The opportunity to meet new people, and become acquainted with a different culture is one of the many reasons I choose to travel. When the culture concerned is the oldest in the world, it is an encounter to be cherished. For this reason, attending the inaugural Open Day on Palm Island, Queensland promised an extra special occasion.
The event may not seem a big deal, but this was the first time the islanders had opened their community up to outsiders. Although there was already a ferry service, tourism hasn’t exactly been embraced, the close-knit Bwgolman community has been suspicious of outsiders. The reasons for this would soon become apparent, but hopefully the winds of change are beginning to blow through the island.
Due to this isolation, visiting Palm Island offers an authentic experience, an opportunity to meet an indigenous people without the false ‘cultural experiences’ provided by other laid on tours.
The island elders organised the day, consulting with tourism experts. It was also run by the community, volunteers providing insights into the history, art and culture of indigenous Australians, or historical people as they refer to themselves. This added authenticity to the tours, real people, not trained guides.
There were a number of organised tours, along the beach and through the village explaining some of the history, and the cruelty of segregation endured here only a generation ago. It seems unbelievable that so recently in Australian history, skin colour was the cause of such injustice.
Their tales of hardship, harassment, and defiance are recounted through yarns. The art of storytelling, or yarning, passes the history down through the generations, cherishing them, keeping the culture alive. Delivered in a matter-of-fact manner, unashamedly undiluted, but without any hint of malice towards the visitors with a skin tone similar to that of their past oppressors.
There was also the opportunity to try some traditional art, witness some dancing, and even try a few steps of our own. Giving up the day job probably wasn’t an option for most of us though. The team of young boys providing the dancing, was the liveliest display, their choreographed, but also spontaneous performance seemed combination of powerful message, and unspoken challenge.
Speaking to some other visitors, it was an unmitigated success, everybody had enjoyed the day, and come away with a greater understanding of Aboriginal culture. It’s a brave initiative, accepting the need for tourism but not compromising their culture. It deserves to become a successful venture.