When the wind turns

Living where the wind turns is a Brazilian expression for living somewhere that’s far away from everywhere, apt really for the Torres Strait and our home on Thursday Island. Recently an Islander friend, Nino, who lives on the neighboring Island of Kiriri (Hammond Island) explained the four winds to us on a day trip to his Island. We were belting across a small channel of the Strait that separates the two islands in his open dinghy.

Nino

Nino

“There are four winds in the Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait), which are the seasons. Kuki is the Northwest that brings the monsoons (January to April) and Sager which is the South East wind of the Dry season (May until December). Then there is the southerly Zay, which comes at any time and the Northerly Nay Gay which blows hot and humid (October to December),” Nino said.

In minutes Kuki whipped up the waves and a monsoonal front hit us with sheets of rain as the dinghy dashed for the sheltered bay of his community on Kiriri. We were drenched in seconds, but not cold as the warm rain stuck our clothes to our bodies. IMG_4804 We had been generously invited by Nino to his island to attend an art workshop he ran, where he showed people how to sculpt turtles out of ghost nets, the many abandoned fish nets that plague the world’s oceans. IMG_4748 “We used to make traditional masks out of turtle shell, then the other day when I was fishing I found a ghost net floating with a trapped turtle, and I now make turtles out of ghost nets,” Nino explained. Meanwhile Kuki brought the rain beating down on the community centre where he ran his workshop.

Nino’s innovative use of this scourge of the sea has seen him be awarded the National Museum of Australia History through Art Award at the 7th Gab Titui Indigenous Art Awards this year, for his piece clinging to life.

photo by George Serras, National Museum of Australian History.

photo by George Serras, National Museum of Australian History.

On the way back after the workshop, we got a break in the weather, and got to soak up the ambiance rather than the rain. 1959468_10151858191222493_494628009_n

Now a few weeks later, I have noticed Sager blowing again as of a couple of days ago, sending a sea breeze through our house that we haven’t felt for months, it will blow away the mozzies and blow flies that have been tormenting us when Kuki blew and buffeted the other side of the island, leaving us in a lull on the southeastern lee side. But now Sager is blowing again, so we can open the windows, turn off the aircon and hang the hammock in the backyard. I better tie down my tomato plants, as seasons evolve and life goes on. We truly do live where the wind turns…

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Cooking up a storm

With sound of knives on chopping blocks as a group of young men dice a mountain of garlic and ginger, the air is rich and sweet with its bouquet.

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Walking back from a tombstone unveiling ceremony, I inadvertently pass the preparation of not one but five Kupmurries, the Strait’s version of a Hungi or ground oven.

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I watched as the men (who traditionally prepare the meats and tend to the fires) prepared a combination of bush food, including deer, wild pig, dugong and turtle.

With the turtle, everything is used, the flesh, the organs, the blood. One of the delicacies is the freshly butchered liver slapped straight on the BBQ, which the men ate for lunch to sustain them during their preparations (which actually goes on for days).

I watched the young kids play with the turtle eggs, rubbery ping-pong-ball-like things.

The meats are marinated with the garlic and ginger, malt vinegar and soy sauce, the latter I’m guessing is the influence of the Malay and Japanese ancestors who came to the region as part of the pearling trade

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  Pearling lifestyle, by: Joey Liafoo, 2004. 

Three of the kupmurries were dedicated to cooking meat, while the other two were for damper bread and Sop Sop, which is yams, red and orange sweet potatoes doused in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves and foil. These dishes were prepared by the women.

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The science of the Kupmurrie is simple but elegant:

  • dig a shallow hole in the ground
  • layer it with kindling and stones
  • set fire to it and let it burn down

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The hot rocks are then spread out

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A layer of split banana tree trunks are laid on the rocks and the food placed on top.IMG_7122

The food is then covered with leaves which both help trap the heat and provide a source of steam.

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This is all covered with a blanket.

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And then plastic and sand…

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Then leave for an hour and 45 minutes…

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Bush foods such as turtle and dugong have been hot beds of contention, as both animals are endangered, many environmental groups are outraged at this traditional hunting practice.

And with the onset of social media, where young hunters have posted photos and videos of their kills, has further aghast the latte-sipping metrosexual middleclasses…

Tensions are high on the islands too. An elder told me in no uncertain times “That all eyes are on you.” I was forbidden to take photos of the turtle being slaughtered and told I would be run out of town if I posted anything negative about their hunting practices. But that is not why I have written what I have below…

Well peeps, Aboriginal hunting rights allow traditional and not commercial hunting, for their own consumption. Us whities have done a damn good job of fucking up the majority of the planet, so it’s hardly surprising they get more than a little miffed at their traditional practices being under threat.

The fine print here in Qld:

In Queensland, Aborigines living on trust lands are exempt from hunting and fishing legislation under the Community Services (Aborigines) Act 1984 (Qld) s 77 and its Torres Strait equivalent. This exemption allows for traditional hunting for consumption. 

There is actually no solid evidence their hunting these tasty, yet endangered sea morsels is to blame for their dwindling numbers. Read this conversation, and this one too.

Now I am, have always been, an avid conservationist, with political leanings to, libertarianism. a dash of anarchy and enviro-terrorism, but getting emotional over saving the cutesy animals based solely on emotional responses is not on. Stop the Japanese killing thousands of whales commercially under the farcical banner of ‘scientific research’ yes – harpoon the fuckers and feed them to the sharks,  same with the Chinese shark fin industry, fur pelt industry and the  ivory peddling industry. Kill ’em all and let God sort them out. But the key word here is industry – Indigenous hunting practices are a tradition, not an industry, that’s the difference.

Hell, who knows, if we let them carry on as they have for millennia, maybe they we look after their resources sustainably.  

And remember, if you think you are doing the world a favour eating your soya-based meat supplement, think again.