cairns aboriginal attractions

Cairns Aboriginal Attractions and Cultural Tours

‘Aboriginal’ means ‘from the beginning’  in deference to Australia’s original inhabitants. It has its roots in the two Latin words ‘ab’ meaning from, and ‘originem’ for conception. Thus we could call the oldest rocks on earth aboriginal too if we knew where they were. Humans have always been curious about their ancestry. Perhaps we inherited a fortune if only we knew. But the real value lies in who we are now. Cairns aboriginal attractions are hence far more than just tourist stops. Because they are also places where Australian aboriginals are rediscovering their roots, and the history behind their ways of doing things.

cairns aboriginal attractions

An Aboriginal Australian Playing the Didgeridoo: Graham Crumb: CC 3.0

The Ancient People With a Common Thread

Australian culture contains many traditions that settlers brought with them from Europe. But our country has a certain something more we may find nowhere else. Here we think of our aboriginal compatriots and their belief in transcending time while dreaming. Plus our fabulous wide open spaces and strange mammals. A visit to Cairns is incomplete without a day exploring our aboriginal heritage.

Australia’s earliest inhabitants believe history began when First Peoples travelled across the land, naming features as they went. Later, separate tribes emerged with their own territories in their trail. Vast distances often lay between these. And so each tribe developed their own ways of doing things, and languages and belief structures. However, the various tribes do overlap in terms of ancestral spirits. They name these key spiritual personalities  the Serpent snake, the god-like Baiame, the Dirawong rain spirit, and Bunjil since he has the personality of an eagle.

cairns aboriginal attractions

Queensland Rock Art of Arranged Simple Figures: Djulirri 46: Public Domain

Things to Learn from Ancient Knowledge Passed Down Millennia

Archaeologists believe the first Australians crossed the Straits of Borneo 50,000 years ago.  That makes their civilization one of the most ancient in the world. It certainly beats the Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians by quite some. They gained knowledge of insects, plants, herbal medicines, and mammals as they travelled through the bush. Remember, they had only sticks and stones for weapons. We can learn much from them, because they discovered renewable ways to shelter during tropical seasons, and live through the drier months. We have special places in Cairns that share this knowledge handed down to the current generation.

The Tjapukai Aboriginal Park Minutes from Our Holiday Rental

The Tjapukai Aboriginal Park provides morning and afternoon tours barely minutes from Wanggulay. These showcase the aboriginal culture in innovative ways. There are ongoing opportunities to engage, and discover natural bush foods and medicines. The name Tjapukai derives from Djabugay people of the coastal rain forest. They inhabited the rich ruggedness of the Great Dividing Range of mountains in season. The park is laid out like a village, with interactive huts featuring traditional music instruments, and mysterious art forms.

Moreover they have an outdoor amphitheater circling a lake, and a modern theatre inside for presenting drama. They will tell you stories in dance and music that may lead you to believe their story of creation at least for a moment. The bush tucker food is good, if a little unusual. The show follows a rotating timetable. For you, it starts when you arrive. Tjapukai is a wonderful opportunity to learn to play a didgeridoo wind instrument, or make your own souvenirs according to indigenous art. There is a shuttle from Cairns central, and a cable way up to Kuranda, where you can let your hair down if you want and perhaps join in the dancing…

cairns aboriginal attractions

Dancing at Kuranda: B Gabel: CC 1.0

Walk with Aboriginals to Wujal Wujal Falls In Daintree Forest

There’s a place called Daintree Forest some 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of Cairns. This can take over two hours to get there because of numerous attractions along the way. Daintree Forest is the the last remaining piece of primeval forest left in Queensland. Since the tree ferns and some plants are pretty much as they were when dinosaurs roamed. Descendants of the Kuku Yalanji people will be there to meet you, and escort you to the Wujal Wujal Falls in their protected sanctuary.

The Kuku Yalanji tribe are the first people in this place of great natural beauty. We owe them a great deal for respecting nature, and preserving this incredible resource. To them, you see nature has a humanized personality that they can speak to. They share space with it, because they adapted their lifestyle to the cycle of the seasons. The Walker family are members of the Kuku Yalanji tribe who are custodians of the area.

They will take you on a bush walk, and introduce you to more custodians.  These will share their ancestral knowledge of plants as food, medicine and ceremonial symbols. In this way, you can learn to see the world through their eyes. The 400 metre  (quarter mile) walk is easy going and takes 15 minutes. You can also follow it on your own but do avoid the Wujal Wujal Falls in rainy season, because the going needs extra care then. We recommend an experienced guide. Hire one because you contribute to the community they are.

