WE’RE driving through remote, quintessential Queensland country with place names like Hell’s Gate, tackling one of the roughest roads in Australia and the toughest Indigenous issues. There’s five-hours to kill on this journey from Cairns and we’re facing the huge stuff head on….murder, rape, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, unemployment…picking at Australia’s scab. The conversation is scratchy, like the scrub in which we find ourselves, as we navigate that last, scarred stretch, along the Old Maytown to Laura Coach Road. Here, 10km takes an hour.
I’m on a Jarramali Rock Art Tour through Cape York Peninsula in north Queensland with Kuku-Yalanji man Johnny Murison, who is not afraid to answer the hard questions as we gallop along in our four-wheel drive. Should I even be hurling these curly questions or should we just stick to white fella polite conversation about his tour? We both already know the answer to this. Murison believes it’s a lack of cultural knowledge in some of Australia’s Indigenous communities plagued by strife that needs to be rectified.
“They’ve got to start taking these young kids camping and fishing. One of the big key things is loss of identity,” he says.
“You’ve got to validate kids’ feelings. Tell them if they step into the ring and they’re scared, that’s OK, until you find your momentum, and if he’s a bigger fighter than you, just keep fighting.”
And Murison should know. He’s just established his rock art tour near Laura, against opposition from all sorts of warriors including some of his own people.
“It’s like a bucketful of crabs, one of you escapes and everyone wants to put you back in that bucket,” he says.
It’s a whole new direction for Murison, who was a former Seventh Day Adventist Minister. Sit in a car long enough with someone and you sand away every dusty, rusty layer.
“I was sick of the crap and sick of the church. Some of these times were the best time of my life but I just had enough and wanted to do something different,” he says.
“I was visiting people and doing Bible studies and it was just demanding and I could work 80 hours a week. I’ve got a young family and you are away from your family a lot.
“If you care for people you put your heart and soul into it. But I’m taking into tourism these organisational skills and people skills. As a Minister, I’ve been public speaking for 20 years.
“Love, support and respect…that’s my brand.”
Once we cross Rifle Creek, a site of massacres and warfare, we’re in Yalanji country, the home of Murison’s ancestors.
Murison says he can feel the ancients, ‘it’s a sense of belonging and a link to the past’, but it’s when he enters camp is where he ‘gets the tingles’. It’s here that Murison has established “comfortable camping”, three tents in the bush, with a loo with a view and a shower too overlooking a deep escarpment. Late in the afternoon, when the heat slackens off, we walk down to the rock art site and Murison interprets the stories of his ancestors. There’s Quinkan spirits, an eel tail cat fish, a widowed woman, kangaroo, snake, echidna, yams, dingo, a fertility symbol emu clutch of eggs, and ancestral guardians and heroes.
“They lived here. If you listen carefully you can hear the singing. You’ve got powerful men and women living in this gallery, everyone was here, they just did life,” he says.
And these ancient storylines run deep into the modern day. Tales of self-determination. Of Tropical North Queensland’s Indigenous people turning to tourism. And excelling.
Mid-week and I’m at the Mossman Gorge Centre Dreamtime Walk meeting with Indigenous woman and General Manager Rachael Hodge. Hodge says the centre was a dream of the community who started original tours into the Gorge in 1986.
“At that time we had 500,000 people turning up in the Gorge and there were environmental concerns and also some safety issues. Construction began in 2010 and we opened in August 2012,” she says.
“The elders were talking about how we could make opportunities for jobs and a future for the kids. We now employ 90 staff, of which 82 per cent are Indigenous.
“We’ve also got retail and the art gallery featuring the works of more than 25 local Kuku-Yalanji artists and a range of products you won’t find anywhere else.
“This is the southern-most end of Daintree National Park. It’s all about the rainforest, the boulders, the icy-cold water…it’s very enticing.”
By the end of the week I’m in Kuranda Village, meeting with Aboriginal master weaver and Djabugay woman Rhonda Brim. Five days a week you’ll find Rhonda and a small group of women in the Kuranda Amphitheatre, weaving baskets from local grass, emu feathers and giddy, giddy seeds. Rhonda, who has been weaving for 35 years, learned the skill from her grandmother.
“The thing about our culture is when your teachers passes you can still feel them in your fingers,” she says.
“You are carrying on a long line of history”.
• Pacific Hotel Cairns http://www.pacifichotelcairns.com
• Peppers Beach Club Port Douglas http://www.peppers.com.au/beach-club/
• Silky Oaks Lodge Mossman http://www.silkyoakslodge.com
• Alamanda Palm Cove by Lancemore http://www.lancemore.com.au/alamanda
• Ochre Restaurant Cairns http://www.ochrerestaurant.com.au
• Harrisons Port Douglas http://www.harrisonsrestaurant.com.au
• Nu Nu Restaurant Palm Cove http://www.nunu.com.au
• Frogs Restaurant Kuranda http://www.frogsrestaurant.com.au
• Jarramali Rock Art Tours http://www.jarramalirockarttours.com.au
• Flames of the Forest http://www.flamesoftheforest.com.au
• Janbal Gallery http://www.janbalgallery.com.au
• Mossman Gorge Centre http://www.mossmangorge.com.au
• Walkabout Cultural Adventures http://www.walkaboutadventures.com.au
• Tjapukia Aboriginal Cultural Park http://www.tjapukai.com.au
• Skyrail Rainforest Cableway http://www.skyrail.com.au
• Kuranda Village – http://www.kuranda.org
GETTING AROUND WHEN NOT ON TOUR
• Exemplar Couches and Limousines – http://www.exemplaronline.com.au
• Avis Car and Truck Rental http://www.avis.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland http://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au
A heartfelt thank you the Aboriginal people of Tropical North Queensland for sharing their country and culture with me.