In the first month of 2019 Bill and Judith Speedy hosted the First Nations Culture Tour
Bill runs Outback Pride, selling items on behalf of eight local indigenous artists and providing opportunities for small businesses to grow.
The purpose of the tour was to inform and entertain, and to teach the importance of appreciating the history and culture of the traditional owners of the land. Bill taught how to respect one another, for example by using hand gestures rather than eye contact to communicate with Elders.
Out of the 24 million people in Australia, less than 800,000 are from the First Nation, and only 10% still speak their original language. There are over 250 groups and over 500 dialects. The Butchulla people are the traditional owners of K’Gari (Fraser Island), the Great Sandy Region.
The three common Butchulla lores (laws):
- What is good for the land comes first
- You must not take what does not belong to you
- If you have plenty, you must share
We took a stroll around the Cultural Centre and Bill introduced us to the local plants and explained how local plants could be safe to eat. He said nothing native was poisonous, only plants and animals which have been imported. All native Australian plants require a bushfire in order to break open the nuts and seeds to reproduce.
The Djaga, also known as “grasstree”, only comes out after rain and was a very useful food source for the First Nation people. Another nut that comes out seasonally is the Boab nut. It contains a soft, whitish, powdery substance which the Elders of the community would solely consume for four to six days to clean and heal the gut of toxins. It is similar to sherbet and has a light lemony flavour, but is bland, not sour.
Wattle is another excellent plant which increases healing for abrasions. And eucalyptus, also known as the gumleaf, is an antiseptic and can be used to clean hands before eating, which is exactly what we did before trying the delicious bush food and drink.
Pigweed, one of the local succulent plants, has a toxicity which can irritate the skin, so it should be tested on the lips before consuming. When it is in bloom the First Nation people knew when to catch a certain fish. They also knew that when the Southern Cross is faced on its side that would be the time they would search for emu eggs. Emus lay large blue eggs weighing approximately one kilogram. Emus have been hunted for their oil, meat, eggs, feathers and skin. Their skin is worth around $300, which is sent to Asia to be tanned and exported to France and turned into garments, selling around $5,000. Their feathers are unique from any other bird’s feather, as each split into two feathers.
The emus have an interesting ritual for caring for the eggs. It takes two days for the mother to lay each egg. During this time, the male hunts for food. He then rounds up all the eggs and rotates them every two to three days. The female deserts him to find food and the male stays to protect the chicks from predators. This is the time to stay clear as the male has he is agitated from spending almost a month and a half on the eggs without food or water.
We had a session inside where Bill demonstrated how to play the didgeridoo, which in the First Nation’s language is the yidaki. It is usually played with clapsticks, also known as river sticks. It originated from the north Australia. It took five days to make the yidaki. Termites eat out the inside of the wood, which is then cleaned out with hot coals and sanded back to a smooth finish. When playing, a special technique is required to regulate breathing and producing those unique sounds takes many hours of practice.
Everyone works as a team to survive in the outback. In the past indigenous women used a wooden coolamon which balanced on the head and used as a shopping basket to hold food like berries and leaves. At first, it is quite difficult to maintain balance, as it was discovered by some of the tourists who attempted to wear it. The First Nation men hunted using one of the most well-known indigenous weapons, the boomerang. The large boomerang was for hunting and the smaller used for defence. Occasionally indigenous instructors teach the kids from their local schools how to use them. It helps improve hand-eye coordination. Although it can be dangerous, it is a lot of fun.
Along with scavenging and hunting, the First Nation people would enjoy the arts. They used pure oils from the fat of the animals which they hunted to preserve their artistic work with rock oaka painting. Dance was also form of artistic expression. At the tour, everyone participated in the dances. The men performed the kangaroo, goanna, and lizard, while the women did the emu and brolga.
The family-friendly First Nations Culture Tour is a great way to learn more about the First Nations Peoples tradition. Tours take place at the Fraser Coast Cultural Centre – call 4197 4206 to make a booking.