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When you really stop to think about it, we Australians are incredibly spoilt for natural beauty. Whether it’s the lush tropical rainforests of the Daintree or the Great Barrier Reef, we’re very privileged to have these wonders in our very own front yard. Of course, the borders are in a bit of a pickle right now, but that sure won’t stop us from dreaming about and planning future trips.

When it comes to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the best ways to check it out is by visiting Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, which features Australia’s first Indigenous Master Reef Guide, Dustin Maloney. Not only is Dustin’s passion for the reef itself evident in everything he does, but his knowledge of sea life, its cultural significance and Indigenous heritage of the area is unparalleled. 

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We had a chat with Dustin to better understand what he and the wider Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel team do and what makes their reef tours a truly special experience. Along with being in the Master Reef Guide program, Dustin is also a senior ranger, snorkel supervisor and reef education ranger, as well as a member of the Yarrabah Aboriginal community who also has family ties to Palm Island and North Queensland’s Wujal Wujal. 

“As a senior ranger, it is my duty to make sure that the cultural presentation, props and storytelling is done correctly as the traditional Elders of the Cairns area requested,” Dustin told PEDESTRIAN.TV. “Also, I get the opportunity to educate not only my fellow rangers but the rest of the crew with any cultural questions they might have so they can have a better understanding of certain things.” 

His job also involves making sure that passengers are as comfortable as possible before getting into the water and educating high school students alongside marine biologists. In other words Dustin truly is one of a kind. 

When it comes to Dustin’s connection to the reef, he says much of it is steeped in family and tradition. “I got taught to do things the right way when it comes to hunting and gathering on the Great Barrier Reef,” he said. 

“For example, I’d only go out at certain times of the year to do traditional hunting for large marine life and when it comes to fishing, I would only take as much as I needed, not as much as I wanted. But above that, before I’d go out, I’d ask for permission first from an Elder in my family. That way the reef and the life it provides will not die out.”

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Dustin is incredibly proud to be the first Indigenous Australian in the Master Reef Guide program, not only because of his connection to the reef itself, but also the importance the role plays in passing on the knowledge of marine life, archaeological facts and Indigenous culture. 

“It helps to paint a clear picture of how scientific facts and Aboriginal stories/lore are now walking side by side,” he said. “The most common way to put it is that I get to tell stories to a lot of people on a daily basis who have travelled from all over Australia and the world just to see what we have here in our front yard.”

“And on the other hand, the word ‘stories’ means a lot to me because many people might not know this but Aboriginal people in Australia did not have a written language. The only way we passed down our knowledge is through the teachings and stories from our Elders.”

All of this translates to a once in a lifetime experience that anyone can have via Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, and as Dustin says, all of this is available in our own front yard. It’s so easy to take our beautiful Island of natural wonders for granted, but it’s so important (and stupidly easy) to get out there and see it for yourself.  

“We are the only vessel within Australia that can give anyone a great Indigenous cultural experience out on the Great Barrier Reef. Not only do you get to go to and see two beautiful reef sites, but you also get to hear the Indigenous stories of the reef from the Indigenous rangers onboard,” he said.

The science of the reef is, of course, fascinating, but it’s only half of the picture. Aboriginal people are among the earliest human beings to exist on the planet, developing a rich cultural connection with the wonder over tens of thousands of years. To really gain an understanding of this connection from Dustin is a gift that’s beyond special for guests.

While the reef may be under some level of threat, your first instinct may be to avoid it for its own benefit, but tourism is actually one of the best ways to protect it. “The tourism industry at the moment is very very important for the Great Barrier Reef,” Master Reef Guide Jacinta Shackleton said in a video. “We absolutely love people coming out to see all these beautiful areas and showing them that the Great Barrier Reef is alive, it is not dead.”

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“Yes, the reef is under threat from a few different pressures, but at the moment it is just so important that we do have people coming out and developing that passion for the reef that we as Master Reef Guides have. Every guest that comes out to see the reef actually donates about $7 – called the EMC – towards the management of the Great Barrier Reef.”

On top of this, Dustin says reducing your carbon footprint is another great way to help ease pressures on the reef.

If you’re ready to escape the cold and get into one of the world’s most amazing treasures, do yourself a favour and visit Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel. It’ll be an experience that’s impossible to forget. Just make sure the borders are sweet before you set off, mates. 

Image: Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel