Guurrbi is a time, a place, a space: a personal sanctuary or dwelling place made sacred by Yirmbal, the Rainbow Serpent; a place for reflection and for the quiet time spent before bora when important decisions are made.
For thousands of years, Aboriginal people have passed on knowledge through painting and storytelling. This practice ensures that the culture of our people will go on forever.
Nugal-warra Elder and storyteller Willie Gordon is fiercely proud of his heritage, and is using the ancient art of storytelling to share his culture with the rest of the world.
For the past four years, Willie has been inviting others to join him at his Guurrbi – his own special place – to learn the stories behind the ancient rock paintings of his ancestors, found high in the hills above Hope Vale outside Cooktown in Queensland.
Willie’s company, Guurrbi Tours, offers tourists the chance to visit his sacred land and to gain a greater insight into the life and lores of his people.
The stories Willie tells of the rock art can only be told by the Elders of the Nugal-warra clan. Willie hopes that by sharing these stories he can help others to better understand their own relationship with the land, and how the lores of his people can apply to all of us.
“As a storyteller it is my duty to tell my history,” Willie says. “I tell my guests that in turn they too must become the storyteller – to pass on what they have seen through the pictures they take on their cameras.
“These photographs are more than just pictures – their stories need to be told too. Stories of how our people lived with the land.”
People come from all over the world to take Willie’s tours. There are many German, Swedish and Dutch visitors, as well as guests from Japan and the Philippines. But what has surprised Willie the most is the number of Australian tourists.
“I thought that Australians, especially non-Indigenous Australians, wouldn’t be interested,” Willie says. “But when I started out, probably 85 per cent were Australian – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Since we’ve begun more marketing overseas these numbers have changes, but it was encouraging to see how many Australians wanted to learn about my people.”
Willie has also found that people come to his lands for different reasons. Some come out of curiosity or a desire to learn, while others have more spiritual reasons or a searching for something within themselves.
“Many people are quite moved by the experience,” Willie says. “I remember this blind Maori guy. Since he had come to Australia he had been trying to find something to connect with his spirituality from his homeland. He was incredibly moved by my stories – he said it had fulfilled what he had been searing for.”
The stories behind the art of the Nugal-warra are many and varied. The paintings depict everything from practical information about living off the land to family stories, myths and legends and spiritual practices. The sites include an ancestral birth cave, the Great Emu Cave and the Reconciliation Cave, and the tour follows tracks that have been used by the Nugal people for centuries.
“These paintings were put here by my ancestors so that their stories could be handed down through the generations,” Willie says. “This keeps the culture of our people alive.”
To find out more about Guurrbi Tours, or to make a booking, head to www.guurrbitours.com or call (07) 4069 6259.