Exploring the Arakwal Wetlands

The Arakwal
Tallow Creek wetlands – Arakwal National Park

I find a great way to explore an area is by searching for local indigenous sites (providing they’re not off limits). These are places often overlooked – beautiful, wild places hidden amongst the urban noise. I recently went on such an adventure and discovered a different side to Byron Bay, particularly as I heeded the advice of the local indigenous people, the Arakwal, who reminded me to stop, look, listen.

Cumbebin Swamp

I was intrigued by Cumbebin Swamp, as it’s located right in the centre of Byron Bay near the popular backpackers haven, the Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge. Using my GPS to get there, I was taken along an out-of-date route across somebody’s backyard. When I finally did drive past the swamp, I couldn’t believe that after nearly fours years of living here I had never travelled down this road.

the Arakwal

Cumbebin Swamp is an old hunting and gathering spot for the Arakwal. Here men used to hunt birds, snakes, turtles and eels, while women gathered bush tucker and materials such as paperbark and ferns for domestic use. The swamp is also connected to the Belongil estuary and allegedly there’s a boardwalk in there, somewhere, which the Australian Traveller says is “perfect for a stroll or a picnic lunch.”

Of course I couldn’t find the boardwalk. Instead I just walked through the bushes, straight into the swamp. I stopped, looked and listened and it was beautiful. Kookaburras laughed loudly, and the wind gently rocked the trees back and forth, intermittently, as if they were engaged in forest whispers. “Get a load of this clumsy oaf”, I imagined them saying.

the Arakwal
Cumbebin Swamp bushland

As I walked further into the swamp, I startled a wallaby, who broke the forest silence, bounding through the wetlands with loud, panicked splashes. The mosquitoes then started to descend, I made my retreat and collected a tick in my leg for my efforts. It was well worth it.

the Arakwal
Tea tree lake – Suffolk Park

Aboriginal Tea Tree Lake

Located in nearby Suffolk Park, just down the road from my home, this tea tree lake is a sacred place for Aboriginal women. I wandered through the bush with my adventurous three-year-old and skirted the lake’s edge, marvelling at the reflections that stippled the Coca-Cola-coloured water.

I’ve been swimming in the lake several times before, but not on this day. I simply engaged with my surroundings. Each time I stopped and listened my three-year-old said, “what daddy”, as if something was the matter.

the Arakwal
Tea tree lake reflection

Tallow Creek – Arakwal National Park

Just south of Byron Bay, behind some beach dunes lies Tallow Creek (pictured at top). This spot is well worth visiting if you’re in the area. There’s a number of small lakes, wetlands and a walking/cycling track which crosses the creek via a wooden bridge. According to Arakwal elder Aunty Linda Vidler, the place is “our stomping ground”…“we used to come for our natural food: fish and crabs and eels, in this little creek here”, she said.

The park is home to rare orchids and two threatened frog species – the Wallum Froglet and Wallum Sedge Frog. Just down from the bridge, there’s a grassy track which leads to the water’s edge.

It’s a superb spot to just stop, look, listen.

Leave a comment