Yalada - welcome to the Mossman Gorge of Kuku Yalanji / by Marek Charytonowicz

While travelling around Australia we noticed one thing - the Aboriginal culture although so prominent in the names of various geographical places is unfortunately not very visible. The towns we were passing by seemed to favour Balinese imports or cheap tourist memorabilia  shops than any real aboriginal craft. We did find a few galleries - most notably Port Douglas based Ngarru Gallery but the spirit of the indigenous people of Australia seemed to be pushed aside and downgraded to one of less interesting tourist attractions.

Trying to discover more of it we decided to do the Daydream Walk in the Mossman Gorge  - a indigenous cultural centre based near Mossman, a small town an hour from Port Douglas. The town, originally the result of gold fewer, is the centre of local sugar cane farming and has large indigenous population. After years of efforts they managed to secure funding for a beautiful modern cultural centre that became the entry point to the Daintree Forest and Mossman Gorge with daily Daydream Walks. These an hour and a half walks are guided by Aboriginal guides and introduce you to the indigenous culture and lifestyle and uncover some secrets of this primeval forest.

Our guide was Sean Patrick Ryan - an outgoing and witty local guide who combined Aboriginal and Irish roots - which explained his familiar sounding name. He talked fast and gestured a lot and it was great to listen to the stories about various plants and places.

After brief initiation by smoke from the burned paper tree bark - which introduces us as the guides' guests to the ancestors living in the forest - we entered this probably oldest rainforest on Earth, remembering the times of Pangea - when all continents were still one landmass. It felt like walking through the Jurassic Park, only without the dinosaurs running around.

We learned how to mark a path in the forest using lianas, signal distress using certain type of tree with wide hollow roots, and even what to use to light a fire. It turned out that most plants here are after you and unless you learn how to remove various toxins, you'll be dead. A particular one with heart shaped leaves was so nasty, that touching the bottom bart of the leaves would leave you with stinging pain lasting for months and only getting worse with every attempt to wash it with water.  

It was both impressive and very humbling to realise that the indigenous people understood the forest so well. It provided them with everything they needed not only to survive but actually flourish. It is a shame that knowledge like that is now found mostly in books or Google and nobody is interested to learn it anymore.

Sean explained to us the meaning of simple painting patterns and showed a particular type of tree that has bioluminescent fungus growing in its bark. Pieces of this tree were used to mark paths at night and during ceremonies. Apparently this actually inspired James Cameron while creating the forests of Pandora in his movie 'Avatar'. I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

The Dreamtime Walk finished with a cup of Daintree Tea - a locally farmed tea famous in the region. After that we decided to go for a short swim in Mossman Gorge where a small forest river meanders among large boulders forming a little swimming pond. It started raining so we ended up swimming in a cold refreshing river on one side and being poured down by a torrential rain on the other. Amazing!

There was no dry spot around so we walked in swimming suits across the jungle to the bus pick up spot. Walking almost naked and barefoot across the jungle? Tarzan and Jane? Hmmmmm…. not quite.

We were welcomed here and said goodbye with a single word from the language of Kuku Yalanji - yalada. This word means 'welcome', 'hello', 'friend', 'goodbye', 'safe travels'... It means that whoever you are, you are welcome as a friend to the forest.