Connecting to Country

By Anna Dowd

For Clark Webb, the feeling of standing up at Niigi Niigi, also known as Sealy Lookout, is hard to explain.

“I suppose it’s just an overwhelming sense of joy is the best way I can put it,” shares the CEO of Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Corporation (BMNAC), and one of a handful of Gumbaynggirr guides that leads monthly tours from this important cultural site in the Orara East State Forest.

The Giingan Gumbaynggirr Cultural Experience is one of two tours run by BMNAC. They also offer a guided paddle board tour at Red Rock, Moonee and Coffs Creeks – Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tour – but share the same purpose according to Webb.

“To educate people about our culture, create employment opportunities for our mob in practicing culture, language and sharing knowledge.”

Both tours are a two and a half hour immersion of learning about and on country – hearing the traditional stories related to different landmarks, sampling bush tucker and learning through Gumbaynggirr language. The Sealy Lookout tour includes a traditional dance performance with an ocean backdrop at the end.

“It’s about getting people from all walks of life to connect to country, and love country, so we all do better for it,” says Webb.

When asked about feedback from the tours that has stuck with him, Webb says it’s been really great when people have done both tours.

“We had an English family come and do the Giingan tour. They saw the stories from up at the lookouts, and then they came and did the paddle tour and they actually paddled through those same stories. So there was that full connection.

“When I said to those young boys, about one story, they really knew it, and remembered it from a couple of days before.”

Another powerful outcome of the tours has been the part they are playing in Gumbaynggirr language revitalisation.

“The language is central to it all. Central to our culture and central to our wellbeing and confidence,” says Webb.

“ It makes you understand and engage with country really differently when you learn language. Language belongs to country. So when we speak our language, we are tying ourselves closer to country.

“We share with people on our tours that there’s some cultural knowledge that is not available to us. So I explain it like it’s a giant jigsaw puzzle and we’re trying to put the pieces back together and there’s a couple of pieces that we’re very unlikely to find again. So every little tiny piece of information helps.”

He says for some people on the tours, that’s really struck a cord.

“It’s led to us accessing certain parts of country because people have said ‘well come onto my property and you can get to these sites, or we’ve got some stuff on our property that we want you to look at’. For us to be able to have access to those places is really important to that language and culture revitalisation.

“It’s pretty much impossible to separate language, country and culture.”

Webb says the tours are part of the long term vision for Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan (BMNAC) which in Gumbaynggirr translates to ‘two path strong.”

“People who do the tours are reinvesting in our community, so all profits come back into BMNAC to help us run our social and emotional wellbeing programs that teach our kids language, including the Gumbaynggirr bilingual school we’re opening next year.”

“So that’s a very real impact people doing the tours are having. It means that money then comes through to our programs and school, where we are bringing our kids up strong through their language and culture, and they’ll become our next tour guides, teachers, rangers, fire practitioners, ecologists in years to come.”


Images courtesy of Wayila Creative