The moment you meet Johnny Murison, you know you are in for a treat. An instantly likeable bloke with a grin that spans the world and heart that speaks of wisdom, Johnny's acclaim has grown alongside his ability to translate 50,000 years of history to those camping out on his Ancestral Homeland.
Based at a gallery-rich escarpment three hours drive north of Cairns, Murison's Jarramali Rock Art Tours is one of a growing number of small-group tours now shaping Queensland as the place to go for Indigenous experiences that are honest, sometimes gritty and always illuminating.
(Watch as Johnny introduces his history and his culture HERE)
Prior to COVID19, Indigenous tourism injected $505 million of visitor expenditure into Queensland annually and employed almost 2,500 full time workers.
Tourism operators are acutely aware of the benefits it can bring to their communities. Take Dale Mundraby, as an example. The director of a bush tucker tour to Yidinji Country, some five kilometres east of Cairns, Dale says nothing means more to him than seeing his People back on Country, working as rangers and using tourism as a platform to proudly showcase Culture.
“Tourism gives us self-belief. We are able to sustain an economy and showcase the values of our country. What that means for us is pride, resilience and building a better society for today. We not only want to affect welfare dependency, we want to smash it,” says Dale.
Arguably another benefit is the bridge that bookable experiences can build between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures and the pride that follows.
“Bridging the gap is what it's all about,” says Johnny Murison a Kuku Yalanji Man who switches his time between Cairns and Laura. “If people can appreciate and understand (my culture) then I've done my job. We need people to know that there's nothing to be ashamed of. When you see the (rock art) gallery and you see how skilled my ancestors were, you know they were academically eloquent.”
It's a similar story at Spirits of the Red Sand, a dramatically gritty tour that re-enacts early settler history from the Aboriginal People's point of view.
Co-producer for Spirits of the Red Sand, Mike Tamaki, believes the roving theatre experience set in a 19th Century village south of Brisbane has the capacity to change society. It directly impacts some 30 Indigenous Australians, most of them direct descendants of people in the stories told during the performance.
“It also helps build pride, identity and esteem among the cast and members, many of whom are strong role models juggling multiple roles to bring their message to the audiences,” Tamaki says.
Vanessa Clements is one of his star performers. An Indigenous Woman who works as a policy officer by day, Vanessa believes the tour keenly aligns with her passion for cross cultural education.
“I see the show as a bit of a game changer. If the everyday Joe in Australia saw this show and knew how we felt, it would change things. Until someone sees a show like this, you don't get a different perception,” says Vanessa.
Queensland offers a rich tapestry of Indigenous tours that help unearth 50,000 years of culture and tradition. Below are 11 tours worth experiencing.
- Jarramali Rock Art Tours, Cooktown: Tour wilderness, touched by age old wisdom in the company of a Traditional Owner and likeable larrikin, Johnny Murison. Homestay the 20,000-year-old way at an Outback Bush Camp then take a guided tour through the Magnificent Gallery at one of the Quinkan Rock Art sites. http://www.jarramalirockarttours.com.au
- Normanby Station Tour, Cooktown: Hear stories from the Dreamtime handed down from generation to generation as told by Aboriginal farmers who happen to be born entertainers. Venture through hidden passageways to see remarkable rock art, visit cultural and sorry sites, and tour the station to understand how the Harrigan brothers integrate ancient land management techniques with science. http://www.cultureconnect.com.au
- Mandingalbay Yidinji Eco Cultural Tours. Located across Trinity Inlet just five kilometres from bustling downtown Cairns is a secret tourism gem. The Mandingalbay Yidinji Eco Cultural Tour takes you to a land abundant with food and medicinal plants where rangers share land management techniques set to restore the land. http://mandingalbay.com.au/
- Spirits of the Red Sand, Beenleigh: Performed in a 19th century historical village in Beenleigh, this roving theatre experience re-enacts a series of true and gritty events (as told through the eyes of fictitious characters) at a time when western settlers claimed Aboriginal land. https://spiritsredsand.com/
- Whitsunday Paradise Explorer: See the Whitsundays through the 9000-year old prism of the First Nation's People who call it their home. This is a story of the region as told by Peter Pryor, a descendent of the Ngaro Sea People. https://www.whitsundayparadiseexplorer.com/
- Saltwater Eco Tours: Sail on a 100-year old meticulously restored timber ketch with a Torres Strait Island Saltwater Person as a Kabi Kabi Storyteller shares entertaining tales and Aboriginal legends of the Sunshine Coast. saltwaterecotours.com.au
- Blackcard Cultural Tours: Pause before public art to unearth South Brisbane's traditional and contemporary Aboriginal history. BlackCard guides are trained to speak candidly and bring a sense of friendliness, openness and availability to their tours. https://www.theblackcard.com.au/cultural-tours/
- Yura Banji Scooters, Mingerribah: Travel by eco-friendly scooter around the iconic beaches and headlands of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), stopping to identify bush foods and native medicines. Listen to the memories of Elisha, a proud Quandamooka woman, a mum of three, and a granddaughter of one of the last missionaries on North Stradbroke Island. https://yurabanjiscooters.com.au/
- Quandamooka Coast Tour, Mingerribah. Walk shoulder to shoulder along the Woolembah Walk with Joshua Walker, a Nunukul man whose tribal name means 'bottle-nosed dolphin'. Hear about spirits “who make stars from sky clouds” and the difference between women's country and men's country. https://quandamookacoast.com.au/
- Yagurli Tours, Burketown. Discover the brilliance of a night sky through state-of-the-art telescopes set up on the edge of one of Australia's largest salt pans. A Gangalidda Guide will share their cultural interpretation of the universe in accordance with the phases of the moon. https://www.yagurlitours.com.au/
- Jellurgal Aboriginal Culture Centre, Gold Coast: Beneath the modern skyscrapers clamouring for front row seats to the beach, the Gold Coast is home to eight different Tribal Groups connected by one Yugembeh language. Take a two-hour tour with a Yugambeh language group traditional owner and listen to Creation Stories that provide the Jellurgal people with an understanding of their world. https://www.jellurgal.com.au/
*For those you can't travel right now, Tourism and Events Queensland will host a Facebook premier live of Jarramali Rock Art Tours on Friday 13th November at 08:00am AEST. Tune in to Facebook.com/visitqueensland.
Images of Queensland's Indigenous tourism offerings, including those listed in this articles, are available here.
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