Until recent years, the closest that many foreign visitors came to Aboriginal culture in Australia was buying a cheap Chinese-made boomerang in a tacky souvenir shop. But these days, awareness and appreciation of Aboriginal art and culture are at an all time high. Tropical North Queensland is rich with Aboriginal culture, and we will show you a range of Aboriginal experiences that will be both enjoyable and educational. Enjoy one of the oldest and richest cultures of the world.
THIS PAGE LISTS ALL THE TOP ABORIGINAL CULTURAL EXPERIENCES, ATTRACTIONS, THEATRES, ART DISPLAYS AND GALLERIES, IN TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND. SCROLL DOWN OR USE THE LINKS IN THE RIGHT COLUMN TO FIND YOUR CHOSEN DESTINATION.
"They say we have been here for 40,000 years, but it is much longer.
We have been here since time began. We have come directly out of the Dreamtime of our creative ancestors."
The history and culture of the Australian Aboriginal people stretches back for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS, and when we imagine what life must have been like for the indigenous people before European settlement, we conjure up stereotypical images of nomads moving in dry, hot desert landscapes, living in basic shelters and eating kangaroo cooked on an open fire. But in Tropical North Queensland, where the wet season can bring weeks of rain, many aboriginal tribes lived under the dense rainforest canopy, in semi-permanent villages of dome-shaped houses, cooking in ground ovens and curing meat, fish and eels on smoking racks.
Venture into the wild spaces of Far North Queensland, and you enter a world steeped in ancient Aboriginal culture with spirits and legends recorded in rock art. Below is a list of the places, monuments, galleries and attractions around Tropical North Queensland which either showcase Aboriginal art and culture, or hold significance to the Aboriginal people.
TJAPUKAI ABORIGINAL CULTURAL PARK
Cairns Western Arterial Road, Caravonica (MAP)
Phone (07) 4042 9900
See Australia's culture through our eyes!
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park offers a showcase of indigenous culture, allowing visitors to learn the traditional culture and customs of the Tjapukai people.
Seven separate arenas allow visitors to experience every facet of the rainforest people's culture - from the provocative History Theatre to the inspiring Creation Theatre, the Dance Theatre and the interactive Cultural Village, where visitors can learn how bush food is used to create medicinal remedies, learn how to play a didgeridoo, and throw a boomerang and spear.
When night falls, Tjapukai by Night offers dramatic special effects to create a compelling show in which the audience meets Gadja, a Dreamtime spirit, and is encouraged to participate in an ancient corroboree ritual. Guests are then treated to a beautifully presented buffet style dinner featuring modern Australian cuisine, while watching the world famous Tjapukai Dancers.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is located at Caravonica, near Smithfield, at the base of the Skyrail cableway. If you want to combine a visit to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, with a SKYRAIL RAINFOREST EXPERIENCE, and even a ride on the KURANDA SCENIC RAILWAY, Cairns Unlimited can arrange an economical package deal, even including return transfers from your Cairns hotel.
DOWN UNDER TOURS
Phone (07) 4047 9097
A huge selection of Cairns day tours and charter services!
Nestled in mountaintop rainforest splendour just to the west of Cairns, Kuranda has been enchanting visitors for years. Accessible by train, cableway or road, the charming Village in the Rainforest’ presents a bevy of tropical delights.
From the traditional appeal of the famous Kuranda Markets to the cool sophistication of roadside cafes and restaurants, Kuranda has something to suit everybody.
Soar above the rainforest canopy in your Skyrail Gondola, be initiated into the ancient world of the Tjapukai Aboriginal people, or go back in time on the historic Kuranda Railway.
Step into the colour and excitement of the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Birdworld, be smitten by the Koala’s in Koala Gardens, meander through local art galleries and Aboriginal Artefacts, or simply savour a locally made tropical fruit ice cream.
Down Under Tours offers a large variety of Kuranda Tours catering to every schedule and incorporating the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Kuranda Scenic Railway, Tjapukai Cultural Park and Rainforestation.
