Rainforest culture differed here from most other Australian Aboriginal tribes, noticeably with a heavy dependence on arboreal skills and unique weapons.
The Wet Tropics rainforest takes on a new meaning when it is explored through the eyes of the Aboriginal people whose ancestors depended on it for survival. The plants and animals provided food, medicine and materials to make shelter, weapons and utensils, while the waterfalls, rivers, mountains and rocks are the source of many ancestral stories.
The intricate and ancient culture of the rainforest people is protected by the World heritage status of the Wet Tropics rainforest. Indigenous owned tours provide an opportunity to interact with the region’s traditional people, while the national parks along The Tropical Coast are a rich source of information. Local Indigenous culture is revealed through interpretive signage on a number of walks.
The yalgay ginja Bulumi walk at beautiful Murray Falls reveals the culture of the girramay people as you explore the open forest and rainforest of girramay National Park, north of Cardwell. Their ancestors gathered food and useful materials in this region during the dry season, often moving to the cooler high country during the wet. On this walk you will see the fish-tail lawyer cane which they wove into baskets.
Other walks reveal the special skills of the rainforest people such as their knowledge of how to treat toxic plants so they could use them as food. The black bean seeds, for example, are poisonous, but the rainforest aboriginal people would leach the toxins out in running water and pound the seeds into a flour to make damper.
The rainforest provided many staple foods, while other trees were used to make spears (bush guava), shields (fig) and boomerangs (the buttress roots of a variety of trees). Clothes and blankets, when used, were made from beaten bark, and shelters were thatched with lawyer cane leaves.
Traditional stories abound along the Tropical Coast. Hear how the black water python Yunba healed the sick and wounded or how the fire spirit would throw Jiman (firesticks) across the sky to create a trail of fire.
Some stories serve as a warning. The spirit of Oolana, a Yidinji woman, is said to cry out for her lost lover at the Babinda Boulders, a popular swimming and picnic spot created by the tears of the grief-stricken woman as she flung herself into the water. The legend warns travellers not to get too close to the mesmerising waters of the Devil’s Pool in case they too, follow her fate.
Others remind you of the atrocities of the past. The National Library of Australia exhibit at mungalla station near Ingham exposes the treatment of the Nywaigi people who were displayed as cannibals in a nineteenth century circus. Today you can share the stories and culture of the Nywaigi people on a tour or experience a kupmurri meal cooked in the ground under hot coals while you listen to the didgeridoo.
At Cardwell you can discover the unique Bagu with Jiman artwork inspired by the traditional fire making implements of the girringun rainforest people at the Girringun Art Centre. Near Tully you can make your own bracelet using rainforest fibres on a tour of traditional Jirrbal land. The cultural journey includes dreamtime storiesand an insight into the Aboriginal uses for the flora and fauna.
These Indigenous owned and operated tours provide employment, maintain cultural traditions and raise awareness of the ongoing connection between traditional people and their country.