Are you interested in a unique on-foot adventure to learn about a 40,000 old living culture through some of the most expansive and healthy ecosystems on our planet? Then the Lurujarri Heritage trail, a nine day walk up the Dampier Peninsular in the Kimberley, should take poll position on your bucket list.
There are not many places on the planet where families who are custodians of an ancient living Songline will welcome you to join them as they walk their country and tell stories about the Dreamtime (Bugarregarre) while interpreting the living landscape on foot. Be prepared; the walk is challenging, rewarding & transformative. From the never-ending soft sandy dunes - walking solidly to beat the incoming tides and midday heat - to relaxing under a melaleuca grove with a cool breeze carving clap sticks or spears, after consuming a healthy & delicious freshly caught lunch, this is a unique experience.
It's an experience that forces you to slow down and consider what life would have been like millennia ago, where everything functions in harmony.
Now that there is no longer a huge gas plant proposal looming over Goolarabooloo culture at James Price Point, for the first time in seven years, you can walk this coastline past James Price Point and appreciate what has been saved for now – but also it makes you think - that the next steps should be legislative protection from further inappropriate developments.
The Lurujarri Heritage Trail: Nine Days ~ Ninety kilometres*
Day 1 – Gantheaume Point to Coconut Wells [Minyirr to Ngunungkurrukun]
Walking away from ‘civilisation’
We met and were greeted under a Tamarind tree in Broome, where the dream for the trail was born thanks to pioneering custodian Paddy Roe (Order of Australia medal winner) exactly twenty-five years ago. We began walking out of Broome til we hit Gantheaume Point (Minyirr) and then continued along the beach past hundreds of beach umbrellas, camels & 4WDs claiming their own spot of paradise, until the sun glowed and set spectacularly. When our legs were getting weary, the camp appeared lit by a glowing camp fire with a hearty meal and stories waiting.
Day 2 - Coconut Wells to Barred Creek [Ngunungkurrukun to Nuwirrar]
‘Long-time walk’ day… (around 20km)
Movement in camp begun before sunrise, where walkers set out across inland mangrove mudflats covered with flocks of Jabiru and Brolgas. We passed secluded caves in rock faces and encrusted ancient sand dunes up to Willie Creek. After catching the ferry across the creek - which were asured at this time of year was too cold for crocodiles - we made our way through a myriad of ecosystems including a low-lying hardy scrub, reed-filled stunning melaleuca wetlands kept alive by late season rains; then through vine-covered woodlands to pindan flood planes with red-tailed black cockatoos flying overhead. Barred Creek is a known place for brown snakes, and if you are unfamiliar to this country be sure to tread lightly and be aware. A rewarding day for those that made the whole journey on foot.
Day 3 – Barred Creek [Nuwirrar] rest day
Clapsticks & Catfish
A rest day at Barred Creek was welcome and Elders led sessions to carve clap sticks (cumbuk) and spears out of specific trees, the process of which was much harder than those in the how made it seem. A bunch of keen fishers waded in the shallows of Barred Creek and caught Barramundi and Catfish, which were consumed over an open fire on sunset and enjoyed by many. Other walkers rested their legs for the day and soaked up the serenity of the sandy flats and dove in the wild waves that rolled down the beach over the ridgeline from the campsite. Dreamtime stories were shared around the campfire of connections along the West Coast of the Dampier Peninsular, giving an insight into how past custodians of the land would have moved with the abundance of the seasons, choosing different sites to camp across the six seasons of the Indigenous calendar.
Day 4 - Barred Creek to Whale survey camp [Nuwirrar to Murdudun]
Walking in dinosaur footprints
The group rose to another early morning and set out to climb several sand dunes, where intact spear heads and grinding stones were found in the ancient dune camping grounds, left there so people today can continue to use those tools. Pandanas palm oasis’ with underwater springs were a welcome rest, before the group hit Quondong point- a site with famous dinosaur track prints from the Dreamtime story of the Murrella (Emu man). Even though new science says they are over 130 million years old, some Theropod foot prints and ancient cycads look like freshly stomped emu prints and birds feathers. The story of the two sisters was also told, who have been immortalised by rocky platforms stately looking out over the coast.