Also in Kuranda you can live an authentic Aboriginal experience thanks to the Weka Djimbu Dance Troupe. The ancient aboriginal culture is brought to life through traditional and contemporaty songs, dances and stories of the dreamtime. You can also buy hand crafted weapons and artifacts and native artwork from the Bama rainforest people, the traditional inhabitants of these land.
RAINFORESTATION NATURE PARK.
Kennedy Highway, Kuranda
Phone (07) 4085 5008
email link coming soon
website link coming soon
Open everyday from 8:30am
to 4:00pm (except Christmas Day).
At the Rainforestation Nature Park you can have a real Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, where you can see the Pamagirri Aboriginal Dancers and take part in a Dreamtime Walk. For half an hour you can witness the dances that accompany the Pamagirri Corroboree's ancients songs about animals, food gathering and hunting to the rythm of didgeridoo and clapsticks. The experience will feel even more real because it takes place in the rainforest amphitheatre, completely surrounded by nature.
If you have decided to enjoy the Dreamtime Walk, you won't regret it. It takes you along the Rainbow Serpent through Aboriginal traditions, legends and myths. Here you can also have you face painted in the traditional manner by an Aboriginal guide who will use ochre. But if you think you are a bit too old to paint your face, why don't you try painting a boomerang and transforming it into a unique piece in only 30 minutes?. Or having a go at imitating the tracks left by some Australia's native animals?
THE NEW KURANDA MARKETS ABORIGINAL ART GALLERY
With the discovery of gold in the Hodgkinson River, mineral exploitation, tin mining and the construction of roads, the Kuku Yalariji tribe had to change their lifestyle and adapt themselves to new times. Both Aboriginal gatherer/hunter economies were undermined and their number decimated by 1895. The Second World War saw how the local Aboriginal groups were concentrated at the Mossman Gorge Reserve. The Daintree tribe was first relocated on the northern bank of the Daintree river and moved around several times during the sixties. Nowadays, many of them live in Mossman Gorge.
So we can say without no doubt that the Kuku Yalariji people are survivors who have managed to live through very difficult times. However, they have succedded on keeping what's left of their tribal identity.
KUKU YALANJI CULTURAL HABITAT TOUR
18 Cooya Beach Road, Mossman (MAP)
Phone (07) 4098 3437
Time to get native.
Experience Aboriginal lifestyle walking with Kuku Yalanji brothers Linc and Brandon Walker and family as they continue to teach and practice their daily hunting and gathering activities in their unique coastal environment just 10 minutes drive from Port Douglas. Enjoy the stories of their country and spend time listening to the family histories that have been passed from generation to generation since the beginning of their dreamtime.
Coastal Beach Walks depart daily from Cooya Beach at 9:30am and 1:30pm. Adults $75.00 children $45.00 (5-15yrs). Duration 2 hours. Traditional Night Spearing departs daily from Cooya Beach at 7:30pm. $150.00 per person max 3 people. Duration 2 hours.
FLAMES OF THE FOREST
Click here to check availability and book online
Light the flame of the forest… ignite your senses beneath the canopy of the oldest rainforest in the world. Feel the wonder of this legendary place & explore the mysteries of time, culture a& cuisines while dining in the spellbinding candlelit drama that is the enchanted rainforest. This mystical evening event of dining in the rainforest entertained by Aboriginal storytelling and music takes place over three hours amid the ancient rainforest.
A must-do for anyone interested in history, Aboriginal culture, the rainforest and great Australian food!
DAINTREE ECO LODGE AND SPA
KUKU YALANJI DREAMTIME WALKS
THE BAMA WAY - ABORIGINAL JOURNEYS
From Cairns and Port Douglas to Cooktown & beyond (MAP)
Phone (07) 4053 7001
For those interested in TNQ rich Aboriginal Culture!
