This day was one of the tours we booked: a tour of Tjapukai, the Aborigine cultural center followed by the sky train over the rainforest to Kuranda, poking around the town there, then a train through the mountains back to Cairns.
The cultural centre offers a variety of experiences and learning opportunities rotating through different stations. We learned about bush medicine, meaning behind the sounds of the digeridoo, how to throw a spear and boomerang, and saw some performances by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander who explained some of the meanings behind the dances.
I recall having conversations with colleagues and community when I worked in Northern Manitoba about this kind of “attraction”. The response was mostly about the debasement of culture by selling it, or missing the real meaning by promoting surface-level experiences. There was a sense of protection, sacredness, and certainly resistance to the idea. The attitude we encountered in New Zealand with the Maori and here at Tjapukai considered the centre from two dimensions: one as a revenue generating tourist attraction that also served to promote understanding and celebration of the culture. The other dimension was one of self-education and cultural preservation – that the centre can educate participants, can use revenue to immerse their people in the culture, can offer opportunities for study and exploration of the past, and plan for the future. Particularly at Te Pao where the centre takes in Maori artists for intense study and skill development with respected and accomplished Maori artists.
Part of the appeal for me is that sense of “learning out loud” where we open the doors to our experiences, our growth, and understandings. Traditional classroom learning usually takes place in private notebooks and only polished finished work is shared and celebrated. With learning out loud, we share the process and learning journey, rough edges and all. We learn from others’ trials, benefit from their deconstructions, and respect even more the effort required to achieve the final product.
The sky train is a gondola ride above the rainforest offering a brilliant view from high in the sky. There are a couple of locations where you can get off and explore up close on wooden walkways with rails and lookouts over a waterfall. The rainforest is a protected area so traffic is pretty restricted. Even the skytrain construction was carefully controlled and built with an effort to minimise the impact on the environment. Probably the most spectacular sight was catching glimpses of brilliant blue butterflies fluttering above the treetops.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Being fans of the Prairie Dog Central vintage train back home, we appreciated the trip through the rainforested mountains on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The cars are beautifully finished with lots of wood and the exterior is quite attractive. The rail curves and winds its way on the side of cliffs, over bridges and through tunnels back from Kuranda back to Cairns.