A few weeks ago I spent three days on West Island, one of the Sir Edward Pellew group of islands in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria. I was the guest of the li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Ranger Unit at their annual Mamadthamburu Turtle Camp project, which is itself part of the Yanyuwa Indigenous Protected Area.

On my first day I went for a long wander up Maabayny Beach and crossed the gentlest of paths with an old friend, this Beach Stone-Curlew Esacus magnirostris – or, as they are known in the local Yanyuwa language – a-rabinyi or a-wurrwin. A-rabinyi are one of my favourite wading birds and I occasionally see them around the beaches and cliffs in Darwin, where a pair have bred around East Point for many years.

A-rabinyi are found on open beaches, rocky reefs, in and around mangroves and on sand and mudflats across north Australia coast and north to New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It is not a common bird and is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

I had my little point-and-shoot with me on my walk so was only able to grab blurry shot as we shared a long stretch of beach and the bird ate what looks to me like a small crab.

The next morning I sat with local Aboriginal landowner for the area, Wylo McKinnon and he told me this short story about a-rabinyi.

A-rabinyi comes from country near Seven Emu station called Kummungu (sp).

There the Moon – barlangarra – asked the bird why it was singing out.

Barlangarra was at a place called Jillali (sp), the balanda name for that place is McQueen – on Robinson River Station.

A-rabinyi had a lot of babies hanging off her. Barlangarra told a-rabinyi that her babies were going to die because she had been telling lies to barlangarra.

Then all of a-rabinyi’s babies died and she went up to the moon, where she is to this day.

I’ll try to flesh this story out in the near future and perhaps see if I can locate a Yanyuwa language version.

The Narnu-Yuwa ki-Wundanyukawu Turtle Project – these words refer to the local Law for Wundunyuka (Sea Turtles) – is a project for the Yanyuwa families for whom everything on land or sea holds, or is a part of, that law.

One of the Yanyuwa senior elders describes the Law in the following terms:

Na-ja narnuyuwa narnu-walkurra barra, wirrimalaru, barni-wardimantha

Barni-ngalngandaya, nakari wabarrangu li-wankala,

li-ngambalanga murimuri

li-ngambalanga ngabuji

li-ngambalanga kardirdi

kalu-kanthaninya na-ja narnu-yuwa,

jiwini awarla, anthaa yurrngumantha barra.

Nyirra-nyngkarriya! Nyirru-linginmaya!

Yurrngumantha. Barni-ndaya winarrku!

This Law is important.

It is powerful, don’t break it,

don’t be ignorant of it,

it is from the past,

from the old people, our mother’s mother’s brothers,

our father’s fathers, our father’s mothers and our mother’s brothers.

They carried this Law, this Law is in the country and the sea for all time.

Listen to it! remember it!

It is for all time.

Do not leave it behind as some kind of rubbish.

You can see just a glimpse of the complexity of the Yanyuwa relationships to their land and sea from this map of the Yanyuwa clan estates.

The Yanyuwa IPA project has received funding through the Australian Government’s Working on Country program, 2007-2013.

Yanyuwa country includes the Sir Edward Pellew Islands and the riverine and coastal areas of the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria.

The seas around the eight large islands and more then 50 small islets, reefs and rocks of the Sir Edward Pellew Group provide extensive seagrass beds for dugong, turtle and other marine fauna. The mainland islands are home to large numbers of migrating seabirds and shorebirds.

Yanyuwa traditional owners established the li-Anthawirriyarra (people of the sea) Sea Ranger Unit as a means for managing their vast estate. What started out as surveillance and monitoring operation by the Sea Ranger Unit has evolved into a role with longer term land and sea management planning in this remote region. The rangers are employed to monitor and manage heritage sites such as Macassan camps; monitor and manage turtle and dugong populations and survey, map and eradicate feral animals.

I’ll have more on my time at the Mamadthamburu Turtle Camp soon.