I'm sort of amused, a little in shock, but mostly just uncomfortable. We've just finished watching a stage show reenacting the creation story of the Tjapukai Aboriginal Australians when one of the performers in full traditional dress walks out and starts yelling at the audience. Now I too found the flash photography during the performance rude and distracting, especially since the crowd was warned against it, but I wasn't expecting this. Tourists are typically treated with kid gloves no matter how inappropriately they behave, the better to milk them for their money. But this performer doesn't seem to care about that. I can't help but wonder if his blow up really is just about the photography or if it goes deeper? Indicative perhaps of a chip on his shoulder for having to rely on selling his cultural heritage to hoards of rude tourists to make a living?
Well one thing's for sure, those rouge photographers are in for an awkward next couple of hours. The "dreamtime" creation story was just the first of many presentations by the Tjapukai. We've still got boomerang and spear throwing plus the dance performance. And since the buses dropped us off here 15 minutes from Cairns at the base of the rainforest wilderness, we're kind of stuck until it's time to head up the mountain.
The city of Cairns in North Queensland blends some of the best of Australian atmospheres. Just an hour from the white sand beaches leading to the Great Barrier Reef lies a rainforest oasis... or as Aussies call it the "bush". Rainforests can be found throughout the continent but the Daintree Rainforest is special for a few reasons. The blend of a village, national park, and river set in a tropical forested wilderness wonderland has earned it a distinction as a World Heritage Site.
The Tjapukai Cultural Center is nestled in the lower rainforest, on part of the group's ancestral land. They of course used to inhabit much more of the rainforest, but as is the case with other Australian Aboriginals and indigenous people all over the world, that was before the arrival of European settlers. Though only about 1.5% of Australians currently identify as aboriginals, as many as a million from 300 different groups are estimated to have lived in Australia when Europeans arrived. But diseases and violence brought by the settlers decimated their populations. The day most Australians celebrate as "Australia Day" is widely regarded as "Invasion Day" or "Survival Day" by aboriginals.
Though it's hard to ignore how this parallels American history, there is a noticeable difference in how the modern Australian government acknowledges the aboriginal population. In 2008 the government formally apologized for the atrocities perpetrated against the aborigines (including stealing biracial children from their families) and since has made public efforts to acknowledge their heritage. For example, citizenship ceremonies celebrated last week included lines such as "We recognize the Tjapukai as the original guardians of this land and we ask them to welcome the new Australian citizens to their homeland". Tourist information centers encourage visitors to visit aboriginal sites and buy indigenous art. Also, nearly everyday a story about aboriginal education, jobs programs, political appointees is in the news, whereas I feel like you could watch a month of American newscasts and never get any inkling Native Americans ever existed.
After the visit to the cultural center ( which was informative and entertaining despite the less than friendly performer) we continued into the bush. The most common way to get up the mountain is a total tourist trap. Over the years I have tried to wind down my use of those since there's usually a faster and or cheaper way to achieve the same ends on your own. But some tourist traps, like the gondola cableway carrying riders over the tree line 1,800 feet above sea level are totally worth it. It gave the first of many spectacular views of acres and acres of rainforest valley.
The main village of the Daintree is Kuranda, a jumping off point for hours of bush walking (hiking), spectacular water falls, crocodile inhabited creeks, and tons of shopping. We ended the day with a ride on the historic railroad that winds its way to the base of the mountain making it back to the city in time to catch our last sunset in Cairns. In the morning, on to Sydney.