Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is a deeply immersive cultural experience that’s renowned across Australia
In the beautiful suburb of Caravonica Lakes, located a mere 15 minutes north of the Cairns’ CBD, is the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Situated on around 25 acres of Aboriginal tribal land, this cultural park has two sections. The first is a large building through which you enter and where indoor activities take place, and the second section is bushland and a lake, which is full of winding trails and small huts where participatory activities take place.
There are two experiences you can choose from: Tjapukai by Day and Tjapukai by Night.
The Tjapukai by Day experience begins with a Didgeridoo Journey. Another early morning event is the Creation Theatre, which tells the creation story of the Tjapukai tribe and introduces audiences to the Aboriginal theme of ‘wet and dry’. Much of the artwork and objects on display at Tjapukai adhere to this notion of wet and dry. According to the Tjapukai people, everything in the world can be defined by either wet or dry – including people. The Heart of My People is a spectacular and must-see piece of art hanging in the main entrance hall, which incorporates these beliefs, as well as tells the story of the Tjapukai people and the Dreamtime story they subscribe to. The Tjapukai tribal elders have approved all content in the park.
Next up, you cross the river and head to more interactive activities. There are a large variety of events to participate in – participation and cultural integration is a key theme at Tjapukai. You learn about bush foods and medicine, hunting and weapons, weaving and painting. There’s even spear and boomerang throwing. Tjapukai is also the proud producer of the world’s longest running stage show, Dance Theatre. Dance Theatre is a live, interactive performance that highlights traditional corroboree songs and dances, and even fire-making ceremonies.
The park has its own restaurant, which serves an international buffet lunch. Students from the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts entertain diners as they eat.
The night events offered at Tjapukai are just as spiritually and culturally informative as the day events. Tjapukai by Night begins with face painting and an intimate spirit blessing, followed by a buffet dinner, fire-making, dance theatre and an ancient corroboree ritual. As usual, this is as educational as it is entertaining.
One of the highlights of both the day and night experiences is seeing an old ambulance truck that has been transformed into a ‘Message Stick’ truck. This truck, covered in paint and handprints, is a symbol of the unity of Australia’s Indigenous people. Indigenous leaders, both in Australia and world-over, have blessed the truck. It even contains the handprints of Nelson Mandela. The truck represents the essence of Tjapukai, which is reconciliation in practice.
Tjapukai is more than an experience: it’s educational and enlightening, and an excellent example of why culture needs to be preserved for future generations. The park itself was created to help preserve the traditions and language of the Tjapukai people – something it has been successful in doing. Many of the park employees now speak Tjapukai fluently. In fact, the park created its own Tjapukai dictionary as a way to preserve the language and teach others.
Tjapukai is open seven days a week. The day experience runs from 9:00am – 5:00pm and the night experience begins at 6:45pm and ends at approximately 11pm. Reservations for Tjapukai by Night are essential. Admission prices begin at $40. See the website for detailed prices.
By Rebecca Gillies
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
t: (07) 4042 9999
a: Cairns Western Arterial Road, Caravonica, Cairns, QLD