I will never forget my time with
the Gumbaynggirr people.
I love joining tours with local guides who share their knowledge of their land. As a nature lover who grew up in the city, I am always impressed by how the First People connect with their natural surroundings. Their respect is inspiring and eye-opening. We shared fascinating experiences with tribes in the South Pacific, in Vanuatu and New Caledonia. But after almost a decade in Australia, it was the first time that I could engage that much with Aboriginal locals about their culture, customs and history.
I had heard stories about the Dreaming during tours in the Northern Territories (Kakadu and Uluru), and also read many of them on signs when visiting tourist sites. But Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours offered a different experience as we visited Red Rock and the Old Camp.
We had the fantastic opportunity to learn and exchange with two Aboriginal guides about natural resources, the importance of the language, the Aboriginal way of life and the shocking colonisation history (massacres, stolen generations, missions…). But I won’t go into too many details on the content of the tour. The magic operates as you hop in your kayak or on your SUP to follow the direct descendants of the world’s first stand-up paddlers. We accompanied Clark around his country, on land and on the water, to hear the stories Uncle Bing taught him and learn about the Gumbaynggirr culture first-hand.
If you aren’t as lucky as we are and cannot travel to Gumbaynggir country, you may be interested in listening to these Aboriginal Stories online.
Between the paddle and the walk, we stopped at the not-for-profit Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre. I particularly loved all the beautiful animal drawings on the building. The Wadjar Gallery featuring paintings by local artists was great to explore, and it’s also a perfect place to buy souvenirs.
The bush tucker cafe offers “authentic Indigenous food with a modern twist”. Unfortunately, it was closed for lunch on the day we visited so we couldn’t try their crocodile or kangaroo dishes. But the morning tea cheesecake made of local tree leaves (lemon myrtle) was delicious.
We had a strange feeling walking through the forest to the Old Camp. The environment looked familiar, but we knew so little about it. Where we mostly see trees and grass, Aboriginal people find food, medicinal plants and tools. We loved the opportunity to taste bush tucker.
If you want to impress your hosts, you can try to learn a few words of the Gumbaynggirr language before the tour!
As we were exploring the forest, we could admire Glossy Black-Cockatoos having a feast a few metres away from us. They are very easy to recognise with their brown head, black body and red tail panels. Although their cousins the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos and the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are common (we saw many of the latter in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains), the Glossy Black-Cockatoos are, unfortunately, “uncommon to rare”. What a treat for bird lovers!
I want to emphasise why it’s important to support activities like Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours.
When they arrived in Australia, the Europeans decimated the indigenous populations with disease, war and discriminatory laws. The colons aimed to destruct the native way of life and languages of one of the longest-living civilisations on Earth (they go back at least 65,000 years!).
The Aboriginal elders had been passing on knowledge and stories to the younger ones through words, arts and dances for thousand of generations. But the Europeans made it challenging (and dangerous!) for Aboriginals to share knowledge and conserve information and history. Much of ancient Aboriginal cultures were lost.
However, the determination of a small group is supporting the re-emergence of the Gumbaynggirr language. Participating in a tour run by a social enterprise such as Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours helps to “ensure the continuation of the transfer of intergenerational cultural knowledge whilst also providing employment.”
Australia is still struggling with its dark and violent colonial past, but it’s been improving a lot since the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples in 2008. Even if I loathe the idea of putting a $ value on a culture or a natural site, it seems necessary to protect them in our civilisation focused on profit (like they did for the Great Barrier Reef for example). The development of Aboriginal tourism and ecotourism in Australia can bring positive outcomes for the Aboriginal cultures and communities.
Where to stay
As we left Brisbane in the afternoon, we needed a late check-in for our accommodation. Remember there’s a time difference during summer between Queensland and New South Wales. Hence, we stopped at the cheapest hotel we found in Grafton*. Nothing too interesting about it: we only wanted a few hours of sleep and a short drive in the morning to reach Red Rock (40 minutes away).
If you can make it closer to Red Rock, there are a few accommodations available nearby*. The Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre offers self-contained accommodations that can be ideal for your stay. It’s operated on a not-for-profit basis by Aboriginal people.
Coffs Harbour is only a 40-minute drive south and offers all styles of accommodation.
Other things to do in the Gumbaynggirr country for nature lovers
We’ve driven the NSW Coast many times, to visit family in Sydney or to dive at South West Rocks. Listing all the things to do in the vast Gumbaynggirr country would make a full article by itself.
But here are a few suggestions of places near Red Rock that we enjoyed a lot. You can also check out these three road trip itineraries for more inspiration:
- East Coast road trip itinerary (Brisbane to Sydney + South NSW)
- Road trip circuit from Brisbane to South West Rocks
- The Waterfall Way: inland itinerary from Coffs Harbour to Brisbane
We had a quick stop at Arrawarra Beach, where the Arrawarra Creek meets the ocean, to take a break from the Pacific Motorway. I knew it as a popular spot for surfers as that’s where the surf camp Spot X is located. But it’s also a beautiful beach worth checking out if you’re in the area.
Diving the Solitary Islands
You may be surprised to find fantastic reefs around the Solitary Islands. The dive sites in the region are reputed and we loved our dives at the North Solitary Island from Wooli. Click here for more information.
Moonee Beach & Headland
Moonee Beach is often listed among Australia’s top beaches and even ranked 3rd in 2017 101 Best Beaches list. We skipped the beach and walked the
Where are Coffs Harbour and the Gumbaynggirr country?
Red Rock is just over 360 km south of Brisbane, on Australia’s East Coast. With traffic and stops, it takes about five hours to drive there from Brisbane.
Gumbaynggirr lands extend for over 6,000 km2 around the mid-north coast of New South Wales, from the Clarence River (Yamba / Grafton) in the north to the Nambucca River in the south and the Great Dividing Range inland.
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