Monday, November 28, 2011

7ism and a bit

Painting done near the river in Cape York where Edmund Kennedy lost his life during his ill-fated expedition to Cape York 1848. Some of his papers were recovered and the botanist (William CARRON (1821-1876) wrote an account of their journey, which can be found here.
"He is a fine fellow, he will either accomplish his object, or leave his bones in the bush!"
- Comment made of Edmund Kennedy before he left for his 1848 Cape York expedition.

A week and one day ago I made one of my increasing infrequent visits to some of the bloggers I enjoy following. I dropped in to see what Natalie d'Arbeloff may have been up to. She had just started a small movement to inspire her (and others) to begin and finish an art work in 7 days and then share the results.

On the spur of the moment I joined up. After all a manifesto needs supporters and it sounded like a good idea.

But the reality is I hardly seem to find the time to develop and run the programs I do at sea. How was I really to start and finish an art work in 7 days?

So did I do it? Well- yes and no. The water colours above are actually pieces I have worked on up in Cape York and they represent the few moments at sea that I found time to put brush top paper. But I did finish the second one and place both of them onto the wall of my semi-empty studio space in the garden. As talismans of a process that I am determined to return to.

So my art work of the past week was me, padding across my weedy lawn, stopping to rip up more of the lawn and sprinkle fertiliser on basil seeds, finish planting strawberries and lettuce and placing these two pictures up on a wall.

And looking at them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Whalumbaal Birri - Endeavour River


It seems fitting that our final day for the 2011 Hope Vale/Pelican project was held on the Endeavour River. The Guugu Yimithirr name for the river, now named by Cook (apparently the only Australian river named by Cook along the Australian coastline) is Whalumball birri - Whalumbaal meaning "you will be missed" or "you will be missing".

It was decided to have a river cruise for people in Hope Vale Aged Care. Starke is a difficult boarding point for most of our older passengers, so we returned to the river for boarding from Cooks Landing, after a few days grace to sail Pelican back to Cooktown. Our inaugural sail with the Hope Vale community was from the same wharf on the 5th Aug 2004 (the link refers to the Captain's Log-just scroll down to the date).


Ella Woibo and Maude Rosendale

Just before midnight on 10 June 1770, James Cook's boat Endeavour hit the Great Barrier Reef. The impact tore a huge hole in her side and it was only through fast, united action by her crew and the lucky bit of coral that broke off in the hole, that the ship was able to limp into the Endeavour River. She was carreened on the bank and repaired, near the contempory township of Cooktown for 48 days. 

Gumba Charlotte (Burns) - Charlotte brought some of her beautiful small paintings of local animals on board. They are painted on large seeds.

It was during this time that the Guugu Yimithirr language became the first Aboriginal language that was recorded by strangers. Those words are written down in Banks journal, which you can read for free on the Project Gutenberg Australia website. Cook and Sydney Parkinson also recorded Guugu words.


Daisy Hamlot, Violet Cobus, Leslie Reid and Dorothy Rosendale


Sydney Parkinson's unfinished drawing of a Kangaru

It was also the first time that a kangaroo was sighted, named by the Guugu Yimithirr people and drawn by the visitors to this great Southern continent. The pictures can be seen at the James Cook museum, which is well worth a visit if you ever get to Cooktown. Another first was that Sydney Parkinson painted the first known landscape painting in Australia, here in Cape York.

Sisters: Anna Darken and Mavis Yoren

The time that Cook and his men spent here was one of relatively peaceful though minimal contact with the Guugu Yimithirr people, who kept their distance and kept their women at an even greater remove. Cook had advised his men not to make the first move. The Europeans tried to trade for objects like spears etc but found that the local people had relatively little interest in their objects. In fact, soon before leaving they discovered a discarded pile of the objects they did manage to trade. It was when they decided to trade fish that they exited more interest. 

Daisy and Violet

Conflict did occur however, when Cook's men caught 12 turtles to help feed them over the next period at sea and did not understand the necessity of gifting at least one of their catch to the people whose country they were visiting. 

