Far North tourism takes local focus during COVID-19
[supplied by DATSIP]
Mossman’s Walkabout Cultural Adventures is among Far North Queensland businesses determined to survive and thrive beyond COVID-19.
Founder and Kuku Yalanji man Juan Walker this year celebrates 10 years of operating on-Country tours sharing the histories, cultures and traditional ways of Kuku Yalanji people.
Juan’s traditional lands are Eastern Kuku Yalanji Country, extending from south of Port Douglas along the coast, north to the Annan River and he has connection to Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait through his grandmother on his mother’s side.
Previously, Juan worked in national parks through the Community Development Employment Projects and as part of the work crew to build the Daintree’s Dubuji, Jindalba and Marrja boardwalks.
A chance encounter between his grandmother and a local Daintree resort owner led to Juan’s eight-years of employment as a cultural tour guide.
After gaining industry knowledge, Juan felt it was time for change and identified a gap in the market to share even more local history and traditional culture.
Against external business advice, Juan persevered to officially register his business in 2010.
“I was told cultural tourism was too much hard work, but I didn’t listen,” Juan said.
“It takes time to create trust and reputation in tourism with its established partnerships and loyalties. I worked seven days a week to pay bills, loans and build up my business and contacts.
“It is good to see more Bama (rainforest Aboriginal people) getting into the tourism industry. It makes me proud when visitors think they know history, but we open their eyes to different things,” he said.
Tourism Australia’s international tourism exchange in 2014 connected Walkabout Cultural Adventures with hundreds of travel industry contacts to set the course for success.
The Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships provided business capacity-building pathways including in marketing and website development to streamline business operations.
COVID-19 has slowed business growth, but between his savings and available support, Juan is able to keep business running with his wife, Corinne and one local tour guide, Aaron Port.
Juan is now eyeing domestic opportunities including health and education partnerships.
“We re-opened within a week of borders opening, with COVID-safe plans, cleaning and pre-screening protocols in place,” Juan said.
“While business is not what we usually expect for this time of year, it is slowly picking up with Brisbane and Gold Coast visitors.
“It is important those who have never experienced Far North Queensland’s history and rich culture take the opportunity to learn about this beautiful part of the world and how we connect to culture, land and sea,” he said.
Juan also shares culture by teaching weekly traditional language classes to young Queenslanders.
“Mossman State School’s Kuku Yalanji Language Program is now in its second year and I try make classes fun to keep the kids engaged,” Juan said.
“My family, including grandparents, helped me learn language and it has been a journey for me to strengthen my knowledge and speaking ability, while learning about the education system.
“The Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group is keeping language strong and it is great for the school. In time, I hope we can get these conversations happening in the wider community too,” he said.
For more information about Walkabout Cultural Adventures visit walkaboutadventures.com.au
Learn more about Indigenous Business Month at www.indigenousbusinessmonth.com.au
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