Men’s Culture Camp June 2019

In June 2019 Saltwater Freshwater ran a Men’s Culture Camp for Aboriginal men which was well attended and had a packed program. The Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance (SWFW) Aboriginal Men’s Culture Camp was made possible by funding support from the Department of Communication and the Arts through their Indigenous Languages and Arts funding.

The Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance Valla Beach Aboriginal Men’s Camp ran from the 19 – 22 June at the Valla Beach Tourist Park. Camp participants were warmly Welcomed to Country by local Gumbaynggirr Elder Uncle Micklo Jarrett, who also performed a spiritual smoking for the participants. Thomas Ferguson performed two dances (Spirit and Totem) whilst his father Ben played the yidaki around the campfire. A brilliant start to the camp.

Immediately after the Welcoming, the participants found themselves at Scott’s Head, embracing the serene, idyllic bush and ocean surroundings. The men were led by tour guide Belinda Donovan who passionately spoke about the delicate eco systems within the Gaagal Wangaan National Park, our methods and way of life that connect us as one to the earth, rivers and ocean. A Gumbaynggirr story Belinda also shared was the Creation story of the Ocean and the Dunggirr (Koala) Dreaming story of the Koala brothers, which is a now referred to as Yarrahapinni.

For tens of thousands of years, fire has been used as a medicine for the earth – the right fire in the right place at the right time can restore environmental balance. Jamie Bertram delivered the cultural burn workshop.  Jamie is a Wiradjuri man and a Community Safety Officer for the Mid North Coast Team NSW RFS who had recently returned from the National Indigenous Fire Workshop Dhungala 2019 on Yorta Yorta Woka (Yorta Yorta Country) on Dhungala (Murray River).

The afternoons were busy listening to the rhythm and stories from the world travelled yidaki player Kristian Benton. Kristian has his own yidaki making business and has been playing yidaki for 25 years. He plays Yolngu style from where he was taught yidaki in the Northern Territory. The men had yidaki classes each evening where Kristian explained the whole process of going bush and selecting the tree and cutting it down, stripping the bark, sanding, bees waxing the inside for acoustics etc. to the finished product, a musical instrument called the didgeridoo. 

Safety first, Mark Flanders from NSW NPWS demonstrated the basics of safety whilst canoeing. Mark Flanders from NPWS led a cultural canoe tour along Deep Creek pointing out the areas of special Gumbaynggirr significance, flora and fauna of the creek and its tributaries; a fisherman’s dream. Mark’s deep cultural and spiritual knowledge of the area gave the men a great sense of belonging, understanding and respect for the area. The tide and weather was perfect for a great learning experience.

Uncle Fred and John Kelly from Dunghutti led the traditional canoe-making workshop. There were 5 canoes made with the largest canoe measuring; 3.5m length X 60cm Width X 60cm Height. The canoes were made in a traditional style from a sheet of bark folded and tied at both ends with bark-fibre string. The bow (the front) is folded tightly to a point; the stern (the rear) has looser folds.

The men enjoyed making a traditional bark canoe, joined in on Yidaki playing, went canoeing and foraged for bushtucker. We hope to run another Men’s camp in 2020 – watch this space

Camp Participants at Scotts Head