South coast dream­ing

Ex­plor­ing in­dige­nous sites on a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sider’s tour

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­DITH ELEN

MICK Turner is a NSWsouth coast boy. He be­lieves the rocky surf coast and park­lands south of Sydney are too of­ten over­shad­owed by the city’s showier at­trac­tions and more dra­matic Blue Moun­tains to the west. Peo­ple also seem un­aware of Abo­rig­i­nal his­tory close to home.

With Ga­ma­rada Tours (it’s a Dharawal word for friend­ship), Turner aims to cor­rect those per­cep­tions, so I set out with him on a Sun­day to see for my­self. In a small bus, Turner picks up at Sydney city ho­tels and meet­ing points such as Kings Cross and re­turns to Cen­tral Sta­tion in the evening.

As we drive through the sub­urbs, I ex­plore Abo­rig­i­nal Dream­time sto­ries in a book that Turner passes around. Turner is not an Abo­rig­ine, but Abo­rig­i­nal ar­chae­ol­o­gist Les Bur­sill is a men­tor and Turner has tra­di­tional own­ers’ per­mis­sion to take groups to the rock site we visit.

Abo­rig­i­nal guide Su­san Grab­ham later shows us the Djee­ban en­grav­ings, ex­plain­ing their sig­nif­i­cance and pro­vid­ing in­sights into tra­di­tional life.

‘‘The coun­try from Botany Bay to about Nowra is Dharawal land,’’ Turner says. ‘‘Tempe is the north­ern bound­ary.’’

We drive 29km to Bun­deena, on the south­ern side of Port Hack­ing, edg­ing the Royal Na­tional Park (the world’s sec­ond old­est, af­ter Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park in the US), and meet Grab­ham at pretty Jib­bon Beach, its name mean­ing sand bars at low tide in Djee­ban.

Grab­ham is Wi­rad­juri, from cen­tral NSW, but was born in Dharawal coun­try. She says there are in­dige­nous sites all around — Ku-ring-gai, Bondi, South Head. She points out a shell mid­den, maybe 10,000-20,000 years old. ‘‘Like a kitchen garbage heap, it tells a story,’’ she says. ‘‘When peo­ple came to a mid­den, if they found flat­head re­mains they’d think, ‘We won’t catch flat­head here’.’’ It was a prac­ti­cal way of manag­ing re­sources sus­tain­ably.

Men were hunters and women fished, us­ing their hair or rolled cab­bage palm fronds for lines, tur­ban-shell hooks and rock sinkers. Grab­ham picks some pig’s face, which is good to eat, but only the na­tive va­ri­ety, and is also an an­ti­sep­tic.

We stroll 400m along the beach, then join a bush track. Grab­ham spots clumps of rush-like Lo­man­dra

JU­DITH ELEN longi­fo­lia. Good for weav­ing and eat­ing, the grass’s white base ends pro­vided vi­tal mois­ture. Bracken, rubbed on the skin, was a mos­quito re­pel­lent, as were fish oil and an­i­mal fat. Ochre was mixed with blood or an­i­mal fat for cave art and body paint.

We reach a clear­ing paved with flat, lichen-spot­ted rocks, etched with eerie out­lines of stingrays, kan­ga­roos, whales (the Dharawal totem) and ghostly Bi­ami, the east coast cre­ator spirit.

Strangers en­ter­ing Dharawal coun­try would carry a mes­sage stick to pass the bound­ary. ‘‘They’d hold a wir­rim­birra [white waratah] as they walked through. Peo­ple would see them with the big white flower, like a pass­port,’’ Grab­ham tells us.

Turner surfed here, camped as a boy, and knows the re­gion, its bush, birds (he points out a pere­grine fal­con soar­ing over­head) and surf, such as world-class reef break Head­lands, off Austin­mer.

We re­turn through Austin­mer, Thirroul (where we visit Anita’s vin­tage cinema), Shell Har­bour, Min­na­murra River and Kiama, where we visit the fa­mous Blowh­hole.

We stop at Jam­beroo’s spec­tac­u­lar look­out and Car­ring­ton Falls, and wind home through can­tilevered hills, rain­forests, dairy farms and milk­ing yards crowded with black-and-white friesians nosing bales of hay.

This drive is a beau­ti­ful frame for the an­cient art in a no-frills trip that opens a win­dow on an in­trigu­ing re­gion of the South Coast.

Ju­dith Elen was a guest of Ga­ma­rada Tours.

Mick Turner of Ga­ma­rada Tours has tra­di­tional own­ers’ per­mis­sion to take groups to rock sites

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