MOSSMAN, Australia — Rodney Dockrill lights a fire beside a makeshift wooden hut and invites a group of reporters to stand beside him.
It’s a ritual common among indigenous people of Queensland territory to welcome strangers into Mossman Gorge — located 80 km north of Cairns on the southern part of Daintree National Park and home to the aboriginal Kuku Yalanji clan.
“We like to share some of our history in Australia that doesn’t often get talked about,” explained Dockrill, who leads the group on a 90-minute Dreamtime stroll through the rainforest.
Mossman Gorge is one of the few places in the country where visitors can gain an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of Australia’s indigenous population and their connection to the natural environment. Only some 100 people live in this tight-knit community.
Through curved paths, visitors are encapsulated by towering trees. Dockrill, whose native name is Bilngumi, meaning “fresh water, saltwater crocodile,” said there are 2,000 plant species here — most of them that indigenous people can use three or four different ways.
He points to a sarsaparilla bark and root. The primary flavouring in root beer, it can also be used as a soap or as an antiseptic to treat skin infections and digestive disorders.
During the outing, the rain poured as the group of reporters draped in plastic ponchos sat on boulders by a smouldering fire where one man began to tell a story of a mythical creature who would turn animals and humans to stone.
Clapping two wooden boomerangs — old hunting sticks — together, he made clicking sounds and began chanting in between sentences.
“As long as that rocks stands there, we believe that there will always be food animals around,” the local storyteller said. “But when that rock falls, we believe our time is up and the demons will be released and do their worst. Why? Because we failed to go up to the mountain side and stand up beside each other.”
Towards to the end of the tour, Dockrill kneels down and mixes sandstone with water in coconut shells to create an orange paint. He paints several lines up along his left arm, and contrasts it with black charcoal and white clay dots.
He also points out indigenous people use the white clay for toothpaste.
“It’s like my ancestors coming together,” he said of the design. “The lines indicate to me the boundaries — passing of generations. Every painting has a different meaning, but to me, it’s about my descendants. I’m an aboriginalist, but also part-European. You can’t have one without the other.”
The gorge was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1998 and it’s Dockrill’s hope through education future generations will help preserve this wonder.
“I think it’s important because it’s a life source,” he said. “Everything here interconnects — like places like Southeast Asia or Canada. If you don’t look out for mother Earth, we don’t breathe oxygen anymore.”
Qantas Airlines flies to Australia from Canada and the U.S., and has connecting flights to Cairns and other destinations across Australia. See qantas.com.au.
Mossman Gorge Centre is at 212r Mossman Gorge Rd., Mossman QLD 4873. For general enquiries and Dreamtime Walk tour bookings, contact +61 07 4099 7000, firstname.lastname@example.org or mossmangorge.com.au/Contact-Us.
For information on travelling in Queensland, Australia’s second largest state, contact destinationqueensland.com.