Darwin, 2009

It was more of a loaf in Darwin this trip, with no trip to Croker Island, though I did catch up with some people from there, and I mostly stayed within the city itself, although I managed to venture south in the last week or so. I did make some good contacts, and was frustrated by an inability to make some others. Darwin temperatures, as usual for this time of the year, reached a daily maximum of 32 degrees and a minimum of 22.
After my trip to Croker Island in 2007, I was keen to make contact with Stephen Fejo, whom I had met and befriended on that trip, although for much of my time on the island Stephen was in Darwin for ‘sorry business’ . Stephen’s traditional land encompasses the ruins of the Fort Wellington settlement I had been researching, and we had determined to visit the site together some day. I rang Croker, and learnt that Stephen was in Darwin, but they had no address or phone number to contact him. Frustrating.
I was also keen to contact a linguist who spends a lot of time researching on Croker, by the name of Bruce Birch. Making contact with Bruce is like trying to meet the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Ghost who Walks and the poet Ern O’Malley rolled into one. No phone calls of many to various numbers bearing his name ever elicited an answer. No voice message earned a response, and only one email was answered. This email indicated that he would be in Darwin during a certain week-end, and that I should call him to arrange a meeting, but the mobile number, when called, was not available. All subsequent attempts at contact failed. Maybe next time.

East Point Beach

I had more luck with my quest to contact Stephen. When doing some casual shopping at a nearby deli, I was served by an attractive and friendly lady from Arnhem Land called Heleana. One night I arrived at the shop as it was about to close, and Heleana was bringing the signs in. In the near distance some fireworks lit up the sky. We watched and chatted, and it was then I found out that Heleana was from Arnhem Land, and I mentioned my wish to contact Stephen. Stephen turned out to be her cousin, and although she did not have a contact for him, she was sure she could track him down for me. 

We met again a couple of nights later, at the Indigenous Music Awards at the ampitheatre in the Botanic Gardens, a great night of music awards and music which culminated in a performance by Geoffrey Gurrumul. Heleana received a text message from a nephew, indicating that Stephen was in the crowd, and would meet us at the gate after the concert, but because of the darkness and the crowd, this meeting did not take place. The next day, however, I got a phone call from Heleana, who had met Stephen in a supermarket, and she passed on a mobile contact for him.

Geoffrey Gurrumul

Later that day Stephen, his two daughters, and Lorraine, their mother called in. Lorraine Williams is an ethnobiologist, with parents from Darwin and Croker Island, and has combined her knowledge of growing up with native plants and animals and her academic studies to form a considerable knowledge pool. Lorraine works with an Aboriginal Women’s Heritage group, which conducts surveys of various sites and produces pamphlets, brochures and reports on their invaluable explorations.


Lorraine & Stephen 

I gave Lorraine a copy of “Commandant of Solitude – The Journals of Collet Barker” which covers the period when Barker was the Commandant at the Fort Wellington settlement in Raffles Bay, not too far from Croker Island, and which was visited by Barker during his tenure. We also arranged to meet later in the week, as I was keen to view a DVD called “Wiril Canoe” which shows the making of a dug-out canoe on Croker Island in 1971, perhaps the last to be made this way.

A day or two later I was able to track down another copy of the Barker Journals for Heleana, who apart from being the friendly face in the deli, is also a student at Bachelor College south of Darwin on her days off. I am hoping one day to go back to Fort Wellington, and to explore it together with the friends I have met on this trip.

Molly, Bob, Heleana

Other activities to fill in the time in Darwin included attending the Nirvana nightclub and restaurant nearby, in particular the Tuesday night ‘Jam sessions’ and a weekly game of golf at the gardens course, with a small but friendly group organised usually by my brother Max, but who, along with Sharyn, was visiting their daughter Penny and family in Botswana. The Nirvana is a good place for amateur muso’s to have a play, but also features some of the best in Darwin at times. A great place on a Tuesday night. My golf sessions were good practice for the eventual play-off for the Donald Wilkie Innes Memorial Trophy, more affectionately known as the “Scrotum Cup”.

Eventually, Max returned from Botswana, my other brother Dean returned from a trip to Holland with his wife Willie, and we played off for the “Scrotum” my practice on the course proving invaluable as my brothers roamed the planet. 

A trip to Lichfield Park, with Max, and a balmy evening meal or two later, and it was back to the green, beautiful and varied Adelaide Hills.

Darwin Dawdle

It is six days short of two months since I lobbed in Darwin, but finally, tomorrow, the eighteenth of June, I shall be flying to Croker Island. Here I will meet the residents, learn what I can of their culture, and share what I can of their history which my research has revealed, hopefully a productive and mutually satisfying experience all around.
The pace of things up here is fine by me. I have done research on the Macassan culture and their search for the trepang in the waters of Raffles Bay during Barker’s time as Commandant. I have come across the booklet of the Historical Society’s expedition to Fort Wellington in 1966, and I have found out all I can of the Iwaidja people, prior to actually meeting them. During the last few days I have found some photographs on line of the Iwaidja, taken in the 1880’s by the Police Inspector Paul Foelsche. I have copied some of these images into my lap-top, and if it is appropriate, I will show the people of Croker these images of their ancestors, as well as sharing with them the stories recorded by Collet Barker in his journals of 1827-28, and of his interaction with the Iwaidja of that period.
I have also squeezed in a trip to Katherine while John and Sue were up here on a visit, done some jamming at the Nirvana night spot, watched a movie under the stars, and dined on the wharf as the sun sinks and the moon rises. Darwin is a great spot to go slow, and the weather is magnificent, not exceeding 33 degrees maximum, or 20 odd degrees minimum.

Tomorrow, at nine thirty a.m., I fly out of Darwin for Croker Island via Goulburn Island, which means a good look around on the way, and when I return from Croker, in a week or thereabouts, my northern mission will be complete, and I can look forward to going back home to the Adelaide Hills, where the maximum temperatures seem to be somewhere between twelve and fifteen degrees. Did I just write that???!!!!