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TTNQ salutes sad closure of Cairns’ Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park

January 11, 2021 Headline News, Visit Queensland No Comments Email Email

The disastrous impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry in Tropical North Queensland has been demonstrated by the announcement of the closure of the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, located in Cairns,

Tjapukai says that it has been sharing the authentic culture and traditions of the local Djabugay people for the past 33 years, providing employment opportunities for their people and giving the performers immense pride in demonstrating their culture, with more than 3 million people around the world having discovered how to “shake a leg” by joining in traditional performances drawn from Djabugay corroborees, learnt how to make fire without a matchstick and been enthralled with the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo.

From its inception, Tjapukai’s mission has been about giving Australians and international visitors the opportunity to experience authentic Aboriginal culture and interact with Traditional Owners. That mission now includes authentic Torres Strait Islander culture.

Tjapukai was founded in Kuranda in 1987 by international theatre artists Don and Judy Freeman, David Hudson, a Ewamian man who was brought up among the Djabugay people, and his wife Cindy.  They combined their performance expertise with the cultural knowledge of six Djabugay men – Willie Brim, Alby Baird, Wayne Nicols, Irwin Riley, Neville Hobbler and Dion Riley – to create a one-hour play incorporating the dance-rich culture of the Djabugay people who had lived in the rainforest around Kuranda for tens of thousands of years.

In 1996 Tjapukai moved to a 25 acre site next to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway at Caravonica and expanded to include interactive cultural demonstrations and performances, a cultural village, restaurant and retail gallery.

Tjapukai performers were also in demand at world events as an authentic example of Australia’s Indigenous culture and these included the Welcome Ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Torch and the bid for the Gold Coast to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and in 2002 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip’s Australian visit included Tjapukai.

Tjapukai was the largest Indigenous employer of any tourism enterprise in Australia with more than two-thirds of the team Indigenous, with Tjapukai having worked in consultation with Traditional Owners and has injected in excess of $40 million into the local Indigenous community through wages, royalties, and the commissioning and purchasing of authentic art and artifacts.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen said the industry’s thoughts were with the staff of Tjapukai following news that it would close, adding, “This will be a really difficult time for the staff both past and present who have made an enormous contribution to showcasing Indigenous tourism over the past 33 years.”

He added, “The closure of Tjapukai is a great loss to the tourism industry as it is a foundation product that set the benchmark for Indigenous cultural tourism experiences in Australia.”

TTNQ Chair Ken Chapman said it was a tough decision, but an understandable one with the uncertainty around international and domestic tourism, adding, “ThIs demonstrates just how hard it is for businesses that are successful in the international market to continue trading”, and “It also reinforces why tourism businesses need ongoing support to tackle the challenges ahead.”

A report by John Alwyn-Jones

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