking in with their sea country management plans and working with scientists studying water quality.

Last years project saw the community camp grow to include a weaving group, involving creating natural dyes and weaving bracelets and mats. We also started a digital story telling project which aims to give the kids the tools and means to begin to tell their own stories in their own way.

In 2006, Pelican Expeditions, in partnership with GBMPA, joined forces to study coral bleaching. This expedition was the most comprehensive ever undertaken on the Reef. At the same time we took on board 4 indigenous trainees. The young men were on board with the scientists and boat crew for 6 weeks. By the end of the project, the trainees were working alongside the scientists, diving and collecting data. The scientists, too, were given an insight into indigenous culture through sharing stories and working alongside the boys. Photo: Sandy Scheltema

Pelican Expeditions also ran a website to link with remote schools on the Cape, so that other Indigenous kids could follow the project and join in the trainees adventures and learnings through an on-line blog. The science data was also posted online for schools in general.

I now would like to lead into Two Bays with a story from our very first project.

On board Redbill, the pearling lugger, we had an Aboriginal teenager, who had not had any contact with the Aboriginal side of his family as he was growing up. His father had died when he was very young and he had lived with his white mum and a series of step dads. Troy had a profound experience on Erith Island, a beautiful Island in the Kent Group in Bass Strait. On his return we asked him if he would like to connect with the Aboriginal side of his family. He wished to so we contacted Albert Mullet, a well- known Gurnai-Kurnai Elder,. Albert immediately understood the nature of Troy’s experience and said “ But of course, he was on country”.

Troy’s experience and Albert’s understanding of it is not so obvious for a “white fella”, as it spans the reality of a culture that lives way beyond the time of the pyramids. Eons ago or over 10,000 years ago, people could walk across Bass Strait, hunting and gathering. Implicit in Albert’s response is the knowledge that his people’s history is so woven into their beings that a young man with no cultural upbringing will be intuitively connected to it.

This story had a big impact on me and the team.

The story also connects with an ongoing vision of Two Bays to link the recent science work with the creation stories that have been told here tonight. I feel that these connections bring us all closer to the environment that is crying out for more understanding and protection. It is also important to give the vital recognition deserved to the Indigenous people as primary guardians and knowledge holders of this cultural heritage.

Two Bays is an initiative of Pelican Expeditions in collaboration with Parks Victoria and the EPA in partnership with the Westernport and Port Phillip Catchment Management Authority, Melbourne Water, People and Parks Foundation, Victorian Coastal Council, Central Coastal Board, Marine and Freshwater Fisheries Research Institute and the Association of Bayside Municipalities.

The project is a marine science and community engagement program designed to improve understanding and promote awareness of the links between human activity in the catchment and the health of the bays. The work of the scientists and messages about the values of the bays and how to protect them were shared through a series of pier stops in both bays.

Pelican sailed around both bays over three weeks in December of last year, launching from Docklands.

The full-scale project followed a pilot Two Bays, held in January of 2007.
The science program, developed by scientists from the EPA, Melbourne Water, the Freshwater Fisheries Institute and Parks Victoria, had much of its focus developed out of the earlier science work in January of the same year.

The scientists continuously monitored water quality in both bays and the results will be presented at a future forum when all the data has been calibrated and properly analyzed. Mark Rodrigue , from Parks, who is speaking after me will give a rounder picture of the science involved.

I can say that the early tests in January actually pointed to slightly better all round water quality than expected. Due to the drought there is less flow from the catchments and therefore less contaminants flowing into the bay. Also, due to the drought, the bays are hypersaline, making Port Phillip Bay, for example, saltier than Bass Strait.

Many people may be unaware of the very deep, now underwater, waterfall at the Heads. It was spoken of orally in Boonwurrung stories, but it was only when underwater mapping of the area was completed that scientists became aware of the geological fact. The people around Pt Nepean used to be known as “The people in the mist” as it sent up a magnificent spray (this was over 10,000 years ago)

One hypothesis that came out of the early study was that perhaps the waterfall, at the heads, might be flowing again. This would be due to the fact that as the water flowing out of the bay was heavier (salty water being much heavier) it may be recreating the waterfall, rather than flowing closer to the surface, as the bay exchanges with bass strait, which has been the case in recent times.

I was rather exited about that possibility, as it linked with the bays creation story in such a tangible way! Our tests in December, only looked at one channel in one tide flow at the heads, and so we cannot conclusively say it is not. But the test performed suggests that the waterfall is not flowing as I imagined.

