Quiet Introductions

Early in the mornings I had a lot of free time and I was able to take my little Victoria boatworks clinker out and row around the islands and pretend I was in another era or time, into the mouth of the harbour and back, but almost every second day if not every day in the summer I would pass a gentleman, and a really beautiful gentleman but I didn’t know him. We would just pass quietly, me rowing and him rowing his dugout canoe, Jimmy McKay, and his house was the other side of the village in Stuart Bay, where he lived with his beautiful wife, and he was a very quiet man, always a smile on his face, but we would pass very silently every morning and I would wave and he would wave and smile. I always noticed as he went by, I was rowing my boat in the centre of it, English style, quickly out, and he was sitting on the back of the boat, rowing the boat facing forward sitting up at the stern of the canoe, not in the middle of the canoe like many of them, he would sit right up on the back. And finally one day when I went by, I sort of got really close to him and I said “Jimmy, Jimmy, why are you rowing backwards? You’re rowing backwards, and why do you sit up at the end of the canoe like that?” ’cause I thought maybe it was some special situation or something, and he turned around to me and he just chuckled with his beautiful laugh and his lovely voice, because he spoke very little English, he spoke mostly his own language when I heard him speak, and it was a beautiful language, and he turned around and said, “Only the white man rows and can’t see where he’s going,” and he laughed and just paddled away, and that was always my great memory of Jimmy McKay. He was a beautiful man and well remembered. And that was my very quiet introduction to Aboriginal people in this quiet, quiet knowledge and of local things.