29 Apr 2022
Developing an understanding of local culture, particularly indigenous culture, is one of the primary interests for international students when they come to study here, so it’s no surprise that the opportunity to visit the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre was a keenly anticipated experience for our new cohort of Mayor’s Student Ambassadors.
The 2022 Ambassadors are like a microcosm of the wider Gold Coast student community, reflecting a broad base of cultural backgrounds, including German, Filipino, Czech, Chinese, French, Colombian, Greek, Swedish, South African, Brazilian, Korean, Mauritian, and of course Australian. For many of these students this is their first encounter with indigenous Australian culture, so there were many questions for their aboriginal hosts.
Jellurgal is the local Kombumerri name for Burleigh Heads and the Centre is nestled within the perimeter of the National Park, providing the perfect location for an exploration of local indigenous culture and storytelling as the Ambassadors trekked along the rainforest walkway by Tallebudgera Creek (Kombumerri for ‘good fishing’!) to the top of the headland for a spectacular view of the city’s southern coastline.
This spiritual place came alive with the stories of aboriginal dreamtime as our tour guide Adrian explained how the local natural environment was created. There were stories about Jabreen, the giant creator spirit, who had been hunting before taking a swim in the ocean. The rock formation of Burleigh Headland is where Jabreen lay down to rest.
These stories were handed down from generation to generation, they had no written language, history was recorded verbally as elders shared the stories of their ancestors.
Local stories and customs were also told through dance, from good luck totems like the Mibunn (wedge-tailed eagle) to seasonal hunting traditions such as fishing for mullet. The Ambassadors learned that there were once over 250 different aboriginal languages in Australia, although sadly over time many of these have been lost through the impact of white settlement.
Connection to land
Aboriginal people are the storytellers of the land, ensuring its protection for generations to come. They learned how to read the seasons and the stars at night thousands of years before western civilisation – their entire way of life was based on respect for the environment.
The Mayor’s Student Ambassadors were provided with a deeper understanding of the indigenous connection to land, as Adrian explained “everything in indigenous culture and folklore is about the land, without it we are nothing”.
Adrian talked about ancestral burial grounds at nearby Kombumerri Park and the bora rings where young males earned their right of passage through sacred rituals. To non-indigenous eyes these sites are simply sign posts of a bygone era, but to the Kombumerri people they are sacrosanct. As Adrian says: “Times have changed but we have not forgotten our traditions or values.”