Regina Ganter tells about the people who came from what is now Sulawesi to northern Australia to collect sea cucumber and about Flinders' encounter with one such group.
10 February 2006
Regina Ganter interviewed by Andrew Jakubowicz for MMA
1 min 48 s
Well Flinders organised the circumnavigation of Australia, which was conducted from 1801 to 1803, and the official brief was to forestall French interest…
When he reached the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria, he started to find some traces of foreigners and he thought that they were Chinese because it was blue cotton, the cotton that was used for pantaloons, and it was bamboo lattice and broken pieces of china that indicated to him that there were some non-Aboriginal people obviously had visited this coast…
He actually came upon a fleet of vessels that were beached, that were turned over at the beach, laid up to stay for a while… and the commander of the fleet, who was called Pobassoo, made himself available for interviews, and actually extended his stay in order to oblige Flinders, who wanted to have as much information as he could on what they were doing there, and how long they had been coming. And so he found out that they were fishing for the sea cucumber, the trepang or bêche-de-mer, and that they smoked it on shore with the help of Aboriginal people and then shipped it back to Sulawesi from where it was traded to China, where it was considered a delicacy…
Eventually this trade was prohibited, in 1906, because the colonial governments were unable to graft onto this trade and realised its potential as a China trade, and they prohibited it altogether.