Teerk – Roo – Ra
Acknowledging and paying respect to the traditional custodians and the elders of Quandamooka country, is an important part of our expedition process – introducing themes of remembrance, respect, gratitude, belonging and a sense of place. It is also an opportunity to ask permission to carry out our business at a spiritual level (and of course we always notify traditional owners of our activities).
Our expeditions naturally teach us about the intricate nature, rich culture, sustainable practices and the hidden history of our area. An important outcome of expeditionary learning is connecting deeply with each other – this is enhanced by storytelling and listening to local legends such as the one that concerns the creation of the South Passage, that cartilaginous place where currents rip and stingrays leap between Minjerribah and Moorgumpin. The story reminds us that the elders of this country are always present; often they are watching us and will offer guidance – but if we are not careful, their disapproval or anger will be felt. We can benefit from reconnecting with these traditions, learning the importance of being open, present and response-able. We are supported by our wild nature and our ancestors who are watching over us.
Quandamooka country is beautiful. Many thousands of generations of people have lived along this sandy coastline, camped among the banksia, whispering casuarina and delicious pigface – traversing the windswept dunes as they retreated from rising sea levels – sheltering in the paperbark forests surrounding the freshwater lagoons perched between the sand dunes. The salt water in the bay creates a pulse of life force, flooding the seagrass beds and ebbing through the deep dark channels every day and night. This same water our ancestors used to slap with their spears to summon the dolphins, working together to catch fish that were shared between all the families. Today, we refill our water barrels from the same natural springs, and gather at the sacred meeting spaces, camping beside ancient oyster-shell middens that mark the campsites of the old people.
The Sea School seeks to grow our relationship with the Quandamooka people. We hope that although our cultural approach and philosophy (described by European educators, using training activities in traditional sailing boats) could actually be seen as a barrier to finding common ground – we imagine that our relationship will grow and evolve from our respect and care for the future, the nature of our shared experiences and time spent working together with our young people.
We are proud of our maritime heritage – honouring explorers, teaching antiquated yet practical ways of doing things. Our core values such as respect, care for country, each other and ourselves, service to the community and honouring our elders are universal, and require us to make sacrifices as both ancestors and descendants. Our programs show us that being close to nature and living in a healthy community helps us to learn about ourselves, how diversity is robust, and how interconnection is vital.
One of our important program venues is Teerk – Roo – Ra, also known as Peel Island which relatively recently was a designated quarantine station – firstly for all ships entering the Port of Brisbane, then for the inebriates of the remote colony, and finally for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). The infrastructure still stands and we are interested in exploring its historic and metaphoric significance, and the potential to embark on a new phase of rehabilitation and recovery programs, with trauma informed care and empowerment as practice principles. The yellow quarantine flag is still flown by every ship that enters the country today, and we use this as a signal flag for communication between our expedition boats – assigned for our purposes as “caution, come closer, we need to talk”. I think we also need to talk about our national flag because as a symbol it is powerful. We know that the first people and sailors have long gazed at the Southern Cross, and as it begins to appear higher in our skies now, set to sparkle all through winter… I also associate it with the Eureka flag and the smell of burnt sausages and beer on Australia Day.
This year, Australia Day was also marked by Google’s subtle acknowledgement or our first people, and I think this helped create some much needed dissonance in the mainstream media. Our leaders took to the stage to speak about opportunity and equality, but clearly not everyone was celebrating on Australia Day. I think we need to negotiate a new understanding of what this day represents, and what we stand for as a nation. We desperately need good leadership in this country and around the world. One small symbolic act that I think could help to promote inclusiveness, maturity and a sense of belonging, would be to change the flag, and the date for Australia day. As a nation we all need to celebrate together. recall stories from the past, and plan a strong future together.