Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Quinkan spirits

I'm sitting under a tree in Coen drinking wine out of a plastic cup trying to piece my thoughts together after a particularly emotionally jarring day. We nearly didn't end up going on the guided tour of the spectacular rock art gallery because of my impressions of the town the night before.

We decided on Motel camping again due to our late arrival in Laura and my laziness. There were no cooking facilities in our room so we walked across the road to the Hotel. What first struck me was the stark segregation of this town. All the businesses, Motel & Store, Roadhouse and Hotel were owned by white people, their employees were all young Asian girls (backpackers) with average to very bad English skills, while all the Aboriginal people I saw bought groceries at the store with some transaction not involving cash or card.

I was later told that most had been banned from the Pub, some for life! Is that even remotely legal? One lady informed us that even their dogs were "bad". I still can't believe that such blatant systemic racism exists in Australia. Even worse, I suspect my impression only scratches the surface.

Francoise had similar feelings and we decided to just get out of this place after quickly visiting the Quinkan Cultural Centre. We walked around the centre reading about the history of the area and our mood only got darker. We read how in the past the first people were rounded up to do forced labour (aka slavery) and if they "misbehaved" in any way their families would be sent to Palm Island from whence 25% didn't return. I'll just leave you with that little taste. I'm sure you can find information of other atrocities by yourself. Francoise by this point was crying and I needed to go outside to get some fresh air.

There I met Lex, the gentleman who runs the centre and who was just having a ciggie break. We got to chatting and I decided we should do the tour.

Lex got on the phone and rang one of the local guides, a fellow who goes by the name of Steve and who's grandmother coincidentally originates from Coen, where she raised 13 children in a tin shed. He is a very friendly, extremely knowledgeable and talkative fellow and he immediately put us at ease.

Lets get to the gallery.

This is the first cave where animals and good spirits are drawn. Steve was the first to admit that the exact meanings are now lost in the mists of time.

Many paintings show animals that were revered or eaten or both. Below is a river eel which is native ti the Laura river.

Human forms if I remember right (as opposed to spirits)

To me this looks like spirits pushing from inside the rock (no hallucinogens :-)

Across the top of the animals and people runs the rainbow serpent.

An Alien surfing? Calling Von Daniken :D

Lastly we got to the inner sanctum. This is where the healing was done. I will resist the temptation to retell the story poorly, rather I encourage you to come and hear it yourself from one of the people like Steve who has a connection to this land going back to before the last Ice age.

I cannot resist one last picture, who I will name the Venus of Quinkan. As soon  as I saw her she reminded me of the Venus of Willendorf . Francoise and I went to see her in Austria many years ago. Funny how "sexy" has changed in the last 30,000 years.

I hope this taste of one of the worlds oldest and most magnificent art galleries inspires you to come and experience it for yourself.

Another advantageof going with a (talkative) local guide is that he/she can tell you about the local flora and fauna. This is a Blackboy bush which was used for food, water making spears and fire.

The Geology is fascinating as well, unless you believe Steve that he placed the rock on top of the other one this morning.

Lastly Francoise couldn't resist being photographed next to a good looking man for a change.

Well, my bottle is now empty and it is time for me to sleep and let my brain try and process the day. It is clear to me that I live in an occupied country with a very dark history. The few pieces of legislation we have passed in the last few decades have not removed the injustice that is an enduring stain on our national identity.

My appreciation of Aboriginal culture has crystallized coming into such close contact with this inestimable human cultural heritage. I recommend you watch first footprints to see just how awe-inspiring the civilization that inhabited this country we now call Australia was. 

Then come to Laura
Good night. 


  1. Interesting read. Not trying to be wanker, but do indigenous people call that plant "black boy". I always assumed that was an anachronism :-)

  2. Yep, that's what our guide called it. A lady who accompanied us pointed out the "correct" name but nobody adopted it.


  4. Great song, thanks Seven Seer. I heard it often but had never seen the video before.

  5. I have stayed in Laura 3 times and done 3 different Rock art tours, the 2nd last one with Steve. It's best to know the full story on both sides before passing judgement on the people of Laura and Australians in general.

    1. As stated Geoff, these were my raw impressions after my visit, without the benefit of a Doctorate on the history of Laura. If my ignorance led me to an erroneous observation, please enlighten us.