Saturday 15 September 2007

From 30,000ft to 40,000 years

I’m scribing this from my Qantas seat, northward-bound after a function in Brisvegas.
As I land to greet the midday heat, that wonderful feeling of being back home hits me where the humidity is now climbing up towards 60%. Being an alien in this, my now adopted home, I bring with me reconciliation and acceptance from living alongside a culture that has embraced and grown to respect its indigenous people in Aotearoa – New Zealand.

That still hasn’t occurred in Australia. And certainly not in Cairns.
So it was an enlightening escape into the world that is Tjapukai the other evening. This award winning cultural park, at the foot of the Kuranda range north of Cairns, is a very special learning space for everyone.
In this fast-paced world we now live, with an incessant need for material greed, possession and development beyond our at any cost, seeking the true values of life: the land and the spirits, makes you take stock. This beautiful and the oldest surviving race, seem to have embraced this. Well, at least till some white fellas arrived from mother England some 200 years ago in an attempt to conquer them.

Tjapukai, pronounced Jab-bu-guy, occupy the Cairns rainforest region, which includes Kuranda and the Barron Gorge. I've once heard a gay Aboringal guy call it "jab a guy"!
Wally Cowin, a Queensland travel writer, and I were guests for the evening of Tjapukai’s creators, Don and Judy Freeman, who bring with them a background in theatre. Don was from New Yorker and Judy, from Canada. An unlikely combination to create such a place in Australia.
“It was our intention to simply run a performance place for our indigenous culture. It really grew from there” says Don. The dance troupe now travels the world and is often performing across the country.
The evening spectacle starts as we’re drawn into the “magic space”. This is where we’re shown, through theatre and performance, about Aboriginal spirits and the origins of this race. We move outside, and are shown how to create fire. A spear is then lit and thrown across the lake to ignite a huge fire, in turn setting off a traditional canoe. It’s an awesome spectacle.
Following a sumptuous dinner, there’s more performance on the indoor stage, including the Brolga and Cassowary dances, concluding with a rousing and cheeky song called Proud to be Aborigine, with passion about what happened to their race. It leaves you with a mind filled with questions.
During the day you can see the Creation theatre, where stories of the Dreamtime are played out. However, the gripping tale that is screened in the History theatre tells you the effects of white man’s impact in the last 200 years on this ancient culture. It’s a confronting, if not disturbing piece of film that pulls no punches. You can’t help but be moved by the way in which this proud race has endured invaders and killers, and all but survived. The film was produced about 15 years ago, and rejoices in ‘telling it like it is’. It is unafraid to confront the often bloody reality of the culture clash by black and white Australians.

"Tjapukai is reconciliation in practice” says Don,”It makes you want to say ‘I didn’t do it, but I’m sorry it happened to you.”
You may ask why should I be writing about this in on a local blog about all things Cairns? I suspect that most local residents have, at some time, experienced discrimination, rejection and being excluded from the equalities of a fair society. I imagine Aborigines have been through this same feeling for the last 200 years as the world around them was changed without their consent. We should stand tall and hold their hand in reconciliation and respect that they deserve a seat at the table.

It's not difficult for me to compare the recent history of Maori New Zealanders and their integration into modern society. There are as many similarities, as there are differences, it's unfair to draw comparisons.

However, I do firmly believe that there is far greater acceptance, understanding and mutual result for both cultures across the Tasman. With a number of Moari MPs and parties, dual street and place name signage common, integration of their language into school curriculum, it makes the relationship in Australia seem positively archaic.
At least Tjapukai attempts to expose and inform the visitor with the hope of changing how these proud people can work alongside a modern population.

Pay a visit here, but better still, treat yourself to something much more special than simply a virtual experience, go and see the real experience.

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