• Accompanied by a film crew, Indigenous youth will paddle hand-made canoes along an ancient trade route to North Stradbroke Island. (NITV)
South-east Queensland's Indigenous maritime history is set to feature in a new documentary, as Indigenous youth retrace an ancient canoeing trade route between the Gold Coast and Stradbroke Island.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

30 Jan 2018 - 9:57 AM  UPDATED 30 Jan 2018 - 9:57 AM

Against a backdrop of soaring skyscrapers that make up the Surfers Paradise skyline, two hand-made wooden canoes slip between the multi-million dollar yachts.

At the oars are four young Indigenous men, their faces proud and determined, betraying only a hint of excitement as they embark on a journey their ancestors have been taking for thousands of years. From the banks of the Nerang River, onlookers clap and cheer as the canoes glide out towards the open sea. 

Over three days, and around 70 kilometres, the group will retrace what was once a maritime trade route connecting the First Peoples of the Gold Coast and North Stradbroke Island, or Minjerribah as it's known to the local Quandamooka people. Traditionally, the groups would exchange bunya (nuts) for eugarie (pipis) in what's been described as not just a trade mission, but a "voyage of connection". 

This history will soon be the subject of a documentary, The Saltwater Story, produced by Benjamin Allmon. 

The Gold Coast writer says he first heard about the trade route while researching a story about Minjerribah.

"I thought wow I didn’t know anything about the Gold Coast's maritime Indigenous history," he told NITV News. 

Determined to learn more, he enlisted the help of Kyle Slabb, a local Bundjalung canoe-maker who has cultural ties to the Gold Coast through his grandfather. 

"We’ve paddled all our life and that’s part of our cultural story," Kyle says.

"Canoe for us, or Gundal in our language, they’re the thing that carries us into our story.

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"When we think about our stories from past and even present, from a whole history that’s what’s carried us into our stories and into our history, and today can still carry the next generation into the journey that they’re gonna go on today, their story."

Kyle has paddled the 70-odd kilometres to North Stradbroke Island several times, but he'd been longing to take a group of young Indigenous men along to pass on the traditional practice. He invited Benjamin and a filmmaking team to experience, and document, every aspect of the journey - from hand-crafting the canoes to paddling for three days in the open sea, camping, fishing and hunting along the way.

On Saturday a crowd gathered at a ceremony to farewell the group. 

Benjamin Allmon says he ultimately hopes to tell the story in a way that's accessible to the broader community who, like himself, "may not have known much about Indigenous history".

"Until recently, I didn’t know that there’s an ancient seafaring history in the land and sea of our country, and that for thousands of years canoes have carried people along various waterways beside us," he told the crowd who gathered at the farewell ceremony. 

"The story’s always here though. Always has been, in the land and the sea we’ve built the city on. Many of us can sense this on one level, but it’s hard to hear that story with the noise of the city, and it’s hard to see it with all the stuff that we’ve put on top of it."

For Kyle Slabb, he hopes the trip will help keep cultural knowledge alive for future generations, and leave a lasting imprint on the young men on the trip. 

"You don’t have to paddle a bark canoe or a tree canoe to be an Aboriginal person, but I think if we do carry the knowledge of those practices, we still should retain them and pass them on," he says.

"Whether they paddle another dugout for the next 20 years or not, at least they’ve had the experience and they’ll carry that knowledge with them."

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