Western Australia's Dampier Peninsula
When you’re up to your backside in a Kimberley creek, fumbling among mangrove roots with a makeshift metal hook, you hope that it’s a mud crab that bites – and not a crocodile. Thankfully, my guide, Albert Wiggan – traditional owner, tourism operator and environmental activist – also includes ‘mud-crabber’ on his resume and we soon catch a dinner’s worth of these massive-clawed crustaceans.
Back at Albert’s beach-side block, we roll out our swags (bedrolls) and throw the crabs on an open fire. Beneath a sky full of stars, Albert talks of the challenges facing the handful of indigenous tourism operators along the Dampier Peninsula. The region is a couple of hours’ four-wheel drive north of Broome, in Western Australia’s far northwest, and has the country’s highest concentration of indigenous tourism operations, ranging from basic campsites to eco-luxury tents, camel treks to bush tucker tours.
In addition to the challenges of any start-up business, operators struggle with the remoteness of the region, lack of services and business experience, and inter-clan politics. On top of all that, the Western Australian government wants to turn the region into an industrial zone and build a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant at James Price Point.
As an initiated Bardi man and traditional owner, with a Perth boarding school education, Albert must carefully walk the line between tradition and development, striving to conserve his people’s heritage – both cultural and physical – while looking for ways to provide sustainable livelihoods. The complexities of politics – black-fella and white-fella – are mind-curdling and I am filled with admiration for Albert’s courage, tenacity and insight.
After a belly full of sweet and succulent crab and the deepest of sleeps, I climb aboard Wongai the camel, who takes the concept of ’ship of the desert’ literally, heading for the water as soon as Lenny O’Meara, operator of Munget Camel Tours, points him toward the beach.
Lenny and his partner, Jacinta, have just opened the Whale Song Café, and serve scrumptious light meals crafted from the produce of the lushest organic veggie garden I’ve ever seen. The garden is fertilised by the ‘output’ of the camels, in a neatly sustainable operation!
As I lurch gently along the beach atop Wongai, with his camel colleague Jerry Hall breathing hotly behind me, blisteringly ore-red pindan cliffs melt and bleed into the cerulean sea. The intensity of light and colour sizzle my retinas and induce a gush of superlatives – and there isn’t a soul in sight.
It would be a great tragedy if this technicolor wilderness, with a cultural heritage stretching back many thousands of years, was destroyed for a gas plant with a life expectancy of a few decades.