Meet the Quandamooka guides sharing the stories, artworks, and history of their incredible island home.
A leisurely boat ride from Cleveland, on Queensland’s south-east coastline, sees day-trippers, holidaymakers and returning locals pull in to the sandy shores of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) on Quandamooka Country. Across Minjerribah, dense rainforest edges onto surf beaches, an amber-tinted lake lies peacefully shaded by Oodgeroo trees (paper-barks), and the world’s oldest living culture shares stories of its connection to this island.
Take a guided journey with a knowledgeable Quandamooka tour guide and kindle a desire to learn more about a destination that’s not only beautiful but is rich with culture and reveals a remarkable history. And, with each guide working alongside the other to ensure they’re bestowing unique perspectives of Minjerribah, visitors can reserve a spot on all three tours to gain a fuller picture of this fascinating place. Three top Quandamooka cultural tours to begin your Minjerribah journey
1. Yura Tours
Ideal for small groups, couples and families who want to take a deeper look at their holiday destination, Yura Tours takes travellers on an unforgettable sightseeing adventure that reveals there’s much more to this island than its famed beaches. Founded and run by natural storyteller Elisha Kissick, a Quandamooka woman whose connection to the island runs deep – Elisha’s grandparents were both central figures in the island’s history – Yura Tours draws on Elisha’s knowledge of bush foods and other flora, Dreamtime stories, cultural practices, significant sites across the island and lessons learned from her family.
Travellers of all ages are bound to learn something new and be surprised by Elisha’s eye-opening stories on this must-do experience. Elisha runs a ‘Sand Beneath My Feet’ 90-minute walking tour and an Exclusive Culture, three-hour tour by car and foot that takes guests along the paths walked by Elisha’s ancestors.
Yura Tours also offers Cultural Picnics, where picnickers can learn about the Creation stories behind the locally sourced ingredients they’re about to enjoy, then indulge in a relaxed, private picnic – complete with a picture-perfect view. “I make sure I’m sourcing ingredients and food from Island suppliers, to support them,” Elisha says. “I also wear shirts designed by local artist Delvene [Cockatoo-Collins] as my uniform,” she laughs. Her business is a community-minded one, and Elisha is very much a part of Minjerribah’s community – which is partly what makes her such a valuable and perceptive guide.
Yura Tours’ (Yura, meaning ‘hello’) three-hour tour includes a Welcome to Country, a visit to the former mission site named Terra Bulla, a tour of the Capemba (Myora Springs), a trip to Mulumba (Point Lookout Headland) and a wander through local artist and fellow guide Delvene Cockatoo-Collins’ studio. As we wander through Terra Bulla, Elisha hands around lemon myrtle leaves to smell and tart quandongs to taste. She speaks about how her ancestors brought mango seeds to the island from Rotuma, an island near Fiji, and I see the ancient trees now towering over us.
At Bummiera’s edge (Brown Lake), she tells me about why the lake became a women’s place. And, during a high tide at Myora Springs, I learn about the unusual method her ancestors used for catching prawns. It’s these passed-down stories and memories that provide fascinating insights and a glimpse into Quandamooka life on Minjerribah.
2. SeaLink Cultural Experience tours
After 30 years in the business, Matthew Burns has well-and-truly honed his tour-guiding skills. This passionate guide is a self-sufficient hunter, spear-fisher, tool carver and dancer who walks the talk.
On his SeaLink Cultural Experience tours, Matt shares his knowledge of medicinal plant usage, signal-watching in nature (observing tides, animals, and plants), and shows visitors artefacts used a millennia ago. His most popular tour, he tells us, is the Goompi (Dunwich) Trail, a ninety-minute walking tour along the shoreline that connects visitors with Quandamooka culture and history.
“People don’t realise how much history we have here,” he explains. “So it’s my job to help people learn about what’s happened here and about our connection to the land.” Among Matthew’s tours and workshops are opportunities to paint and learn to throw boomerangs, chances to learn traditional dances and listen to (then attempt to play) the didgeridoo, see Matt’s collection of cultural artefacts and learn what each piece was used for, witness a traditional smoking ceremony, and take in the island’s inimitable views. Matthew specialises in large group tours – leading up to 15 tours a week. And, he tells us, loves to see visitors having their “minds blown with new information”.
For example, Matthew says, “There have been dugong bones as old as 65,000 years old found here.” It’s one of many stories that Matt is brimming with and eager to tell visitors to the island. “People who haven’t been here in a long time, or have only come to the beaches, are surprised by all these things they didn’t know about,” he smiles.
3. Art Walk and Workshop on North Stradbroke Island with Delvene Cockatoo-Collins
Delvene Cockatoo-Collins is a name known by many art and design appreciators. The lauded, well-established artist and Quandamooka woman welcomes people into her Goompi (Dunwich) studio, a short stroll from the ferry terminal, and is now running art and cultural-centred tours and workshops.
On Delvene’s tours, her participants can begin to understand the process of harvesting and processing fibres from the island, which have been used to make traditional dilly bags, for example, and, now, artworks. She says: “Visitors come away with a survival skill and a new appreciation for what went into traditional practices.” Delvene’s mother taught her to make intricately weaved mats, and today her own artworks tell stories from these experiences and more with her mother and grandmother.
The artist also uses clays and pigments from the island on her ceramics and paper works – which produce a splendid palette of golden ochre and sunset hues. In her studio, eager collectors can purchase a piece of Delvene’s collection – from artworks to clothing and jewellery, and from tea towels to bookmarks. On her art walks, Delvene shows visitors where to find the many significant public artworks dotted around Goompi, honouring elders as she does.
Her role isn’t one of a traditional storyteller, she says – a role she says Elisha Kissick and Matthew Burns perform so well. Delvene explains that just as she is mindful when it comes to collecting reeds for her works – careful not to take more than her share as there are other weavers on the island – she says Quandamooka tour operators on Minjerribah respect one another’s area of expertise and avoid overlapping in what they talk about. This way, she says, “our tours complement each other’s”. “There are now more than 30 Aboriginal-owned businesses on the island, each with a connection to the land,” she says. “The island is well protected and cared for and there’s a sense of community.” This sense of community is what frequently spurs Delvene to stop friends and family in the street when she runs into them on walks, inviting them to contribute to her tours and share a fresh perspective on island life.