18 August 2022

Special cultural festival welcomes whales as they head home past Bermagui

| Albert McKnight
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The first Walawaani Muriyira-Waraga in Bermagui included a smoking ceremony. Photo: David Rogers Photography, courtesy of Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing.

Whales have been welcomed to the NSW Far South Coast while on their annual journey south in a cultural event focusing on the connection between them and local First Nations culture.

Bermagui hosted its first Walawaani Muriyira-Waraga on Saturday 13 August, which celebrated the relationship between whales, Yuin culture and the community.

It was a welcome return to the area for Djiringanj man Richard Campbell, who operates Gumaraa Aboriginal Experience, is a direct descendant of whale caller Budgenbro and has a close relationship with the incredible animals himself.

“I feel the whales are very important to our people up and down the coast,” he said.

“I feel privileged we opened up the Bermagui whale show on the weekend, the first time for Bermagui.

“It was very touching for me to come back home to dance for my elders, my dad’s brothers, that were there.”

Along with opening up the event, he said the performance was to also clear the pathways for the whales as they travelled back home from Bermagui to Antarctica.

He said traditional owners along the East Coast had cultural connections to whales, as well as many different stories about them.

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Mr Campbell said his people would not often hunt whales, only for special occasions like some weddings.

For instance, his ancestor Budgenbro used to sit near the ocean and sing to orcas to bring humpbacks in closer to shore, but not to kill them.

Walawaani Muriyira-Waraga means “safe journey whale – many” in the Dhurga language.

The event’s official opening ceremony was held inside the Bermagui Surf Club due to the wet weather.

This included a Welcome to Country, dance performance and talks about Yuin cultural connections to whales, followed by a smoking ceremony outside that was led by Mr Campbell and Gumaraa Aboriginal Experience.

Over 20 paddlers also swam out into Horseshoe Bay to welcome the whales on their annual journey south.

The event finished with talks on whale behaviour, migration, differing species and biodiversity as well as a presentation on the history of Bermagui dating back to the 1930s.

The precious animals being celebrated also put in an appearance on the day, as passengers onboard whale watching cruises spotted breaching whales and dolphins that afternoon.

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Rhys Treloar, tourism manager at Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing, said the event was a testament to the local community and organising partners.

“Despite the rain the event was a huge success,” he said.

“The Gumaraa dancers were incredible and being indoors made the experience even more intimate and special.”

He hoped the event would be held again in 2023.

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