'I'm not in Sydney anymore'

'I'm not in Sydney anymore'
Aboriginal hunter Marcus Gaykamangu carrying an Australian native lizard called a goanna over his shoulder.

For more than 10 years I have dreamed of photographing the daily lives of Aboriginal Australians in the northern-most tip of the Northern Territory, Australia's rugged "Top End".

Their Arnhem Land reserve - closer to Bali than Sydney - covers an area of around 97,000 sq km, has a population of around 16,000 and access for non-Aborigines is by invitation only.

As we moved into the territory, we found ourselves deep in a forest crowded by Australian paperback trees, the air thick with humidity but eerily silent save for the screeching of tropical birds, when Marcus shouts: "Look, crocodiles!"

As a photojournalist, I'm a trained observer, but I can't see any crocs. I can't see anything beyond mud and what little water is left in the small billabong (pond).

Aboriginal hunters Marcus and Roy, a father and son team, take off running past a herd of water buffalo and by the time I catch up, Roy is standing ankle-deep in murky water, his shotgun pointed at the surface.

Hang on a minute: Wasn't your son pointing at crocodiles in that water 10 seconds ago? Is this safe? Roy treads carefully as the water rises to his knees, seeming for a moment to lose sight of his prey.

Then, in one swift action, he steps back, takes aim and shatters the Outback calm, and a crocodile, with a single booming shotgun blast. I am definitely not in Sydney any more.

BEAST

Roy pulls the beast from the water, while Marcus keeps a lookout.

Not far from the shoreline, the water starts moving. Suddenly, Marcus pounces and from just beneath the surface, he pulls another crocodile, this one a bleating baby.

Roy is nervous about crossing the billabong carrying a heavy dead crocodile, but wanders downstream and grabs a boat hidden in the bushes. Using a stick as a paddle he navigates towards us, throwing the two crocs onto the muddy shore.

Wow, its over, I think.

We can head off with a great catch and potential feast awaiting. Roy has other ideas.

"It's easier to carry them without all that skin," he tells me.

Any butcher would have been extremely impressed with the skill he showed at filleting the massive beast.

The baby was carried out alive.

As we are leaving, Roy wraps the intestines in leaves, as nothing that can be eaten is wasted, and he and his sons walk the few kilometres back to the car with crocodile meat and a goanna lizard slung over their shoulders.

As for me, I walked away with a unique insight into their culture and some photographs that not many others have had the privilege of taking.


This article was first published on Dec 23, 2014.
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