When our Extreme Dreams: Torres Strait expedition was nothing more than a far-flung dream in my head, it was wracked with logistical nightmares and ocean-topped incidents. My mind was laden with images of ancient First-Nation seafarers, battling the elements in open-topped canoes starring in their own episodes of ‘How to become a man’. Tough conditions, embraced by even tougher people whose rise to the challenge would ensure trade and supply routes were open and fruitful, benefitting their communities and family whilst supporting the rise of a great island nation.
Fast forward to 2021, and Day Three of our inaugural Extreme Dreams expedition. Our two outrigger crews are powering their way around the wind-swept and current-heavy western side of Muralug Island, spray breaking over the outrigger canoe’s ama, dousing our now-hardened Venturers in refreshing cool saltwater.
Their early trepidation and demons have been banished. It’s no longer a battle against their fears, instead an acceptance of their mission, confidence in their abilities, powering towards an unknown destination. Their time as ocean paddlers had arrived.
I wanted the logo for our expedition clothing to reflect those early sea journeys and the sheer challenge of these ocean crossings. They weren’t voyages to be taken lightly, many paddlers lost to an early, watery grave – they were undertakings of courage, fitness, and sheer determination.
Our 2021 crew clothing logo was proudly decorated by Torres Strait local, Joey Laifoo, who embraced the journey we took around the islands, the history of the Kaurareg people, the sea creatures found around the islands, and our journey in canoes. It was a worthy start for our relationship with the local artists.
At the tail end of the 2021 adventure, we visited the traditional lino-printing workshop at Badu Art Centre on the island, with our host Laurie Nona and it was there I had one of those life-changing moments that delivered a timely surprise. I flicked through the numerous artworks searching for inspiration and a design that might reflect the early thoughts I’d had when planning the expedition.
Suddenly my hand flicked past, and back to, a print so striking and unique that it embraced everything I had imagined of the adventure – power, stature, and familiarity – the likes of which I’d never seen before. By complete chance, I’d found our expedition totem.
As I read through the story card displayed with the print, it was seriously uncanny how perfectly aligned it was to our Extreme Dreams expedition. The artist Makula (or Michael) Nona, was Laurie’s grandson, and his words to describe his work ‘Gubaw Mari‘ conjured up the link to a challenging sea journey, very much like our own. How to embark on such an adventure, you need to win your own internal battle and build the confidence to take on the sea crusade. The descriptive words as much aligned to the ethos of our expedition, as the image itself, especially the closing paragraph in bold below:
“This piece is about my interpretation of a traditional mask and is based on the importance of the wind and the ocean to my people. It tells how the wind determines all sea life, weed, grasses, and the sea animals like dugong and crayfish under the ocean. It is based on traditional mask totem designs and includes a breastplate which depicts some of the sea animals which are at the mercy of the wind through the tides and waves. I was inspired by the winds affecting the sea and how when out in our dinghies, we often see spinning waterspouts above the water connecting the sea to the clouds, known as baiwa in our language. The mask is smiling. To my ancestors, the sea is smiling when the ocean surface is rough. It is our belief that the smiling, rough sea is beckoning you to accept a sea voyage, but that it is a trick, and you must consider your chances of survival before accepting the challenge thrown to you by the sea” – Michael Nona 2011
I looked down at the price tag and my heart sank as I wished I had the funds to not only support the local artist but to proudly use the design as our mantra for the 2022 expedition. Alas, it was just too much to justify. I left the art centre, inspired but disappointed.
Around the fire that night back at our beach camp, our finale celebrations were in full swing. I thanked our group of ten hardy Venturers for their efforts and in return received the greatest surprise gift of my life. Rolled up in a mailing tube was ‘Gubaw Mari’ – collectively funded by this collective of amazing seafarers – our inaugural Torres Strait Extreme Dreamers. Someone had seen my delight and disappointment, thrown a hat around the group, and found the funds to buy the piece. I was incredibly grateful and heartily content in equal proportion.
Since that day I’ve spoken to Makula the artist, and he’s very kindly agreed to allow us to use the design on our expedition clothing for 2022 and beyond. It’ll be a true testament for all future paddlers and a deep cultural insight into the historical mental and physical voyage they are about to undertake.