7 June 2024

Cowboys jersey shares Cooktown story and grandfather’s legacy

| Lyndon Keane
Start the conversation

Cooktown and Hope Vale raised Bradley Michael and his family prepare to see the story of Nhinhinhi gurra bamawi guugu go on show to a huge crowd at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville. Photo: Supplied.

The unique story of a Cooktown lagoon was shared on the national stage during the last month’s NRL Indigenous round thanks to the passion and creative flair of Bradley Michael.

Mr Michael, a Balnggarrawarra and Guugu Yimithirr man who grew up in Cooktown and Hope Vale, was asked to create the design for the North Queensland Cowboys’ round 12 clash with the Wests Tigers in Townsville on 24 May, and used the opportunity to tell a story passed down to him by his late grandfather, Tulo Gordon.

The story of Nhinhinhi gurra bamawi guugu (how the giant Nhinhinhi fish changed the languages) is pivotal to Cooktown and Hope Vale, and Mr Michael explained how the actions of the giant groper – Nhinhini – created the diversity of languages in the region from Barratt’s Lagoon – Ngurrayin – near Cooktown Airport.

“It’s a creation story,” he told Cape York Weekly.

“I’ve known this place for the last 40 years, you know, and I’ve never known it to dry up; that’s probably why it’s a story place.

Bradley Michael (centre) shows off his Indigenous round jersey design with North Queensland Cowboys Jamal Shibasaki and Kaiden Lahrs. Photo: North Queensland Cowboys.

“That’s where [the groper] swallowed everyone up at that waterhole, and then travelled underground back out to sea, and then threw them back out at the same place, and when they came back, they were speaking different languages.”

The story is just one in a book created by his grandfather and Mr Michael said incorporating it into his design for the Cowboys’ jersey was a way to honour his legacy and share the tale with an audience of nearly 16,000 people in Townsville and hundreds of thousands more watching on television.

“It’s a really big platform that I could share the oldest living culture in the world with,” he said.

“That’s what I love about it.

“It kind of started a bit over six months ago now; I was really thinking about grandad at that time; it was only a few years ago that they relaunched his book, and that was still fresh in my mind.

“Some of the jerseys don’t have a proper story behind it; they look good, but I thought it needed to tell a significant story, so I had granddad’s book there.”

Bradley Michael presents his gifts of a spear and woomera to the visiting Wests Tigers ahead of the team’s Indigenous round clash with the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville on 24 May. Photo: Supplied.

The story is also being shared on the NRL Cowboys House bus, and Mr Michael’s skill as a carver, not just a painter, was also front and centre when he presented a spear and woomera he made to the Wests Tigers at a gift giving ceremony before kick-off.

As he reflected on his incredible sharing of Nhinhinhi’s story, Mr Michael said he believed his grandfather would have approved of his own take on sharing his cultural knowledge.

“For granddad, he basically left a legacy, you know,” he said.

“He put these stories down in a book, and me just using that one story and putting it on the back of a jersey so millions of people can see, I reckon he’s smiling down on me from somewhere.

“I reckon he’d be really proud, him and dad, and a lot of other ancestors.”

Even the NRL Cowboys House bus is helping Bradley Michael share the story of Cooktown’s Barratt’s Lagoon with a wider audience. Photo: Supplied.

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.