CONSCIOUS CULTURE

Take a deep dive into a new world

WORDS ANNA KANTILAFTAS

Despite having visited the Great Barrier Reef many times, this trip to the decorated seabed just off the coast sparkled a little differently. My eyes focused on the glistening coral bommie below where the sunlight added a magical rippled glow to the scenes unfolding.

Schools of trevally darted about, clownfish made rare appearances from behind anemones, and moray eels eerily made their presence known. Despite the stories of a dying reef, the world’s largest living organism was full of vibrance. The jazziness of the reef left me breathless, and I’m struck by nostalgia for a view in its prime when it was carefully managed by Australia’s Traditional Custodians, who kept it thriving for thousands of years.

Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel will guide you through the Great Barrier Reef, which has more than 2,900 coral reefs, 300 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish.

I’m on a five-hour tour with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel. It’s led by Indigenous rangers representing local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, allowing adventurers to gain a deeper cultural understanding of both the underwater ecosystem and Indigenous heritage of the area. It’s the only cruise to the reef that incorporates interaction with traditional instruments, tools, dances and Dreamtime stories.

As our boat rumbles its way out to sea, Blake Cedar, who goes by his traditional name Rex, opens with an Acknowledgement of Country - the afternoon's first important recognition of the culture, history and people. This is followed by the Great Barrier Reef Creation story, which is told by Rex with permission from Elders of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people, the Traditional Custodians of Gimuy (Cairns). It’s a story full of symbolism and themes of protection for Country. It offers a new perspective on how connected we all are to each other and the local environment. Protecting Country and ecosystems is vitally important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait customs and beliefs and is now a focus for many Indigenous-led tours in a bid to make travellers more aware of the impact they have.

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Blake Cedar (Rex), one of Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel’s charismatic Indigenous Rangers.

CARING FOR COUNTRY

Another operator who is committed to protecting Country is Juan Walker from Walkabout Cultural Adventures, which offers tours on Kuku Yalanji Country in Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. “There’s a big shift in attitudes and people wanting to learn about Aboriginal customs, traditions and land management, and how we see Country," he says. For his tours, the emphasis is on allowing people to experience the diversity of the environment, which on Kuku Yalanji Country includes rainforests, river systems, estuaries, freshwater, beaches and reefs, all within walking distance.

Exploring the rainforest with Juan from Walkabout Cultural Adventures.

Learn about protecting these unique coastal habitats with Walkabout Cultural Adventures.


“They all connect. If our reef dies, our rainforest goes. If our rainforest dies, our reef dies. We want people to get an idea of how we see Country and how we see the land and sea and the sky, because it's not something we use, it’s part of us, part of our living, part of our culture.”

“We want people to understand how easily upset and damaged our Country can be if not looked after, used, and travelled on the right way." “They all connect. If our reef dies, our rainforest goes. If our rainforest dies, our reef dies. We want people to get an idea of how we see Country and how we see the land and sea and the sky, because it's not something we use, it’s part of us, part of our living, part of our culture.” Conscious travel goes beyond the art of mindfulness. It’s about respect for local people, the fauna and the natural environment. As Juan says, “There’s no better way of seeing how Country works than seeing it through the eyes of people who have been here for hundreds of thousands of years."

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel gives you a different perspective on the world-famous Great Barrier Reef.

Back on Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel, I move through the sapphire waters of Milln Reef, where I’m guided by onboard marine biologist Amandine Vuylsteke and reef ranger, Enaz 'Sissy' Mye. Amandine leads the water-treading snorkel safari group with talks on the state of the reef, its sensitivity to climate change, the impact of humans and fishing, while also helping us spot and identify a range of sea life.

It’s a science-meets-culture experience, and when it comes to an end I’m taken aback by just how closely linked they are, and how much we can learn about Australia’s culture by taking a deep dive with Indigenous guides.

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