South coast dreaming
Exploring indigenous sites on a fascinating insider’s tour
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