Elder pushes for protection of turtles for next generation
LOOKING out over Low Isles from Cooya Beach with Kuku Yalanji elder David Solomon is a humbling experience - particularly with a pair of eagles, his totem, mating just metres away.
David’s connection to the turtle breeding grounds around Low Isles stretches back hundreds of years and his dedication to ensuring it is preserved for future generations is unwavering.
Currently helping to tutor indigenous rangers in the culture and protection of sea turtles and dugongs under threat from commercial and illegal fishing, David is hoping to illuminate and educate his people before it’s too late.
“Our people belong to the country, to care for it, not to dominate it with our actions or gain from it through exploitation,” he said. “The land owns us, along with the waterways and the seas.”
As David points out the eagle on his polo shirt to signify his totem, the rare sight of two eagles mating on the beach at the mouth of the river and another magnificent specimen flying overhead provide the perfect backdrop to his cultural education.
David’s mother Brenda gave birth to him on April 17, 1938, at Bailey’s Creek opposite Snapper Island.
His father Charlie came from the Solomon Islands, which is where his surname originates, and was a slave trade cane cutter. Charlie ran away from Mackay instead of being shipped back to his homeland after three years indentured in the cane fields.
Charlie was protected by the original peoples of Bailey’s Creek until he died in 1949 when David was 11.
David’s mother then sent him to work at Green Hill station where he toiled as a ringer, horse and cattleman, surviving on no wages, just his keep and board, until he was 17. The teenage David then found his father’s people in Mackay and learned the cane game.
It was here he also earned his “Golden Gloves” in boxing and learned to operate various light and heavy machinery.
David is also connected to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait through his grandparents and he spent time pearl diving there for the Japanese luggers.
Over the years David has worked from Darwin to Brisbane in a range of jobs including driving trucks.
He returned to Bailey Creek and married Oui, an island girl who gave birth to their daughter and two sons. David also now has two grandchildren.
He was working on cultural mapping stories until the recent closure of the Mossman TAFE campus.
But David’s commitment to preserving his culture has no boundaries, just as his ancestors lived for generations.
Cultural connection: Kuku Yalanji elder David Solomon