Sep 20, 2022 | Age, Obituary | 4 comments

The Kimberly Coast

As I’m ageing, I’m more aware that some of my contemporaries are dying off. Even if death is not closing in on them, the early signs are there. More slowing down of cognitive ability, more visits to medical providers, more caution, more frailty and less mobility. And, hey, I am in this cohort, I remind myself often.

A lovely man died yesterday—his demise spurred on by having been on kidney dialysis for some time.

I didn’t know him well; initially it was by virtue of his reputation as an Aboriginal elder, law man and artist. Millions of people across the globe viewed his art when the image of a giant Wandjina (Aboriginal spirit entity) that he designed was featured in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Another expression of his respected status as an indigenous artist was his role in ‘refreshing’ Kimberley rock art, in particular the ancestral spiritual being Namarali.

Another highly developed skill was as a sailor and navigator. And that was how I met him.

He captained the Badmarra (in Worora language ‘sea eagle’) and guided our group of eight on a magical voyage through the Bonaparte and Buccaneer Archipelagoes. 

Our vessel was an eighteen foot aluminium boat that included a canopy for storing our tents, kitchen and food stuffs. Two 150 HP Yamaha motors propelled us huge distances over a 10-day period. Lunchtime stops at isolated islands along our route would have our skipper don his fisherman’s hat and catch something tasty for our repast.

Near evening time, we would pull up at an empty beach and transfer the kitchen and tents via several tender trips to a campsite. 

The Badmarra pierced little explored parts of the Kimberly Coast. Our skipper never had need to say a lot to us tourists. But he was so generous in showing us his Country on this never-to-be-repeated adventure. 

On one excursion, he painted us with ochre paste before we were to visit a site of rock art perhaps 20,000 years old. He said, ‘Painting this way is from the Wandjinas; you have to paint yourself to be like them. You are refreshing your body and refreshing the Wandjinas.’

Arriving back where we started out at Derby Harbour, Skipper put on his artist’s hat and showed us his mother-of-pearl jewellery, representing ancestral figures that are considered great protectors of the Kimberley.

In memory of him, I’ve been wearing one of these today…a precious gift from him.

In this week of the Queen’s pompous and endless funeral proceedings, this beautiful soul will be buried, too. What will really happen is that he will be returned to the land that was never ceded to the Crown, and that will outlast all of us.


  1. Thank you Eve your post touched a long forgotten memory buried under the events of present days. Just because memories are far away the roots still affect us.
    Thanks for reminding me Christine

  2. Thank you for sharing this deep reflection. Well expressed.

  3. Thanks for this Eve. Someone asked me if I was going to watch the Queen’s funeral. My reply was why out of all the millions of people dying this week would I choose that funeral to watch? This elder you speak of now is in my prayers too and gratitude for his life and art and sharing. What a wonderful experience for you to have had on that journey. And yes the aging, impermanence and also the beautiful shifting in priorities and understanding of myself & those around me as the years pass is very clear.

    • Thank you, Kate. It’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s said. But long life gives many experiences to create the resilience we need.
      Namaste, E


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