The Douglas Daly region of the Top End offers rich natural and cultural discoveries for those prepared to veer off the tourist track.

Story By David Hancock

With long grey hair spilling over the collar of his flannelette shirt and a battered bush hat shading a handsome Aboriginal face, William Marranya, chief spear-maker at the Northern Territory community of Nauiyu Nambiyu, uses fencing wire to fix four steel prongs to a length of Arnhem bamboo. Soon, he’ll be right to go fishing in barramundi heaven – the Daly River in the Top End.
Forget the millions of dollars worth of fishing gear that anglers bring to the Top End every year, not to mention a fortune in four-wheel-drives, depth sounders, global-positioning systems, camping gear and freezers; the locals fish very, very simply – with a spear, and a torch if they go out at night.
William also makes ceremonial spears, beautifully painted lances with a flat shovel-nosed metal tip that could quite easily kill a man. Similar spears are used for pig hunting, but for fast-moving wallabies William prefers a rifle. “This place is full of tucker,” he says, with a sweep of his hand over the pristine waterway that flows beside his home town. “If you have a spear you never go hungry. There are fish and turtle in the river, crocodile and turtle eggs in the sandy beaches and banks at certain times, and all kinds of animals and birds gather round. The river is our life. We live near it and we try to take care of it because it has always taken care of us.”
The Daly River has the highest flow of any river in northern Australia during the dry season (between May and October) and 95 percent of vegetation surrounding the river is uncleared, ensuring the water is clean and of very high quality.
William’s home at Nauiyu Nambiyu, also known as Daly River Settlement, is located about 250 kilometres south-west of Darwin; his neighbours include 300 people, most of whom are Aboriginal. The smooth and wide Daly Road that leads to the township is accessed via the old Stuart Highway that runs between Hayes Creek and Adelaide River.
The old highway is known colloquially as a “tourist route” which, in Territory-speak, means a narrow, windy road that big road trains avoid if they possibly can. If a visitor meets one on this potentially hazardous thoroughfare, it is advisable to pull well off the bitumen.

This story excerpt is from Issue #60

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2008