The Bama Way is a 2 Day tour which travels along one of Australia's most scenic coastal drives, from Cooya Beach, near Port Douglas, along the Daintree coast through the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park to Cooktown. It brings together three well-established Aboriginal-owned and operated tours, each offering a different aspect of Aboriginal life and culture. Experience Kuku Yulanji Cultural Habitat Tours, The Walker Family Tours and Guurrbi Tours on a journey of amazing discovery.
Ivesa Luebben, Germany 8th August 2007: "It was such a precious experience that opened my eyes to the deep wisdom and spirituality and ecological consciousness of a culture that had been unknown to me. I would advise any traveller to Australia to do the same."
P.O. Box 417, Cooktown
Phone (07) 4069 6043
An amazing insight into Aboriginal spirituality.
These magical, award-winning tours with Nugal-warra Elder, Willie Gordon, are widely considered one of the best Aboriginal experiences in the country.
Willie, the traditional story-teller of the Nugal-warra clan, takes guests to his ancestral rock art sites, set high in the hills above Hope Vale, outside Cooktown. Here he shares the stories behind the art, and explains how the paintings speak of the essence of life and the lores of his people. With his great smile and infectious laugh, Willie gives an amazing insight into Aboriginal society, and shows how we all have a spiritual place, wherever we come from.
Tours depart daily, Monday to Saturday, either self-drive or with transport from Cooktown. Willie's Rainbow Serpent Tour takes you through a dramatic landscape to six rock art sites, including an ancestral Birth Cave where Willie's grandfather was born. The Great Emu Tour includes a visit to three rock art sites.
WALKER FAMILY TOURS
MILBI WALL, COOKTOWN
Wujal Wujal (MAP)
Phone (07) 4060 8069 or (07) 4060 8139
Mobile 0427 824 799
Fax (07) 4060 8108
Experiencing part of the family's everyday lifestyle!
At Wujal Wujal, a coastal indigenous community near Cooktown, the Walker family - sisters, cousins and even nieces - are working as a close-knit group of wonderfully warm and friendly people sharing the local Yalanji culture with visitors.
Walker Family Tours takes visitors to one of the most beautiful and pristine locations in the tropics - The Bloomfield Falls - a 40 metre waterfall surrounded by the world heritage-listed rainforests of the Daintree. The Walker women are committed to educating their guests who walk with them along the track to the Bloomfield Falls. As they travel over their ancestral land, they explain in a truly delightful way the lifestyle of the Yalanji people of Wujal Wujal.
Cooktown has an active Aboriginal Community Centre called Gungarde on the main street. The name of the Centre comes from the Aboriginal name for the region and meant 'crystals', as rock crystal (which was used in some Aboriginal ceremonies) is found near the town. The Milbi Wall was designed and built by local Aborigines as part of the Gungarde project. A beautiful collage of Aboriginal art, the Milbi Wall marks the place of the first encounter between the British seafarers and the local Aborigines. The Story Wall, as it often called, tells the story of Cooktown and the Endeavour River from the perspective of the Aborigines.
The twelve metre long memorial is composed of three curved sections. The first section explains the creation stories and shows how the Endeavour River and Cooktown area were formed. The second commemorates the first meeting that took place between the Indigenous people and Captain Cook, his crew and the naturalists and scientists who were with him. It traces the history of Aboriginal people from their early settlements and the gold-rush days up to the Second World War. And finally, the third section of the wall describes the 1967 referendum and shows the advances Aboriginal people have made since then, as well as identifying the problems they have faced.
The Milbi Wall is an outstanding monument to reconciliation in Australia, a significant part of the local culture of Cooktown, and is definitely worth visiting.
Aboriginal culture is still very strong in North Queensland. In the early 1980's the Indigenous communities of Cape York relived tradition, and celebrated their culture, through song, dance, music and story. This traditional gathering has become the Laura Aboriginal Cultural Festival. This festival takes place every two years in the small outback town of Laura, 300 kilometres north of Cairns. Crowds gather from all over Australia and overseas, along with many different Indigenous communities mainly from the Cape York region, in the celebration of the Aboriginal culture. Traditional Indigenous sporting events and competitions will also be held during the festival, so start training if you want to do well in the art of spear and boomerang thowing.