Aurora and Maude making origami cranes

When Cook left the Endeavour river he sailed a bit further North and stopped at Possession Island where he hoisted the union jack and declared the coast British Territory. He lalso named Cape York after His late Royal highness, the Duke of York.

Tall mangroves lining the Endeavour River

It would be 100 years before the Guugu Yimithirr would feel the meaning of this act of dispossesion. On the 5th of August, 1872, the last of the old-fashioned Australian gold fevers struck, with the discovery of gold in the Palmer River.

Esmai Bowen and Selica

In a very short and for the Guugu Yimithirr, horrendous period, these people were totally dispossesed of their country, rights, respect and only too often, life.

Esmai and Clarence Bowen

Over the last 8 years of working with the Hope Vale community, we have been fortunate to work with and get to know many Guugu Yimithirr people. In that process we have become much more attuned to these relatively recent events in the history of Aboriginal people. It was not until I spent time in Cooktown, that I learnt of the relativley benign story of this first contact. The general respect and interst in another's culture was, tragically, not to become the story line of colonial Australia.

Tom Moore

On our journey up the river, Tom told me about his role in building the Queensland railways, describing the incredibly tough conditions that working in those times entailed. As he said there was no machinery to help you in those days, only the sheer muscle power of the men.

Returning to Cooktown

I heard from one of the project Elders the next day, that Aged Care all requested the same trip for the following weekends. They also wanted us to come back and teach more origami. We are planning to run similar cruises next year.

Madge Bowen and Grace Rosendale

Travellers on the river cruise
George Dick and Gumba Charlotte
Origami takes off
Looking at the book Cockatoo- My Life in Cape York-Stories and Art by Roy McIvor.
(Retired) Pastor George Rosendale
Sandy point on the river with Mt Saunders in the background.
Clarence pointing out features in the river

Esmai and Clarence looking at pics from the 2010 HopeVale/ Pelican project. Book created by Vanessa Gillen.

Garry and Karl helping people off the boat
Pelican Expeditions would like to thank all the Elders, Traditional Owners and community of Hope Vale who have welcomed us every year to work on their sea country. The program is a collaborative cross-cultural effort to form a creative and exiting project for everyone in Hope Vale, particularly the youth. Over the years we have had so many people involved and helping and nothing would happen without their enthusiastic support. 
Farewell sun and farewell Hope Vale /Pelican project for another year. We hope to be back in 2012!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sharing knowledge on country

The planned turtle tagging expedition of the day was curtailed due to the conditions. Working on country means that the country - sea or land - dictate the tenor of every day. Today the wind was whipping up 25 to 30 knots, blowing in an East-South-East direction. Luckily we had thought of alternatives. It meant that a few of the hardy, older kids were still going to go out and tag with the turtle team from the smaller boats while everyone else was going to do a walk around the catchment to learn about the local coastline. 

Turtle boats coming up to Pelican to plan the day.

As Pelican traveled further from the coastline to find shelter for the day, our group set of on a walk down the beach towards the mangroves and the Starke river.

Pelican Expeditions had organised to have seagrass scientist Christina Howley come along for the last two days of the program. We are very fortunate to have some occaisional private supporters that allow us to integrate people like Christina into the program without us filling in for onerous grants. This same supporter enabled us to bring the turtle scientists along as well. Christina also brought Jason from the South Cape york Catchment group, who also added to the day with his knowledge of water quality and his enthusiasm for teaching. A common thread of the walk was the love of sharing knowledge by all the participants and everyone's enthusiasm in learning on country.


Chris Roberts from Balkanu began by talking about all the plants we passed along the way. 

The photo shows Chris talking about a succulent creeper and just prior to that he pointed out the Blind Your Eye mangrove. Esme (seen below) shared her traditional knowledge of the plant. And in fact shared traditional knowledge about most of the plants that Chris talked about. The kids listened to both stories with equal attention and interest. Esme (in photo below) pointed out the toxitity of the Blind Your Eye (or Mulpil in Guugu Yimithirr) was well known and was as good as its name.  The poison is contained in the milky sap of the plant.


Another one to avoid eating is the wonderfully named Gidee gidee or Crab's Eye.


The photos above show Dodder laurel, a twining parasitic plant and Goats foot or Beach Morning Glory. Esme told us that the leaves of the Goat's foot can be crushed up and warmed to be used as a treatment for the pain of stingray wounds and jellyfish stings.
Chris with Shaunica as we headed deeper into the mangrove tangle. I asked Shaunica about what being part of the project meant for her and she said- "It's a big opportunity for me, being out in the bush, being away from all the things that happen in Hope Vale. I think it is alright for a little teenage girl like me."
As we talked the boys fossicked and brought stuff out for us all to see.
They found some very cute baby mud crabs.
And some examples of Large Mud whelks (Family Potamidea)
Harry holding to Mud whelks.

 Terebralia palustris is the only mud whelk that can eat fallen mangrove leaves directly. The icecream cone-shaped Telescopium has much finer teeth on their radulas (this is a beautifully engineered microscopic toothy tongue that it licks the mud with. Each tooth is like a tiny feathery bucket.) The third species is Terebralia sulcata, which favours drier more infrequently inundated areas. The fourth species in the family is Pyrazus ebaneus, which tends to live in front of the mangroves on sandier areas. In this way all four species can make a living without undue competion. (Thank you Chris again for your erudition)
Rodenta Burns on the walk, showing me her bracelets. Chris finished off the mangrove talk by telling us about all the different types of mangroves we encountered and their importance to both the local ecology and the health of sea country. Without healthy mangroves, you cannot expect healthy fish, turtle and dugong. This led neatly to the next part of the walk, which was water quality testing.
On the way to the estuary edge, we passed the Hickory wattle. Esme explained that the seeds were used traditionally to make flour.
Everywhere the colours and intricacies of form were singing out to be enjoyed for their own sakes.
We settled in shade near the water that we were going to test. Christina and Jason began with a talk about how important water quality is for the health of the river, the reef, fish, turtle and dugong. The rivers on the Eastern Cape are all in very good health, especially compared with those further South. The main threats to water quality come from cattle disturbing the soil (there is extensive erosion on the Normanby and other cape rivers from cattle disturbance) and also tourism creates issues by uncontrolled four wheel drive access to rivers.
Jason and Christina showed how their machines worked and what data they were gathering (oxygen levels, turbidity, salinity and Ph). Then they asked the kids to work with them to collect the data.
Christina was alarmed to see an oxygen reading of 200% in the small lagoon. At first she thought the machine was wrong but after calibrating it turned out to be a true reading. This meant that at night the lagoon would be -200%. Quite an extreme environment, though the algae we could see in the shallow water seemed to thrive in it.
On our return to the camp we saw the turtle scientists again and they took Christina out with one of the kids to gather some seagrass to talk to the kids about back at the camp. They had managed to tag a few turtles in difficult conditions.
Back at the camp some of the Elders asked Jason to test the tank water at the camp. hH could not test for bacteria but all the other signs showed that it was healthy water.
Meanwhile Christina made it back to the camp with some seagrass samples. Some of the kids refused to believe that turtles ate it. It seemed incongruous to them. But at the same time they could not think of anything else that they could eat!
Chrisina and the kids found 6 varieties of seagrass in one short excursion. We found 7 altogether from later explorations. In Cape York there are a total of 13 species. The sample above is Cymodocea serrulata. Below are a number of others including Halophila minor (Dugong food). All these samples were found to the south of the Starke river mouth. Christina told me that all the kids were very exited to find out what seagrass looked like and what was happening beneath the water that they could not see. She also spoke about the importance of monitoring healthy rivers. 
In all our Pelican projects, we strive to create a broad platform for the sharing of knowledge about the marine world and catchments. It was great to hear from both the turtle researchers and the seagrass researchers, how valuable it was that they could all meet up. 

And meanwhile Fangwei had perfected the art of baking a cake in a camp oven!
The doctors had also bought along face paint and my daughter Aurora began a face painting session.
Replete with face paint, the kids somehow still had energy to play on the foreshore for the next hour until the tide was high enough for the mothership Pelican to come inshore and the Pelican crew to go back to the boat.