First Aboriginal mob to reclaim custody of Australia's ocean

When you enter Yuraygir National Park you are walking on Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr country. Yuraygir is a variant of the word ‘yirraygirr’ – the name of the mob who lived on and cared for country upriver from Maclean.  

The original inhabitants of this land are known to have enjoyed a history of stable connection to country spanning over 60 000 years, enjoying the abundant fruits of the sea, and those of the mighty Clarence River.

This uninterrupted enjoyment of and connection to the land was tested and proven in court, making the Yaegl (pronounced yay-gl) people the first in NSW to successfully claim native title over a 90 kilometres of coastline, with title stretching 200 metres out to sea. Never before in the history of British colonisation has any group been given title over the sea. Enjoying native title, and a lived history of Indigenous connection to country, makes this area the ideal place to learn about, and grow in appreciation of Indigenous culture.  

Yaegl country, stretching from Wooli in the south, Yamba in the north and west beyond Maclean, has long been a site of fascination for archaeologists, due in part to the more settled lifestyle of the Yaegl mob. Indigenous control of this country has led to greater sensitivity of many sites of cultural and spiritual significance and it is a privilege to be invited to walk on this country, sharing in its rich heritage. The peaceful and collaborative nature of the first inhabitants is further evidence that people of all stripes are welcome to share in the wisdom of this sacred place.

Turning off the highway just south of Grafton immediately removes you from the hustle and bustle of everyday living.  The Wooli road is quiet and scenic, passing through the historic and serene Pillar Valley. The largest coastal town in this area, Wooli lies 35 kilometres off the Pacific Highway, which keeps it a pretty well hidden secret that isn’t inundated with tourists, traffic and parking nightmares. The town sits on the mouth of the Wooli River, with the Solitary Islands Marine Park lying just off the coast. This pristine area is known for its snorkeling, availability of fresh seafood and abundant bird life. If you are lucky, you may encounter a lyrebird, or even an emu in your travels! Minnie Water is a quiet beachside community, just fifteen minutes drive from Wooli, boasting long sandy white beaches and a relaxed pace of life. Upon arrival, you can access signposted coastal walks, fishing, surfing and vibrant ocean swimming. Patrolled beaches are available for swimming at both Wooli and Minnie Water. Even more remote, about 15 minutes drive away, you can visit Diggers Camp for further exploration of the region.  At the end of an unsealed road 45 kilometres south east of Grafton, this village was founded by gold miners in the late 1800’s, but today hides treasure of a different kind.

The entire village is off grid – no mains power or water and therefore completely reliant on solar power and rainwater. The coastline here is hazardous for swimming but perfect for fishing and, of course, stunning long walks.

The Yuraygir Coastal Walk is a 65 kilometre trek from Angourie to Red Rock, serviced by walk in campsites situated on the dunes behind the beach. The walk is usually done over four days, and is an unbeatable way to appreciate this pristine coastline.

The home of Campfire Sessions, Illaroo will be at the Illaroo group campground, which is ideally placed to appreciate the beauty of this country. Its relative isolation means it is free of the development we are used to witnessing along the east coast.  The campground itself is about a 45 minute drive from Grafton and a pleasant half hour walk from Minnie Water. It is beautifully maintained, with soft grass and abundant shade trees providing multiple areas for camping in a boutique group experience.  There are composting toilets, gas barbecue areas, undercover eating areas, a large fire-pit and running water. NSW Parks and Wildlife Service recommends boiling prior to consumption, or bringing your own supplies. A stay at Illaroo is an opportunity to relax, unwind and take in the pristine landscape – go for a walk, a swim or just gaze at the campfire under a blanket of stars.

Whatever you do, Illaroo will seep into your soul and you will leave a little of yourself behind here.

Rebecca Ryall
Northern NSW Correspondent

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Rebecca is a full-time student, mum and writer, living in the Northern Rivers area of NSW. She bush walks at every opportunity and enjoys planning epic adventures for herself and her kids. Community and environmental engagement is a passion she explores through her writing and cultural studies at Southern Cross University, Lismore.

Editor-at-large: Charlotte Rose Mellis
Photojournalist: Wayne Griffin

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