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Creating the next generation of leaders at Wujal Wujal Youth Camp


Three Indigenous people wearing snorkles and diving masks, and holding floating noodles swim in seawater. In the background is sand, beach umbrellas, trees and other people.
Youth leaders Cleon Doughboy, Desley McLean, Altricia Yougie and Shakaya Hooker snorkelling at Low Isles (Photo courtesy of Wujal Wujal Justice Group)
21 Nov 2017

In September, 40 Indigenous youth from the Far North Queensland community of Wujal Wujal got together with 13 Rivermount College students from Yatala near Brisbane. They were joined by 12 youth from all over the world - Youth With A Mission (YWAM) –  for 12 days of bonding, learning and fun.

The Wujal Wujal Youth Leadership Camp, organised by Wujal Wujal Justice Group, set off from Cairns bound for various points and adventures throughout Far North Queensland.

Selected because of their behaviour and high attendance at school, the youth explored and enjoyed the beautiful Country of the Kuku Yalanji, Kuku Ngyungul and Kuku Jalunji homelands.

In total, more than 100 people, including youth leaders, from different backgrounds and cultures came together, all sharing Culture, learning from each other and caring for Country.

Wujal Wujal Justice Group Support Workers Charlie Burrows and Brandon Yougie, Youth Program Coordinator Waratah Nicholls and Project manager (and TSS support officer) Rebecka Earley tell the story.

Charlie: ‘I had just started my new job as a youth support worker with the Wujal Wujal Justice Group, so it was a great way for me to get into things. The first part of the trip for the young people was going to Cape Tribulation, where the lovely traditional owner couple Clive & Betty Sykes started with a cultural ‘warming’ ceremony which was done on arrival to keep everyone safe and make them feel welcome on their Country. They spent three days exploring Cape Tribulation with youth leaders Ronan Bassani and Dolly Sykes. They went swimming, fishing, learned about their culture and did adventure activities together such as horse riding on the beach and the awesome jungle surfing: swinging through the trees like Tarzan and learning some interesting facts about the oldest rainforest on the planet at the same time. After having all this fun together, we travelled on to Wujal Wujal for four days of camping in the community.’

Brandon: ‘We started in Wujal Wujal with an adventure trip to Buru (China Camp) where we showed the visitors the sacred ‘Kija’ (= moon) site. After the dusty, bumpy track, we had another ‘Welcome to Country’ smoking ceremony by one of our strong Elders, Bobby Ball. A few of the Elders and some of our keen youth leaders told our visitors stories about the area, while the women checked the Roaring Meg Waterfalls with Traditional Owner Stella Bassini and our women’s support worker Marella Gibson. We all had a lovely swim afterwards and headed back to camp in the afternoon.’

Rebecka: ‘The next day a visit to the Bloomfield State School was on the cards, where the Rivermount students helped teach a class and had a Kuku Yalanji language lesson themselves from our young ones. Later that day, they went to the beach to dig for ‘Bulgudji’ (delicious pi-pi shells) and tried their luck at catching a fish in the Bloomfield River. The last day in Wujal Wujal was spent exploring the community and going up to the famous Wujal Wujal waterfalls with one of our wonderful Justice Group Elders Kathleen Walker.

The last day was a family day, dedicated to a beautiful community member, who has been battling cancer. It was a great turnout, pretty much the whole community showed up and there were lots of fun activities for the kids, some heartfelt speeches and a yummy BBQ at the end. Everybody had loads of fun and it was a very special day, especially for the visitors who got to experience the strength of community coming together to support one of their own.’

Waratah: ‘Next up was our three day family camp at the Shipton’s Flat Ranger Base. The local Indigenous Jabalbina Rangers were excellent in teaching locals and visitors alike about the work they do looking after Country. It was also a great opportunity for our youth leaders to teach the Rivermount College students a bit about their culture and to help out with everything else that needed to be done around the campsite. The first day we set up camp and our deadly Elder Sharon Denman performed the Traditional Smoking Ceremony. That afternoon, the boys stocked up on firewood and the women did a wonderful job cooking for us all and cleaning up after everyone, which was a big job, since there were more than 70 of us altogether! A lot of families with little ones from Wujal Wujal came along to the camp also which made it more entertaining for everybody. We spent our second day hiking up to the Little Annan waterfalls while others went fishing, hunting, and swimming. It was a really relaxed way to spend our Sunday.’

Three youth stand in a small room. Each wears a helmet and straps set up for abseiling. In the background are racks of helmets and other climbing gear.
Wujal Wujal Youth Leaders Dolly Sykes & Ronan Bassani and Justice Group Support Worker Brandon Yougie, geared up for flying through the trees at Cape Tribulation (Photo courtesy of Wujal Wujal Justice Group)

Charlie: ‘The next day we helped the rangers build stone fire places at the different campsites. The young ones put some of their own art and love into it. On day four we went to Cooktown, along the way checking out Trevethan Falls, Black Mountain and Archers Point for lunch, where some of the boys went mud crab hunting along the mangroves. Then it was off to Cooktown for dinner. We split up (the group) in Cooktown; some people went fishing at the Cooktown wharf, the others checked out the James Cook museum seeing some of the old Aboriginal artefacts and much more. That night we had a lovely farewell dinner at the Sovereign Hotel; it was already time to say our goodbyes, as only some staff and youth leaders could go along with the Rivermount students for the next part.’

Brandon: ‘They visited the Mossman Gorge visitors centre and did stand up paddle boarding on the Foxton River. Then they went on to Port Douglas for a reef trip to Low Isles and explored our Great Barrier Reef. The Rivermount students even got to pet a Ngawiya (green sea turtle). Some of our youth leaders had never been to the reef, it was the best experience for everyone to finish the trip.’

Waratah: ‘The Youth Leadership Camp was a great project for the community to get people motivated and involved, and people really took pride in showing off their ‘bubu’ (homeland) to the visitors. The Justice Group staff and youth leaders provided deadly support in making our visitors feel welcome in the amazing Kuku Yalanji bubu. Everyone had a great time, a lot of laughs, and the younger generation got to spend time out bush with the Elders learning a thing or two about their own culture and learning from the visitors too about their lives in mainstream society. It kept the Wujal Wujal Youth engaged and away from the bad influences such as drugs and alcohol and at the same time rewarded their commitment to school and becoming future leaders of the community.’

‘The Rivermount College Students and YWAM folks all gave super positive feedback and said they loved spending time on Country with the ‘Bama’ (Aboriginal people) and would love to come back in the future.’

‘A HUGE THANKS to everyone involved for such a great experience!! Yalada!!!’

‘Special thanks to all Elders and TO’s, Rivermount College, Bloomfield River State School, Jabalbina, YWAM, Hank Young Foundation, John Wallis Foundation and last but not least, all the youth leaders for their support .’

Find out more

If you enjoyed this story, read the Wujal Wujal Men’s and Women’s Group adventures at Hunting, fishing and yarning at Bouchat and Getting lost & other adventures at Starcke Homestead.

And if you’ve had a rich cultural experience you want to share on, email with the story or the details.

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