The day started out with a quick breakfast at the YHA where we boarded the bus at 9:00am with our new friends from the University of Arizona up to Port Douglas. When we arrived at the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas we were free to explore the different enclosures including the Savannah, Rainforest, and Wetlands habitats. In the Savannah Habitat we could feed the kangaroos and wallabies and we even saw some crocodiles being pretty active. The Rainforest Habitat was home to one of the most deadly birds in Australia (even to humans) — the Cassowary. The Cassowary can travel up to 50 km per hour and will use its three toes to catch prey through disembowelment. We then enjoyed lunch in the Wetland Habitat where we were accompanied by a couple of nosey birds. Some students also got to finally hold and take a photo with Kodi the koala.
We continued on to Mossman Gorge where we got a tour by Skip, an ancestor of the Rock Wallaby Rainforoest Tribe (also known as Buma). Before entering the rainforest we had to go through a smoking ceremony, where Skip chanted to his ancestors in his native language to get rid of our bad thoughts and spirits and make us one. As we entered the rainforest Skip also chanted in his native language to his ancestors asking for us (his guests) to have safe passage through the rainforest.
Along the tour we made several stops where we were informed about his ancestors’ way of life and traditions. The first stop was in front of one of the oldest Red Cedar trees, which served as a burial site for his ancestors (this is where the term “family tree” originated). These trees acted as burial sites because they are naturally hollow. As MSU students we quickly thought of the Red Cedar River back in East Lansing, although our Red Cedar trees are not nearly as old or as large as the 180 million year old tree we saw today. The next stop we learned about how large rocks came together to create protection and sites for ceremonies.
A member of the Rock Walleby Tribe (Buma Tribe) had to go through four different ceremonies in his/her lives — birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. The most intriguing ceremony was the coming of age ceremony because men and women experienced different forms of initiation. We were only told about the men’s initiation, where they were sent to the rainforest for two moons and if they survived then were marked as men instead of boys. We were unable to learn about the women’s initiation because it was kept a secret from the men and we had a male tour guide. To this day people still continue tribal traditions including birthing in the Daintree river, although many now go to hospitals due to the high infant death rates.
One of the last main points Skip made was how they make paint out of mineral rocks/charcoal/clay and water. They use this paint to mark their bodies for things such as hunting, protection/nourishment of skin, and to inform others’ of what tribe they are in by painting symbols on their bodies.
We ended with some tea, scones, and good conversation.
Abbey Brown and Maddy Valentine