Yorta Yorta man Cormach Evans will cross one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of water on a paddle board as part of a 170km sea odyssey to raise money and awareness for Aboriginal health and wellbeing programs.
Evans, 28, from Geelong, will make his daring journey next month with his best mate, Australian world champion paddle boarder and adventurer Zeb Walsh, who in 2014 paddled Bass Strait.
The watery course they have set will take them the length of the Wadawurrung coastline off Victoria from Aireys Inlet to the Werribee River, through the dangerous Port Phillip Heads and into the bay towards Boon Wurrung country, ending at St Kilda Beach.
Evans told NIT this week he wasn’t worried about sharks, but was nervous about passing through the heads that connects Port Phillip and Bass Strait.
The stretch of water has a formidable reputation and has claimed vessels and lives with its strong tidal movements and unpredictable waves.
“The hardest part will be the head, just getting in there,” Evans said. “It can be so hit and miss. It could be beautiful and calm or ugly and stormy and quite difficult.
“It’s still the only bit of ocean that really does scare me.”
As preparation, Evans has been swimming, working out at the gym and notching up about five kilometres a day on his 4.3m prone paddle board.
He will make the journey — expected to take three days — either paddling while lying on his stomach or on his knees.
The director of Strong Brother Strong Sister, a Geelong-based group that provides safe, culturally appropriate spaces and programs for Aboriginal youth, Evans also founded Paddle for Aboriginal Health last year.
Money raised from the trip will go to Strong Brother Strong Sister to fund mentoring programs for young people at risk or in care, the Koorie Youth Group, a justice diversionary program, surf leadership camps, traditional land care days, and rolemodel and cultural education workshops.
“I used to be a men’s health worker,” Evans said. “I’ve always surfed. I’ve surfed since I was a little kid. It kept me out of trouble, but it was also my place where I could switch off and just relax and connect with culture and the land and the ocean.
“When I was doing men’s health I was working with a lot of men who were dying quite young, a lot younger than non-Aboriginal people, and I thought about trying to get some programs up and running to improve health and wellbeing … early prevention as well.
“There really wasn’t much funding, awareness or education on Aboriginal health going on, so we decided to do a fundraiser.
“We thought the best way to do it was paddling the coastline.”
Evans said he also wanted to raise awareness of the continuing effects of colonisation and the Stolen Generation and the impact of trans-generational grief, loss and trauma on Aboriginal people.
“I want to educate the wider Australian community whilst creating positive change with our young people,” he said.
Last year, Evans and Walsh paddled from Papua New Guinea to Australia in dug-out canoes they’d made themselves as part of Red Bull TV’s Adventure of The Century series. In 2014, Walsh paddled across Bass Strait in a world-first effort.
The pair expect to be accompanied on their October journey by a support vessel bearing the Aboriginal flag. Children in Evans’ youth group are decorating his board with messages of encouragement.
There will be a send-off for the two paddlers on October 6 from Urquhart’s Bluff Beach on Great Ocean Road in Victoria, with a ceremony from Wadawurrung traditional owners from 6am. They will be met at St Kilda Beach by Boon Wurrung traditional owners.
To support the paddle, visit their Go Fund Me page here.