By Nicole Hegarty and Jack Gillespie.
It may be known for its beaches, but a new market is gaining momentum on the Sunshine Coast – a venture that has the potential to do far more than make money, and could empower, educate and close an employment gap.
For many, the concept of Aboriginal tourism may conjure images of the red soil and arid terrain of the far off Australian outback, but there are myriad experiences sitting snug in the Sunshine Coast’s lap.
Those with vested interests already have their eye on the ancient, glittering prize.
The Sunshine Coast Council recently released a heritage discovery guide for the region and a cultural tourism strategy is being developed by Visit Sunshine Coast. This guide highlights some of the many Aboriginal sites and landmarks on the Sunshine Coast. These landmarks are dotted across the Coast from scar trees to the north to bora rings, grinding groves and the Glass House Mountains in the south. Heritage Portfolio Councillor Rick Baberowski says the region has a fantastic natural history.
“We’ve got a geological timeframe of 27 million years basically represented by the Glass House Mountains and that’s pretty cool. You can look at a piece of geography. You can tell a 27 million year story through that,” he says.
Twenty-seven million years on, interest in the story is growing. Sunshine Coast Council cultural services coordinator Louise Bauer says the Aboriginal history of the Sunshine Coast was of sharp importance. “Of course we have two traditional groups here, the Gubbi Gubbi and the Jinibara. They both have their own stories and their own special places and that’s something more and more people are interested in. We like to be able to support people to become aware of that, and to support those groups associated with those stories as well,” she says.
The Sunshine Coast has deep and rich Aboriginal history, which remains relatively undiscovered. The Gubbi Gubbi and Jinibara peoples are two of about 500 Aboriginal groups in Australia. Gubbi Gubbi people, also known as the Kabi Kabi language group, are the better known of the two tribes, and were the first inhabitants of the Jimna and Conondale Ranges, Upper Mary River, Baroon Pocket, Kenilworth, Glass House Mountains, Noosa, Maroochydore and Caloundra areas. The Jinibara people are native to the Blackall, D’Aguilar and Conondale ranges. From the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, many Aboriginal people were driven from their native areas to reserves in Cherbourg, Yarrabah and Palm Island to the north. The most recent Census figures showed just 1.5 per cent of the local population now identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
The poor employment of indigenous people continues to be a national shame, and despite projects and political policies pitched at closing the gap, the situation is getting worse. The 2017 Closing the Gap report found that the employment gap between indigenous and non-indigenous employment rose by three percentage points from 2008 to 24.2 per cent in 2014-15. In the report, Abori
ginal tourism was identified as one way of helping turn the tide, or at least slowing the backwards flow. There have been successes in the Northern Territory and North Queensland, and in 2010 the niche industry contributed a mighty $3.8 billion to the economy.
There is visitor interest, too, with International Visitation Survey results from last year revealing about 1.04 million international visitors took part in indigenous activities while in Australia. Gubbi Gubbi community leader Lyndon Davis says there is untapped potential for Aboriginal tourism on the Sunshine Coast. “I believe that there definitely could be a market. It’s because no one has done it before and it’s untapped. I’ve been doing it for 20 years but I’ve never really taken it seriously to go on the next level [or] to go into Noosa tourism or Queensland tourism. I never really thought that I could do that level, but when you look at other tours that are around, I look at them and go ‘hey I could do that’. I mean easily I could take people on walks, talks, boat rides,” he says.
Visit Sunshine Coast destination development officer Susan Maynard says such ventures could give people another reason to visit the coast. “We are increasingly receiving feedback that visitors are showing interest in our Aboriginal history on the Sunshine Coast. This feedback is coming from our visitor information centres and tourism operators. We think this is on the rise as there are only a few true Aboriginal experiences in Queensland and visitors are becoming more aware of our history,” she says.
Davis runs a small child-focused business on the Sunshine Coast and another school-based excursion is operated by the Abbey Museum. Davis says his tours are focused on places the majority don’t know exist. “
I get feedback from a lot of those kids who are now at high school that can remember me from when they did a walk at the Glass House Mountains and they saw a bora ring and they saw the axe grinding grooves and they saw me do a fire, they saw me throw a boomerang. I suppose these things don’t get seen.”
University of the Sunshine Coast Associate Professor of Geography and Indigenous studies co-leader Jennifer Carter says it can be harder for people to set up ventures in settled areas but it also more rewarding. “I think that certainly people are particularly interested or are becoming more interested in Aboriginal cultures but also what they can learn not just historically but contemporarily,” she said. “In many parts of the world there are tourists who want to see this connection to the oldest living culture there is.”
Tinbeerwah, in the Sunshine Coast’s northern hinterland, is home to several Aboriginal artefacts. According to a report published by the Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing, an Aboriginal trail runs along Tinbeerwah’s Gyndier Drive. This trail is hidden among dense vegetation, and much of this plantation consists of what are known as Aboriginal scar trees.
