Out of the com­fort zone

Cul­tural in­sights in re­mote East Arn­hem Land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - HE­LEN TRINCA

You don’t hear the phrase “off the beaten track” so of­ten these days but it’s the per­fect de­scrip­tion for Lonely Beach in East Arn­hem Land. We get there by four-wheel drive from an equally re­mote beach called Bawaka, in the Port Brad­shaw area, hav­ing reached that spot af­ter a cou­ple of hours over soft sand, also by four-wheel drive, from Nhu­lun­buy on the Gove Penin­sula. We got there by air from Dar­win, and to Dar­win by … Well, you get the pic­ture. This is a long way from down south and, for our lit­tle group of Syd­neysiders, it’s al­most like an­other coun­try.

Spec­tac­u­lar Lonely Beach should be as iconic as Uluru or Vic­to­ria’s Twelve Apos­tles, but its re­mote lo­ca­tion means that, for now, few Aus­tralians know it ex­ists.

We’ve been brought here by mem­bers of the Bu­rar­rwanga and May­muru fam­i­lies who run trips to their home­land through Lir­rwi Yol­ngu Tourism Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion, an in­dige­nous com­pany based in Nhu­lun- buy. Over our three days we don’t do an aw­ful lot, other than drop out of email and phone con­tact, wan­der the beach, learn about the clan­ship sys­tem of the Yol­ngu na­tion, and talk end­lessly about Aus­tralia, its past, its fu­ture and the ex­tra­or­di­nary art and cul­ture of its first peo­ples.

It’s the kind of hol­i­day that forces you to slow down and put your­self in the hands of oth­ers, in our case Randy Yibar­buk, our young tour leader and ex­pert driver, his older rel­a­tive Djawundil (Diane) May­muru, her brother Rrawun May­muru, and at times an­other half-dozen part­ners and fam­ily mem­bers.

Bawaka is their tra­di­tional home but these days they mostly stay with their com­mu­nity at Yir­rkala, near Nhu­lun­buy. Clan el­der Timmy Bu­rar­rwanga helped set up Lir­rwi Tourism six years ago to de­velop cul­tural aware­ness and run other tours in the re­gion. Tours are from May to Oc­to­ber for groups of 12 to 30 peo­ple. Cor­po­rate and school groups have made the trip part of their pro­grams, but our visit is for just seven. It’s not cheap at about $800 a day, but up here, thanks to dis­tance and heat, this fly-in-fly-out tourism is in­evitably ex­pen­sive.

Our tour be­gins at the Yir­rkala art gallery, of­fi­cially

Lonely Beach, above; Bawaka com­mu­nity, above right; tour leader Randy Yibar­buk spearfish­ing, far right

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