Written by, Jackie Besley, Latitude Travel Services,
The history of the Port Douglas area can only start in one place – the beginning.
According to a Djabuguy Dreamtime story, the rainbow serpent, in the form of Budaadji (the carpet snake) “originated around Kuranda…close by Black Mountain to the Mowbray River, which it follows to its mouth. Here he travels under the surface to a swamp near the mangroves around the south end of Four Mile Beach, the passes along the beach to the hill at Port Douglas itself, where he again goes underground and remains to the present”. The Kuku Yalanji’s oral history also refers to Budaadji, with the name Kurriyala.
Although theories from archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and enthusiasts often disagree, it is certain that Austr
alia’s indigenous people having been living in this area of Tropical North Queensland for at least nine thousand years. In fact, carbon dating at Mt Mulligan (west of Mareeba), has dated occupancy for over 37,000 years.
For thousands of years, the Bama (rainforest people) of this area lived in harmony with the natural landscape, erecting shelters which were made out of a frame of “lawyer vine” (grabs hold and doesn’t let go) and covered in palm fronds or paperbark. They developed a detailed knowledge of bush medicine and enjoyed a diet rich in seafood and the abundance of fruits and vegetables found in the rainforest. They also produced very distinct weaponry, such as the wagay, a wide wooden sword, unique to the rainforest Bama.
The area that is now Port Douglas was bordered by several different indigenous groups - the Djabuguy towards Cairns, the Kuku Yalanji to the north, and several other tribes from the mountain ranges to the west.
It was a place where they met to exchange items such as ochre, shells, woven bags and, possibly, most importantly, stories. The Kuku Yalanji’s ochre was an actively traded item because its beautiful colours and fine texture was unique to the area. This highly sought after ochre was used as body paint in ceremonies, including the rites of passage into manhood, where boys became men.
The communities of the Bama were close and cohesive with strict religion, law and customs stemming from the Dreamtime. Ceremonial rites for men and women were an important way to confirm Bama heritage and initiation ceremonies were done in a context of high excitement, secrecy and beauty.
There are several sacred ceremonial sites in Port Douglas, or I should say, there were. Unfortunately, the history of the Kuku Yalanji and Djabuguy, in Port Douglas took a tragic turn for the worse not long after Captain Cook sailed past the coast in 1770. The Bama lost their lands, and the lands lost their spirit, communities were destroyed and their families were separated. Luckily for us all, somehow through the tenacity of the Bama, the Dreamtime survived.
Well over two hundred years after Captain Cook’s exploration of the eastern coast of Australia, the Eastern Kuku Yulanji were reinstated with their rights as native title holders to exclusively possess, occupy and use 30,300 ha of Unallocated State Land. The Bama’s non-exclusive rights over 96,600 ha, including the right to access the area to camp, hunt, gather natural resources for personal needs and conduct ceremonies is now also recognised.