Day 5 – Whale survey camp [Murdudun] rest day
Whales, songs & stories
The land-based Whale survey camp has been set up and running for over 3 years now and thanks to many amazing volunteer scientists, has become a hub for land-based humpback whale observations and a beautiful community where budding scientists, artists and musicians stay to survey whales in the morning and create in the evenings. Originally set up to gather independent data on how close and how many whales past by the coast in response to Woodside’s shonky surveys for a gas hub, it has now continued to collect long-term data about whale movements, click here to see the latest results. Around the fire of an evening, Phil Roe explained that Murdudun is a women’s place and Walmadan a men’s or warrior’s place and about the feeling of ‘Lian’ being happiness and connection to country.
Day 6 - Whale survey camp to James Price Point [Murdudun to Walmadan]
Coast dune culture and vine thicket heaven
After waking early to Frans’ clapping ticks, we hurried around stunning rock formations to beat the incoming tides, discovering secluded Pindan inlets which had a number of pearling buoys washed up. Several members of the group took on the task of carrying them back to Walmadan to raise funds for camp activities. As the tide rose, we made our way through the intricate and plentiful Monsoon Vine Thickets. The number of bush tucker speices was overwhelming including; Mamajen (red round berries), Marool (native blackberry) & ‘bush pearls’ (Goolyi) that were collected of the sandy floor to make jewellery out of, just to name a few. The Goolarabooloo guides were very helpful, when asked for information. Many thanks to Jeanne Browne, who guided a group through the thickets with patience and gave a greater understanding trekkers about the thickets, which have recently been listed as a threatened ecological community.
Day 7 - James Price Point to Yellow River [Walmadan to Bindingankuny Junu]
Stunning red cliffs by rising tides
Leaving James Price Point was emotional for some on the trip that had fought hard and long to save it. Walking by the majestic red cliffs that stretched for miles really gave you a perspective to the coastal beauty and cultural practices, as middens (ancient shell trash piles) had built up in many meters of visible layers of Pindan country. Birds of prey were easily spotted; a pair of ospreys with a chick, sea eagles and black kites surveyed the reef flat for brunch. Meanwhile dolphins, turtles and whales broke the flat sea for breath. Once around Coulomb Point, the final stretch of beach to Yellow River lifted the walkers’ spirits and many stopped to bathe al naturale in the pristine waters before setting up final camp. Sunset brought the full moon rising up over Yellow River, producing our very own magical staircase to the moon, which easily won over the hundreds of mosquitos keen for a feed.
Day 8 – Yellow River rest day [Bindingankuny Junu]
Yellow River wallowing & bush honey
Making our way up yellow river was a godly experience for some, as the river is known to draw you to places and many people have lost their way as they are drawn by the Juno (water) upstream and onto different paths. The beauty and pull of the river was ever present along with the old gospel song “Down to the river”, which was sung around the camp fire the previous night. We found bush honey in the melaleuca bark, in the hollow of the tree, with a vegan on the trip being very surprised that the native bees tasted like sweet lime with the bush honey. They honey tree was repaired with vines that have healing properties – the snake vine. Stopping for lunch, some wallowed in the river and felt lighter as if they had left something behind upstream. Night fall brought with it a myriad of stars which was an amazing backdrop to the end of the trip - the Pelican Corroboree. Lead by Phil Roe, many of the younger members of the family got painted up and performed in front of the fire with a shuffle dance representing the Pelican, the symbol of Goolarabooloo – which translates directly as ‘west coast dunes, law and culture’.
Day 9 – Yellow River to Flat rock [Bindingankuny Junu to Dugal]
Back to ‘civilisation’ from the real world
On the final day of the walk, the group got together for a group photo and then made their way to Flat rock for a bus pick up. It was incredible to experience such a long walk with traditional guides who are the current custodians of an ancient living culture and songline along a section of coast - that after many threats of sand mining and gas plants – it still so well cared for, and is such a spectacular example of eons of sustainable living. Even with the challenges of modern influences on the indigenous culture, the Lurujarri Heritage trail is a profund and truthful experience for those wanting to further understand living Indigenous law and culture in an epic, intact land & seascape – the Kimberley coast.
If you would like the opportunity to walk the Lurujarri Heritage trail, visit their website: www.goolarabooloo.org.au/lurujarri or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to book register your interest for a place on the 2014 walk.
Many thanks to the Goolarabooloo family & friends for an incredible experience and for continuing to share their culture and country with interested indiviuals from around Australia and the world.
*the official tally was 82km, but that didn’t include the walk up yellow river (4hrs) or the walk back to flat rock the final day (4hrs).
Article written by Jenita Enevoldsen, Marine Campaigner for The Wilderness Society in Perth.