Day 1 in the books...


Day 1 seemed to be a success! Our van arrived a little early to take us to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre. In past years, we used public transit to get there, and the ride was about an hour and a half. Both times we previously visited Tjapukai, that was the only negative feedback we got from the students about the visit. So this year, we booked a van to deliver us – and it was only a 20 minute ride!

As we arrived, the students began to look around the facility waiting for our host. The reality of the peoples they were going to meet and learn from seemed to begin to set in. The Djabugay people are modest and friendly people who absolutely love to teach others about their culture… and it is such an honor to have the opportunity to visit them. Each year I leave this visit feeling humbled to have met and had the opportunity to learn from the first peoples on earth.

Our visit started with painting our own boomerangs using traditional Aboriginal paints and painting styles. While our “artwork” was not as impressive as what we saw in the gift shop, this is a souvenir the students will always have…

Next was a theatrical presentation of the Aboriginal’s “Dreamtime Creation Story”. Our guide, Guyu (meaning “fish” in Djabugay) explained that they do this as a theatrical presentation because to tell the story in words in their language might take several days. This is an amazing presentation that explains their beliefs about where it all began. Our guide, Their “God” is a serpent/snake and is woven throughout their culture – totems, artwork, how they literally view the land they live on, etc. In short, their belief is that two brothers – one brother who was from the dry side, Gurraminya, and another from the wet side, Gurrabanna. They fought over who should rule and Gurraminya was killed by Gurrabanna, who immediately mourned what he had done and begged his brother for them to be able to coexist and live in harmony together…. And that is their belief in how Australia got its climate – extremes of wet and dry and hot and cold weather seasons.

Next we watched a presentation of traditional Tjapukai dance. The students were sitting in the front row (ahem, “someone” prompted them to sit up there….) and were brought up to perform with the Aboriginal dancers while the rest of the audience took part in chanting and singing. It was a moving and amazing experience…

Next we went into a small theater area and Guyu taught us about a few of their cultural norms – such as rules for who you can be married to and rules for society. They have a strict code of “men’s business” and “women’s business”. When there are rules broken by men, the men of the tribe handle the punishment – “men’s business”… and when a woman breaks the rules, their punishment is handled by the women of the tribe – “women’s business”. The men do not know or become involved in “women’s business” and vice versa…

He also explained that according to tribal law, punishment can be harsh, but is always done to teach the violator right from wrong so that that can fix the error of their ways.. and once the punishment is done, that “business” is finished. For example, if a man stole a spear or weapon from another man, for the first violation the punishment might be having a spear impaled into their leg – and the spear has rear-facing barbs so the only way to remove it is to push it the rest of the way through… and that has to be done by the violator himself. The reason for this is so that the violator will be hindered in being able to keep up with others when hunting for a while – to learn the lesson of what it is like to have to provide for one’s family when something they need isn’t readily available. Once the other end of the spear if all the way through, then “the law” is finished and the tribal member is cared for and healed by those who inflicted the punishment. A second violation of the same law might include a spear to the bicep area of the arm – lesson being that they will not be able to throw a spear, to again teach a lesson.

Guyu told us that their tribal region has 2 types of people – wet people (those who live on or near the water) and dry people (those who live on land and in the mountains). Tribal members always go with their father’s people – and people from the wet side have to marry people from the dry side in order to prevent problems of marrying a close relative… One of the students pointed out that these people were actually working on genetic engineering before science was developed! Also, they spend significant amounts of time with their grandparents – and the grandmother always arranges their marriages.

Next was an amazing buffet lunch – which had a variety of traditional Aboriginal foods on it including kangaroo stew, “damper” bread, and steamed fish (as well as other dishes). The students really enjoyed lunch!

We then started the “fun” stuff – throwing weapons! First up – spear throwing. While our group showed off their prowess as “vegetarians” (not very good hunters!), Guyu demonstrated the proper form. Next was boomerangs. The students did pretty well with these, although it is certainly an acquired skill as you can see in the video below!!

Our next stop was to learn about medicinal plants, foods, and other weapons. It is amazing that simple holistic remedies such as using plants and herbs to heal a variety of ailments and conditions are right in front of us…

It was then time to head back into the city and visit the Cairns Wildlife Dome. Here we were treated to a private wildlife talk from a zoologist who was from California! She talked about a variety of topics, and we each got to pet a Python, a crocodile, and a lizard! We then toured the facility and ended with having each of us having our pictures taken with a koala. Luckily she hadn’t clocked in all of her “working hours” for that day – Queensland is the only state you can hold a koala without a permit and the length of time they can be handled by the public is STRICTLY regulated. The Australians are very vigilant about protecting their eco system and wildlife. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get our pictures with the resident crocodile or snake as they had already “worked” all they could for that day…

Shortly I will be taking the students down to the docks to send them off on their day tour to the Great Barrier Reef! Stay tuned for pictures from that adventure and some blog posts from the students themselves in the next couple of days…

#Cairns #CairnsWildlifeDome #Koalas #koalapicture #Tjapukai #KangarooStew

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