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Aboriginal dancers from KuKu Yalanji tribe.


By Caroline Makepeace (@ytravelblog)     3 Jan 2017

Discover how to wash with leaves and pound flour from poisonous black beans with the Aboriginals of Daintree Rainforest

It’s an ancient, mystical land covered by a canopy of green and blanketed by ferns and small sprouting trees.

Lichen clings to the trunks of strangler figs and moss covers boulders that have been smoothed down by the river running through the gorge.

My girls want to scramble over them and play, but we have secret jungle paths and ancient cultures to explore first.

The Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland is no ordinary forest.

The beautiful Mossman River, Mossman Gorge

If you allow your mind to wander into a child’s imagination, you’ll see great predators brushing away twisting vines and trampling epiphytes and cycad trees underfoot. You may even feel a rumbling of the ground.

Close your eyes for a moment and you’ll hear the laughter of children, accompanied by fathers telling them spiritual stories of the dreamtime—the aboriginal understanding of the world.

Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world—some 135 millions years old—and we’re walking through Mossman Gorge, its protected southern sector.

Hidden within the forest are secrets and spirits, and unless you have cleansed yourself of bad energy in a traditional smoking ceremony, it’s best you don’t enter.

Cleansing away the bad spirits in a traditional smoking ceremony

Our indigenous guide welcomes us with plumes of cleansing smoke that twirl around our bodies.

He leads us deeper onto private Kuku Yalanji land to learn more about Aboriginal customs, the dreamtime, and the forest’s diverse flora and fauna; information that’s privileged to us on the Guided Dreamtime Gorge Walk.

We stop every few steps to learn about yet another native plant and its medicinal uses.

To the Kuku Yalanji, the rainforest is a giant supermarket: brush turkeys, fish, berries, nuts and leaves provide them with food, medicine, tools and weapons.

They know which plants can cure fever and give sustenance, or on the flip side, make you sick and kill you.

Learning about how the Kuku Yulangi people made tools from the forest

We were warned to take care of prickly bushes that can paralyse and the small spikes on the wispy wait-a-while vines that are ready to grab and tear at your clothes.

Most interesting to the girls were the heart shaped leaves of the stinging nettle—although pretty to look at, the stinging blotches covering the leaf can embed themselves in your skin causing pain and itching for months.

To take the sting out you can either wax it off or use some urine! You will not need to warn the kids twice to stay away.

The gargantuan buttress roots supplied shields, boomerangs, and wonderful places to hide in a rainforest game of hide and seek.

Our Kuku Yulangi guide teaches us how to make paint from the earth's clay
Our Kuku Yulangi guide teaches us how to make paint from the earth’s clay

I’m baffled at the process of turning the poisonous black bean into edible flour by roasting, cutting up into small pieces, leaching with running water for several days, and pounding into a fine powder.

How on earth did they know that it required five days in the river and not three, and who was the taste tester?

The resourcefulness, skills and knowledge demanded by rainforest living is astounding.

I’m mesmerized for the entire 90-minute dreamtime walk. My two daughters are the same.

I do not hear one whisper of boredom and they keep pace with our guide, vying for a place at the front so they can learn more.

Lathering ourselves with soap from the sassafras tree

They volunteer at the edge of the river to scrunch the sassafras leaves under the water of the gushing river and rub it over their bodies until a soapy lather forms, so they can begin bathing themselves. This foam is renowned for its ability to treat mosquito-borne itchiness.

We finish our tour resting beside the clear waters of the Mossman River, embraced on either bank by the vivid green of the lush rainforest.

The stinging nettle tree. Do not touch!

Its surprisingly cool waters take the heat out of the humid air. Its seclusion makes it a perfect swimming spot and has been the playground of the local children for eternity.

There’s no swimming for our group on this tour. But, there is every child’s favourite thing to do—face painting.

Our guide takes some of the clay from the ground of the supermarket floor, mixing it into browns, beiges and whites, and paints stripes on our arms and the children’s foreheads.

Now we’re ready to become children of the forest.

Have you been on the Dreamtime Walk before? What was the most interesting thing you learnt about the Kuku Yulangi culture? Share with us in the comment box below.

Main image: Getty Images; body images: Craig Makepeace


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