Looking back to the Butchulla

THERE are few better ways to re-energise one's mental and physical strength than walking in nature. I always find that when I allow myself to focus on my surroundings I discover much more than I set out to.

This week I went for a magical walk in the light rain along a stretch of foreshore at Booral that is particularly pleasing to explore with interesting birds, views out over the water to Woody Island and kangaroos skipping through ancient mangroves.

Among the pristine natural features there is evidence of human occupation including artefact scatters of pottery shards and broken bottles from a homestead built nearby more than 150 years ago.

But there is a much larger story here in the intertidal zone with the ever-changing line where the sea meets the land. The landscape and seascape are inscribed with rich cultural meaning. A cultural meaning from a living culture that has thrived on this country for thousands of years. Here, where the tide breathes in and out, one can get an appreciation of Butchulla connection to country.

The landscape has been shaped to interact with the tidal changes through the careful positioning of rocks to create a number of fish traps.

SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE: This multiple dhalba system was constructed in the intertidal zone at Booral.

For thousands of years seafood has been a staple in the diet of the Butchulla people, to which this site bears witness. These structures and the surrounding landscape illustrate how the Butchulla people have lived off the sea as well as the land.

Dhalba (pronounced "darl-ba”) is the Butchulla word for a fish trap. This multiple dhalba system was constructed in the intertidal zone at Booral.

Its simple design is ingenious in its execution. By placing hundreds of large rocks off the beach, configured in semi-circle pens they formed pools of water that remained as the tide went out; thus enabling the capture of confined fish and other marine life.

Walking around this historic site you get a sense of the landscape which has sustained the Butchulla people for millenia.

Looking out to sea from the traps you can see Dayman Point at Urangan, Woody Island and K'gari (Fraser Island).

These traps were part of an important food trail that ran from Urangan to River Heads. The Butchulla people were able to obtain fish, turtles, crabs, oysters and shellfish along the mangroves, mud flats, in the creeks and of course in the traps. Beside the dhalba system is a more recent rock structure; a shelter wall and jetty built by the Aldridges who took up the adjacent land and built a homestead overlooking this section of the foreshore in the 1850s.

The name "Booral” is believed to derive either from "Beeral”, the name of the sky god of the Butchulla people, or their word "burrall”, meaning "place of shell mounds”. Carbon dating of adjacent shell midden sites suggests usage of this site as early as 3100 BC.