Although my time in Cairns was off to a very rocky start I can happily say I did not let that in any way ruin my trip.
I arrived on Thursday night and ended up getting to my hostel over 5 hours later than planned so I wasn’t able to do much that day but plan for the next couple of days here. Most things I planned to arrange upon arrival but arrived too late in the night that places for booking were closed, I tried waking up early on Friday morning to book one of my tours but that didn’t work out too well because most things needed to be booked within at least 24 hours. My hope was to go to the Great Barrier Reef on Friday but every boat was booked so I decided instead to start my day with a walk on the Esplanade.
The walk really help me clear my mind and set things into perspective, at some point during the walk I reminded myself of where I was an how lucky I am to even be in Australia!! I also had another milkshake and I can now attest, Australians like really thin milkshakes BUT the milk they used in this one was a special kind (I forgot to read about it) and it really was delicious because I didn’t even mind the thinness. After my milkshake I continued to walk around and find other things in the area.
I first checked out the Underart Gallery which had some very nice pieces created by locals including jewelry, kitchenware and frames. Then I made my way to the Cairns Regional Gallery; the gallery had some aboriginal work as well as international artists material; it was a small gallery and many exhibitions were closed so a quick browse didn’t take too much of my time.
I headed back to the hostel close to 11AM so I could make some lunch and then head off the the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. The Tjapukai were the original people to live on the Cairns land, a land they refer to as Gimuy. I was really excited to go to the cultural park from the moment I found it because I knew I’d love learning more about the native people of this land and what they do to preserve their culture. One thing I learned about Cairns buses as I was waiting to go is that they’re never on time, don’t think it’s not coming even if it’s 15-20 minutes late, it’ll get there just maybe in another 5-10 minutes. Besides the mishaps with the buses I’m glad I made it to the cultural park.
To say my experience was amazing is an understatement. Honestly, there aren’t much words that can describe how great the trip actually was. I learned so much and it was just heartwarming to see people dressed in their cultural attire, speak their language and share their culture practices with such pride and love. The atmosphere within the cultural park was just amazing.
I was afraid my experience wouldn’t be as great because I was arriving so late, I would have 3 hours there but I was going to be missing several interactive activities but I was wrong. I arrived around 1:45pm and started learning about the herbs and medicines of the Tjapukai people, many of the foods they used were very poisonous and they used several methods to remove the toxins like shaving and watering out. They also had plants with so many different purposes including snake bites, evening skin tones, exfoliating and cleansing. Women were generally responsible for collecting and preparing these medicines.
I then moved on to the men hut where I learned about a popular instrument as well as hunting techniques and weapons. The didgeridoo, known by the Tjapukai as a Yigi Yigi, is an instrument made by the men from the bark of different trees and is played by men during special occasions. The different types of timbers create different sound qualities, beeswax is placed on the skinnier end for the comfort of the player’s lips and when choosing the tree they would make sure the inside was hallow (eaten by termites). I also learned what boomerangs were used to hunt which animals. The most common known returning boomerang was used to hit flocks of birds, it could hit about 3-4 birds in a flock of about 10-15.
Afterwards I was taught how to throw a sphere and got some practice, at the end I was able to throw much further but my aim still needs some work. I then moved on to the theater where I experienced several traditional dances of the Tjapuki people and their meanings. They also demonstrated how they would start a fire which happened much quicker than I expected it to.
The interactive activities I was hoping to do included jewelry making, boomerang painting and weaving. As I previously stated I arrived to late to do this but luckily the woman in this area told me if I bought a boomerang at the gift shop she’d allow me to paint it. I rushed and got a left handed boomerang (of course 😊) and got to painting. I encompassed part of my story utilizing aboriginal symbols and their natural paint colors.
The last event I attended was about the Tjapukai story. It started with the common history lessons on a projector about the “discovery of Australia” and was quickly shut down, the performers came out and began explaining that they lived on the land long before the “discovery”, that we belong to the land not the other way around and their interpretation of how the land came to be. They also explained that different tribes within the country all have different beliefs on how things began and this was just particularly the Tjapukai’s views.
When I was getting ready to depart one of the Tjapukai came with a gift and a message. I had been chatting with one of the other Tjapukai people working at the site who mentioned he hoped to be going to New York in August, he gave me a handmade necklace with volcanic rock at the ends and asked for my email to help him figure out how to navigate in New York. As all those who know me well know I always support the travelers, I hope he has the opportunity to make it to the Big Apple and enjoys all it has to offer.
Once again, the experience at the Tjapukai Cultural Park was unforgettable. I highly recommend it to all those who can make the trip, it’s great to learn about the aboriginal culture and to see the love their people have for it.