Growing up more than 400 kilometres from the ocean, Danny Teece-Johnson makes an unlikely sailor.
As a child, he remembers watching the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on television from his home in Moree in north-western NSW.
“You never imagined that anyone from that side of the Great Dividing Range could participate,” he said.
At the time, the closest he’d come to sailing was riding tyre tubes down the rapids of the Mehi River: “I just loved that feeling of being out on the water and being free.”
This year, the 44-year-old will compete in one of the world’s toughest ocean races as part of the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crew to contest the Sydney to Hobart.
“The goal isn't about winning the race. It's about finishing it and it's about representing our people,” he said.
Now based in Sydney, the Gomeroi man was gripped by “absolute fear, but also excitement” when he first tried his hand at sailing in 2017.
There were stark differences to his childhood adventures on the Mehi - “on the river, you can see from one side of the bank to the other” - but the sense of freedom was the same.
“I fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since,” he said.
He joins a crew of 11 professional and community sailors who will guide the Tribal Warrior, a Beneteau 477, through the treacherous Bass Strait in the 75th year of the famous yacht race.
The City of Sydney is supporting the crew with a $25,000 grant for training and equipment, with EastSail providing the yacht.
Around three quarters of the crew are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Most found their sea legs through the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, a non-profit Indigenous maritime training company that runs cultural harbour tours and mentoring programs.
Mr Teece-Johnson said it was symbolic for the crew to make their debut in the lead up to the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landing.
“We just want to inspire our mob, particularly in New South Wales because we bore the brunt of colonisation,” he said.
In 1770, Aboriginal tribes along the east coast lit fires when they saw Cook’s ship to warn other groups that visitors were approaching.
Communities are expected to continue that tradition when they spot the Aboriginal colours of the Tribal Warrior passing the coastline in December.
“It’s bringing back that history and allowing our people to talk about what our mob did back in 1770 to look out for each other,” said Mr Teece-Johnson.
“It’s just a salute to our mob: we're still here.”
Mr Teece-Johnson is using the race to raise funds for SHAE Academy, which aims to improve social and health outcomes for Indigenous youth in Moree.
Source : The Age