A journey into my stupidity
I have never ever felt more useless than for the first two hours of today. Don’t get me wrong, I really didn’t mind. The Kuku Yalanji Guided Ranforest Walk probably doesn’t cover more than 1km in the 1.5hr round trip and it’s not strenuous (Magda Szubanski has done it for heaven’s sake). It’s the knowledge imparted along the way that is the most humbling.
Wawabuja, or Harold Tayley to me and you, isn’t just our guide through the rainforest but a shaman for his local people with incredible healing powers — as well as a professional tracker called in by the police when things are really not going to the search and rescue plan.
But today he’s just guiding a small party of ignorants like me. I walk through the rainforest and look at the pretty plants, birds and mammals — Harold sees a pharmacy, a grocery and a church.
Not long after setting out, Harold pulls up, grabs a rock and smashes it into a tree. Okaaaaay.
A small trickle of white sap drips slowly down the tree. “This is one of the most important trees in the rainforest,” he says. “When we are really very sick we mix the sap with a little water and feed it to someone. The sap has an antibiotic effect and can save lives.” Wow. “If you came back in two or three weeks that wound would all be healed up.”
And then there’s hunting. I envision tracking through jungles, following prey with a mad rush at the end. Harold, on the other hand, has smart tactics. The fruit of one particular tree called the Bird Trap (yep, it gives it away) are so sticky that if birds get it on their feathers they can’t shake them and in typical dumb poultry fashion will just sit down. The Yalanji scatter seeds loved by the local bush turkeys among the sticky fruit and return the next day to find several well-fed bush turkeys sitting there ready to be taken — that’s hunting without breaking a sweat.
If the Barra aren’t biting, Harold would throw in the bark of the sassafras tree with anitbiotic qualities. “Then I sit there and talk with my friends for 40 minutes and they’re biting again. The bark depletes the oxygen in the water and brings the barra back to the surface so we can catch them.” Hunting is easy when you know what you’re doing.
Harold points out a tree. “This is an arrow,” he says. “This points up the hill to say the track goes that way. We would bend the tree to mark the track like arrows.”
And this goes on for the next hour, with example upon example of just how stupid I am — I can’t even tell the tree with the antibiotics from the one with the poison sap, or the Cassowary plum which will kill me from the Cassowary apple which could save me. There’s also the soap bush, with leaves that can be used as soap and bark that smells and acts just like linament.
I’m half expecting to find the cure for cancer . . . and then Harold speaks up again. “Over the mountains there is a bush that is excellent for skin and skin cancer.” I should have known.
And Harold is coach to the VIPs. Bill Clinton has joined others like Phil Ruddock, Tony Abbott and Jane and Henry Fonda. “I once had a guy come up to me after the walk and sat me down for two hours,” says Harold. “After that he said he was a contestant on Survivor. He came second but.”
The track being a relatively easy walk means many not so agile people come along. Harold is a man of many talents. “I had one lady who had terrible pain in her knees,” he says. “She came up to me and said, ‘Can I swim in the special women’s healing waterfall?'”
Harold goes on to describe how he used ancient healing taught to him by his uncle to help heal the lady. “I rub the sweat from under my arms on a handkerchief to protect myself,” he says. “Then I can see what the problem is.” I’m just going with the flow at this point, and put that down to a little embellishment.
At the end of the tour Harold has a folder with testimonial after testimonial from people he’s helped overcome pain and discomfort. So much for embellishment.
The damper and tea refreshment at the end of the tour gives us an opportunity to chat a little more with Harold. “So where did the flour for this bread come from?” asks one of my fellow ignorants. “Just outside Mossman down the road there’s a big sign,” he replies. (Wow — a secret place for collecting bush tucker, we’re all thinking.) “It’s Big W,” Harold finishes.
He may be a very smart dude but he certainly isn’t boring. For $25 the tour is well worth it. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed feeling so dumb so much in my life.