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East Lismore, NSW 2480

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SHORT STORIES

Illustration by Matt Weismantel

Whales in the Sky | Bubaloo Fahy

"We are about to enter the portal," announced our consummate Captain and whale-whispering legend. "It’s a good time to set an intention for the week," he added in a calm and attentive tone.

 

There were eight other adults aboard the 43-foot catamaran for the pilgrimage with the migrating humpback whales of the Southern Ocean. We had motored out of the Hervey Bay port at nightfall and were now sailing on the western side of K'gari Island [1]. It was to be our week out of time, to connect with each other, the whales, and with spirit. 

 

My friends Kevin and Susanna, a pair of global kirtan performers, had invited me to join them on this trip. I had travelled a few years earlier with Kevin in northern India. We crossed glacial mountains and chanted with Tibetan nuns in a 5000-year-old cave temple. The experience had strengthened my willingness to say yes to the unknown. Naturally, I said yes when invited this time. 

 

Susanna and I were the only ones who had not shared an intimate experience with humpback whales. We were so excited and had been riding an effervescent high for days leading up to our departure. Now aboard, I felt myself leaning into the experience ahead, grateful to be one of the crew.  

 

Moving to the stern of the vessel, I sat on a damp seat and closed my eyes. The darkening night enveloped my being, and in response, my body softened. The warmth of the air and the occasional spray of seawater as the catamaran skimmed across the bay felt sensual upon my skin. I became very peaceful, ready to settle on an intention. 

 

What came to my mind was simply, "Be with Country [2]."

 

Ahhh, interesting, I thought to myself, as a smile spread across my face. How do I be with Country?

            

This is an ongoing inquiry in my adult life, one that I continue to re-visit with respect and curiosity. Being a non-Indigenous woman of Gaelic and Celtic ancestry, my relationship with Country is not steeped in the ancestral roots of Indigenous heritage [3]. Rather, it is one that grows out of being in tune with my surroundings and a disposition for learning from First Nation People what Country means in the Australian discourse of land, culture, and sovereignty [4].

            

I know myself as part of this Country. I see and feel my spirit reflected back in its landscapes. It moves through me, as much as I move through it. I have come to acknowledge and respect this land as Aboriginal land, sacred to our First Nation Peoples. In this understanding is also my desire to develop how I can be with Country as a non-Indigenous woman [5].

 

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"We have just passed through the portal now," whispered our Captain from his seat at the helm. "You may want to open your eyes." 

            

Following his invitation, my eyes gently opened, taking time to focus on the night sky. Tilting my head back slightly, I gasped in sheer wonderment. The Milky Way was directly above us, so close it seemed as if I had floated skyward in my repose. Shimmering within the familiar constellation were three humpback whales. Truly, they were there, one very large one in the centre, and two smaller ones trailing on either side. 

            

Experiencing this enigmatic phenomenon reminded me of the humility I had felt when I first laid eyes on the Himalayan Mountains in northern India. This moment of realisation in the presence of greatness, once again remembering the significance of the unknown [6].

            

I was completely mesmerised by what I was seeing, not wishing to make a sound in case I disturbed them in some way. There were whales in the stars!     

            

To be honest, I had imagined seeing my first whale up close in the morning as we sailed, nothing had prepared me for this unexpected starry introduction. I did not understand this script in an Aboriginal cultural text, nor how it was inscribed within the stars, but I could attempt to read these signs subjectively [7]

            

I realised what our Captain had meant by "passing through the portal." We had entered Butchulla Country [8] and the representation of the whales I was seeing might possibly be a part of the songlines for this Country [9].

            

As I sat upon our floating temple, contemplating all that had arisen since our departure, I sent out a silent prayer to the Butchulla elders, asking them for their blessing and assuring them that I was here to listen and learn from Country [10].

            

Later that evening, I spent some time in conversation with our Captain. We traded narratives of our shared European ancestry and our mutual respect of Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia. He shared with me some of the knowledge and experience he has gained over the past two decades coming to K’gari Island to be with the whales. His was a story of growing into this place and becoming the man he is today. His immense love and respect for all that exists here physically and metaphysically was evident in his narrative.

            

He spoke with a passionate respect for the megafauna and marine environment he is so deeply immersed with. Giving voice to the unstoppable life force that keeps the web of all things in motion. The seafaring stories he told of personal encounters with the humpback whales while in Butchulla Country were woven with words of devotion. Expressing the joy each migrating season brings into his life and the lives of those he shares these experiences with.

 

While we chatted, we sailed quite a distance up the inner side of K'gari Island to anchor for the night in an inlet known as Wuthumba. It is considered the womb of K'gari, and it certainly was protective for our vessel, with the weather over the next few hours blowing up a storm. 

            

As I lay in my cabin, safely held within the womb’s sheltered, watery environment, I reflected how this was the most perfect way to transition into this beauty-filled Country. The recounted words of K'gari, spoken as "gurri" came into my field and I began at the place where all stories of Country begin, in the Ancestral creation story. 

            

Aunty Olga Miller [11] shares that: "K’gari was a beautiful white spirit that was sent down by the rainbow God, Beeral, to help his messenger Yindingie. She helped Yindingie make the land along the east coast and when they reached Hervey Bay, he suggested she take a rest. Upon waking, K’gari was so enthralled with the beauty Yindingie created that she pleaded with him to stay. He allowed this to happen but had to change her from spirit into the island of K’gari. He placed vegetation on her and gave her lakes, so she could look up to the sky and see her friends. He made animals and humans and gave them the lore of that Country." 

            

I was lying down with the spirit princess K’gari, with whales swimming in the stars and in the waters beyond the inlet. My heart was near bursting with the anticipation of what may unfold over the coming days. What transpired, however, was, in essence, oracular, and left me trying to decipher a language only my soul could comprehend.

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"Shall we sing the whales in," prompted Kevin with an all-knowing grin. Within a short time, our circle was set upon the net spanning the two hulls and we were singing with our hearts on fire. There is so much joy for me singing kirtan with my friends; magic always happens and today was no exception. 

            

Each time we had come together to sing, pods of whales had surrounded our vessel, cruising along with us in motion. They would swim under us and emerge at the bow, spraying us with what I imagined was whale mucus and seawater. It seemed like an initiation of sorts, testing our mettle for whale play.

            

After days of these wondrous interactions, I was the only human aboard that had not shared an intimate moment with these giants of the ocean. They are up to 15 metres long and can weigh 45 tonnes.

            

"It’s your time Bubaloo." The Captain ushered me to the stern of the vessel where I could position myself as close to the water as possible.

 

I don’t remember the others stepping away. I thought Kevin and Susanna were beside me. My entire blueprint of nerves was vibrating. Shifting my gaze to my right, I anticipated meeting my friends. 

            

The whale surfaced just meters away from me. We were looking at each other, eyeball to eyeball. It took a fraction of a second to determine what was happening and then I was lost in that look. Words are not the script here [12]. The timelessness of this being is not something I can describe. We stayed with each other momentarily and then the whale descended to the depths.

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Bubaloo Fahy is a non-Indigenous Southern Cross University student undertaking a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Indigenous knowledge and a Minor in Cultural Studies. Bubaloo acknowledges and supports the First Nation Peoples of the Australian continent as the sovereign custodians of the land and waters within which she lives, works, and contributes to the connectivity of all living and non-living agencies.