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The Saltwater Story

The Saltwater Story

A land bridge connected Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) to Kombumerri country (Southport) and Goories also came in canoes to Minjerribah trading bunya for eugarie, amongst other things. – History Life and Times of Robert Anderson, Gheebelum, Ngugi, Mulgumpine

It was after reading this line quoted above, that Gold Coast author Benjamin Allmon realised he knew nothing of the Indigenous maritime history of his home, the land of the Saltwater People, so he embarked on a voyage of discovery that led him further than he ever expected.

“The Bundjalung, Yugambeh, and Quandamooka were accomplished seafarers with complex maritime routes plied by bark and dugout canoe (gundal) – the former for short trips, the latter for longer voyages like the one described in Anderson’s book. The bark canoe in particular illustrates how to sustainably take what you need from your environment – the bark is removed, but the tree remains alive and over time new bark grows,” explains Benjamin.

“Very few still possess this knowledge – thanks to veteran paddler Mark Matthews I met Bundjalung canoemaker Kyle Slabb, who does.We quickly realised that this was more than just an opportunity for a whitefella to engage and educate himself – it was a chance to ensure cultural continuity in the next generation of Saltwater People,” continues Benjamin.

They decided to document the experience in a film, a book, and an exhibit of amazing photographs. They collaborated with award-winning filmmaker Jeff Licence and renowned photographer David Kelly to document their epic 70km, three-day sea journey following an ancient First Nations maritime trade route in traditional canoes.

The result: The Saltwater Story.

The book launch, photo exhibit and film showing were held at the Home of the Arts on 18 June 2018. The experiences of each one who is part of The Saltwater Story are now etched in history for everyone to enjoy and re-live. It is hoped that the thirst for discovery and knowledge will continue for generations to come.

The Saltwater Story is a story of connection – not just between the Bundjalung-Yugambeh people and the Quandamooka people, but also between generations, between black and white, between land, sky and sea. It is a story of collaboration – whether it is made from bark or dugout, no one makes a canoe alone. It is a story of co-operation – the paddlers must work together if they are to get anywhere in these shark-infested waters. And it is a story of continuance – of ancient knowledge now held by just a few, of ensuring that tomorrow’s elders are brought along for the journey today.

The Saltwater Story is a book authored by Benjamin Allmon. It is also a documentary film by Jeff Licence. The book and the DVD are available for purchase at www.benjaminallmon.com/the-saltwater-story.

Cover image by David Kelly

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