— by Zac “Waalitj” Webb
We stand here on Wadandi Boodja. I’m Waalitj; the white-bellied sea eagle is nala borunga, my totem. I’m a Wadandi Maarman, a Saltwater man from the South West and the Cape to Cape Region.
Wadandi people are the Saltwater people of the Pibumun Nation. We’re Saltwater Mob. We live by Watturu/Wattern (the ocean). We believe in the spirit Wolghine of the ocean. We also have Mulgarhine and Balbarigh, the thunder and lightning spirits.
Wooditjup Bilya is the traditional name for Margaret River. Wooditj was one of our grandfathers who used his marban (magic) to create this river. There are many layers to this oral history that goes with this entire place.
This songline actually starts back at the beginning of the Goribilyup – the Blackwood River. The Pibulmun People are my grandmother’s tribal group from around Yoondadadup (Lake Jasper). That’s where our grandmother Millyean is from. So l guess, this layer of our story begins at Milyeanup – the place of Milyean. She is our grandmother.
At a gathering of the tribes, our grandfather Wooditj met and fell in love with Milyean. However, Milyean was promised to marry another Wadandi man, Wooditj’s older brother. One day soon after, Milyean’s father, Ngungareat came to bring his daughter to be married. They said that on these plains called Nillup, our grandfather sang a song and used his marban boorner (magic stick) to make the Old Man fall asleep. Wooditj called out to Milyean, he said, “Gnwirri yorga djennayen boodja” – “Beautiful woman, come walk with your feet across the country” – and they ran away together. They ran and ran out to the back of a place called Jalbarragup, to where a spring used to lay. Wooditj began to worry that he’d taken his brother’s promised wife and that he would be punished through cultural law, so he started to sing and hit the side of the spring with his magic stick. It caused the spring to open and it began to flow until it became a bilya (river). Ngungareat the old man could not cross the river, so Milyean and Wooditj felt safe from him and they headed west toward the coast.
The old man followed along the other side of the river and would call out, “Give back your brother’s wife! She is your brother’s promised wife!” But our grandfather didn’t want to listen and the old man grew angry. He started to sing out and dance and as he did he started to push down the big trees until he finally made a bridge to get across the river. As he began to cross the log, Wooditj hit the log with his magic stick and the old man fell into the river. As he fell, Wooditj sung the song of the blue groper (caarbern) and he turned the old man into a fish. As the river began to flow it pulled up at the river mouth where our grandfather pushed his magic stick into the sand and that’s where he connected the river to the ocean – Wattadjalup – where the river and the ocean meet. When Wooditj and Milyean rested they looked out to a large rock in the watturu (the ocean). They said the old man had created that rock.
Then as Milyean and Wooditj sat on the banks of the river, a big groper came up and our grandfather speared it with his gidgie. When Milyean saw the groper she cried out, “Wayamut, wayamut, demma noitjwah!” – “I’m sad, I’m sad, my father is dead!” Wooditj said, “This is not your father, but if it is l will sing him back into a man.” So Wooditj again stuck his magic stick into the sand next to the fish and begun to sing. As he sung the groper came back to life and began to change back into the old man. Once Ngungareat recovered, he said, “You can marry my daughter now, but you must leave your Country. You will go to Milyeanup, the place of my daughter and in exchange l will look after Wooditjup Bilya, your river of creation.”
Today that rock is still out there in watturu. It’s a reminder to our families to respect and listen to our Elders and not break cultural law or you will be punished. As it sits there today it reminds us of Ngungareat and it reminds us of the story and how we are connected to the river and to everything.
This place where the ocean and river meet, Wattadjalup is real special. The fresh water systems that represent the songlines of Waugyl, the Rainbow Serpent that created all the waterways for our people (Nala Yungunjarli) to survive and live on. Waugyl lives in the freshwater but we also have Watturu Waugyl, the ocean serpent as well. There’s another story passed down about how the great snakes always have a great battle, fighting with each other. Once we leave this season of Djeran and go into Makuru, they say that’s when the ocean snake tries to beat the freshwater snake. Back and forth, to and fro they battle and you see that through the environmental changes at the river mouth here, connecting the river and the ocean, freshwater and saltwater pushing against one another.
We have six seasons in the year. It’s all driven by what the Boodjara (the Country) is telling us, and not by dates on a calendar. We see changes in Country now. We are going from the season of Djeran into the season of Makuru. We see colder, crisper mornings and when the fog rises from Country like the smoke from our campfires, it drifts along the river and out to the ocean. We now know the gnaralung (herring) are fat and the ngari (salmon) are on their way too. When we look up and see and hear the mannitj (white-tailed cockatoos) flying in large flocks we know that the storms are coming and the salmon are on their way. We know Djeran has begun, the autumn time before the big rains. We’re in Djeran right now, April/May time. We’ll get a few nice cleansing rains on Country and then as the season changes the ngari come and then as they leave, Makuru begins around June/July. Soon we will see the mammunga (whales) heading north on their migration.
When we come to Wattadjalup (the river mouth) here the water is mostly fresh but some salt is always there, coming through the sand. We must always announce ourselves to Country. We don’t just walk through the front door, we let Country know we’re here. We rub our gnarl (our smell) onto nalamarra (our hands) then grab a handful of sand, put our smell into it and throw it out into the water. It lets the freshwater and saltwater snakes know we respect them. When we get to freshwater further up, we take a mouthful of water and spit it out into a spray, so it creates a small rainbow in the sunlight, like the spray on a wave. What we are doing is paying homage to the Rainbow Serpent that created the freshwater, for nyundabatt (every living thing).
All our stories… for us time is not linear. Time is forever. It’s past-present-future, future-present-past. It’s a timeline that can never be broken and that’s what’s always happening through these songs and stories and cultural law. We get told these stories about how the ocean is always trying to come closer. How the environment changes over time. It’s a way for our Old People to tell us about these environmental changes and how important it is to look after our Country, our Sea Country, our water sources. It’s always been the way and that’s how we Wadandi must live, by respecting our Elders and by respecting our Country – “Nala Boodjara”.