Marcus, Thalia and baby Aurellio on Rutea
After sailing all night from the Wessles with steady 25 - 30 knots of wind, we arrived at South Goulburn Island on Wednesday morning salty and cranky. It was nearly impossible to sleep at all during the night as each time I finally dozed off we took a wave that put Rutea on her side and made me fly out of bed, or made a book fall on my head. Regardless, we were so excited to arrive at Goulburn Island the next morning (and to have internet again) that I forgot all about my lack of sleep.
South Goulburn Island is Aboriginal land with a small community, and barred to all visitors unless one obtains a special permit to visit. Interestingly, Emma has a friend, Thalia, who is doing her PhD and living on the island with her husband, Marcus, and their 4 month old son, Aurellio. When I found this out I hassled Emma to make an introduction for me to Thalia, because getting a tour of Aboriginal land by knowledgeable people (who are also not afraid of crocs) sounded too good to pass up.
That afternoon Thalia, Marcus and Aurellio met us on the beach, along with a few Aboriginal kids from the community. It is always funny to meet a friend of a friend for the first time, to feel them out and get to know them, but with Marcus and Thalia we were instant friends. They were excited to have visitors and we were excited to be visitees, so we all set off at once -- but not before asking the family camping on the beach to keep an eye on the dinghy. Marcus promised the parents a pack of cigarettes if we came back to a dinghy intact. We brought the gas tank along with us in the car because, unfortunately, there is a pretty serious problem with teenagers huffing gasoline in the communities.
The six of us piled into the "Troopie", a big, white, 4WD Trooper (although covered in red dust), that is necessary for driving on the dirt roads and deep sand beaches. Marcus and Thalia took turns answering our numerous questions about the community. About 450 people live on the island, and few are outsiders (i.e. white). Marcus and Thalia moved into the community two years ago and it took a while for them to be accepted as locals, although Aurellio is definitely an island baby.
Thalia and Marcus pointed out the airport and power grid while we drove down dusty, red roads, passing wild horses and small (controlled) bush fires. Our first stop was a billabong -- a sort of natural freshwater spring that had tall grasses growing out of the pools with lily pads on top. It was stunningly beautiful, especially because the land surrounding it is so dry, at least during the dry season. As the ocean is just over the hill, there are known to be crocodiles that crawl from the beach over to the billabong, so swimming is out of the question.
Next we visited Bottle Rocks, where allegedly the fishing is amazing, although we fished there the next day with no luck. I think that is more the result of my and Dad's terrible fishing skills than the fault of the spot, but Marcus didn't catch anything either. I told him we are bad juju.
After touring the beaches we went back to our hosts house. They live right across from the beach and the sea breeze flows through the house keeping it airy and cool. The five dogs that keep their property safe were all very sweet to me, although I am sure they would not think twice about tearing my head off if they thought I was a threat.
We walked across the street to the Art Center, where Mom and Dad bought a beautiful Aboriginal art painting. It is really stunning. They met the artist and got a picture of him signing it, which is pretty special. It was nice to be able to buy a piece of art where the proceeds go directly to a community, rather than to a gallery.
Next door to the Art Center was the shop -- the only market on the island. While it is not a mega supermarket, for everything being flown in once a week, I thought it was very well stocked. We didn't buy much because we are close enough to Darwin to make our supplies last.
The community is interesting. It is always interesting to see how native people cope with modernization, trying to maintain identity and a certain way of life, while adapting to having internet, cell phones and microwave popcorn. One example is, at the market we saw lots of kids eating bags of chips and popcorn. Thalia said they eat tons of junk food, and diabetes and obesity are becoming serious issues in the community. Yet, when we went down to the beach the last night, we saw a family roasting a goana (giant lizard) on the fire. The kids were eating goana parts with gusto, and one boy proudly showed me the head he was eating. There are definitely bright and dark sides to this ancient civilization living in modern times, but it is nothing if not interesting.
Goulburn Island is a dry island, meaning there is no alcohol allowed. This is probably a good thing -- whereas I am all for adults being able to make their own decisions, some adults are unable to make rational decisions when alcohol is involved. So alcohol was banned on the island (as was kava, which might not have been as constructive).
However, the water surrounding the island (i.e. the anchorage) was not dry so the six of us had a nice little dinner party on Rutea after our trip into town. I think even Aurellio had a good time, and only cried for a little while when it was time to go.
The next day Marcus and Thalia took us fishing, but, like I said, our bad juju prevented us from getting any fish. Fortunately Marcus had caught a bunch of mud crabs the day before, and Thalia prepared a crab feast for dinner which was absolutely delicious. I spent the afternoon trying to keep Aurellio happy, although he preferred Dad to me.
Around sunset it was time to return to Rutea so we could pull up anchor early in the morning. The five dogs wanted to join us for the drive down to the beach, and Marcus had a hell of a time trying to get the dogs out of the Troopie. He threw one out the door and two jumped in, one in the driver's seat and one trying to lick Aurellio's face... needless to say the rest of us were howling with laughter.
When we got back to the beach we were surrounded by a flock of kids who kept asking us our names. We said goodbye to Marcus and Thalia and as we motored away from the beach they kids yelled, "Bye Neal! Bye Corie! Bye Ruth!" It was really a very sweet send off.
In fact, the whole experience was very sweet. Marcus and Thalia were so welcoming and giving with their time and space; they made me feel like I could stay forever. And aside from not being able to swim in the water there (or at least not without keeping a keen eye out for crocs) and no surf, I could see myself spending some time in a place like that. Learning the ways of the bush, hunting mud crabs and eating goanas, maybe roasting a kangaroo and improving my fishing skills all seem like worthy endeavors.
Alas, I decided once again to leave a place I could very well call home (for a while). After sailing for the past two days straight, we arrived in Darwin this morning. Hooray!!!