The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Lir­rwi Tourism is an Abo­rig­i­nal cor­po­ra­tion set up in 2010 with the am­bi­tion to cre­ate up to 50 busi­nesses in East Arn­hem Land. Its first tours were launched in 2012 but in Jan­uary, 2016, de­spite about $1.5 mil­lion in gov­ern­ment fund­ing, it was placed in ad­min­is­tra­tion. The good news is that it has turned the cor­ner, has traded out of its trou­bles and is out of spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion. Lir­rwi of­fers a range of tours as well as the Bawaka cul­tural im­mer­sion itin­er­ary with an av­er­age cost of about $800 a day. Tours range in size; cor­po­rates and schools have run trips of 20-30 peo­ple while in­di­vid­ual guests should ex­pect to be in groups of 12-15. The sea­son is from May to the end of Oc­to­ber to co­in­cide with the dry sea­son in the trop­ics and tem­per­a­tures are bear­able at about 31C max­i­mum to an overnight low of 5C. More: lir­rwi­ sides, where we have our cul­tural aware­ness talks and can lie in the cool af­ter lunch.

There’s also a res­i­dent croc­o­dile called Nike who is used to be­ing fed fish speared by Randy or his rel­a­tives. As Nike slides from the wa­ter to the sand we are warned to keep our dis­tance, and even a walk along the beach comes with mul­ti­ple re­minders from our guides to not go too close to the ocean. Swim­ming is off lim­its, which is why we are bussed to the much safer Lonely Beach for a dip. Here there are dra­matic lime­stone cliffs and the deep si­lence of a truly re­mote area.

We learn much in these days about the central be­liefs of the Yol­ngu peo­ple, in­clud­ing the moi­ety sys­tem that de­ter­mines very clear re­la­tion­ships be­tween in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, and the sense that time is dif­fer­ent here.

The big lessons are not those de­liv­ered with the help of a white­board by our guides but the ones we learn from be­ing with the fam­ily, such as the im­por­tant role the main­te­nance of their own lan­guage has to the re­ten­tion of cul­ture. There is also the re­al­i­sa­tion that in this far re­gion, white con­tact came late and has been more lim­ited than in other ar­eas. We are re­minded too of the early con­tact with the Ma­cas­san trepang fish­ers who vis­ited north Aus­tralia from at least the 18th cen­tury. As well as trad­ing goods, the Yol­ngu adopted many Ba­hasa In­done­sian words and some as­pects of Ma­cas­san cul­ture.

Yir­rkala of course is the home of Yothu Yindi and singers such as Geoffrey Gur­ru­mul Yunupingu. One of our guides, Rrawun, was a foun­da­tion mem­ber of Yothu Yindi and now is the lead singer of the band East Jour­ney. He is just back from a gig down south, so there’s a magic mo­ment at Bawaka when he picks up a gui­tar and sings for us around the camp­fire. He’s not the only one. Our res­i­dent cook, Phil, turns out to be a singer in his other life and en­ter­tains us with his own songs.

This area is seen as the home of the didgeri­doo, or yi­daki, and that night we see how em­bed­ded it is in the cul­ture when 10-year-old Tyrell shyly joins the group with his didgeri­doo and af­ter much gen­tle coax­ing from his older male rel­a­tives joins the im­promptu con­cert. It’s all very low key and par­don the pun, un­orches­trated, and adds to the great charm of a long-week­end that takes us out of our com­fort zone yet is im­mensely re­as­sur­ing.

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