“Welcome to my backyard. It’s also a grocery store, hardware store and pharmacy,” explains Cameron, our local guide and proud member of the Kuku Yalanji community. He’s about to take us out on a walk through the Daintree Rainforest. Known as the Ngadiku (Nar-di-gul) Dreamtime Walk, the trail winds its way through the Mossman Gorge area, located in the southern part of Tropical North Queensland’s World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park.
Just over an hour’s drive north from Cairns Airport, Mossman Gorge is reminiscent of Jurassic Park with its towering trees, hanging vines and streams of freshwater that run through the forest like arteries, delivering lifeblood to the land. It’s not hard to imagine a T-Rex or Velociraptor emerging from behind a tree, a fitting image when considering this corner of the world is home to some of the ancients of the animal kingdom. This includes the revered (and sometimes feared) Cassowarry.
While many people visit the Daintree area without an Indigenous guide, experiencing a Dreamtime walk with an Indigenous guide offers visitors a chance to connect with the local culture and country, and hear eons-old stories straight from a member of one of world’s oldest living cultures.
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After being welcomed to country, we take part in a smoking ceremony, where we walk in circles around a smoking fire. We’re then given a large stick to help us along the way. While not a strenuous walk, there are plenty of tree roots and rocks on the path, making the likelihood of tripping quite high, especially when considering the rainforest canopy blocks out most of the sunlight. So there’s no shame in taking a big stick to steady yourself (or use as protection if you run into an angry, territorial Cassowary).
As we journey deep into the rainforest we begin to understand why this area is considered a "grocery store, hardware store and pharmacy". We’re shown plants that are used for food and medicinal purposes. The trees make perfect canoes, housing structures, spears and clapping sticks; and thick, garden hose-like vines contain fresh water when you’re thirsty and can’t find a stream to drink from. We hear of special tricks to help find your way home when you’re lost and learn how to make ochre and white body paint using nothing but what's provided in the rainforest.
These days, most of us rush down the aisles of fluorescent-lit, air-conditioned supermarkets (or hit ‘check-out’ on our laptop keyboards) to get our food and essentials delivered to our door, but in the rainforest everything is connected and nothing is wasted. A walk like this provokes all sorts of thoughts on how disconnected most of us are from our food sources, and how utterly hopeless we would be if we got lost in the bush without the know-how of someone like Cameron.
As we walk further and further into the rainforest, mobile phone coverage drops out and we get a chance to feel what it would have been like to live, hunt and forage in this place thousands of years ago. Standing amid a sea of ancient ferns, there's nothing to do but soak up the knowledge of our guide and listen to the bird calls coming from the canopy far above.
At the end of the walk we’re given a cup of bush tea and some damper with jam. Coming back out of the rainforest is like stepping out of one world and into another. It’s a slow transition and quite hard to acclimatise to seeing things like highways, car parks, shops and hotels, such is the transformative power of a dreamtime walk in the Daintree.