The Laura Dance and Cultural Festival is, without any doubt, the largest and longest Aboriginal festival of its kind in Australia. But remember alcohol and drugs are banned on the festival grounds, the traditional ground dance and, thus, a sacred place.
For more information about Laura Dance and Cultural Festival as well as for other events that take place in Tropica North Queensland, please visit our TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND'S EVENT CALENDAR page.
And once you are in the Laura for the festival, why not visit the area? Although nowadays Laura is a small town, in the 1880's it was very popular because it was the Palmer River goldfield's railheah handling 20,000 passengers every year. The surroundings are famous due to the Aboriginal paintings that feature massive Quinkans, which have given their name to the region, spirit figures that lived in the crevices of rocks and came out to frighten people who misbehaved (just like our 'boogie men'). Bright-red emus, shining white dingos, large brown kangaroos are also featured along with the Quinkans and, although they are thought to have been painted more than 30,000 years ago, the visitor will be taken aback by the freshness and quality of them, just as if they had been painted last week. These paintings are one of the most significant rock art sites in Australia and even the UNESCO has listed them among the top ten rock art sites in the entire world.
SPLIT ROCK is the most popular site, only because it is the most accessible one. And don't forget that not all of them are open to the public. Also famous in the area is the Giant Horse Gallery which features not only a horse but also a fallen rider and a wide variety of animals, including a bush turkey and a stingray.
Be aware that they are only open to visitors after a formal application to the Aboriginal Ranger in Laura. To do so you can either go to the Ranger's office in Laura, in the corner of the Peninsula Development Road or by telephoning (07) 4060 3260.
QUINKAN CULTURAL CENTRE
JOWALBINNA ABORIGINAL ART
ROSE GUMS WILDERNESS RETREAT
Land Road, via Lake Eacham, Malanda
Phone (07) 4096 8360 / Fax (07) 4096 8312
email link coming soon
website link coming soon
Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat is located in the land of the Mullunburra people, who made this area their summer home. The retreat is crisscrossed with walking tracks that will take you through the rainforest Indigenous people used to burn to a concealed waterfall, used by the Mullumburra to prepare their food, to a rainforest creek which Aboriginal kids used as a playground while their mothers grounded the nuts. Keep an eye open for ancient grinding stone. All along the way, on the treehouses, you will find information about the Mullunburra people.
The Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat was awarded with the 2004 Tropical North Queensland Tourism award as unique accomodation and made it to the finals for the same award for eco tourism.
MALANDA MOSAIC TRAIL
Malanda was the Aboriginal name for the North Johnstone River and Tutaboulin, the traditional name for the Malanda Falls. The Ngadjon Jii people are the traditional inhabitants of the Malanda rainforest, and their descendants are treasured members of the community.
Malanda, located in the Atherton Tablelands, has its own mosaics which tell the history of Malanda's community. These nine large colourful mosaics are scattered all over the town and are definetely a must when visiting the area. Each mosaic tells its own story and it is worth dedicating time to each one of them, studying them in detail to discover all the elements camouflaged in the intrincate designs. There is a blue butterfly in each mosaic, will you be able to find them?
The first mosaic, The Original Inhabitants, tells the story of the region's first occupants. Hardships and Struggles represents the battle between man and nature. In the mosaic Transport a steam train stands out. Commerce acknowledges all the arts. Recollection shows the Malanda Pub. Early Settlers portrays the first European settlers. The Dairy Industry, Recreation and Looking Ahead are the other three.
They are located at the Malanda Falls, Malanda Pharmacy, Wait – A – While Studio, 5A Freshmart, Post Office, Majestic Theatre, Eacham Shire Council, Mitre 10 and the Malanda Rural Supplies.