Wujal Wujal Falls: Rob and Stephanie Levy: CC 2.0

Try To Sense What is Was Like Before Settlers Arrived

You should visit our city museum if you are researching the underlying meanings of the Cairns aboriginal attractions that we showcase here. We say so, because history has obscured memories now only preserved  in photographs, books, costumes, and diaries in the Cairns Museum. They are waiting for us to tap into. This national treasure is the primary store of Cairns historic data. Thus, there is much to learn from the Cairns Museum, a non-profit initiative curated by the Cairns Historic Society.

The museum is eclectic, for it offers in its own words, “Stories of heat, sweat and hard work. Of cane, railways, rain forests and reefs. Of white Australia, Aboriginal resistance and European isolation. Tales of tourists, hippies and local celebrations amidst humidity, cyclones, toads, mould and mozzies.” Yep we have them all here in our cultural melting pot on the shores of the Coral Sea, where far out in the ocean a momentous Second World War naval battle took place. That was the day Australia and America stood shoulder-to-shoulder because we faced Japan alone, now our loyal friend.

The Main Departments of the Cairns Museum

cairns aboriginal attractions

Ye-i-nie, King of Cairns,1905: A Atkinson: Public Domain

The Cairns Museum has a fascinating series of separate themes. However, our interest here is Gallery One: ‘Cairns Over Time’, where traditional owners and others tell their special stories of our Cairns aboriginal attractions. But, we’ll touch on the other areas first before we get down to our special focus for today.

  • ‘Old Cairns’: How we imposed a port town on a steamy, tropical landscape
  • ‘Living in the Tropics’: A playful look at how insects make life different here
  • ‘Changing Cairns’: How successive generations changed their own town
  • ‘The Verandah’: A genuine, pre-aircon verandah to view the passing parade
  • The ‘School of Arts’: Cairns art in the making at an eclectic artists’ workshop
  • A ‘Temporary Gallery”: Place to explore the current, the local, and the quirky

With that therefore a drum roll please.  Let’s enter the Cairns Historic Society Museum and see what we can discover at the ‘Cairns Over Time Gallery’. As we write, it is in these transitional premises while its permanent home in the School of Arts building is undergoing much needed renovations.

Cairns Museum Transitional Premises: Image Cairns Museum

Cairns Museum History of a Turbulent Past

Before British settlers arrived uninvited in the 1870’s when gold was discovered, the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people owned the land where Cairns stands. Although they might not have put it that way as to them the land belonged to everyone.  The Yidinji had ancestral land rights bordering on the Ngajanji and Wanyurr tribes to the south, and the coastal Djabugay north of them. The first settlers evicted them during the 1880’s, to establish cattle stations and sugar plantations.

However the Yidinji continued to insist it was their land. The Queensland police dealt brutally with their protests.  In 1910, the authorities moved survivors to a church mission station in Yarrabah where things were appalling. Legends abound of poor working conditions, inadequate food, health problems and harsh administration. Finally in 1986, the people received a grant of land allowing for a self-governing Aboriginal council in what later became a pleasant place.

cairns aboriginal attractions

Yarrabah: Cape York, Australia: CC 4.0

Let’s Take Time to Visit Yarrabah

The people of Yarrabah now have state pre-school, primary school, and high school education, a primary multi-disciplinary health care centre, municipal services, a small supermarket, a bakery, hot food takeaways, a drive-in pub, and a service station. For anything else, they have to travel to Gordonvale or Edmonton each approximately 40 minutes away. So they are okay in terms of basics.

However they are still cut off from Cairns with its potential for higher education, more rewarding employment, personal development, and business opportunities. There was a Yarrabah-Cairns ferry service once, but the flat-top boat and its wharf fell into disuse, and neither were replaced. There are now plans in place for a new wharf to reconnect them to Cairns Waterfront a tantalizing eleven kilometres north by ferry.  So we have hope now for a place where not much changed, since someone took this photo in the early 1970’s.

cairns aboriginal attractions

Aerial view of Yarrabah Mission Station, c 1972: Queensland State Archives: Public Domain (digital image of original photo)

Now How About a Really Nice Place to Stay in Cairns

We have a lovely holiday rental especially for you in the place we call Wanggulay. Well two actually, although they are discreetly separate, so you may never know the other exists. These are luxury habitations that melt into a heritage rain forest through skillful use of renewable, indigenous timber. To our guests, they provide perfect harmony with the canopy of tall trees. No wonder Wanggulay is one of Australia’s most highly praised rain forest retreats.

Wanggulay is where guests come to unwind and relax, after a day soaking up the surf and sun on one of our glorious white sandy beaches. More adventurous ones drift across the Great Barrier Reef in the company of fishes and corals and seaweed. They may even take a ride down the Barron River on a white-water raft. You can check our availability now as you prepare for the best holiday of your life, in Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia.

cairns aboriginal attractions

Wanggulay Pool and Deck


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