James Prosek's wonderful book about eels - Eels An Exploration, From New Zealand to the Sargasso helped deepen my own fascination with these magnificent creatures. Watching the documentary of his book this evening I see the story of Australia's long connection with eels is missing, and particularly the cultural connection. See- http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-85/t1-g-t8.html I spent the weekend on Gunditjmara Country, which is eel country/ Kuuyang country in Gunditjmara. Framlingham Aboriginal community had a celebration to mark 150 years and to share their past, present and future with the broader community. Here is a link (click on photo!) to the film about James Prosek's research in which he shares what little is known of these mysterious animals from an American, Japanese, Micronesian and New Zealand perspective. They symbolise for me the powerful interconnections between land and sea and the almost unknowable mysteries that are implicit in their river to sea journeys. The eel had been and still is an important animal in Indigenous culture and helped the Gunditjmara sustain a way of life for thousands of years.
Pelican1 has sailed over 64,000 NM (Nautical Miles) doing sea projects, many of these with traditional owners working in Sea Country. For 10 years we have been flying the same Aboriginal Flag from one of our stays. I have felt very fortunate to be working and helping create sea projects on Pelican, particularly when we're travelling in Sea Country with TO's (Traditional Owners). Pelican is a wonderful vessel, built to carry many people in relative comfort, allowing groups to journey to Sea Country that is very remote. The picture below was taken at White Sands, Cape York. The Wuthathi elder, pictured below, was making a trip there from Lockhart with three families. The Wuthathi have been part of this Country for an extraordinarily long time and have managed in recent times to protect this amazing place from sand mining. White Sands is situated near the very tip of Eastern Cape York.
The first image shows our now very tattered flag flying in the winds on Port Phillip Bay. Almost as far South as you can travel from Wuthathi Sea Country in Australia. It has also been flown in Tasmania, which is as South as the Australian continent extends. Those sea miles were creating going up and down our coastline many many times.
For the last couple of years we have been meaning to buy a new flag for the boat, but we all get so busy and then all of a sudden we are starting the next project and welcoming Aboriginal people on board and hauling up the sea-loved flag again.
But not this year's Two Bays. I have finally bought us a brand, spanking new flag!
Photo: Chris Hayward- Parks Victoria ranger
Linking traditional knowledge and scientific findings was one of the key elements of Connecting to Sea Country aboard the Pelican1 in 2013. As a marine scientist I have always been fascinated by the Aboriginal oral tradition recounting past times when Port Phillip Bay was dry and their ancestors hunted kangaroos and emu on grassy plains before a great flood filled the Bay. it is not so often that indigenous stories and scientific findings go hand-in-hand, but in this case the scientific evidence correlates closely with the stories that have been handing down over many generations.
Recent scientific findings now show us that around 2,800 years ago the entrance to Port Phillip Bay became blocked, cutting off the Bay from Bass Strait. As a result, the Bay sried out to create a grassy plain described in Aboriginal tradition. Around 1,000 years ago the blockage at the Heads broke down and the Bay was quickly filled in a castastrophic flood.
What better way to learn about these amazing events than aboard the Pelican1 on Port Phillip Bay with those long lost grassy plains just below us.
By Harry Breidahl
Harry Breidahl with Aunty Carolyn Briggs (Boonwurrung elder) on board Pelican1.
Photo: Natalie Davey