Thursday, July 24, 2008


I mentioned in my last post that I would be gone for a few days on a tour of significant sites and for a smoking ceremony... well, the trip was shorter than I expected, although we'll be going out again for some camping in a few weeks. But even though it was cut short and a bit different from what I expected, it was a really great trip. And, since we came home the same day we left, I was able to head up to the Townsville Correctional Centre to celebrate NAIDOC with some of the prisoners and staff there. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed in prisons, so I can't share any photos from that day...

Despite the rain on Monday, I piled into a 4WD with my friend Gracelyn, her cousin and flatmate Jim and Grace's ex-husband Joe. Jim and Joe are traditional elders and they are experts at locating culturally significant sites, finding artefacts, etc--they are usually hired by archaeologists because their knowledge is so extensive.

We headed down to Bowen for our first task, a smoking ceremony to kick start the preparations for the upcoming Bowen Fest. We stopped along the way to pick some sandalwood to use in the ceremony, and throughout the trip Jim and Joe pointed out significant areas where we would be stopping on the way back through.

The Bowen Fest kick-off was attended by a small crowd, including the Mayor of Bowen, Mike Brunker. Luckily the rain cleared, and Jim and Joe used the freshly picked sandalwood to clear the area of negative spirits and call on the positive energy to bless the location and the participants.

After some lunch, we were back on the road. Our first stop was Muller’s Lagoon in Bowen, where Joe and Jim showed me a burial site of two repatriated remains. They explained the process of getting those remains back and why they were buried there.

Our next stop was meant to be a rock art site just off the Bruce Highway, for which we had to drive through a cow pasture. We were lucky that the gate was unlocked, but unfortunately all the rain had filled some of the gullies so we couldn’t make it out there.

Instead, we went a bit further along to Guthe Munga, or Cape Upstart. Here, we were greeted by several curious kangaroos and lots of mosquitos. Jim and Joe showed me another burial site, this one containing remains from a nearby massacre site. The pointed out midden sites where piles of shells indicate the importance of the area for food gathering. We drove along the Snake Trail, which is punctuated by traditional fish traps, a stone greenback sea turtle, and lots of wild passionfruit vines.

Along the way back to Ayr, Joe and Jim told me lots of stories about the area, including one about three European sailors who were shipwrecked—two died and are buried on one of the beaches, and the other lived with the Bindal people for nearly 20 years. Once in Ayr, we dropped off Joe and took a tour of the Gudjuda Cultural Centre, which houses stone artefacts and artwork. Outside is another burial site holding remains that date back 500 years ago. Guarding over the remains is a giant Gubulla Munda, or carpet snake.

Our final stop was a quick one, just off the highway for a look at some rock art there.

Jim explained that the art is identical to some found closer to Bowen as well as at several sites further inland. The art itself is significant because these sites are the 'portals' through which the Feather-Feet men or spirit men travel from place to place very quickly.

Although the trip was short, it was significant for several reasons. I’ve lived in this area for two years now and had no idea about what has gone on here in the past, where the cultural sites are or why they are important. More importantly, Jim and Joe were able to give me a glimpse into a very important aspect of contemporary Aboriginal culture that I don’t see in my normal research. Because my work is with activists, it can be a very high-pressure, even confrontational area. But this trip showed me the importance of country and culture to those activists—it was much more peaceful than my normal research.

(More photos on my flickr)


Bianca said...

That is one bad-ass huge snake!

David J said...

Hey Theresa,
Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad you're getting another view of life aside from political activism. There must be a balance and a way for people to go on living with some degree of comfort and ease within their culture. To spend so much time focussed on conflict must leave you quite drained.
Thank goodness there are people willing to take on the grueling and thankless task of challenging the status quo, but even activists need time out.
I'm glad you can occasionally get the chance to see what is being fought for.
I think Most Australians are missing out on this crucial link with the place we live in.

Amy said...

Wow Tez. Looks like you had fun!

I also HEART the big snake.

Now why didn't I get to learn about cool Australian history like that when I was at school?

I'm also guessing you were disappointed that it wasn't mango season when you were in Bowen? :)

Groover said...

There are amazing things to discover when you just know what to look for. Thanks for sharing the experience of your research and trip.

VeggieGirl said...

What a great experience!!

The Vegan Snorkeler said...

That is SO COOL! I love rock art! I've never seen wild sandalwood before, the smell must have been amazing!

Urban Vegan said...

Wow. It's such a big world, and we are merely dots. Thanks for sharing this amazing experience.

I have got to get to Oz.

Nikki Douglas said...

Just to let you know I gave this blog an award (that was given to me kindly by Bianca from Vegan Crunk)that you can pick up at my site. You do a great job here!

mad about udon said...

Lovely pics! I miss Australia.
I was wondering if I could add you to my blog-roll?

the little one said...

I'm so glad it was such a great experience for you. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Cookiemouse said...

Awesome pictures and what an experience.

Vegan_Noodle said...

Sounds like a fun and interesting day. As a geologist, I like the rock art :-)