Sunday, July 17, 2011
Djirri Nyurra! G'Day from the Tjapukai! Today we took the Kuranda Scenic Railway up to Kuranda where we did some shopping and exploring. Kuranda Railway Station was built in 1915. But, it was the promise of gold in 1873 that inspired the need for a reliable supply route to the sea. Christie Palmerston took on the task. Construction on the railroad began in 1886. 1,500 hundred men at a time worked on the project overcoming challenges such as mysterious diseases, dense jungle, deadly creatures, and impassable swamps, to name a few. But victorious they were completing the route with 15 tunnels, 55 bridges, and 98 curves!
The ride up to Kuranda was awesome - a relaxing and scenic 45 minutes ascent through the Barron Gorge National Park, a World heritage area! Some of us went to the Butterfly Aviary which proved to be very interesting and informative, as well as full of gorgeous and independent butterflies! We did our best to catch some photos of Ulysses, the stunningly blue butterfly that is known for its elusiveness. Butterflies were landing on our heads, shoulders, hands, cameras, etc. Really beautiful little creatures. We ventured into the “nursery” where they painstakinglyremove eggs from leaves throughout the facility to provide an environment for them to reach their full potential in their short life! One of the “nurses” was taking little larva stage butterflies off of leaves and showed them to us. I swear they looked like little green gummy worms! Then she started to pet them and they lifted their little heads and looked around at us while wiggling their tiny yellow antennae. Babies in any form always get to me!
Kuranda is the result of the railroad construction and soon became a popular retreat. In the 1970’s, artisans and those pursuing an alternative lifestyle sought out refuge in Kuranda. Lots of little shops in Kuranda from those offering typical tourist chatkas those presentin
g art work created by local artists, including Aboriginal art, as well. It is an intriguing mix of art and crafts, indeed! There were many restaurants and cafes, along with wildlife attractions. In short, there were quiet a few opportunities to separate oneself from one’s money and separate we did!
I made friends with an Aborigine in native dress outside of the one store offering traditional crafts. He was smoking a cigarette, so naturally I asked him if he didn’t get the memo about smoking being dangerous to his health. He laughed and said that he did and was going to quit…again! We started a conversation about his culture and the pressures from the “outside” world, the one he was catering to in his loin cloth and body paint and flip flops! He said it was very difficult for the elders to, not only understand, but to compete with the influences of modern society that the younger generation was ultimately going to encounter and that his own grandparents feared that, when their generation passed on, the history and culture that directed their lives would be lost. This man was brought up amid those traditions and still spoke the language and practiced many of the ceremonies and beliefs of the oldest known culture in the world - that of his ancestors. He acknowledged that being exposed to the lifestyle and conduct of those outside of the aboriginal culture had influenced his acceptance of those changes but he was also very respectful and connected to his elders and the past - a man, like so many, stuck in limbo between his familial past and his future world. I think this must be so difficult for people in this position to be forced to choose between preserving what is a part of their heritage and moving on toward the future and what they perceive to be an improvement. I’m not sure that is really such a clear choice to make.
We took the gondola through the rainforest and the Barron River Gorge back to the bottom of the mountain and could see the hydroelectric plant - another reminder of “progress“. We were able to walk through the rainforest and glide over its canopy on our way down seeing more butterflies, cockatoos, and scrub turkey (or rainforest chickens, as we called them). When we reached the bottom, we headed over to Tjapukai Cultural Park.
Tjapukai helped us to understand a little more about the Aboriginal people. They are friendly and eager to teach us about their history, Dreamtime, and their culture. We threw boomerangs, hurled spears and learned about Aborigine warfare and medicine. What they have been able to extract from the rain forest to use for medicinal purposes is, quite frankly, remarkable. From roots to eat, fronds to weave, pouches to fill, weapons to make and medicine to cure, the aborigines have been able to utilize most of what Mother Nature has provided.
Tonight we participated in the fire ceremony at Tjapukai. We had our faces painted by the aborigines and, along with other visitors, we chanted and danced around the ceremonial firepit where they created fire with two sticks and some straw - quite impressive considering some of us have trouble lighting up our gas grills or adjusting a thermostat! :) We enjoyed a buffet dinner with fresh and delicious food, were treated to more dancing and didgeridoo playing and we returned home. It's off to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow!