We really enjoy working with Uncle Ron Heron. We get in touch with him when we have one our guided walks and arrange for him to come and meet with us at the start of the track for a cup of tea and a chat. We do this of course to try to give our walkers a taste of the long history, unique culture and landscape through which the Yuraygir Coastal walk travels. Since there are many hours to walk ahead of us, we never really get to linger and listen for very long. But we hope for long enough to get our imaginations and hearts fired up enough that we can walk along with at least a sense of the dreamings, ancestors and their interactions with Yaegl country.
Uncle Ron is a well known and well loved senior Yaegl man who grew up in the Yamba area. He has many memories of recent history through lived experience, and ancestral knowledge handed down through previous generations. Significantly, Uncle Ron has also undertaken Aboriginal Studies, has gained degrees in anthropology and archaeology, collecting many more stories as part of his thesis. He also went on to lecture at Southern Cross University (lecturing Gina in her early student days as well). He has since retired from that, but more recently was awarded a Doctor of Letters by Macquarie University in recognition of his knowledge and ongoing cooperative work on ‘bush medicines’. He is also often at ceremonial events and works with National Parks and Wildlife Service when they are undertaking excavation works or as part of their Discovery program.
So Uncle Ron is no stranger to imparting knowledge to audiences about Aboriginal life and cosmology in Yaegl country. And more broadly, there is undoubtedly a growing interest Aboriginal spirituality and history, and in the practical knowledge that saw Aboriginal people live so successfully for so long before Europeans arrived in this land. Aboriginal cultural tourism in northern, central and some other parts of Australia is increasingly popular, but is really in its infancy.
With all this in mind, and to find a way to continue to maintain knowledge in and about his community, Uncle Ron told us of his interest in developing local cultural tourism based around local knowledge, and to engage with young Yaegl people to develop this idea.
Of course, to do this is not a simple matter: there are many practicalities and expenses involved in setting up and marketing a tour. But Gina suggested that to at least get something started, we could provide our mini-bus, booking system and driver (me) and run some one-off mini-tours that mimicked one of the three day tours Uncle Ron envisages, during the local annual Surfing the Coldstream Festival. Brilliant!
Uncle Ron agreed and the more we floated the idea with others, the more it seemed like the obvious thing to do. With the support of the festival organisers and Clarence Valley Tourism, it all came together. We set up two morning tours and one afternoon tour on October 15 and 16. There were a couple of enthusiastic early bookings and as the media began to publicise the event in the week leading up to the festival and word got around, the bookings began to fill up nicely.
The weather was superb, and 3 wonderful, eclectic groups of people, mainly locals, joined us over these two days, and things ran pretty smoothly. We visited 5 sites in and around Yamba where we learned about modern and ancient stories of Yaegl life. We came across a number of bush foods and medicines and people asked lots of interested questions. Gina made superb morning and afternoon teas and we did our best not to wear Uncle Ron (and ourselves) out too much.
We received some lovely and constructive feedback which will be very helpful from the point of view of Uncle Ron’s future plans. Here is a selection:
These heartfelt words certainly are a sign that Uncle Ron offers a captivating experience. The issue now is for him to start to pull together the various strands needed to set up and run a business built around this. Watch this space.