Three Aboriginal guides from three diverse corners of the continent showcase their country with pride.
It’s often who you meet when you travel to Australia that stays with you. Aboriginal guides are no exception. They bring a unique cultural insight to the land and history of Australia through their stories and way of life. Meet just a few of Australia’s notable Aboriginal guides to see just what makes them so unforgettable.
Juan Walker, Walkabout Cultural Adventures
Juan Walker is a Kuku Yalanji man from the Mossman/Daintree World Heritage-listed area in far-north Queensland, and founder of Walkabout Cultural Adventures. For the past nineteen years he’s worked as a tour guide immersing guests in Kuku Yalanji traditions showing them great art, swimming spots, bush tucker and medicine, how to catch mud crabs and use a spear. Guests can then sample their catch, which is either cooked on a fire (time permitting) or they can take it back to their accommodation to cook themselves.
What’s spirituality for you?
Everything has a spirit, including ourselves. Therefore we’re all connected. Once you have that connection, it makes living a whole lot more fun.
Any personal motto?
An Elder, Willie Gordon, taught me a cool thing. In traditional times people lived by the two “S’s”: spirit and survival. Surviving is easy if your spirit is right. Today we live by three “S’s”. The third one is the dollar ($). If we focus too much on that, our spirit falls bad. That’s when we get ill as we’re focusing on the wrong things, not family. We do need the dollar to survive but it’s all about balance.
What do you want travellers to experience on your tours?
Experiences. From storytelling, to hunting and spearing, to swimming in the creeks. Experiences include our history. [It’s] important to pass on the stories [of the past] to realise what people had to go through to make these beautiful opportunities that we have today.
What do you love doing, Juan?
Being on country. My favourite place is on the water: having a snorkel, and taking my kids on the islands.
What’s nature for you?
Family. As another Elder once said, for most people when they come to the rainforest they see a complex wall of green. But to Kuku Yalanji, it’s a medicine chest, a toolbox, a hardware store, a supermarket, a church, it’s everything all in one.
What value is important to you?
Respect. You have to show respect to nature, land, knowledge, people, but most importantly, respect yourself.
If I’m after a light snack, then mud crab and mussels.
How would you describe Aboriginal people?
Adaptable. We’ve had to adapt to different environments. Creative. If you look differently at things you become creative with your resources. Generous. This was [and is] a way of life. So if you caught too much food you’d always share it. Being generous is a good thing, not just regarding material items but also knowledge. The more people understand, the better off the whole society can be. Optimistic. Even though we’ve been through hardships we’ve come out the other side. We have such a great future ahead of us. It’s about taking the next steps to come together as one country.
Bart Pigram, Narlijia Experiences Broome
Bart Pigram is a Yawuru man from the West Kimberley region of northwest Australia. Born and bred in Broome, from the large Pigram-Puertollano family, Bart belongs to a long tradition of pearling workers and musicians. Bart started Narlijia Experiences Broome in 2015 and with him you can explore 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints, ancient shell middens, the ‘staircase to the moon’ (yup, that’s right!), learn about Broome’s pearling history and enjoy his fabulous live music on a coastal cruise.
How does Narlijia welcome overseas visitors to Broome?
Narlijia means “true for you“ in Yawuru, our language. I always want to welcome people with an authentic, truthful experience. I want to reveal all the secrets and history of Broome. The multicultural people, the cultures, the stories, the places.
Do you do a welcome ceremony for visitors?
I’m a young fella. [As] smoking ceremonies are performed by respected, authorised Elders I don’t perform them. But throughout my tours I speak my language. We want people to understand where we can go, what we can do, what we can see and what we can’t. That keeps everybody safe.
Why is sharing your Aboriginal heritage important to you?
My family go back generations and generations, and our ancestors, from the Aboriginal side, have been here for thousands of years. Unfortunately, throughout Australia’s history, Aboriginal culture hasn’t been given the right attention and the authority to show how rich it is. We have a pretty strong culture in Broome and I want to be able to provide a platform for visitors to experience that — see it, hear it, taste it.
