ANGELA SAURINE takes a cruise on the Great Barrier Reef with Indigenous rangers and learns to view the reef and its marine inhabitants through the eyes of the oldest surviving culture.
Regina Tabui on Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel. Image Angela Saurine
Regina Tabui will never forget the first time she saw a turtle. She was so overcome at the sight, she immediately dove into the water and grabbed it. But, in her culture, that is a big no-no. “I got a hiding because women aren’t allowed to touch turtles,” she recalls. Despite this, she was given the turtle as her totem – a spiritual emblem that helps define her role in society and relationship with others and creation. She now proudly wears a turtle necklace and turtle anklet. Another turtle appears on her Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel uniform, along with other animal totems of jellyfish, stingray and sea hawk, which represent the four Yidinji nations of the Cairns region. These include Gunggandji, which covers an area from the eastern side of Trinity Inlet to south of Arooba; Yirrganydji, covering the Atherton Tablelands; and Gimuy Walubarra, which is modern day Cairns, where our tour boat departs from.
The Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel vessel on the Great Barrier Reef. Image Tourism and Events Queensland
Regina is from Mandigalpi nation, but having been born in Bundaberg and raised by her mother, who is from Papua New Guinea, it was a while before she reconnected with her Australian Indigenous heritage. In fact, it wasn’t until she started working with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, which offers tourists the chance to learn about the Great Barrier Reef from an Indigenous perspective, that she became more interested in her story. “It helped me find my culture,” she says. “It gave me questions to go back and ask. I found my culture by reaching out to grandparents on my father’s side.”
Regina Tabui from Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel swimming with a wrasse on the Great Barrier Reef. Image Angela Saurine
The job has been a life-changing experience for the 18-year-old, who says she was about to be kicked out of high school in Year 10 when she decided to sign up for a TAFE course. “I didn’t care about anything in high school,” she says. She signed up to a marine engineering course “as a joke” and ended up falling in love with it. That led to a job in the workshop doing welding work for Experience Co., which operates Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, through the Shoreline program, which provides education and employment opportunities for young Indigenous people. From there, she began working on the boat doing cultural presentations, and now works in the bar and coordinates Indigenous rangers. She loves being able to share her culture with interested people. “I think Indigenous culture is misunderstood,” she says. “When you compare it to other parts of the world, Aboriginals were around before the Egyptians. It’s the oldest surviving culture, but people don’t talk about it.”
Enjoy cultural presentations with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel. Image Tourism and Events Queensland
The beauty of the tour is that you still get a scientific explanation of the 2,700km long UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, which is made up of more than 3,000 coral reefs and stretches from Lady Elliot Island, off the coast of Bundaberg, to New Guinea. From the marine biologist we learn that there are three types of reef. Fringing reefs surround continental islands, such as Fitzroy Island, while ribbon reefs can be found in the northern section of the marine park. Patch reefs are circular and can span several kilometres. We also learn coral is made up of animals called polyps, which are similar to jellyfish, that teardrop butterfly fish have a fake eye to confuse predators, and that parrot fish munch on coral with their front teeth, and can excrete up to 90kg of sand per year.
Then, during our snorkel safari, the Indigenous ranger reveals that clam shells were used to make marks on men’s skin as part of an initiation ceremony, and as a serving bowl. We also discover that mushroom coral secretes a mucus used as protection from the sun and as insect repellent, and that sea cucumber was used to trade with people from South East Asia.
Get an Indigenous perspective of the Great Barrier Reef with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel. Image Archie Sartracom-Tourism Australia
It takes an hour or two to get to our snorkel sites, which are around 50km off the coast, and back, so it makes perfect sense to fill the time with cultural presentations. On our tour Jiritju Fourmile, who is a Traditional Owner of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people, does a welcome to country on behalf of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. During a firestick presentation, we learn how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together in a twisting motion – a skill the Indigenous rangers learnt as children. Jiritju stops when we begin to smell smoke. “Legally we can’t make fire on a boat,” he laughs. He reveals the sticks would be wrapped in banana leaves and covered in beeswax to protect them when it rained. There is also a didgeridoo performance. We learn the musical instrument is formed from a stringybark tree hollowed by termites. Indigenous people knock on tree, and can tell by the sound it is hollow before cutting it down. The drone sound it makes when played can be inspired by the noises made by kangaroos, crocodiles and kookaburras.
See beautiful coral on a tour with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel. Image Tourism and Events Queensland
During another cultural presentation as we return to Cairns, Regina dances on the deck as the other Indigenous rangers perform with the didgeridoo and clapsticks. In her culture, she told me earlier, women aren’t supposed to work, but she is keen to see more females become involved in the tourism industry. “Realistically, we shouldn’t rely on men,” she says.
The writer was a guest of Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel.
Hikers in Hoh Rain Forest. Image Port of Seattle
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