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Barramundi, for which fishermen come to the Daly River from all over the world, are plentiful year round. A couple of kilometers upstream from Nauiyu, water ripples across a low stone weir near the river crossing. This is where Loretta's father William, better known as Shotgun, comes at night to spear barra. "You walk along with a torch and you can see their eyes shining," says William, a jovial fellow with long gray hair under his battered bushman's hat. "The torch makes them stay still, and you throw the spear." William is Nauiyu's spearmaker in chief. He picks up a length of cut bamboo and points out the joins. He'll heat them to straighten the shaft, then bind three or four steel prongs to the tip. He likes to hunt wallaby too. "Wallaby is No. 1 meat around here," says Sunk. "It's light-colored, like veal." Does William use this type of spear to catch wallabies? "No," he laughs. "A rifle."
Sunk would favor oven-baking the barramundi and turning the turtle into a three-course feast: broth, perhaps, some stir-fried turtle meat, and turtle-liver risotto. But this lunchtime his hostesses are in a picnic frame of mind, and "the older ladies, bless them, still love roasting everything on the fire." On a grassy bank near the school, 15 m above the river, Agnes Page has a nice blaze going. As she waits for the flames to die down, she takes guests for a stroll. "This is Arnhem bamboo," says Page, a former tour guide in Kakadu National Park. "That's what Shotgun makes spears out of. Paperbark, we use that for plates, eating mats." You can also wrap barramundi in it for baking, says Sunk, and crocodile, too, for smoking. And if you've a hankering for sweets, stingless sugarbag bees "tiny little bees, not the normal white-man bee," says Page make delicious honey: "At certain times of the day they swarm inside hollow trees, so you put your ear on the tree and listen."
You watch the trees, too, Page says, for clues to the animal world. "The ghost gums, when we see their bark start peeling off, that's the time the sharks come up the river" to where the salt and fresh water meet, about 10 km downstream. Local people catch them on hand lines, using live fish for bait. Shark is one dish that cooks beautifully on an open fire, says Sunk. "The skin burns but it doesn't disintegrate, and the flesh is all steamed inside." The liver is a delicacy. "They eat it first. Get out spoons and scoop it up."
That, for some reason, prompts talk of bush remedies. For a bad stomach, mangrove worm from near the river mouth, about 70 km away is just the thing, though "whitefellas usually eat mangrove worm and chunder it straight up again," says Sunk. Eating a piece of termite mound is good for diarrhea, says Rosita Murindett. And green ants are like aspirin. "If you get a headache, you crush them and put them on your head. It gets rid of the pain."
When the fish are half done, Page lays small rounds of damper dough on the outer coals and calls for the turtles. Murindett gives one to a guest to hold by the shell. "Touch the skin," she says. It feels like velvet. The head and little webbed feet move bewilderedly from side to side. Poor turtle. "The poor turtle is good for you!" says Page. "Poor turtle. Straight on the fire!"
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