Walking Tasmania, talking ‘Culture’

Year 11 students Iris and Hattie welcomed the Year 11 cohort and parents and carers to the 2022 Year 11 Tasmania - Writing the Island event at the exhibition night in the Bibliothèque.

“Wukalina group members Iris and Hattie welcomed the Year 11 cohort and parents with an acknowledgment of Country,” said Lucy Haynes and Veronica Whitaker, the IGS staff Wukalina Walk leaders.

“This acknowledgment allowed students to pay their respects to the Palawa people, Traditional Owners and Custodians of lutruwita Aboriginal land, sea and waterways for welcoming Year 11 to their Country.” 

Nell and Lucy spoke of their time Learning on Country from members of the Stolen Generations and Palawa people. These guides shared their perspectives, their stories and their connection to Country.

“The journey allowed the SAGE students to gain an insight and knowledge into the First Nations history in Tasmania and in particular the Wukalina and Larapuna areas (Bay of Fires). Students learnt about native flora and fauna and had the opportunity to forage and eat some local ingredients during the trip, all the while learning about the significance of Country to this group,” said Lucy.

“This life changing opportunity allowed the students to immerse themselves in a place-based cultural experience that they will remember for their lifetime.”

We encourage you all to takara waranta – walk with us – at Wukalina Walk.

We thank Lucy Gardiner and Nell Brennan for this account:

My name is Lucy Gardiner and this is Nell Brennan, and we’re going to be talking to you for a bit about our amazing Tasmania: Writing the Island 2022 Experience. 

For Sage 2022, Lucy and I had the privilege of participating in the Wukalina Walk – an Indigenous guided tour of the traditional lands of the Palawa people in North Eastern Tasmania.

Over four days, our guides Cody and Nathan shared with us their perspectives, stories and connection to country. With their guidance we walked between Wukalina or Mt William, and Larapuna or the Bay of Fires. By the time our journey was done we left with new insight into the Indigenous history of Tasmania, and its powerful people, flora and fauna. 

The first day of our trip began bright and early at the Jetstar Terminal of the domestic airport, where, at 5am, we came to realise that our flight had been cancelled. Over the next five hours, and with the vital organisational skills of Ms Haynes, the 12 of us were booked into the next available flight to Launceston, a flight which just happened to go via Melbourne.

After 12 hours in and out of aeroplanes and airports across three states, and with only one lost bag, we arrived in Launceston.

That night, we had the privilege of sharing dinner at the Launceston elders centre – a colourful building filled with art, from quilted stories to intricately woven whelk necklaces – the building from which the walk is based.

At the centre, we met our wonderful guides, Cody and Nathan, as well as Aunty Sharon, who shared with us her story as a survivor of the stolen generation. She explained the importance of reconnection to her community, and when we were all struck by the tragedy of her childhood said “Don’t be sad about it, it’s just what happened”.

Dinner that night was pizza, made with native ingredients like saltbush, kunzea, wallaby, and pepperberry-marinated goats cheese. Over the next four days, we’d try all sorts of native ingredients.

Cody was a phenomenal cook who taught us, each meal, the versatility of native plant life both medicinally and as food. 

On Day 2, our walk began. We spent the morning packing our hiking bags and chatting with community members over Aunty Sharon’s scones, before the drive to Wukalina. We took a short detour, on arrival, to the top of Mt William, or Wukalina, from which we could see our walk for the next few days, winding between the trees and meandering around the coast, laid out in miniature beneath us.

Over a packed lunch atop the peak, Cody began to explain some of the history behind the country we were on – of the cleared lands stolen and converted into farms, and of the people – it was from the North Coast of Tasmania that Palawa women were taken by colonisers to hunt seals for them, the majority of whom were then left to die on rocky outcrops.

The islands we could see just past the coast were used as housing camps for the stolen generation, who were all at one point, removed from mainland Tasmania.

Throughout our trip we would grow to understand the careful balance between a respect and love for the land’s beauty, and an acknowledgement of the cruelties that it had endured.

After arriving at our camp, Nathan performed a welcome to country and cleansing ceremony, with eucalyptus smoke to set our intentions for the next few days.

Late into the night, we sat around the campfire, listening to stories about the stars, and the meaning of the land we were on, with each element in nature a dreaming story. 

Day 3 was our longest walk, all the way from camp to the lighthouse at Larapuna. Along the way we learnt about the history of the coast, its landmarks and nature. We had the opportunity to collect and try native plants, even seaweed. On arrival we learnt about the significance of Larapuna and the common misconception behind the name “bay of fires”.

Before it was a colonial lighthouse, Palawa people used the rocky outcrop to signal between the surrounding islands and the mainland using fires, alerting each other to the movements of colonisers, who travelled across the state attempting to hunt Indigenous peoples.

Larapuna was a cultural meeting place and a spot from which you can see up and down the northern and eastern coasts. We ate lunch with elder Uncle Smokey Beeton under and collected native greens for breakfast the next morning. 

On Day 4 we visited a cultural living site, labelled as middens by colonisers. The sites were the homes of Indigenous family groups for thousands of years. Under the permission of our guides we took part in a connection to a country ceremony, reminiscent of meditation and learnt about the practices of the Palawa people who lived at the site.

We learnt about tools found on the site and the need to protect it and ones similar from people aiming to destroy them – it’s for that reason we have no photos from the site. We also learnt about cooking, hunting, medicinal and birthing practices that took place for thousands of years beforehand.

Afterwards, we swam in the icy waters of the Tasmanian coast and spent the afternoon hours making clapping sticks, traditional bracelets and weaving kangaroo fur around the firepit. Dinner that night was muttonbird, a native seabird caught by Palawa people every year, cooked over the fire. That day we gained perspective as to how short our time on country is in the scheme of its history but also how important it is to protect it. 

On Day 5, we packed up camp and began to hike along the coast towards our pickup point. On the way we stopped at a second cultural living site and took time to observe its significance, as another home to Indigenous people.

We returned to the elders centre and took the time to reflect on our trip, and the insights it gave us.

We were all grateful for the generous wealth of knowledge that had been shared with us, as well as the feeling of calm and isolation that the time away gave us.

Overall, it was an experience that expanded our understanding and empathy for the Palawa people of Tasmania. 

We’d also like to thank Ms Whitaker and Ms Haynes for being such amazing teachers throughout the trip. Not only were they exceedingly patient and quick thinking throughout flight mishaps and ensured we always got where we needed to be, but they were also kind, entertaining and upbeat. Most importantly, they encouraged us to make the most out of the entire experience, helping us learn along the way.