CHILLAGOE - MUNGANA CAVES
Aboriginal occupation of the Chillagoe district dates back at least 20,000 years. The area is rich in small rock art galleries of aboriginal paintings, most of which are accessible only on foot. 15 kilometres north of Chillagoe visitors can find the Mungana Caves, where a gallery is located 1.2 kilometres along the gravel road to The Archways. Another gallery, with viewing access provided by a small boardwalk, is located at Balancing Rock, where the rock continues to defy gravity.
MALANDA ENVIRONMENTAL AND VISITORS CENTRE
BAJINJILLA ARTS AND CRAFTS
Named for the brilliant blue Ulysses butterflies, the 1.5 kilometre Ulysses Link Walking Track winds its way along the breathtaking foreshore. The history of Mission Beach is interwoven along the walk with indigenous and historical stories expressed through mosaics, carvings and ceramic sculptures created by local artists. There are both Aboriginal and western interpretations, ranging from a carving of a culturally significant wichetty grub to a mosaic glass message stick depicting life in the rainforest by Diana Conti.
To explore the Ulysses Link Walking Track, follow the signs from the centre of Mission Beach to Clump Point in the north, where it meets up with the Cutten Brothers walking track and continues on to the Clump Point Jetty.
BABINDA BOULDERS, BABINDA
Located seven kilometres to the west of Babinda, the Babinda Boulders are of great significance for the Aboriginal people. According to legend, a very beautiful girl from the Yidinji people named Oolana married an old and respected elder from her tribe called Waroonoo. Shortly after their wedding, another tribe arrived in the area and bringing an extremely handsome young man with them, Dyga. As soon as they saw each other they fell utterly in love. Aware that they were commiting a crime, the young lovers escaped from their tribes and fled into the valley. However, both tribes persued them and finally the lovers were captured. Oolana managed to break free from her captors and threw herself into the still waters of the nearby creek, calling for Dyga to follow her. As soon as Dyga hit the water, her cries for her lost lover turned the still waters into a rushing torrent and the land shood with sorrow. Huge boulder were scattered around the creek and Oolana dissapeared among them. Aboriginal legends say that Oolana's spirit still guards the boulders and her calls for her lost lover can still be heard.
The boulders are a fantastic place for a picnic and a refreshing swim, and free camping grounds are available on site.
PLANTATION PARK, AYR
NORTH QUEENSLAND ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDERS CULTURAL CENTRE
JURU WALK, located at the rear of Plantation Park, in Ayr, is an important bond to the Burdekin's Aboriginal history. The walk makes its way through what is believed to be the Burdekin's last remaining vestige of rainforest. The name Juru Walk comes from one of the Aboriginal tribes which were the inhabitants of the Burdekin prior to white settlement. Some of the highlights of Juru Walk are the rainforest ecosystems, the bat community and the man-made lagoon. Trails have been built to guide visitors through the area. Maps are available from the tourist information centre. It's an experience well worth it!
Plantation Park is also home to GUBULLAMUNDA, the giant carpet snake constructed in 2004 by the Gudjuda Reference Group to celebrate and promote Indigenous culture. The 60 metre carpet snake is the totem of the Juru people, the traditional owners of this land, and marks the significance of the park as a traditional burial site.
In order to educate visitors, the GUDJUDA REFERENCE GROUP also created a bush garden and cultural heritage walk, setting interpretive signs and planting more than 300 trees. Visitors to the bush garden will see species traditionally used for food and medicine, spear and boomerang making and smoking ceremonies. Both the snake and the bush garden, symbols of civic pride and community cooperation, reinforce the importance of Indigenous cultures as part of Australia's identity.
Reef HQ Complex, Flinders Street, Townsville, Phone (07) 4772 7679
The Cultural Centre opened its doors in 2005 and showcases early and contemporary cultural heritage of the Wulguru-Kaba and Bindal people. The Centre features innovative cultural, educational and informative displays, as well as traditional performances, that will help the visitor to experience the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's heritage.