Insider Tips: Queenslands Indigenous North

Insider Tips: Queenslands Indigenous North

Aboriginal Elder Willie Gordon is the host of Guurrbi Tours, known as one of the best ways to discover the Indigenous North of Queensland, Australia. Here, he shares his insider tips for visitors to the region…

What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to visitors to Queensland’s Indigenous North?
Many people don’t realise that Aboriginal Australia is, like Europe, divided into many different tribal nations, each with its own language, history, culture, bush foods, medicine and history. Each of these tribal nations was divided into family groups or clan lands, and the family group looked after their lands, just as today people look after their house or property. My tribal nation is Guugu Yimithirr – one of 41 Aboriginal nations in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland’s northernmost region – and my clan is Nugal, whose lands are just outside Cooktown. So I am a traditional custodian of the Nugal lands: I know the land and its resources, its myths and its stories, its birds and animals, its ancient paths, and its history. I’m called a ‘Nugal-warra’ which means ‘I am Nugal, I am the land’.

So my first piece of advice when you’re travelling through Queensland’s Indigenous North is to talk with the traditional custodians wherever you can. We know our country and would love to share it with you, and help you to see it through our eyes. Rock art is just pictures, unless you understand the meanings and stories behind the paintings. A frill-necked lizard is fascinating to watch, but did you know it can act as a weather-forecaster? Plants and trees provide a beautiful landscape, but which can provide food or act as an antiseptic? Which insects can cure your cold? Which bush tracks save your life?

If you only had one night to stay in any hotel in Queensland’s Indigenous North, which would it be?
It really depends what you’re looking for, as around Cooktown there’s something to suit all budgets and tastes – from 4-star resort-style accommodation in the heart of town to a working cattle station on top of the Dickson Ranges. There are secluded wood cabins in the rainforest, friendly motels, and some great cabins and campsites in stunning locations. And if you want to get off the beaten track, you can camp on Elim Beach with Uncle Eddie, a Thiithaarr-warra man, and watch him spearing fish as the sun rises.

If you only had one day in Queensland’s Indigenous North where would you eat, and why?
We’ve a really good choice of excellent restaurants in and around Cooktown, and as I love my food, I love them all! But wherever you go, you’ll find fabulous fresh fish. We have great fishing here, and to come to this region and not eat a freshly-caught local fish – especially ‘barra’ (barramundi) or coral trout – would be an opportunity lost. And if you catch your own, you can usually find a restaurant happy to cook it for you.

Of the famous tourist sites in Queensland’s Indigenous North, which would you avoid, and which would you try not to miss?
This is such an unspoilt region it’s hard to say what to avoid – other than standing in the water with a fishing line, as this is croc country! There are two very special events I’d try hard not to miss though. First is Cooktown’s annual Re-enactment of Cook’s landing which takes place every June. This re-enacts the story of Lt James Cook’s time here in 1770 after he had holed his ship,Endeavour,on the Reef, and it recognises and celebrates the First Reconciliation between Aboriginal and European people which took place during this time. Over the years the Guugu Yimithirr people have contributed more and more to this story, so it’s now told from our own Aboriginal perspective as well as using the journals of Cook and his crew.

The other unmissable event is the bi-annual Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, which also takes place in June. This is an amazing gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all over North Queensland, and a joyous celebration of our culture with three days of music and dance.

What’s your best insider tip to Queensland’s Indigenous North?
Allow plenty of time! This is a very beautiful, unspoilt region, with ancient rainforests, waterfalls, Outback, stunning hilltop Savannah, pristine beaches and glorious rivers all within easy driving distance. Historic Cooktown is a great place to base yourself, with the added bonus of being Australia’s closest town to the Great Barrier Reef. You can learn about the history of the Guugu Yimithirr people and the meeting with Cook at the James Cook Museum, chat with local artists in town or visit the Art & Cultural Centres at nearby Aboriginal communities, take a ‘tinny’ (dinghy) up the river, or a boat out to the Reef, enjoy a cream tea on the verandah at Nature’s Powerhouse in Cooktown’s beautiful Botanic Gardens, or come on tour with us! But whatever you do, don’t rush. The joy of this part of the world is the laid-back atmosphere and the friendliness of the people, so take some time to yarn with the locals and enjoy the stunning surroundings. Wanhthaal-bi ngayu! We look forward to seeing you!

To arrange a visit to Queensland Aboriginal North contact

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply