Walai-walai djau

Cool and dry season

This season is generally walay (cool) and dauwa (dry) and for the Butchulla it is a season of plenty. In traditional times, mainland visitors came to K’gari to share in the abundant food. Sharing is an important part of Butchulla culture as it is Law that if you have plenty you must share. During this season the usual K’gari population more than doubled as mainland visitors travelled in guluri (bark canoes) to share in “Dhau Gurul”, the “Feast of the Fish”.

When the weather starts to cool and the last of the heavy gumari (rain) and barung’ganj (storms) have passed, deebing (Paperbark tree) starts to flower. This tells us that the bingus (Oysters) and shellfish are right to eat.

The girraman (Flying fox) are busy feeding on Paperbark blossoms and they are hunted too.

Eugarie (Pippis) are fat and juicy at this time of year on K’gari but you must never eat the breeding females, which have a greenish tinge.

Banksias are in flower so the sweet nectar can be sucked from the flower cones, or soak the flowers in dunga-bula (freshwater) to make a sweet drink.

After the ngandaya have passed, the next feast, daiarlee (Tailor ) fish move through Butchulla hunting waters on the way to their spawning grounds. These are speared or caught in fish traps and shared during walai-walai djau.

Birri or pir’ri (Grey mangrove) fruit are ready for gathering – they must first be soaked in the mangrove mud for several days to remove toxins, and then boiled, rinsed or roasted on a girra (fire) before being eaten.

Buyum (Witchety grubs) are abundant during the cooler season. Wood shavings at the tree base show you where the buyum are.

To source fibres from dundardum (Kauri pine) the Butchulla cut a three-sided square into the trunk as the insides were quite fibrous. They would pull back the “window” leaving it attached to the tree, much like a page in a book. When pulled this long rope-like fibre was a hugely valuable resource for the weaving of fishing nets, baskets, etc. After taking what was needed the window was closed and secured by tying some of the removed fibre around the entire trunk. On K’gari today you can still see the thick lines that circumference some trunks where the bark on the old dundardum has healed. Butchulla people would never, for any purpose, cut down a tree. There was no reason to as K’gari and the mainland country provided everything that was needed.

During walai-walai djau, Winter whiting and binger (Bream) are plentiful in the sea. They are either speared or caught using dhalba (fishing nets) made from plant fibres including winnam (Pandanus tectorius), Cottonwood (Hibiscus tiliaceus), native grasses and dundardum (Kauri pine). Stone fish traps (still visible today) constructed along the shore were also used to catch fish as they swam through areas.

Djilgar (Early black wattle or Acacia leiocalyx) starts to flowers during walai-walai djau. This tells us that in two weeks’ time schools of ngandaya (Diamond-scale mullet) and djura (their young) will move through the local bay and estuary waters. Larger good-eating ngandaya swim further away from the shore whilst djura will always swim closer to shore where it is safer. Fish traps and ganay (spear) is used to hunt enough ngandaya to feed everyone each day.

Walai-walai djau is the best time to collect honey from the hives of gundur and mabi (Native stingless bees) as the honey is at its sweetest and the bees aren’t as active during cooler weather.

Yuwang’kan (Dugong) were once extremely abundant in the calm, sheltered waters on the western side of K’gari, in  traditional Butchulla sea country where seagrass beds are plentiful. Old females and young bulls were traditionally hunted but only taken as needed. Pregnant and milking cows were never taken.

The Butchulla had a clever method for hunting yuwang’kan. Using a specially designed ganay (spear) with a weak spot in the centre of the shaft, the hunter would spear an animal on an incoming tide. When the animal was hit, the hunter held on with all his might until the Dugong’s thrashing snapped the spear. The hunter would then return to camp saying nothing except that he had found the broken spear on the beach. Meanwhile the injured Dugong would try to find shelter in one of the closest creeks. When the tide had gone out, the hunter would return with more of the group and find the Dugong on the mudflats. It was then killed, the meat cut up and carried back to camp.