I come from a long line of salt water women—
Gunai and Yuin on Nan’s side,
Biripi and Dharawal on Pop’s.
Up and down this coast—we are sea people,
at one with the rhythms of guriwal or muriyira, the whale, and her
At one with grandmother moon
and her tides
fullest in every sense
with a swim
and a feed.
I learned to separate fishbones from flesh with my
tongue as toddler.
Watched my expert mother elegantly rock
hop, shuck and gulp oysters.
The aunties taught us to pippy dance
in golden sand—
twist and sway
to harvest and clean abalone
a delicacy for our mob,
to cut away,
gut, and scrub the black on rocks
to beat sweet flesh
to cook over crackling coals
as the sun sets.
They tell me this is Women’s Way
and that when Cook came, our fishing changed
in the name of greed,
that what was once abundant and free
was now a commodity and our people were kept out of the economy despite
being industry leads
in the sea that raised us.
Where abalone are overfished
there are urchins—
thorny black infestations
who feed on the same seaweed and modify reefs
causing baron ground,
so proud aunties can’t hand down
this saltwater women wisdom
and our daughters
at one with the sea
in the place we used to feed
by a greed
that longs for sweet blak lipped flesh.
Kirli Saunders OAM is a proud Gunai woman and award-winning author, multidisciplinary artist and consultant. She has four books out, including Bindi, and is working on her novel, ‘Yaraman’.