The bays are complex systems and the more we seem to understand, the more questions arise. One of the best aspects of the program, to my mind, was that it allowed many of the people, who are involved in managing and looking after the health of the bays, to interact and exchange ideas, while out on the water. Many members of the public are unaware of who has responsibility for what and Two Bays enabled people to come on board and gain some insight into those networks. It also allowed them to understand the science involved in monitoring, giving also the scientists a boost , who often work very quietly , in the background of things.
It also enabled people within those agencies to interact and share information in a more informal way.

The best example of that was the Western Port Catchment tour, run by the Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment Management Authority. This involved a day circumnavigating French Island in Western port bay with a very diverse bunch of people on board. This included people from government agencies, local scientists, environmental groups, educators and local farmers. During the voyage much information was shared both formally from prepared talks and informally through networking.

The program included an evening, again lead by the PP and WP CMA, to discuss setting up of a full environmental study of Westernport Bay. The event brought together all the major stakeholders on Pelican. This study is much needed as the last major study was undertaken in the early 70s (The Shapiro report). There are a number of organisations that have been interested for some time in a new scientific study. Graeme Rooney, representing Melbourne Water’s interests, is focused on better understanding the bay, so that it (Melbourne Water) can in turn, fine tune its waterway management in the bay’s catchment

As most people will be aware Western port is looking at being developed as a major port and a study needs to be undertaken way in advance to asses the best way forward. The study also needs to engage with the knowledge and direction of local people and scientists.

Two Bays involved community directly in the science research through working with Sea Search, which is part of the People and Parks Foundation. This organization actively engages the public in data collection and involves a broad range of people. The data collected is placed on a website and becomes helpful public information. Sea Search was involved in looking at some of the seagrass communities in Western Port Bay and also helped with some of the Habitat mapping in Port Phillip Bay.

Finally we have scheduled to hold a mini forum about Port Phillip on Pelican, with some Primary school children, to be run by the junior Mayor of Kingston. She is being mentored by the current mayor of Kingston, Topsy Petchey, who has a deep commitment to environmental issues. We plan to run the pilot event some time in the next couple of months.

I hope to be able to run Two Bays annually and develop more links with schools. This would also involve getting the data we collect more immediately on a website to allow for school kids to get involved and learn some science and cultural knowledge along the way.

As most people are aware we are holding this forum on the eve of the dredging of Port Phillip Bay and debate is raging on the potential damage that will be done to the Bay. People are also feeling at a loss with the broader perceived threats of climate change, making them feel powerless. There is plenty of room to worry on all those scores. But I think it is also important to remember that one of the biggest long term threats to the bays health and the future of all the creatures both big and small is our own unsustainable behavior in the catchments and population growth. In other words, there are many small actions that can be taken to help preserve the precious pool of biodiversity at the foot of our big city.

Bunjil’s warning to his people 10,0000 years ago is just as prescient today. We need to look after each other and the environment. And in the case of science, I hope, with our work, we can add to the store of knowledge that aids us in looking after and caring for country as well as we can.

The Event

Musicians greeting the boat as we arrived at St Kilda Pier.
Drummer and the new Pelican puppet at the smoking welcome ceremony.
Nyet nyets with Weedy Sea dragon in the Background. Nyet nyets are bunyips. Very scary beasts!
Aurora helping Aunty Joy (Wurunjeri Elder) prepare for the smoking ceremony.

Well, Womenjika, came like the blasts of wind that accompanied the day, and is now a memory. And it was a good afternoon. Filled with the initial wild sail ride there. A boat filled with Elders from the Aboriginal community, young Koories and various other peoples invited on for the ride who were supporting the event.
Then onto a Welcome ceremony and finally to the stage set up at the St Kilda Baths, Here we had a combination of Music, Creation stories and stories from the Two Bays project. It is hard to transcribe the feeling of the night but suffice to say it all came together and everyone was happy.
I will post the short speech I made as it is a quite clear summary of some of what Pelican Expeditions has been up to and what drives us or more particularly, me.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Ahh the joys of cramming. Will post a bit more when this festival event is over but at the moment I am madly getting ready for the Two Bays Forum. I am working with the St Kilda Indigenous Festival and we are hopefully creating an interesting hybrid-style event.
Follow the links in the title for more info and will have some blogging time soon. Maybe.