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Learning About Aboriginal Culture at Tjapukai

Published 30 March 2016

Alexandra Gregg

The paint felt cool against my skin, still radiating from the 35ᵒC temperatures outside. I waited patiently as the design grew larger on my face, unsure what my reflection would hold when the mirror rose to greet me. Minutes later it was done. I’d been initiated, and I had the tribal markings to prove it.

Tjapukai facepaint

All of us with our facepaint (Image: Alexandra Gregg)

Discovering the world’s oldest living culture

Spending the morning at Queensland's Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park was nothing like I expected. In fact, it was the polar opposite. I thought it might be a bit cheesy, over the top and not culturally accurate at all. But what we got was an educational, informative, humbling and feel-good experience. We stepped into the cool building and admired the wall-mounted Aboriginal artwork before lining up to have our faces decorated. Half-an-hour later, there was no distinguishing us from our Tjapukai tour guides.

Tjapukai facepaint 2

Make-up in progress (Image: Alexandra Gregg)

Now, as honorary members of the tribe, we followed Dennis Hunter (our head-to-toe painted guide who also went by the monikers Gudju-Gudju or Rainbow) into an interactive theatre where the Tjapukai people regaled us with their take on the creation story. Through art and digital imagery, we were taken on a hypnotic journey into the tribe’s cultural history, learning about how humanity was born from a solitary cassowary egg.

Tjapukai creation show

The creation story (Image: Tjapukai)

As if that wasn’t spellbinding enough, next we were taken to an outdoor arena to watch the tribe perform traditional dance and music. The rhythmic beat ran through us like a frenetic pulse, so infectious that it was hard not to join in. In fact, audience participation was encouraged and soon everyone was on their feet, clapping and chanting along.


Didgeridoo performance (Image: Alexandra Gregg)

Learning how to throw a spear and boomerang

But it was throwing an authentic boomerang that I was most excited about. Dennis showed us how to correctly hold the wooden implement, what stance to adopt and how much welly to give it when going in for the throw. “No secret,” he explained. “It’s that simple.” Well, for him maybe. Of three attempts, two of mine were aimed full-pelt at the ground. It’s safe to say my technique still needs a little work. It was great fun though, and there was still a chance that I would excel at the spear-throwing…

Tjapukai boomerang throwing

How to throw a boomerang (Image: Tjapukai)

…or not. Turns out javelin isn’t my forte either – I managed about three metres before the stick plummeted to the ground, missing all the targets completely. Still: I wasn’t the worst thrower! And like with the boomerang, it was fascinating to learn about how important these tools were (and still are) to the Tjapukai centre and the Djabugay people’s way of life.

Tjapukai exterior

Tjapukai exterior (Image: Tjapukai)

Sampling some bushtucker

Food is of course crucial to the Indigenous people of Australia. Dennis spoke to us in-depth about the fruits and nuts found in the rainforest – what’s good to eat, what’s not, and most importantly what their medicinal benefits are. But seeing as none of us had any toothache to speak of, he quickly took us to the Bayngga (a traditional underground oven), where we gave into the drool-inducing aroma of fresh-cooked meats.

Tjapukai food

The fruits and nuts of the forest (Image: Alexandra Gregg)

Sitting down for lunch at the Flame Tree Bar & Grill, we were treated to plates of the tantalising meat in question. There were other buffet foods of course – salad, pastas, bread and more – but it was all about the meat. It melted in the mouth, falling apart, and delectably delicious. Most went up for seconds and some, third servings. Unsurprisingly, we were reluctant to leave, but our sadness was numbed by the chance to buy our very own boomerangs at the gift shops. Now to find a field big enough back home to practice in…

Want to learn about Queensland's Aboriginal culture first hand? Speak to one of our Travel Experts about booking your Tropical North Queensland Journey today.

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