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3 March 2019 | Part of the “A Pioneering Cruise Line” Anthology of Stories
By Ian Morris OAM
The journey from Cairns to Darwin for the start of the season sailing on the Kimberley coast offered another opportunity to develop another itinerary, and so the ‘Across the Top’ itinerary was developed. This cruise now called ‘Cape York and Arnhem Land’ (CYAL) includes several Great Barrier Reef sites for snorkelling, some island visits and sunrise viewing from the tip of Cape York. Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria is also part of the itinerary. Shore visits are made to Arnhem Land communities including Elcho Island, along with the historic Victoria settlement site and the Tiwi Islands. During this second half of the cruise, guests see and walk on many beautiful areas of coastlines, have a chance to meet with local Aboriginal community members and visit several of art and cultural centres. Like other waters along the north coast, the danger of Indo-Pacific (estuarine) crocodiles, unfortunately, prohibits saltwater swimming.
Ian Morris, one of our long-time Guest Lecturers, is a self-described zoologist, educator, conservationist, and author. His knowledge of northern Australian fauna is encyclopaedic and his photographic skills magical! He has travelled extensively in the near-Australian tropics and played a significant role in the development of the CYAL cruise program following his long-time connections with the people of Elcho Island and Yirrkala. Ian speaks their respective languages and understands the intriguing clan social structure which he was to become part of. Ian spent ten years teaching secondary school science on Elcho Island and was later engaged as a ranger training officer with the beginning of the federal government’s first indigenous joint land management project – Kakadu National Park. Ian’s reflections follow.
Northern Australia, its people, landscape, climate, wildlife and history have always fascinated me. It is so different from the rest of the continent, and there is so much to learn about it. The natural and human histories of our northern coastline are not well known, but what we know is fascinating, and new revelations are frequent. Putting the story together in a modern context is both amazingly complex and challenging.
Initially, I began working as a guest lecturer on the Kimberley coast with some reluctance as I felt that other people were more suited to engaging with tourists than I was. My background was more ‘bush based’ education, research and land management. I soon changed my attitude after a few initial cruises, when I saw the quality of people that are attracted to these expeditions and the enthusiasm they show for local knowledge (natural history, European and Aboriginal history, culture, language, kinship, climate, etc).
It also surprised me to see that this kind of ‘Aussie learn-as-you-go’ discovery cruise was so popular with both Australian travellers and overseas visitors alike, promoting both natural and cultural values in such a little known part of the country. I began to realise after much post-journey feedback, that for many passengers, this type of holiday could be life changing! I have always believed that being Australian meant that we had to have a good understanding of the fantastic country we live in and I have been fortunate enough to be able to do this myself. Now I realise that, while passengers generally share this same desire, most have spent their lives in urban settings and have gained their knowledge and opinions from the media and books, etc. This made me keen to share my ‘backyard’ with guests. These cruises, which include the ‘optional daily moving classroom’ are well received because they allow people to hear, see and experience the ‘real Australia’ for themselves. We guest lecturers are there to assist in this process.
Over my 16 years of working with this company, my enthusiasm for these educational tours has greatly increased, as we continuously find better ways to present and deliver information, but more importantly, as I see the way passengers respond positively to the total experience. No two trips are ever the same. The same applies to human history. My Indigenous friends here on the north coast feel the same way. They are proud that finally their culture is now being presented to the outside world in a way that reflects their values and who they really are.
I consider this work a privilege. I always look forward to the next trip with the same excitement and anticipation that I had on the very first one – we never stop learning! When we finish a cruise and farewell the guests on the wharf, we all feel like winners.