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Aboriginal Culture Cooktown

Wanhtharra nyundu! Welcome to our country! Cooktown lies in Guugu Yimithirr country, a tribal nation which stretched from the Annan River, south of Cooktown, to Princess Charlotte Bay in the north. This is one of the Cape’s forty-one tribal nations, each having its distinct language, history, culture, bush foods and bush medicines.

Milbi WallThe Guugu Yimithirr nation was divided into thirty-two clan (or extended family) areas, with boundaries defined by geographical landmarks. Aboriginal people lived in these small clan groups, looking after their lands, its sacred sites and special story places, just as people now look after their house and family photos.

Today Guugu Yimithirr people maintain their strong links with the land and its special places. The word Bama (pronounced Bumma) is widely used throughout Cape York to mean an Aboriginal person, but in Guugu Yimithirr, the word simply means ‘person’ regardless of nationality or race.

The Guugu Yimithirr name for Cooktown is Gungardie, after the word gun-gaar – a type of crystal quartz found in the area which was used for cutting the chest skin for initiations.

While you are in Cooktown there are some wonderful ways to learn more about Aboriginal history and culture.

Visit the James Cook Museum where the story of Cook’s Landing is told from the Aboriginal perspective, and Bama tell their stories from the days of the Cape Bedford Mission to recent times. There are also some wonderful Aboriginal tools, artifacts and artworks on display.

Wander around the Milbi Wall at the Wharf which tells the story of the Guugu Yimithirr people in hand-painted tiles. Aboriginal artists learnt the art of tile-making in order to construct this wonderful Rainbow Serpent of their history.

Local Aboriginal art and artifacts can be purchased from various outlets around town. You might also see Aboriginal artists at the Saturday markets.

Accompany Nugal-warra Elder and story-keeper, Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours on one of his magical tours to his ancestral rock art sites. Now One of Australia’s 20 Top Tours, this is a must-do whilst in Cooktown.