Capes, who was born to a Malgana father and Nhanda mother, runs cultural tours of Gutharraguda (Shark Bay World Heritage Area) in Western Australia through his company Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Adventures. We first met a decade ago, with Capes leading me on a kayaking tour across Big Lagoon, his welcome to Country seeming to conjure mermaid-like dugongs from the misty depths of the water.
“Connection to saltwater Country means everything to us, because it’s where we live, it’s what we know, it sustains us—culturally, spiritually, emotionally and physically,” he says. “We love saltwater food, traditional food from the ocean, but it also extends our responsibility about looking after saltwater Country and our coastline.”
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We’ve remained friends ever since, his spontaneous “g’day sista” greeting down the phone an instant portal to tens of thousands of years of kinship. During one chat, we talked about the obligation that comes with caring for Country. “If you look at our lore and culture, it’s the oldest conservation framework on the planet,” Capes said. “If you look after Country, Country will look after you. If you respect Country, Country will respect you. It’s reciprocal because it sustains us.”
Without exception, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s sense of belonging is derived from a deep and spiritual attachment to Country.