Barra fishing and Maningrida Art

We flew into Maningrida over the Liverpool river and the Tomkinson flood plain. The coast here initially surveyed by Philip Parker King in 1819 remains remote and largely unsettled.

Regular supplies come from Darwin by barge, the only reliable transport in the wet season.

Rob drove us the short distance from Maningrida airport to Barra Lodge where we settled into our safari tents. The view over the Tomkinson flood plain was as stunning from the verandah as from the air. We were given a tackle talk by the skippers of the fishing boats, introducing the uninitiated to shallow diving and deep running lures, as the sun slid into the sea.

Next morning in groups of six we set off for the wharf and boarded our fishing boat with Paul and Stewi, leaving tour guide Rob enviously watching from the shore.

Paul took us into a sheltered bay where we watched egrets and a lone jabiru wading in the shallows. Whistling kites circled overhead and the jabiru took off circling our 2 boats in a graceful arc, trailing its long knobbled legs far behind. We watched a 3 metre croc sleep on the bank and then open one eye, yawn and slide maliciously into the murky water.

We trailed our fishing lines, sonomulent in the midday sun. Suddenly Stewi had a bite and handed the line to Roger who landed a 76cm barramundi. Photos were taken and the hook removed before she was returned to the deep. Barramundi over 79cm are breeders so best to be preserved.

The one that got away

Our afternoon was spent at the Maningrida Art Centre where we were welcomed and introduced to elders and artists Freda, Doreen and Jade from the Babbarra Women’s Centre. We sat down for an explanation and demonstration of weaving. Surrounding us were beautiful woven objects from fishing traps to dillybags and baskets. Freda expertly stripped a pandanus frond with her thumb and forefinger and showed us the way they are dyed.

Later we watched as she and Freda stripped bark from the stick of a kurrajong tree and smashed it with water to soften and separate. Difficult and time consuming but these strong beautiful women want to hand down their tradition and expertise to younger women.

Jade, shyly explained the screen printing process being used to transfer their art to fabrics and the collaboration with Kip&Co to produce bed linen and napery. The first release last year was sold out in 24 hours. We left having purchased a beautiful basket and some napkins.

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