LEADING THE WAY WITH WORDS
Uncover the power of storytelling
WORDS BONITA GRIMA
Bec from Kingfisher Tours shares her story and the story that connects her to Country.
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Weaving through the towering tiger-striped domes of the Bungle Bungles within Purnululu National Park, Rebecca Sampi is leading the way. A passionate and gifted storyteller and guide, the 51-year-old Gija woman is bridging the gap between past and present, and connecting people through her culture.
As head guide for Kununurra-based Kingfisher Tours, introducing visitors to the jewel of the East Kimberley feels like the right step forward.
Bec Sampi shares the stories behind Country.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE LANDSCAPES
Before becoming a guide, Bec worked as a school teacher in the tiny outback community of Doon Doon, where she grew up and later raised her four children. 120km south of Kununurra and a nine-hour drive from Broome, Bec specialised in language, teaching Gija, Wola and Kriol to local children. Transitioning to tourism, Bec says she still sees herself as an educator.
Working as a tour guide, Bec stills sees herself as an educator.
"I wanted a job where I could continue the work of the old people – protecting our significant sites and passing on our stories. Tourism does that – it helps keep our culture alive."
"When I take people on a day tour to the Bungle Bungles, I help them view Country through my eyes and teach them to see things they didn’t know were there," she says. Revealing hidden messages and unearthing stories resting deep within the multi-layered landscape, Bec says visitors are fascinated and want to know more. "I explain how the land was formed, interpret rock art, and introduce them to different animals, plants and bush foods along the trail like wild fig, bush tomato and passionfruit," she says. "I wanted a job where I could continue the work of the old people – protecting our significant sites and passing on our stories. Tourism does that – it helps keep our culture alive."
Bec introduces visitors to bush foods along the trail.
Rock Art near Cathedral Gorge. Credit: Bonita Grima
Rock Art near Cathedral Gorge. Credit: Bonita Grima
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Beehive domes of Bungle Bungles. Credit: Bonita Grima
STORIES WITH MANY LAYERS
The remote Bungle Bungle range was recently brought to the world's attention after a film crew flew over them in 1983, but the Gija people have called them home for over 20,000 years. Meaning 'fretting sands' or 'sand blowing in the wind' Purnululu is the name given to the national park known for its beehive-shaped domes. The product of 20 million years of weathering, they are recognised as Earth’s most outstanding example of cone karst on sandstone, earning Purnululu National Park UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003.
Bec leads a day tour of the Bungle Bungles. Credit: Tourism WA
The spectacular colours of Cathedral Gorge. Credit: Tourism WA
Their striking black and orange stripes are the result of dark bands of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) contrasted with oxidised red rock and lighter layers of sandstone. Explaining their scientific significance and formation to visitors, Bec also tells the traditional tale. "In our Dreaming story, when Echidna stole women from the tribe, the Creator sprits – the Wandjina – sent Snake man to get them back. They fought, and Snake's black blood and Echidna’s orange blood fell over the hills, creating its colours," Bec says. "When it rains, black moss forms between because the snake comes from the water."
Cathedral Gorge entrance. Credit: Bonita Grima
A SPECIAL CONNECTION
Bec grew up in a large family, but her grandmother played the most important role in her cultural upbringing. "My grandmother taught me everything I know. As a teenager, during Law time, I would follow her and some of the older women out to special places like Echidna Chasm," Bec says. "They'd show us birthing sites and how to look after young ones. We'd bathe the babies with yellow wattle flowers and crush up an ant’s nest with kangaroo and goanna fat before rubbing it onto their arms and chest to make them strong – we still do that today." A highlight within the National Park, the chasm is a favourite with visitors not only for its cultural significance, which Bec explains, but also because of the golden glow created when daylight streams through the gap between the deep gorge’s red rock walls. Known for its acoustics, the stunning natural amphitheatre of Cathedral Gorge is also an important site, and by its pool, Bec informs her guests of the different ceremonies and stories.
Cathedral Gorge, Purnululu National Park. Credit: Tourism WA
"All the different tribes from across the desert would come together at Cathedral Gorge," Bec says. "My people, the Gija, would place barramundi scales on their bodies and dance because it's our symbol – we have different symbols but we all share the one Dreaming." Slithering across land and time, Uunguu the snake unites different language groups across the East Kimberley. Stories contained in ancient Songlines connect them to the land, and as Bec sings these Songlines on tour, she's not just sharing stories that stretch back thousands of years, she's also giving her people a voice.
"Because when we walk on Country, we feel our ancestors walk with us."
"Country has a story to tell just like everybody has a story to tell, but it’s about what you want to say," Bec says. "For Aboriginal people, it's important for non-Indigenous people to know how we lived and survived and carried on to this day. For our younger generation, it's about teaching them the traditional knowledge that’s been passed down verbally over thousands of years. Because when we walk on Country, we feel our ancestors walk with us."
Marvelling at the magnificence of Cathedral Gorge. Credit: Bonita Grima.