Whenever I travel, I believe it’s important for my husband and I to leave a place with a better understanding of it and its history than when we first arrived. The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area of Mossman Gorge is no exception.
In Queensland, we were able to do just that by learning about the Kuku Yalanji, also known as the indigenous Aboriginal people of Australia’s Daintree Rainforest, a Unesco World Heritage site. The Kuku Yalanji lived in Australia long before the Europeans came to claim the continent. Sadly, for centuries after Australia was settled by England, the Aboriginals, including the Kuku Yalanji, were not even classified as people. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they were no longer considered flora and fauna. Luckily today, the Aboriginal people are starting to get some overdue respect and many people, myself included, are interested in learning more about their heritage.
One of the most interesting ways to learn about the Kuku Yalanji history is by visiting the Mossman Gorge Visitor Center and participating in one of the Ngadiku Dreamtime walks through the rainforest and gorge. Mossman Gorge is part of the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world, and one of Australia’s numerous World heritage sites. The Daintree Rainforest is massive and creates a beautiful green canopy that covers the Queensland hillsides.
The first stop at Mossman Gorge is the Mossman Gorge Visitor Center. (My husband and I started our trip to Mossman Gorge here.) The Mossman Gorge Visitor Center was a labor of love for the Kuku Yalanji, and used to give back to the local community. In fact, Mossman Gorge provides jobs to the local Kuku Yalanji community and prepares the youth for jobs in tourism and hospitality, through an internship program. The Kuku Yalanji staff the gift shop, the art gallery (amazing!), and lead the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks, through the rainforest.
The Mossman Gorge Visitor Center is also where visitors pay for their tickets to experience the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks. The Dreamtime Walk is one of the most informative and educational hikes we have taken on our travels. The Dreamtime Walk takes tourists on a hike through the traditional areas used by the Kuku Yalanji throughout the past 50,000 years. The price to take part in the walk is a bit steep at $62 Australian dollars per adult, but a lot of the money is for conservation of the Daintree Rainforest. You may find savings by Saving Like a Local.
Aboriginal Walking Tour
Our tour guide for the Dreamtime Walk was a huge Aboriginal man with his socks popping out of his shoes on both sides and a slow elephant-like walk. He talked to us about the history of the rainforest and then told us that he liked to eat, fish, and drink.
We took a bus with our guide up the hill to the start of the Dreamtime Walk. Our walk started with a traditional smoking ceremony, where we walked in a circle around a smoking fire to cleanse our souls to enter the rainforest. The Daintree is the world’s oldest rainforest and the Kuku Yalanji believe that the past spirits of their ancestors protect it.
After the smoking ceremony, we collected walking sticks and hit the trail. It’s an easy trail, mostly flat and barely require any fitness level to complete. I attempted to make heavy vibrations on the ground with my stick because I have heard that scares away snakes. I have no idea if this is true, but we did not see any, so I will assume it is. Our first stop on the Dreamtime Walk was at the “wait-a-while” tree. It’s named this because it has small barbs that catch on the passerby’s clothes and skin and forces people to wait a while until it releases or someone comes along to help. On a positive note, if the “wait-a-while tree” is cut properly, against the barbs, this tree makes a great fishing wire. Our guide stated that he hated this tree.
The “wait-a-while” tree was followed by a stop at the red cedar tree, which grows hollow and was once used to make canoes and shields. It also served as a homing beacon if someone was lost. The hollow tree produces an echo when banged with a rock and produces a thumping sound that carries for several kilometers. The red cedars are now protected trees so no one can cut them to build canoes, shields etc. This upset our guide because he wanted to make a fishing canoe. He liked this tree.
After our guide’s explanation of the tree, we were all given a chance to bang on the tree with a rock in an attempt to be rescued. I wouldn’t be rescued because my hitting of the tree didn’t make much noise. Only the men seemed able to make it work, so either the Aboriginal women were stronger than me or none of them got rescued.
After the red cedar tree, our guide led us to the inner part of the rainforest, which is considered the Kuku Yalanji’s ancestral grounds. In order to reach the ancestral ground, our guide called out to the elders, while we waited to enter.
Since this is a sacred place for the Kuku Yalanji people, it is important that the elders know who is entering their land. While our guide was asking permission for us to enter, I was also asking those same elders to keep all the snakes hidden from me because they are very scary. They must have liked me because they kept them hidden.
Our guide stated many of the other guides in Mossman Gorge do a traditional dance when entering this part of the rainforest. However, our guide said he would not dance for us because the company did not pay him enough to do this.
Upon entering the sacred area, our guide showed us a harmless looking green plant named the Stinging Tree that resembled a stem of a rose that hadn’t bloomed. However, this harmless looking plant is actually an incredibly evil plant (referred to as “Gympie Gympie” or “Devil-Like” in aboriginal speak) lined with micro-thorns.
Luckily Daintree Rainforest is also home to some pleasant plants that can be touched and eaten. We were able to try one of the rainforest’s tasty treats at the next tree we visited. It was a rainforest chestnut tree. Our guide broke open the chestnut with a rock and we all ate a small piece. The chestnuts tasted like little flakes of coconut. Australia has a reputation for having a plethora of animals and plants that can kill a person. The nuts in the rainforest are no different. The chestnut we ate is the only non-poisonous nut in the rainforest. Everything else must be boiled multiple times before eating. This was information passed down through centuries of Aboriginal people and is still taught today throughout their culture.
We then headed to the river and climbed on the rocks. This is crocodile country but our guide assured us the crocs were not around. According to our guide, this river, aptly named the Mossman River, has the second cleanest water in the world. When asked where the cleanest water was, he stated the Canadian Rockies, which seemed very suspect, since the Rockies extend from Canada to Mexico and it’s unlikely only one section has the only clean drinking water. We’ve also been told while in Iceland that the glaciers there have the cleanest water. In the summer, the Mossman River floods 3 feet (1 meter) above the rocks and then the crocodiles come in. When we visited, the water was down and was too cold for crocodiles per our guide.
The Kuku Yalanji were completely self-sufficient and learned how to use the rainforest to meet their needs. The Kuku Yalanji know every rock, stick, plant and animal through generations of education. Case in point, our guide made paint from the local plants. The only color that the rainforest can’t make is pink, which isn’t too much of a loss in my opinion. The rainforest is also home to the soap plant. True to it’s name, the plant produces natural soap and smells just like spring rain. It was amazing to see all the useful plants in the rainforest and how well the Kuku Yalanji had used them over the years. The wealth of cultural knowledge passed down by the Kuku Yalanji is stunning!
We finished our tour of the rainforest with a stop at the Aboriginal dwelling and meeting place and served ginger root, which tasted like passion fruit and is amazingly good. Even my husband, who doesn’t like a lot of fruit, and wasn’t sure if he would like the ginger root; still tried it and he absolutely loved it. I think that’s a nice summary for this whole experience. Even those who think they may not like this experience will end up enjoying it and they’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Go to Mossman. Play, explore, and learn. There are plenty of natural wonders waiting for you to visit.