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My totem has long been the snake, although I think it may have recently become the long finned black eel now. Many of Australia’s freshwater fish are diadromous. They travel instinctively from fresh to saltwater to complete their lifecycles. FNQ species that are diadromous include “barramundi, mangrove jack, jungle perch, tarpon, snakehead gudgeo and the long-finned eel”. (quoted from “Restoring Fish Passages in the Wet Tropics” by Terrain NRM, page 7. Ecotone quarterly magayine. CAFNEC Cairns and Far North Environment Centre. Vol 43, Number 1, March 2023).

I was going on a ramble, as we say back in my adopted home of rural Kent on the Greater London Border, from my family home in Brinsmead down into Whitfield. That’s where both my grandmothers lived in the aged care homes in that leafy, quiet, “traditional” suburb after having spent most of their lives sharing a house in the Des Res part of Kamerunga Road near Freshie creek swimming hole.

I got to the dip between the valley residential area and the estate on the hill when I saw the long black eel leaping up the drain in just a trickle of water. It was trying to cross the highway via the drains going under the road. At first I thought it was a big black snake because whenever I’m back in Oz. In fact whereever I am.

I am the only one in my English family who keeps seeing Death Adders on or near our Kentish farm. I have seen snakes in Germany, or even on the beach here in Cairns. They just pop up – Santorini in the Greek Islands, saw one. Though it was pickled in a jar in a natural history museum. Got my tarot read by an Asian gypsy in Hong Kong – I picked the snake card. You get the picture.

Yet here was an eel leaping into view, healthy, determined to perform its last rites of passage from the comfy inland housing estates down past the swamps of the Botanical Gardens through the storm drains and out onto the mud flats of the Cairns Esplanade. I googled it. Eels have an inbuilt GPS system, like a DNA driven map, so they instinctively know where the ocean is. How else would a creek abiding reptilian fish know which way to go?

From the freshwater streams to the saltie shores of the tropical seas. It is a totem of resilience, you can understand why. Fertility and strength. Am glad to make it mine to replace the snakes I see around the world. Welcome black eel, knowing where to go for its life’s journey, despite all obstacles. But just as well human advocated like Terrain NRM help out with creating crossings whenever they can.

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