Hunting for pictures, and crocodiles, in remote Aboriginal country

Wed Dec 10, 2014 3:57am EST
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By David Gray

ARNHEM LAND, Australia (Reuters) - We are 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 Reuters 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.    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 ten 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 anymore.    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 (37,500 sq miles), has a population of around 16,000 and access for non-Aborigines is by invitation only.

Australia's Aborigines are the custodians of the longest unbroken cultural tradition on Earth, having migrated Down Under from Africa via Asia between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago, and connection to the land is practically written into their DNA.

But the arrival of European settlers in the 18th century marked the beginning of a painful disenfranchisement. Massacres are still tearfully remembered and today the majority of Aborigines live in abject poverty.     Last year, while on patrol with the Indigenous Australian Army unit known as NORFORCE, I met Sergeant Norman Daymirringu, a Yolngu Aborigine, who invited me to go hunting with him near Ramingining, located a bumpy and dusty 600 km drive east of Darwin.


Australian Aboriginal hunter Roy Gaykamangu of the Yolngu people walks across a billabong while hunting a crocodile near the 'out station' of Yathalamarra, located on the outksirts of the community of Ramingining in East Arnhem Land November 22, 2014.       REUTERS/David Gray