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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Guides: a model guide from the Mulgana mob at Monkey Mia

For all my criticism of guides, there have been a few that have impressed us, and there has been one that changed our lives. Darren ‘Capes’ Capewell, an indigenous Australian from the Mulgana tribe, runs cultural walks through the bushland and along the shores of Monkey Mia in the Shark Bay World Heritage area on the north-west coast of Western Australia. Capes' father is from the Mulgana mob (tribe) and his mother from the Nardi mob, so he’s an expert on aboriginal country. We did a couple of walks with Capes while researching our Lonely Planet Perth and Western Australia guidebook. His walks are called ‘Wula Guda Nyinda’, which means ‘you come this way’, and after telling us that we were Mulgana mob for the day, he said: “Take soft steps. Today you’re going to learn how to respect country.” And he had us from that moment. After a few hours of stepping softly through the sandy scrub-land we learnt that what appeared to be arid country was in fact a "bush supermarket" and that the vegetation was a smorgasbord. Capes broke twigs from branches and picked berries from trees and we learnt to identify and taste bush tucker. We learnt how to find water and how to create it if we couldn't. We learnt that the supermarket was also a pharmacy. A plant Capes called ‘pigface’ could be applied to skin to soothe sunburn, and coastal myrtle, like Vic’s Vapour Rub, could be rubbed under the nose if you had a cold. So while we were 'shopping' and food-tasting, we were also learning valuable survival skills. Capes taught us "how to let the bush talk to you” by listening to the birdsong and rustles in the grass. We learnt how to identify animals by their tracks in the sand and how to tell the size of a kangaroo by the size of his poo! And along the way Capes taught us some of the Mulgana language. Keen for more, we joined Capes for a second walk to an aboriginal campsite where he told us dreamtime stories under the stars. As Terry said the next day "We walked a few kilometres in just a few hours yet we dipped our toes into thousands of years of Aboriginal knowledge of the land." We learnt about bush tucker, medicine and survival, but most of all we experienced firsthand that special connection indigenous Australians have to the land, to country. To me, it's the ability to share that special connection that makes a guide great and a walk or tour a memorable, if not life-changing, experience.

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