A step in time

Venture back in time in Far North Queensland and learn complete self-sufficiency from local Aboriginals with the Dreamtime Journey tour.

An indigenous man with a Boomerang.
  • Andy Phillips
  • August 2011

Taking a deep breath and clenching every muscle not in immediate use, I reach forward and grab the ant by the head. Crushing the tiny head between my pinched fingers, I bring it to my mouth and bite at its bright green abdomen. For a moment, all I can feel is the crunch of his body, and the sickening feeling that I’ve just eaten half an insect. But then comes the sweetest taste I’ve ever experienced — far better than any lolly.

It might sound strange for a mid-afternoon snack, but the hindquarters of the green ant is a delicacy which has been enjoyed for tens of thousands of years by the Nywaigi people. They are the traditional owners of Mungalla Station, an 800ha cattle station outside Ingham in north Queensland, and they’re my hosts for the afternoon.

The unique flavour of a green ant’s behind is one of the gems of traditional knowledge I’ve picked up in a few hours on their land. I’ve already “washed” my hands by rubbing them with the antiseptic leaves of the red ash and learned about a fish which can be eaten to avoid sunburn.

By dinnertime, I’m not the least surprised when my steak is wrapped in a banana leaf and buried in a pit under hot coals. It is a traditional method of cooking called a “kupmurri”.

My afternoon at Mungalla Station is one element in a four-day journey of Aboriginal culture from Townsville to Cairns. Called the Dreamtime Journey, it’s the result of a co-operative agreement between five Aboriginal groups. Including everything from Aboriginal art galleries to cultural camps, the package provides an insight into their traditional land and the people who lived off it for about 40,000 years.

Welcome ceremony

Our journey started the day before with a “Welcome to Country” ceremony at the top of Castle Hill in Townsville. The ceremony recognises the Wulgurukaba people as traditional owners of the land. Among them is our guide Jai Cummings, who asks ancestral spirits to protect us on our journey.

Cummings’ in-depth traditional knowledge comes into its own once the trip heads up into the rainforest hinterland of Paluma. We stop at Crystal Creek, a natural waterhole surrounded by giant boulders and washed by a waterfall. Cummings points out loyer vines used to make baskets and fish traps, and explains how casuarina leaves can alleviate toothache. Cummings’ mantra is that an Aboriginal person has all the supplies they need in the bush.

Accommodation for the night is at Hidden Valley Cabins — Australia’s first carbon-neutral resort. Powered by huge solar panels, the resort is not affiliated with any indigenous group, but its green credentials echo their ethos of living in harmony with the land.

Next morning, we head to Wallaman Falls. The largest sheer-drop waterfall in the southern hemisphere, dropping 268m off Stoney Creek, it’s a site of spiritual significance for the Warrgamay people.

After our afternoon tour and kupmurri meal, we sit under the stars listening to a didgeridoo and experimenting with “fire sticks” — two pieces of wood that are rubbed together to start a fire.

Cultural theatre

The journey’s final part takes us north to Echo Creek Cultural and Adventure Camp, near the town of Euramo. The camp is the brainchild of Jirrbal elder Ernie Grant, who oversees activities with the help of daughters Caroline and Tonya.

The spectacular valley surrounding the property is explored on the camp’s Spirit of the Rainforest tour the next morning.

Tonya leads the group. She stops regularly, pointing out berries which cause blindness if not properly prepared, and flowers which bloom when the cyclone season starts. And we build our own “mija” — a traditional shelter using branches and palm fronds. “The idea is that if you look after the land, the land will look after you,” says Tonya.

We cross creeks by hopping across rocks before reaching Echo Creek Falls. Some visitors strip down to their underwear and jump into the cool pool under the plunging falls for a swim.

It’s this spectacular back country which makes Echo Creek alone worth a visit — as well as it being a great backdrop to learn how its indigenous inhabitants once lived. Back at the homestead, Jirrbal elder Ernie says it was this realisation that led to the creation of his unique attraction.

The camp is all about trying to get you as close as we can to how we used to live.

My epiphany

That living in harmony with the land is about more than recycling a few cans. Being green is not so much a modern idea as something which has been forgotten by our throwaway culture. There are certainly a few eco-friendly lessons we could all learn from the Aborigines.

Take me there

Dreamtime Journey
Kookaburra Tours lead Dreamtime Journeys of one to three nights. Tel: +61 (0) 448 794 798

Mungalla Station
1236 Forrest Beach Rd, Allingham, tel: +61 (0) 448 794 798

Echo Creek Cultural and Adventure Camp
Tel: +61 (7) 4068 9161

Jetstar flies to Townsville from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Book online now at Jetstar.com