Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours

Milbi the glass-bottomed boat

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.

we snorkelled of Big Woody Island (Tooliewah)

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.

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Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

24 thoughts

    1. I had a great week up there & suspect I’ll be up again in Feb – when I’ll find something different for us to try.

  1. I didn’t even realise these kind of tours were offered at Hervey Bay but now I know I’m intrigued and inspired so thank you! There is so much knowledge and wisdom that we could learn from our Indigenous friends. I’d love to learn from them. So fascinating!

  2. I have noticed that there are more indigenous tours popping up which is wonderful. We are heading to the Kimberly soon and I can’t wait to see what Indigenous tours are offered up there.

  3. The Butchullas had some good rules to live by. we all should live by those 3 principles. I love your commitment. That is a wonderful idea.

    1. Yes, we use them to cleanse homes too – I have a commercial one (lavender and sage) but this one smelt of the bush and was lovely.

  4. This sounds great. I do love a tour with a local to dig deeper into the story of a place and this sounds very interesting. And as for finding travel stories with limited travel? It’s really just providing us with a wonderful opportunity to explore our own backyard more, and more carefully. There’s a hell of a lot to discover, even in our own towns or places. I must search out an Indigenous Tour in Canberra – you’ve got me thinking now.

    1. I think of everything different we’ve tried in the past 12 months or the places we wouldn’t have gone to if we’d been able to travel interstate even. There’s so much to discover.

  5. So good to read about this and see the photos along with the teaching. We so need more of this in our wide brown land…called Australia xx

  6. This is why I love guided tours. So much more interesting to be with an expert than to wander on your own thinking “I wonder what that is?” Sometimes the essence of a place isn’t immediately obvious. When someone does a little digging, that’s when you. Get an interesting piece. Thanks for sharing.

  7. That’s such a great post and so interesting!
    I love 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
    Words to live by.

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