Gyndier Drive, however, is not the only home to such trees that are believed to be more than 200 years old – they can be found dispersed throughout the entire Sunshine Coast. Scar trees are now considered sacred and culturally significant, and Davis explains they had a diverse range of uses. “There’s so many occasions to mark a tree – from a burial to making a canoe, to marking territories, to marking pathways, to marking sacred men’s business area to women’s business area.” Additionally, the bark of a scar tree was also used to make shields and shelters.
They illustrate why Associate Professor Jennifer Carter says such history and attachments must be honoured.
“Aboriginal landmarks are critical to and fundamental to people’s identity and sense of place,” she says.
Revisiting the past on today's tourist trail
By Nicole Hegarty.
Several geographical locations played significant parts in Aboriginal history: you just have to know where to look.
Grinding Grooves, Landsborough
Just outside the centre of Landsborough, off Old Gympie Road, the Little Rocky Creek Grinding Grooves show a glimpse into lives in an ancient time. Lyndon Davis says the 200 million-year-old sandstone at Little Rocky Creek was used to make and sharpen tools such as sharpening basalt and silcrete for their axe and spear heads.
“They thought ‘here’s a new surface living through all these generations, living through all of these earthquakes, living through all of these droughts and floods’,” he says. There are close to 80 groves in the stone today, each of them with an important history. The creek and grinding stones are a short 50 metre walk from the parking area along a gravel path.
A sign at the entrance reveals that this was a meeting place where Gubbi Gubbi and Jinibara people brought stones from the Glass House Mountains and left with essential tools. It reads that the tools were used to build canoes, find and crush food. These tools were also used as protective weapons.
Glass House Mountains
The Glass House Mountains occupy a large portion of the Sunshine Coast’s southern hinterland. Their 25 million-year history makes the 12 mountains Queensland’s most iconic Aboriginal landmark. The mountains have served as great tourist attractions for the Sunshine Coast partly due to their historical significances, but predominantly because of the unmatched climbing opportunities they offer.
Tourism organisations such as Visit Sunshine Coast believe that with greater efforts to promote the link between the mountains and the local Aboriginal tribes, the Glass House Mountains will attract more visitors.
Bora Ring, Glass House Mountains
Rings made of earth and stone are scattered across the Sunshine Coast. Easily seen from the air, many are hard to access from the ground. But the Glass House Mountains bora ring is just 2.8km off the Bruce Highway, nestled between Mount Cooee and a pineapple farm. Off Johnston Road, hidden behind a pine plantation and down a dirt track, the ring is relatively intact. Boras are also known as durns in the Sunshine Coast region and were made by women. Originally, a second, smaller ring or ‘kippa’ was located 60 metres from the bora. However, it is no longer clearly visible at this site. Males used kippa rings for educational and ceremonial purposes. Davis says there are still a number of bora rings in the area. “It’s secretive business [what they were used for], it’s not really something that you could talk in depth about. All you can say is men’s initiation and women’s … so you become a man, you’re a boy and you have to transition into manhood so it’s that learning period,” he says. Today a fence guards the fragile earth of the bora ring from damage.
Violent start creates peaceful beauty
By Jack Gillespie
The iconic Glass House Mountains had earth-shakingly violent beginnings more than 25 million years ago.
The area was heavily populated with volcanoes, and the mountains took shape after years of volcanic eruptions saw basalt lava fill valleys and melt away land and rock. This coupled with wind and water erosion over millions of years have left 12 mountains standing.
In 1770 Captain James Cook named them the Glass House Mountains because of their resemblance to glass houses used to shelter plants in chilly England. The mountains were used as a meeting place for ceremonies and trade, and offered up food such as the bunya nut. The Glass House Mountains have long been sacred places for the traditional custodians of the land.
The Aboriginal Dreamtime legend explains that Mount Tibrogargan and the biggest mountain, Mount Beerwah, are husband and wife, and that the remaining mountains are their children. In fear of the incoming floods, Tibrogargan gathered his children to flee to safety, sending Coonowrin, the eldest, back to help his pregnant mother. Coonowrin disobeyed, however, and instead ran to safety on his own. This angered Tibrogargan, and he chased his son down and beat him with a club, dislocating his neck. This injury would be permanent and explains Mount Coonowrin’s skewed peak. Tibrogargan refused to forgive Coonowrin for his actions despite his son’s many pleas, and cried heavy tears that formed a stream leading out to sea. Finally, Tibrogargan cemented his feelings of shame for his son by turning his back and vowing never to look at him again.
But the cultural significance and rich history are not what makes the mountains a winner for tourists. A Glass House Mountains Visitor and Interpretive Centre volunteer says very few ask questions about the history. Instead, they have climbing on their minds.
No two mountains have formed the same, and each scaling experience is different. According to Glass House Mountains coordinator Deb Dooley, Mount Ngungun is the most popular among climbers, because it is relatively undemanding. Alternatively, Mount Beerwah, which peaks at 556 metres and is a 2.6km return journey, is recommended only for experienced climbers. Mount Beerwah has become known for is its inward leaning cliff face called the Organ Pipes, a collection of hexagonal columns that protrude from the mountain’s north face.
Tibrogargan and Beerburrum are popular with climbers too, and walking tracks lead to the summits past exotic plants, and offering views to the surrounding mountains along the way.