Walkabout Cultural Adventures offers smallgroup, half-day tours for $165 a person or full-day tours for $209 a person, with pick-up from Port Douglas, Mossman and Daintree Village. More: walkabout adventures.com.au. Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks at Mossman Gorge depart daily; $68 for adults and $35 for children 5-15 years; mossmangorge.com.au. Meetings with indigenous artists at Canopy Art Centre in Cairns are available on request; canopyartcentre.com. Gorge, where we take a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk with indigenous guide Aaron Minniecon.
After a traditional welcome-to-country smoking ceremony, we follow the old hunting and gathering trail. Minniecon points out mossy red cedars used to carve dugout canoes and clubs and shields used in warfare. As we pass sacred areas, he calls to his ancestors to let them know we are friends. He shows us grinding stones beside the path that his ancestors used to crack nuts, and ochre, a natural earth pigment that comes in 18 colours ranging from yellow to brown and used as face paint for special occasions.
Art is integral to indigenous culture, and tropical north Queensland is dotted with cultural centres and galleries where artists come together to work and showcase their offerings. Many also display their work at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, held each July.
At Canopy Art Centre in Cairns we meet Glen Mackie, who retells the myths and legends of Yam Island in the Torres Strait, where he was born and raised, through vinyl cut prints. He says the island is known for warfare, dugong and turtle hunting and collecting shells.
“My grandfather taught me the carving design,” Mackie says. “He used to draw the designs in the sand when I was in primary school, and in high school he showed me how to carve on wood. Every design means something. This means crocodile, this is shark,” he continues, pointing to his works. “I use [those] designs because they’re my parents’ totems. I also make my own designs.”
Mackie moved to the mainland 15 years ago. “My Dad has a crayfish factory and store, but it wasn’t for me,” he says. “I’m the only artist from Yam Island and I saw it as my duty to educate people and tell them the story of where I’m from.”
His works are now exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia, National Museum of Australia and Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane and his murals sell for up to $16,000, but he says he doesn’t care about the money.
“I’d rather educate people about my culture.” .
Angela Saurine was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.