i was pondering what to title this blog post and settled on ‘sabbatical’ because the main point of the post is to describe our bienniel retreat at bawaka when my old mate brian livingstone makes his way back to nhulun from queensland for 10 days catchup, holiday, fishing and adventuring.
last time he brought his daughter and this time it was his brother, dave, who came with him. as dave butterworth is always part of this bienniel bludge, we had to rename him barry to save confusion.
so dave, brian, myself and barry had a few days in town before heading out to bawaka, this allowed for some great nights at rick’s bar and grill, including a memorable night when timmy djawa burarrwanga joined us with his nephew. dadaynga. he was heading off to sydney at short notice so was unable to join us at bawaka for the cultural education segment of the retreat, so dinner at the grill was the best we could do. he played my djalu stick, and even did the healing yidaki on dave’s chest which is always a powerful introduction to NE arnhem land! (unfortunately the torrential downpour drowns out the yidaki somewhat!)
as you will notice above, we have a new tinny, she is an absolute ripper and has already done quite a few hours! its a blue fin wrangler, 4.75m, running a 60HP yamaha. Its a plate boat, 4mm sides and bottom, widened gunnels, extra handrails and a pod. its beautifully built, comfortable, roomy, strong, quiet and very easily driven. As sad as it was to lose the old tinny, this is a definite step up.
so some food porn to kick the photos off, (remember, click on the”i” if you want to see the captions.)
sal, kai and I had taken a load of gear and dry stores down in the troopy the weekend before, so we stocked the boats up with fuel, fresh food, barry’s coffee machine and other essentials of rough living. we then launched at yirrkala and set off for the hour or so run down to bawaka.
our days were much the same, up around 6:30 to stoke the fire and fire up the coffee machine for a couple of rounds of lattes, barry the barista pulled great shots all week, although I only brought 1kg of my beans and we had to eake it out towards the end of the week! we would then have a hearty breakfast, we had things like mushrooms, eggplant and yellow capsicum stew with bacon and poached egg; omelettes; chilli beans with bacon, egg and pita bread; halloumi, chorizo and mint and others i have forgotten!
after breakfast it was off to chase jack and barra in the creeks and on the rocky headlands. we usually put in a good 3 or 4 hours fishing and also exploring the creek systems to try to unlock the secret to fishing them. we spent mornings in the wonga river, mosquito creek and holly’s inlet as well as exploring most of the coastline of port bradshaw.
then it was back to bawaka for lunch, i had taken a couple of kilos of pulled slow cooked, smoked beef, so wraps with salad and the pulled beef was a staple, we also did amazing fish tacos a couple of times with lime & chilli mayo, pan fried coral trout or jack, jalapenos, onion and lashings of vietnamese mint.
after lunch we either went offshore for a troll or bottom bounce, or did some more exploring of the inshore waters. sometimes we squeezed in a nanna nap and we usually got up to lonely beach for a swim.
dinner was everything from steaks grilled over the fire, whole coral trout wrapped in paperbark and grilled on the fire; whole red emporer wrapped in foil and grilled on the fire; spagetti bolognese; pan fried mangrove jack fillets with kumera chips and I think the fish tacos got a run one night too.
then it was sit around the fire talking about the sort of things 4 philosophers stranded on a tropical island talk about before heading inside to a very deep nights sleep!
on friday sal and kai drove down in the troopy to spend the weekend with us, on saturday sal, barry, brian and dave headed out on barry’s boat down to the 3 hummocks and dudley shoal to try their hand at some bottom fishing, kai and I had a day on the tinny do some hunting and a bit of work round the camp.
aaron, rohan and their partners came down for the weekend also, to provide some cultural education in timmy’s absense. on sunday we took them out hunting on the tinny, first we went looking for turtle to harpoon, but although we did find a big one, my boat driving skills were not up to the task and we lost him before rohan could get a harpoon in it. it was pretty hilarious, rohan screaming instructions from the bow of the boat in yolngu matha, aaron translating into english – and me finally doing what was required about 30 seconds earlier!!
after failing to harpoon a turtle our efforts turned to stingray, kai joined the boys in wading through the croc infested shallows spearing stingray, he got 4 and was taught the correct way to remove the barbs after spearing. its bloody hard work, the water is at least knee deep, its often walking through deep sticky mud and you cover a lot of distance. dave and i would get in as close as we could in the tinny and drop them off, then we would move maybe 500m or more along the mangroves in the deeper water and wait for them to get abreast of us and then motor in as close as we could so they could walk out with their catch and get back in the boat.
monday we spent a day exploring the upper reaches of the creek that extends out of holly’s inlet, it was a successful day from the fishing point of view with plenty of jack caught, but it came close to disaster on several, consequential fronts. firstly, after following the incoming tide upstream as far as we could go, we fished the falling tide back down, but I had made an error with not watching the depths closely enough on the way up and retracing our course we ran out of water. it looked like we were going to be stuck for the whole of the falling tide and half of the rising tide before we would be able to get out. luckily brian found a path with just enough water for us to get back out into the deeper channel again.
then a complication arose from a dead battery on the electric trolling motor, this had necessitated my bodgy wiring of the minn kota to the main starting battery and when we went to start the main motor again we discovered we had a flat starting battery as well. luckily after pulling the cover off the motor and fabricating a starter rope from some trolling line, i was able to pull start the engine.
things always come in 3’s dont they?! not long after this the motor spluttered and cut out and refused to start. we were still 5 miles upstream from dhanaya, the community at the mouth of the inlet, no one knew we were up there anyway, the electric motor would flatten the battery long before we covered the 5 miles, the outgoing tide would move us downstream – but it also had no chance of taking us 5 miles – and then when it turned it would push us upstream again!
without going into all the details, and the discussions about what we should do, we finally got the motor running again, the fuel line had a small split and it had started sucking air. it was as a reminder of how isolated you can be in this part of the world, we really had only one option if had been unable to get it going again – we would have had to set off the epirb.
our last full day was spent exploring the upper reaches of the wonga river, this was a real surprise to all of us, it was stunningly beautiful, the fresh water was pushing right down the river towards the mouth and the banks were covered with rain forest, paper barks, gum trees and steep rocky banks. there were frequent rock bars to navigate and it was more reminicsent of the katherine gorge than an arnhem land creek.
our week was at an end, it just remained to pack everything up and steam home. it was a very special time, aside from the obvious point that staying in a tropical paradise like this where you have a proper bed, running water, solar battery power for fridges and freezers as well as access to amazing fishing and exploring is pretty amazing; not to mention the opportunity to engage in traditional hunting and food preparation with yolngu, and spend time with a few really special friends and share part of it with my lovely family…..there is something special about spending a week in the bush with no phone service, no internet, no tv…a week with out all that ‘noise’ and distraction really focusses your mind and its a really powerful force for mental health IMO. It was hard to leave and all of us were a bit displaced for a couple of days when we got home. its taken me 4 days before I could approach writing about it. I spent the first 24 hours refusing to open the laptop or turn the tv on to try to hang on to the quiet magic.
anyway, there are a few more random photos, brian made djawa a steel sign for bawaka with the anchor and stingray symbol from their flag design, we will have to wait until he is back to work out where to hang it, but its waiting for him at bawaka. our plan is to make it an annual retreat, 2 years is too long between gigs!
thanks to djawa and family for your welcoming and generous access to bawaka, thanks to brian, dave, and dave for making the adventure so fulfilling, entertaining and bloody funny.