If the last WA Regional Tourism Conference in Geraldton is anything to go by, Aboriginal experiences are having a moment. Daarrgi Naaguja operator Derek Councillor says he’s getting inquiries from as far away as Spain. Unfortunately for Spaniards, COVID-19 has closed off our region to the rest of the world. Geraldtonites are lucky enough to have people like the Councillor family living next door, willing to give those interested a peek into their culture and a bite of their home-cooked damper. As Mr Councillor pointed out, some people have lived in the area for generations without deep-diving into the surrounding Yamatji cultures. For him, sharing Naaguja stories — both spiritual Dreamtime tales and stomach-turning stories of early settlement — is a stepping stone to healing his country. For NAIDOC Week, my date and I decided to book a private tour with Mr Councillor. We loaded into his multi-coloured bus on a wet and grey morning, excited to learn more about where we lived. If you walk into a crowded event and don’t see a Councillor, are you really in Geraldton? Mr Councillor said the name came from his great-grandfather Barrowa, who got the name because he could speak seven Yamatji languages. We were standing on the beach across from Mitchell and Brown when he told us this, with the usual salty southerly stinging our skin. His ancestors buried their dead along the coast, he explained. When white-skinned European settlers first arrived, they mistook them for ghosts. Next, we headed out to Chapman Valley, learning how the leaning trees didn’t lean before the land was cleared for farming. We also learnt Mr Councillor was a little bit Irish. “The thing about the Irish is, they got along so well with Yamatji people,” he said. Both the Irish and the Naaguja blame lost screwdrivers and other unfortunate mishaps on little hairy men — don’t we all? “Wudarchi are mischievous like a leprechaun, and if you’re able to capture one, he’ll be your friend for life,” Mr Councillor said. “Wherever you go, you’ll always see a quick little flicker to the side. That’s how you know the wudarchi is with you.” Just down from the group’s farm, we visited a site with a man-and-woman-like rock formation called Moolyamungoo. Mr Councillor said it was a place for families to go when jealousy or bickering got the better of them: “Basically, it’s a marriage counselling spot,” he said. We headed back down south, visiting several popular Greenough tourist spots — the river mouth, the historic settlement, the walking trail. But, instead of driving a four-wheel-drive over the soft sand between the ocean and the river, we learn about Bimarra — a magic sea serpent from Yalgoo, desperate to visit the ocean despite belonging in the river. Instead of picturing ourselves as settlers in stone buildings, Mr Councillor encouraged us to imagine ourselves as confused Yamatji people, bound by a law they didn’t understand. “We don’t come here at night,” said Mr Councillor, as we walked into a tiny room built to house 20 Aboriginal people at a time. Instead of watching our dog roll around on the dirt while hiking the Greenough River trail, we learnt it was a site where 130 Naaguja and Nanda people were massacred by a man named Drummond — the beach-side suburb’s namesake. “This isn’t a blame game, it’s the story of our past,” Mr Councillor said. “If you know the past, you can make your future better.” It was a stark reminder that local history runs deeper than what you can read on a plaque or a Google search. And, this is just the story of one language group. Mr Councillor, who has lived all over WA, said some crossovers could be found between local cultures, but each had its own valuable stories and sense of place. We finished the day off with some delicious damper, roo rissoles and a final chat about why Mr Councillor shares Naaguja stories. “I am really happy because I’ve empowered my children to know their laws and customs, and make their own decisions,” he said, with his thick beard reshaping into a smile.