It's been a wonderful journey

For a Full Screen View, click the icon on the right of the Slide Show's control panel.

On 23 May 2013, Guurrbi celebrated our 10th birthday! Here's a look back over the past 10 years, the story of how it all started, and some of the highlights along the way. It's been a wonderful journey.
More Picture Galleries...

About our tours
It's a great tour for kids
Guurrbi's Bush Creatures
Bush foods, medicines, crafts  
Welcome to Cooktown

Voted Top Travel Blog!

Yay! The Guurrbi Blog is a winner of eCollegeFinder's 2013 Top Travel Blogs Award, and is now featured on their website as a recommended travel and study abroad resource.

Click here to see the full list of winners. We're very proud to be amongst such esteemed company. Our congratulations to them all.

Guurrbi on 'dream vacation' bucket list

A big 'thank you' to Fran Golden for her article 'Life Lessons' in The Miami Herald - and for including us on her dream vacation bucket list!

Here's a snippet...

"Wilfred Gordon picks us up in an air-conditioned van at our hotel in remote Cooktown, in far northeast Australia... A Nugal-warra elder and story-keeper, Gordon is taking my companion and me out into the countryside to his clan’s private Guurrbi — sacred place — to see cave art drawn by his ancestors.

A walkabout in the bush with an Aborigine was high on my list of things to do in Australia. But it’s immediately clear with Gordon we have not signed up for some touristy indigenous offering. He informs us the lessons of the day will be in what he calls “the two s’s,” spirituality and survival...." Read more...

March 2013

Walkabout & Bush Lore

Collecting seaweed & crabs on Elim Beach, near Cooktown

When people use the word 'walkabout' today, it conjures up an aimless wandering. But for Guugu Yimithirr people it was a survival strategy, strictly governed by local lore, and its direction determined by the location of food and resources. The land is fragile so the Bama of this region moved around with the seasons, always respecting the lores governing hunting and gathering in order to protect the environment which looked after them.

Wunha plums from the nonda tree
During the winter months we would move down to the coast, leaving the wallabies and kangaroos to have their young undisturbed. At the coast the fruits, nuts and berries were ready to eat earlier than those inland, so we would have a plentiful supply of buthurr from the zamia palm, buthu from the paperbarks, and wunha plums from the nonda tree. Whilst we were here we would also collect gaarruul (seaweed), muthurr (witchetty grubs), and dig up the yams and collect their seeds for replanting.

Wattle flower
We knew when it was time to go to the coast by the presence of certain birds and flowers; signs which we still use today. When the wattle is in flower we know to go and collect oysters and mussels, as this is the time they're hibernating and at their plumpest. And a special yellow flower tells us when the blue-tailed mullet is travelling to its spawning place and is at its fattest and most nutritious.

Nanggaarr-buurra - Kapok
The beautiful red flower of nanggaarr-buurra, the kapok, signals that bush hens are beginning to lay their eggs, together with all the other egg-laying species. And the arrival of wabul, the Torres Strait pigeon, tells us that the migrating birds from Papua New Guinea are now nesting on the outer islands and coming in to feed, and that mulun, the quondong fruit, will be ready to eat. 

This is also the time to catch stingrays and a small, yellow, black-finned shark, whose livers take on a pinkish hue to show that they're full of oil. The fish oil is really important for a healthy diet, and helped keep us physically fit. The goanna is another animal from which we extracted the oil. Their fat is thought to be particularly good for preventing arthritis, and is best extracted before they hibernate during the wet season.

All through the year nature signals to us, so we know when the barramundi are plump, when river prawns and freshwater catfish are at their best, or sea urchins and native honey ready to be collected.

Importantly, bush lore also dictates what we can not hunt, although sadly, today, this is often ignored.

Wabul - Torres Strait Pigeon

More stories about the bush...
Bush Messengers & Fishing Made Easy
The Return of Burriwi the Emu
Picture Gallery: Guurrbi's Bush Creatures
About our tours

The Artist & The Story-keeper

One of the mala (specialists) in Aboriginal society was the painter of rock art. He painted with ochre - a type of clay which comes in different shades (pictured above). The artists would work only in a certain location, and his pictures would reflect the surrounding environment - its plants and animals, stories and events. The only plants and animals he painted were those which had a practical use. He also painted mythical and spiritual beings, and art which explained a fable or spirituality.

The milbi malin, or story-teller, is the person selected to translate the paintings into stories. He may also be, like myself, the story-keeper, who is responsible for passing the stories on - an inherited position which was handed down to me by my father. The milbi malin's responsibility is to explain the mythical and spiritual context of the art, and be able to detect minor details -  shapes, size, and the different colours - in order to fully translate their meaning.

For example, if you look at the painting of the Jiliburu here, you'll see that this mythical figure is painted with stripes, whilst the emu underneath is in solid colour. This shows us the difference between real and imaginary, practical and spiritual. Often the story-teller has to tread a fine line between truth and myth. It is his responsibility not to mislead his audience, and to make sure that they understand the difference. 

When it was the time to paint, the story-keeper and the artist would get together, and would nominate a site which was relevant to the story. They would sit and discuss what images would be painted in the caves, and whether the painting was to be about an event, food, animals, plants or the portrayal of something spiritual or mythical, such as the Rainbow Serpent.

Then the artist would paint with the appropriate colour of ochre. Red was the most extensively used; white was used when they were drawing something connected with sadness; yellow was often used when they wanted to represent light. They would never use black, because this was the colour of evil.

Maintaining the paintings
The story-keeper and the artist were responsible for the maintenance of the paintings. When the artist died, then his replacement would create a new layer of paintings. You can see this clearly today at Wangaar-Wuri, and also see how the style of the painting varies between the layers. Style changes are particularly evident in the way hands and heads are painted. In the Food Cave (below) there are layers of figures, each painted in a different style.

Mangal - Handprints
Hand stencils are found in rock paintings throughout the world. In the Nugal caves you can see examples of the hand on its own, or with part of the arm as well. The hand stencils are mostly of thagu, the left hand, which is regarded as the signature of that person. The left hand was used because it is the peaceful hand, whereas nganhthirr, the right hand is generally the first used in anger. The stencils are often in white ochre, which was sprayed through a hollowed bone to create the spray effect.

Adding your 'signature' to a place can also signify belonging or acceptance. One of the hand stencil sites at Wangaar-Wuri was made as recently as the 1930s and has a wonderful family story of reconciliation attached to it.

More stories about the rock art...
About our tours...

Photo of ochre: Simon Crerar