Like many young kids in the Eurobodalla, Warrick Smith didn’t take long to embrace coast life. From age eight when he moved to Batemans Bay he spent most of his spare time on the local beaches or the Clyde River. “We were always mucking about on the water, playing on the jetties or going body boarding. I was always curious watching the older guys getting ready to go diving,” he says.
A Yuin and Dunghutti man, Warrick soon began helping his uncles, holding the bag for their catch as they dove for abalone or went spear fishing.
“The net bags used to hold the lobster catch have holes in them like in a milk crate. My uncle had shown me how to ‘block’ the holes in the rocks so the lobsters can’t escape, making them easier to catch. When I was nine one tried to get out the side and I grabbed it – that was my first catch,” he says.
Warrick’s long held love of the ocean has meant he’s built extensive knowledge about hunting in it sustainably.
“You have to respect the land; it can be unforgiving and take everything from you. My grandfather taught me that since first I first began going to a river – we need to respect any body of water. It’s something my cousins and whole family does. Other religions have full gods; our main thing is mother nature itself.”
“Every time I go fishing I greet the water, wash my face in it and ask it to produce something for me. It’s a thing I have. I think I also catch more when I do it!” he says.
Salmon, abalone and lobster as just some of his regular local catch.
“One of my uncles showed me how to dive and net fish. He still is one of the only people in Batemans Bay with a licence to net salmon – he does it year round,” Warrick says.
Other fish are only available seasonally.
“On 1 April to end of May, they start doing sea mullet runs – there are only a few weeks you can catch it. Sea mullet is pretty good. It has a nice salty flavour and it’s best to cook it fresh with the skin side down, just with butter. Local sea mullet goes to markets all over Australia, we get it first in the new year and it fills the market,” Warrick says.
The Yuin tribe’s totem is the black duck, which means it can’t be hunted by Yuin. Some groups (including the Yuin people) also assign temporary “given totems” to individuals in their tribe.
“I get given an extra three totems per year. My speciality is fishing, so I get fish species as my totem and there are usually different fish that I have to protect; that means I can’t fish for them for four months. At the moment I can’t catch flathead unless it’s for elders,” he says.
The given totems are both a responsibility and a blessing, although for Warrick it’s more of the latter.
“I’m glad I’m a part of it. In four months I could be saving 100 flathead, and all their young, it’s all catch and release,” he says.
Many of Warrick’s non indigenous friends have been inspired by the techniques he uses to connect to the water and area’s marine life.
“They see my life and how important it is to go and spend time in the bush hunting and gathering – it recharges my batteries and leaves behind the stresses from the material world. Getting back to nature lets me unload, but that connection back to land is something a lot of people miss out on,” he says.
Perhaps Warrick’s most far reaching impact comes through his work as a kayaking guide with RegionX. It’s a job he says has completely changed his life, and allowed him to help others understand how to conserve animals, discover native foods and tread lightly on the earth.
He also loves touching base with people from cultures across the world.
“Sometimes I might be the first aboriginal person they’ve met. It’s important for me to showcase a lot of what we’ve got,” Warrick says.
He teaches visitors about bush tucker (peppercorns and lemon myrtle are two of his favourite local bush herbs), and shares the Yuin’s cooking techniques.
“Our techniques for cooking fish are really healthy. I cook almost any type of fish in paperbark. First you soak the paperbark in salt water – that works best but freshwater is also fine. Then, when the paperbark is fully waterlogged you wrap the fish in it, add some lemon myrtle and stick it on the coals to steam for five minutes each side. Unpacking it takes the skin off the fish, and the myrtle adds wonderful flavours,” he says.
While Warrick enjoys taking an active teaching role for his kayaking guests, he says some of the best moments come from offering people time to simply acknowledge nature.
“I like being out there on the water and telling people just to stop, as we leave behind what’s on land. Looking back at the mountain ranges and land is different from sea level. Some people are overwhelmed at first, but it brings everyone down to earth. From a kayak you just sit back and you can see earth for all its glory,” he says.