19 June: Cooktown from an Aboriginal perspective

Author: Mr A

Location: About 10 minutes outside Hope Vale, an Aboriginal community north of Cooktown

So today was our trip with a local aboriginal guide (Willie), so we headed off in the car and were somewhat relieved to find him, after the vague mud map he had drawn of where to go! Three other couples were also joining us, a nice small group.

He was an interesting character, with a very insightful way of commenting on the lives of Aboriginals, their struggles and character. Willie kicked off by saying in Cooktown there is no “white and black” anymore, people are integrated and living together with minimal conflict. He spoke of reconciliation as having happened here, of his grandfather in the 1890s accepting a white child from a mixed marriage into their family. Willie also acknowledged the abuse of alcohol and drugs that had been part of his own life as a teen, and was present today as a huge challenge for the community here. He had even trained as a mental health nurse to try and find ways to support his community. What a complex problem with no easy fixes.Willie started to take us on a tour of his “backyard”, where his grandfather’s bones are buried and where he was birthed. He explained what they ate and drank, plucking plants and fruit for us to smell and feel, and talked about the seasonal migrations from the bush to the beach, at pains to point out they were not nomads but followed a set path of migration along the songlines.

His powers of observation were incredible, spotting tiny lizards and tempting them out for a drink from a curled up leaf he was holding.The knowledge of flora and fauna these people have accumulated over 40,000 years and passed on through stories, music and art is just incredible. He had Catherine mix up some seeds in her hand that are used to put a protective coating over a wound, while he had another lady rubbing together some leaves from the soap bush creating a cleaning compound that was antiseptic.We were led to a birthing cave and Willie explained the symbolism of some of the drawings, how they were painted and why. A big question the community is discussing is wether the drawings should be renewed, as they fade after a couple of thousand years. A couple of thousand! Incredible..these timeframes are mind boggling.Catherine and I tried to take in as much as we could, but it was like walking into a library and having a teacher open a couple of books at random and read a few lines. We knew it was but a fleeting glance into a world we will never fully understand, but certainly appreciate and respect now even more what a trove of wisdom is there.If you come this way, support these efforts to help us all better understand and respect aboriginal culture. Willie Gordon can be found at Cooktown Cultural Aboriginal Tours – the information centre knows where to find him or indeed others like him.

Sundowners with Eric and Gail of Zone #92 around the campfire concluded our day.

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