Where World Heritage Sites Meet

A variety of birds, frogs, and crocodiles can be spotted while cruising the mangrove-lined Daintree River. Photo: David Wall/Dinodia

A variety of birds, frogs, and crocodiles can be spotted while cruising the mangrove-lined Daintree River. Photo: David Wall/Dinodia

Unique to Australia, the flightless cassowary bird lives a solitary existence for most of its life. It is integral to the survival of many of the plants of this rainforest. Photo: CCOPhotostockBS/Dinodia

Unique to Australia, the flightless cassowary bird lives a solitary existence for most of its life. It is integral to the survival of many of the plants of this rainforest. Photo: CCOPhotostockBS/Dinodia

The list of the World Heritage Sites, as recognized by UNESCO, is a goldmine of history, natural and cultural patrimony. It tells of places and cultures that warrant a second look, an effort to better understand them. And of all the geography the list covers, there’s only one place where two Heritage Sites meet: the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

An excerpt from National Geographic Traveller captures the hidden soul of the forest and its Aboriginal people:

Mooka is a traditional medicine man. He was brought up in the forest by his grandparents who gave him the knowledge of healing. “This forest is a pharmacy,” he says. “It has the power to heal and destroy.”

He shows us plants that can soothe insect bites, a stalk that cures muscular pain and smells surprisingly like Tiger balm, and beans that can be used to start a fire. We see vines that store potable drinking water and the sticky sap of a plant that can be used as an adhesive. He warns us of beautiful-looking seeds and berries that weep white, poisonous sap and thorns that can paralyse at touch. “My tribe has lived here for thousands of years,” he explains, watching our bewildered faces. “This is my home.” In addition to practicing local medicine, Mooka is also a tracker and is occasionally called upon to find people who lose their way in the forest.

As we hike deeper into the wild, we are introduced to the Aboriginal concept of Dreamtime. It is a spiritual philosophy that encompasses the past and present, one in which our world, Mother Nature, and the spirits and ancestors of the indigenous coexist. It’s a complex but fascinating idea that explains the deep connection Mooka shares with his environment and ancestors.

We also learn about Kuku Yalanji customs. “The wedding day marks the last time the groom communicates with the bride’s father,” he tells us. All further communication is relayed through a family member. Newlyweds, Mooka says shaking his head, are encouraged to marry within the tribe but, as with most traditional societies, things are changing.

An hour and many stories later, we arrive at the gushing Mossman River. Mooka picks up a couple of stones and starts to rub them on a larger rock until they bleed tones of ochre and orange. He rubs this bush paint over his arms, then plucks a few wild ferns and rubs them together to make them lather. This soapy solution is used to wash off the pigment. The forest seems to provision for every need.

Read more here.

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