There are days in the Ridge when you just want to hop in the car and go somewhere.
There have been summer nights when we’ve swung by Barriekneal servo to buy ice creams then eaten them as we cruise out to the end of the bitumen on the Colly road. Other times we head up or down the Castlereagh Highway for half an hour or so and, at some completely random point, turn around and come home again. Or maybe we’ll go most (but not all) of the way to Cumborah. The options are limited.
I’d been keen to visit the fish traps at Brewarrina for some time and Bre is, by the standards of the area, a short commute. A couple of friends had enrolled in an art course there, and although the course ended up being cancelled it gave us the prod to head west on the Kamilaroi Highway. Bre, here we come!
You can book a guided tour (at twenty bucks a pop it’s bargain), which starts at the Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum. The museum is a kind of hobbit house on Bathurst Street, winner of some architectural award, and is a genuinely warm and friendly place. Our guide, Bradley, is a fast-talking bloke with a wry wit. He’d clearly heard every “Yeah, but woddabout . . .” from grey nomads sceptical about the whole “longest living culture” or “most ancient human-built artefact” claim.
Bradley defused any potential awkwardness by noting that claims of continuity or ancientness were not his domain. To him, and his friends and extended family, the fish traps were simply “there”. They had always been “there”, and would always be “there”. They nurture and support people, as they have done for generations past and into the future. It was a simple and elegant explanation that defied contradiction. Thankfully everyone on the tour had ears to hear what Bradley was saying.
The museum has a small collection of artefacts, such as this scraper . . .
. . . and this remarkable obsidian hand axe. Some things – perfectly thrown ceramic bowls, well-turned wooden tools – sit so well in the hand that the hand feels bereft when you put the thing down.
Bradley told us about the long and ongoing demolition of the fish traps, starting with the breaking-apart of one section to create a pathway for flat-bottomed steam boats in the nineteenth century through to the destruction of the top half for the creation of a weir in the mid twentieth century.
After about 45 minutes we wandered out to the traps themselves. The birdlife was spectacular: pelicans, cormorants, ducks, grebes, martens and swallows everywhere.
We had a lovely day!
It was an interesting time to be here, in the midst of a mini history war between Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, on one side, and Bruce Pascoe on the other. Pascoe’s Dark Emu discusses the Bre fish traps in its chapter on aquaculture; Sutton and Walshe see Pascoe’s desire to elevate semi-sedentary agriculture above a more nomadic hunting and gathering economic system as a throwback to social evolutionary theory. What would Bradley say? Shake his head, I guess.
Afterwards it was off to Muddy Waters for a coffee and caramel slice. What a great little cafe! The owner’s mum (an 81-year-old veteran of the Ridge) was cleaning tables, a sign of the times in outback Australia. Small businesses, farms and shops simply can’t get people to work out here. Every day she heads down to the caravan park to try and encourage grey nomads into a few days’ work. In this post-COVID world, without backpackers or tourists, there are very few takers.
But for us, it was time to head back to the Ridge.
Such a quick drive! We loved our time at Bre, and we’ll be back!