Nestled in the the many nooks of the Daintree Forest (a UNESCO world heritage site) is a small gorge that offered a unique and wonderful perspective on the Daintree. This area is the ancestral home of the Kuku Yalanji people. I had read about this place and wanted to take the Dreamtime walk.
Roy Gibson, our guide, start our journey with a smoke offering from a paperbark tree. We rounded the fire inhaling the smoke deeply while Roy told the ancestors he was bringing strangers into their land and to watch over us while we were there.
On the trail he pointed out some edible fruits and nuts such as the quandong and the Daintree nut, as well as some inedible foods such as the cassowary plum and the black bean.
|Brown seed pods=Black Bean
Large purple far left = Cassowary Plum
Small blue = Quandong
|Daintree nut on typical cracking block|
He also pointed out poisonous plants of the Daintree such as the nettle and the tar tree. Each identification came with either a personal or historical story. In the case of the tar tree, he told the story of a boy who had done something really wrong. One elder wanted to spear him, but the other had a different plan. He scraped him with some of the sap from the Tar Tree and left him in the forest to fend for himself. The the rashes and delirium set in the boy tried to find help from various elders. Most of which turned him him away due to the nature of his transgression. One did take him in and used Sassafras to heal the blistering rashes. Later, Roy showed us this tree and showed it could even be used as soap. After peeling some bark he passed it along. To me it smelled like mentholyptus oil. He also mentioned that when they used to log the Daintree, loggers would inhale some of the cuttings from this tree and die.
When he pointed out the nettle and told stories of how people had severe pain for months, he said: “They didn’t do the right thing. You gotta wee on it.” A simple enough solution.
He also demonstrated some traditional painting. This was a highlight for Kylie. She was the absolutely the last to leave the painting site, and I had to tug her away as I lost track of everyone else on the path. She wasn’t finished and for the next two hours also she wanted was to go back to the painting section and paint more.
|Red, yellow, and white clay is frequently found creek side.||Kylie made raindrop patterns|
The Kuku Yalanji people did not cut trees down. However, once a tree fell, they would use it to make shields, swords, boomarangs, spears, and other tools. Interestingly enough, Roy stated that people frequently married out of their local mob: “That’s just the way it’s done. Carry the seeds elsewhere.” Along with this movement, people brought tools to their new tribe and frequently brought new tools back. Roy related a story of being in Uluru and seeing a particular tool that was of the same construction as his local village. “We wander far, amazing.”
Rock shelters were important to his people. Sometimes they would contain paintings and histories. He also said they are a right of passage for young men. He told us of his rite of passage story and being left in deep in the Daintree for several days. When he emerged, the elders told him he would be a leader. At 15 he didn’t believe them, the world seemed to big. But now a community elder himself, and establishing a flourishing business that helps train and employ many of his people his is indeed the leader his elders prophesied.
The Dreamtime walk was amazing and Roy’s personal, and mythological stories about his people were fascinating. Roy is charming, charismatic, and knows how to spin a yarn with the best of them. But Roy’s story was captivating and inspirational. “I was 15, I finished school, then went to work in the cane fields. That’s all there was.” He shared with us how he became close to his boss and told his boss one day while watching cars drive by that he wanted to “capture the cars.” Later when some entrepreneurs came to his village asking if any one had any vision, he said yes. He told his boss at the plantation that he was changing work. He boss wished him the best of luck and said that there was always work for him at the plantation, and if he needed anything to call on him.
He did. After making boomerangs and selling them he went back to his old boss and asked him to help him buy a bus to bring tourists up into the gorge. Surprising him, his boss said: “I’ll gift you the paddock of cane that gets the least water. That’s how I’ll support you.”
Roy got to work. He hired people from his village. His first hire was someone who had a big family. “I knew he’d work hard, he had a big family to support.” He trained them, and soon the Mossman Gorge Center was starting to take shape. He was using his local knowledge, growing a ecologically friendly and sustainable business, that put his people to work in a meaningful way.
Story after story revealed that Roy has always be about breaking down barriers through love, nature, and food. In one story he relayed, he was eating some blue quandongs at school. Some white boys came over and asked him where he got his lollies. Roy reminded them that they were not supposed to be talking as Australian policies back then forbade people of European decent and aborigines to talk. He also told them: “It’s not lollies, its my lunch.” But the boys wanted some of what Roy had, so he gave to them. “And then I asked what they had in their lunch to trade. I got some peanut paste and Vegemite.” The boys wanted more. Over time Roy stated they became good friends. He taught them how to swim and all about the forest. They remain friends to this day. He is a special person.
Committed to his dream of bettering his people through training and employment and he is making the world a better place one tour at a time. Even more importantly he is doing so by sharing his love of the Daintree and what it has to offer. With his model of sustainable ecotourism, he is seeing this part of the Daintree start to return to a more natural state. See Roy talk about the importance of his work here.
It was an honor to meet and learn from Roy.
Mossman Gorge Circuit
At the bus drop off we walked over an elevated boardwark to a riverside beach. Had it been warmer, we would have all taking the plunge. We then set out on the rainforest circuit. Needless to say there were numerous side trips to satisfy curious eyes. The forest was clearly old with the larger trees sporting massive epiphytic growth. From time to time we saw brush turkeys and even two feral pigs.
I walked and imagined how easy it would be to get lost. Even within the gorge there were many rolling hills. There was not one river, but many small creeks. The tall trees were packed together only giving a 30-50 meter visibility. If there were no trails, I’d probably still be lost somewhere in the forest.
|Walking the Mossman circuit||Walking the Mossman circuit|
A walk in the forest rejuvenates and heals.