Where’s your special place in Broome, Bart?
One of my favourite fishing spots where I was taken as a kid, called James Price Point, is in Jabirr Jabirr country. My father grew up around the same area, my grandmother always fished there and it’s a place of learning how to hunt and gather.
What part of your culture do you want to share with the world?
Our community connection. A saying in our language encompasses the whole land, the season and the time, and that connects our community. These are the three “Cs” I go by: community, culture and country. They keep me grounded, respectful. I try and keep those three things part of my life.
My family are great cooks because of the Filipino, Aboriginal mix [so] native Australian food — bush turkey, goanna, salmon from the bay, oysters — with Asian cuisine and recipes.
Describe your connection to country.
In most cases Aboriginal people are strongly connected to the land. We get sad when we see our land compromised, destroyed, built on and mined. The land is not just beautiful, it’s spiritually important.
What does the Dreamtime mean to you?
The connection for country comes from the Dreamtime. Animals, cloud, mangrove tree, or fruits, these all come from the Dreamtime and it’s the Dreaming that keeps us spiritually connected to those things. We say Bugarrigarra for the Dreamtime or Dreaming. That’s the time before time began. The concept of creation is embedded in the landscape [when] ancestral beings journeyed across our landscape and gave us our culture and our language.
Buffy Warlapinni, Sealink - Tiwi by Design
Buffy Warlapinni is a tour guide for Sealink– Tiwi by Design from the Tiwi Islands (Bathurst Island). Buffy identifies as transgender and is part of Sistagirl, a group of Aboriginal transgender women who aim to champion LGBTQ rights in the Aboriginal and broader community. She beautifully articulates Tiwi culture and spirituality during a tour of the fascinating historic mission precinct and introduces guests to the stunningly colourful hand printed fabrics, Tiwi carvings and art at Tiwi Design.
Buffy, what’s it like living on the Tiwi Islands?
Oh, this place is beautiful. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It’s really unique one ’cause of the way we sing and dance. We’re all loving people here, you know. This place is home.
How do you welcome people to the island?
When we have guests, we want to make sure you feel welcome. So when you come we don’t want anyone to bring, we like to say “a bad spirit”. We always do a smoking ceremony first to welcome our guests. Just to cleanse anything: sad, worry, everyday life. We remove that and welcome them, teach them about dancing, singing and art.
What surprises visitors to the Tiwi Islands?
Today, most of our families are Christian people. We sing and we praise God in our language, in Tiwi, and in English. In the past a lot of things that were in our culture, Christians saw as wrong. [But] spiritually, when I look at it, there are a lot of similarities. Our beliefs go further down, deep and deep, and there’s another layer underneath.
What’s your favourite place on the island?
Phew, it’s got to be where we collect the ochres, so Cape Fourcroy. We call it Jikilaruwu. We always take Grandpa Mario, he’s one of our carvers. There’s a sandy beach, and you’ve got all the cliffs lining the shore. One time, we’re collecting ochres and behind us is a crocodile just watching us.
I love the mangrove. I think the earthworm, the crab shells and mud mussels. Wallaby as well. We get a lot of snappers. The best one is Arlamunga — Barramundi.
You cook it on an open fire?
Yes, put everything from fish, to clam shells and cook it. Eat it fresh from the sea, then to the fire, then to the stomach!
What does being on country mean for you?
It’s a spiritual thing. On both islands, Bathurst and Melville, there are eight countries. Everyone knows where everyone belongs. If you go to someone else’s country you need to ask permission. Going out bush you talk to spirits and they look after us. If we do the right thing, no bad things will happen. [But] if you do something like taking too much fish, you’ll be followed or something.
Do you have any spiritual obligations in your community?
The main thing is to keep our language, our culture and everything intact. We have to make a balance. So, for the older people, use technology to record them visually and verbally. Get that information to keep for a hundred of years from now.
What’s your message to any international coming to Australia?
Come to the Tiwi Islands. We’ll give you a warm welcome, look after you as well!