The truth behind Tasmania’s newest tourist attraction
Take a walk on the wukalina wild side
By Travel at 60
“You’re wearing shorts!” I say to the taxi driver as he pops the boot of the taxi on a chilly seven-degree evening at the airport in Launceston, Tasmania.
“It was 18 degrees a couple of minutes ago,” he says, probably noting the three layers of waterproof hiking gear I’m wearing. And did I mention it’s raining?
Not even 18 degrees would be enough for this Queenslander to wear a pair of shorts out the front door.
They breed them tough in Tassie and this is just the taxi ride from the airport!
Staying at Peppers Seaport along the North Esk River for the evening, I wake up to the view of two women running along the boardwalk below in their shorts and singlet tops, while I sip a cup of tea with the heater cranked to a comfortable 25 degrees.
I’m in the Apple Isle for what is called the wukalina Walk a three-night, four-day cultural, spiritual and physical hike that winds its way along the coastline of north-east Tasmania, officially launching on Sunday the 7th of January, 2018.
The first stop of the trek is far from the coastline we'll be trudging along for the next few days. It’s the Aboriginal Elders Council of Tasmania down St John Street, a few blocks from the centre of town.
As we walk into the main hall, I spot cups of tea, scones, jam and fresh cream on the table waiting for us and hear chatting coming from the kitchen. There’s a mural on the wall full of faces, native plants and several Aboriginal flags emblazed with colourful paint. On the other side of the wall are several black-and-white photos of Aboriginal elders from the community, some smiling, some rather stern looking, I must say.
“That’s my mum,” says Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chair and Aboriginal elder, Clyde Mansell, pointing at a small girl in the middle of a photo of children lined up in rows. To the right are framed hand-sewn quilts, all telling a different story of the connection of Aboriginal people of Tasmania, known as palawa, to Cape Barren Island.
“Our traditional [people] were taken over there, where the authorities set up the Cape Barren Island Reserve,” Clyde says.
“Aboriginal people were moved off the small islands and sent there.”
This began in the 1830s after what was called “The Black Wars”, when tribal land was invaded by English colonisers, and conflict arose when Aboriginal women and children were affronted with sexual and physical violence.
The 200 or so surviving Aboriginals were exiled to surrounding islands.
“They literally put a fence right across Cape Barren Island and Aboriginal people were rounded up and put into that reserve,” Clyde says.
“It was known as the Cape Barren Island Reserve until 1912, when they changed the name to the Cape Barren Island Half-Cast Reserve.”
The reserve remained in place until 1950. Not long ago at all.
“A lot of our elders, including me, unfortunately, were born into that period,” he says without a hint of blame.
“It’s important that people coming on the walk get the feel for this,” he says as tears begin to well in my eyes.
No matter how many times we hear the stories of how Aboriginal Australians have been treated, it’s never not horrifying. Hundreds, if not thousands, of palawa were killed, raped and taken from their families.
I try to compose myself as a woman walks into the hall, she’s in her 30s and has only recently been reunited with a family member who was part of the stolen generation.
This is a history that didn’t simply occur a long time ago, it is still happening right now.
That’s why the Aboriginal Elders Centre is the perfect place to begin this Aboriginal owned and operated trek across the north-east coast of Tasmania, because as much as it’s a physical journey, wukalina Walk is a symbolic one.
It symbolises acknowledgement of a people who have grown up much of their lives being told that they don’t exist. After years of being told at school that Aboriginal Tasmanians have been wiped out, they perhaps even began to believe it themselves.
Tasmania’s Aboriginal culture remains and the trek is a testament to that.
The wukalina Walk also symbolises recognition of a people, some of whom are just learning about what it means to be on their native country after living or growing up elsewhere.
The walk is also a celebration. A celebration of a people and a culture that has survived, albeit in a different form, after years of abuse and cultural influence and domination.
“This is not about blame or anything like that,” says Clyde. “It’s about what history has given us and it tells that story.”
They really do make them tough here in Tassie.
And with that we enjoy our cups of tea and scones with the rest of the crew before setting off on our journey.
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