I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a travel journalist and to be well, grounded. What do you write about?
The answer is pieces like these:
- Revealed: 15 of Australia’s best-hidden camping spots
- Ten Sacred Places in Australia You Must Visit
- Six Scenic Walks in Sydney
- Some Australians Don’t Want To Come Home And I Don’t Blame Them
The headline though that really made me think was this one last week: I Called Australia A Cultural Wasteland – I Was Wrong.
In the article Ben Groundwater (possibly my favourite Australian travel writer) talks about other countries where the culture is front and centre, an unapologetic visible part of everyday life – like the daily ceremony around offerings in Bali, the parades in Spain, the haka at the rugby in New Zealand. Speaking of which, why is it that I know some Maori language words, but I couldn’t say the same about the language (admittedly, there are many) of our traditional owners?
As Ben says:
This land is home to a vast swathe of ancient Indigenous cultures that are packed with tradition and ritual and belief. These, according to many estimates, are the longest continuous living cultures on the planet today. They take the form of myth and legend, of knowledge and understanding, of art and craft, of a deep connection to country that many of us will never properly appreciate.Ben Groundwater, SMH Traveller
He further makes the point that it’s up to each of us to seek out these experiences to better understand and respect Indigenous Australia.
Coincidentally this story came up on my browser immediately after I came back from doing the Djinang cultural walking tour in Hervey Bay, which had, in turn, come about from doing a Turtle Discovery Tour with Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours.
Unfortunately, the weather, the tides, and the rain of the previous few days meant that visibility wasn’t the best for snorkeling so we didn’t see any sea turtles (milbi) or dugongs (uranga). I did, however, see plenty of fish, with one school of brightly coloured bait fish exploding around my head when the sun lit them. I had a fabulous morning and I still have a reason to go out again on another day.
While snorkeling, our Butchulla guide, Conway, told us how the people of these parts used to set fish traps, the dolphins working with them for payment in fish at the end. Once enough fish had been caught, the traps were opened for the others to swim free. He spoke about how the resources of both land and sea were managed by following the seasons, and the three principles of Butchulla lore:
- What’s good for the land comes first
- Don’t touch or take anything that isn’t yours
- If you have plenty, you must share
Common sense really.
Later in the tour, he shared stories – of the creation of country, and other stories that are meant to teach respect and tolerance of the special qualities of others. We got chatting about some of the structures of society, about how high points in the land were beacon points for communication, about how the elders knew from observation of nature when the seasons were changing and when certain plants, animals, or fish would be available. I was hooked and immediately booked into the walking tour later in the week.
This too was an awesome experience and left me with so many questions. Led by Aaron, a direct descendant of K’Gari Butchulla, it began with each of us being “marked” with white ochre, to grant us passage as we walked through country. After a demonstration of the didgeridoo we began our walk.
As we walked, we gathered material for a cleansing smudge stick and Aaron showed us trees that had been used as “maps” or markers.
He also pointed out goat’s foot (used for headaches, stings, bites, and other skin inflammation), the tessellated bark that’s chewed to ease diarrhea, spider orchid (or is it lily???) (for marine stings), and other plants used for either tucker (food) or medicine.
He showed us the leaves which act like sandpaper, the branches which can be stripped to make twine, and the trees from which schools of fish would have been sighted. To this, he added that the lesson was always to allow the pilot school to go through first – and that women were not allowed to fish for the first 2 weeks of the season. Hmmm.
He demonstrated how the smudge sticks were made and tied with strips from pandanus leaves, he made fire using 2 sticks, and he made twine. And in between he answered questions and told stories.
The experience has made me keen to seek out more and learn more about Indigenous Australia, about the stories, the complex social structures, the bush tucker, the medicinal use of plants. Mostly, though, the stories.
So I’m with Ben Groundwater in making the commitment: every trip I take in Australia will include some element of Indigenous tourism – even if it’s just googling the traditional owners of that country and finding out a little about them. It feels as though it’s the least I can do. Maybe if others do too, we’ll start to celebrate it and honour the cultural richness of our country as part of our day-to-day existence.
It’s a start.
If you want more information about Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours, click here.