Walkabout & Bush Lore

Collecting seaweed & crabs on Elim Beach, near Cooktown

When people use the word 'walkabout' today, it conjures up an aimless wandering. But for Guugu Yimithirr people it was a survival strategy, strictly governed by local lore, and its direction determined by the location of food and resources. The land is fragile so the Bama of this region moved around with the seasons, always respecting the lores governing hunting and gathering in order to protect the environment which looked after them.

Wunha plums from the nonda tree
During the winter months we would move down to the coast, leaving the wallabies and kangaroos to have their young undisturbed. At the coast the fruits, nuts and berries were ready to eat earlier than those inland, so we would have a plentiful supply of buthurr from the zamia palm, buthu from the paperbarks, and wunha plums from the nonda tree. Whilst we were here we would also collect gaarruul (seaweed), muthurr (witchetty grubs), and dig up the yams and collect their seeds for replanting.

Wattle flower
We knew when it was time to go to the coast by the presence of certain birds and flowers; signs which we still use today. When the wattle is in flower we know to go and collect oysters and mussels, as this is the time they're hibernating and at their plumpest. And a special yellow flower tells us when the blue-tailed mullet is travelling to its spawning place and is at its fattest and most nutritious.

Nanggaarr-buurra - Kapok
The beautiful red flower of nanggaarr-buurra, the kapok, signals that bush hens are beginning to lay their eggs, together with all the other egg-laying species. And the arrival of wabul, the Torres Strait pigeon, tells us that the migrating birds from Papua New Guinea are now nesting on the outer islands and coming in to feed, and that mulun, the quondong fruit, will be ready to eat. 

This is also the time to catch stingrays and a small, yellow, black-finned shark, whose livers take on a pinkish hue to show that they're full of oil. The fish oil is really important for a healthy diet, and helped keep us physically fit. The goanna is another animal from which we extracted the oil. Their fat is thought to be particularly good for preventing arthritis, and is best extracted before they hibernate during the wet season.

All through the year nature signals to us, so we know when the barramundi are plump, when river prawns and freshwater catfish are at their best, or sea urchins and native honey ready to be collected.

Importantly, bush lore also dictates what we can not hunt, although sadly, today, this is often ignored.

Wabul - Torres Strait Pigeon

More stories about the bush...
Bush Messengers & Fishing Made Easy
The Return of Burriwi the Emu
Picture Gallery: Guurrbi's Bush Creatures
About our tours

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