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
Instead, we went a bit further along to Guthe Munga, or
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
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)