Where’s the Fish. Milingimbi Island 2017

While walking around Milingimbi talking to people about the old days I saw my old mum sitting in a wheelchair by the sea. She was sitting with my sister so I asked if I might share the breeze and yarn for a while. While talking about the old days mum made the following comment. She says it’s ok to repeat it! So I wrote it down. This is a story about how important fishing and fish are to the people of the islands.


Doreen Collins, granddaughter of Laurie Baymarrwaŋa, the Ranger! Photograph courtesy ranger Jonh Skutja

“Wanha guya : Where is the fish!”

‘Ŋarra gan nhinan aged careŋur, ga Yolŋuy yuṯa gäŋal ŋatha yakumirriw shoppuy, yaka wakinŋu, bayŋu rerrimirriw ŋatha nhakun guya[1]. Yaka märr-guyupa, yan. Bitjarr warrpam diḻkurruwurru rerrimirr yolŋuy “ŋapurr ŋuthar guyaŋur, ŋappur djäl nhuma yuṯay yolŋuy dhu guya märram balanya baman guŋgayunharraw gurruṯmirr. Warrpam dhu ḏälkum yolŋuny balanya nhakun ŋathil yolŋu gan nhinan walŋa guyay. Guya ŋayi ŋatha ḻatjtukunharraw, ga märrmirri, riŋgitjmirr ga yakumirr. Billi ŋapurr marŋgithin guyaw.”’

“Wanha guya : Where is the fish!”

‘I was sitting in aged care when the young man brought us some unnamed food. We’re not complaining but, we grew up on fish here. We said you “boys should start catching fish in the family way, sharing fish with your family and helping people like they did in the old days. Helping people, making yourself and your families strong on fish. This is an island, surrounded by fish and shellfish and turtles. We want young people to go and catch fish, making people and country strong again, like in the old days when everybody was well, living on fish, fish is good food, and it is life giving, health filled, powerful food, food with names, food we are meaningfully connected to. We grew up on fish.”’

My sister, Doreen, Ranger, said ‘Yo, napurr djäl guyaw djama ga lukanharraw: Yes, we like fishing and eating fish. We want to start a fishing industry again, it’s a good idea, I like it’.

In 2010, after ten years of struggle, Big Boss, Senior Australian of the Year 2012 Laurie Baymarrwaŋa, launched the Crocodile Islands Rangers, with the very phrase that inaugurated it ten years before, ‘Lima gurrku guya riya-gunhanyini ŋalimalamagu gurruṯuwaygu : We will share our fish with our children’[2] Not a new idea, but a good one, an idea with a most substantial genealogy !

Photo courtesy of John Skutja – Crocodile Islands Junior Rangers Coordinator (Milingimbi).

Thank you very much to my mother Michelle Barraṯawuy, and rangers Doreen Collins and John Skutja – Research, B. James; 15.04.2017.

[1]Wakinŋu in this sense means wild or natural distinct from its usual connotations of bad, belonging to no one or illegitimate.

[2]Laurie Baymarrwaŋa 2006 Crocodile Islands Initiative (Crocodile Islands Rangers program) History of the Crocodile Islands Rangers Unpublished notes, B. James. (James. B,. et al 2003)


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