Fred Nganganharralil
Galumay (Australian pelican)
c. 1984

Ngayam djangu warrngirra
I surface to breathe
Ngayam djangu matjabu
I look like a rock
Ngayam djangu warrini
My meat may poison you
Ngayam djangu muwandula
Like a rock in the sea
Ngayam djangu djurrurruba
In armour, I am unharmed.

-- Song of Guwarrtji, the Shellback Turtle

Images of oceans and beaches are often associated with the beginning and end of journeys. Historians tell us that the Aboriginal people's forebearers came from across the ocean by rafts and canoes. Aboriginal creation stories throughout the continent describe spirits who came to Australian shores from over the sea, bringing life and order, observing and naming all the creatures and populating the land.

The beaches were also a site of trade for Aborigines. In the mid-1700s, the Yolgnu traded the Chinese delicacy sea cucumber (trepang) with Indonesian sea-faring merchants. Aborigines were frequently divers for this resource, and semi-permanent camps were set up by the traders on beaches.

Like present-day Australians, Aboriginal groups settled in greatest numbers close to the coasts and survived to a large extent from offshore resources. Most Yolngu groups at some time of the year migrate to the sea shore, which provides a rich diet of octopus, sea rays, sharks, turtles, and fish. Mick Daypurryun's bark painting Octopus (Manda) as well as Johnny Mayarra's Rat-tail Ray (Mithirri) are evidence of this journey.