Aurukun, an Aboriginal Community in Far North Queensland. During our year in Australia, we tried to work as much as possible. This job in Aurukun was our last and most special job.
While in Cairns we placed an ad on Gumtree (advertisement website) in search of a new job. A couple of days later we got a response. We had to decide quickly because we could go there the same week. After a bit of research we took the job. On to a new adventure! We were going to work in Wuungkam Lodge, a hotel/restaurant/shop. Owned by the Aurukun Shire Council. We couldn’t go there with our car because the roads are too rough. It is a dirt road and it takes about 14 hours from Cairns. You need a four-wheel drive. Another option is flying, it takes two hours. We could leave our car at the managers’ place in Mareeba, not too far from Cairns.
In a rush, we packed our stuff, cleaned out the Van and packed for our Aurukun adventure. It was quite special to fly to our job, it’s something you don’t do every day. We had to because it is such a remote community. Once arrived we were shown our rooms and the property where we were going to work. The place we were going to work at was a lodge from the Aurukun Shire Council. It’s a kind of hotel/motel with a restaurant and a little shop. This place isn’t most likely visited by tourists, but by people that come to work in this community. For example, doctors, nurses, pilots, people from the council, etc.
Jai his job was a gardener in the morning and kitchenhand/head chef at night. My job was the office in the morning and I was running the shop in the afternoon/at night. We worked for nearly 4 months in this special community.
Here a bit more information about Aurukun;
Cape Keerweer (yes, keerweer is Dutch), on the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, was the site of the first attempted European settlement in Australia.
In 1605, the Dutch ship Duyfken, under Captain Willem Janszoon, sailed down the west coast of Cape York Peninsula and made the first recorded Dutch landing in Australia at Cape Keerweer, south of Aurukun. Janszoon planned to build a city at the site. However, after exploitative actions by the crew, fighting broke out with the local people, several sailors were killed and the Duyfken departed. He ‘Keerde Weer’, which means, going back. That’s where the name Cape Keerweer comes from.
The Aurukun Mission (known then as the Archer River Mission Station) was established on 4 August 1904 for the Presbyterian Church of Australia by the Reverend Arthur and Mrs Mary Richter, two Moravian missionaries. It was managed under the provisions of the Queensland Aborigines Act 1905 where Aboriginal people from all over Cape York were relocated, many against their will, to the mission settlement.
In 1978, the Queensland government decided to take over control of both the Aurukun and Mornington Island Reserves. Both communities were against this and protested, seeking the help of the Federal government.
The Wik and Wik Way people have lived in the area for many thousands of years and are recognised as the Traditional Owners for the area between Pormpuraaw and Weipa.
Aurukun is situated approximately 200 kilometres south of Weipa. The closest town, about three hours driving, here we did most of our grocery shopping for the lodge. Aurukun faces west to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and during the wet season, roads are impassable, the remote township of Aurukun becomes even more remote. The roads are flooded with rainwater and Aurukun becomes virtually cut off from the rest of Australia, with not much able to get in or out.
There are some 50 to 60 families from five major clan groups, Sara, Putch, Wanam, Winchanam and Apalech, which are split into two factions — the “top end” and “bottom end”. Violent conflict between the two groups creates problems in the community on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there was something going on every day. It makes sense if you place 5 different clan groups with each a different language in a community that it’s not always going to work.
The traditional language is predominantly Wik Mungkan with a mixture of other dialects including Wik Ngathan. English is also spoken, but a very little. The local residents are the creators of stunning arts and crafts now held in high esteem and displayed in prominent museums and galleries around the country and across the World.
Traditional house opening ceremonies take place in Aurukun regularly, they are moving events to witness. Aurukun is one of the very few remaining places where visitors can immerse themselves in the Aboriginal heritage and learn about the culture from the people, firsthand.
Aboriginal wedding, this was a VERY special experience. If I remember correctly, this was the first wedding again in almost 30 years.
Aurukun is a Dry Community which means that alcohol is prohibited. Most Aboriginal people cannot tolerate alcohol and drink too much. There was a pub in Aurukun but the Government closed it in 2008 because of too many problems. Sadly enough Sly grog traders are trafficking illicit alcohol into remote Indigenous Communities such as Aurukun and selling it at prices of up to 11 times higher than the legal retail value. Some people prefer to buy alcohol and end up with not enough money for basic needs such as food.
Aurukun is one of the most disadvantaged Aboriginal communities in Australia with mass unemployment, drugs and alcohol and the legacy of the mission. But with that being said there is also a beautiful side of this community. We had more good than bad experiences and we want to share them with you. We had lots of fun with the locals and learned a lot about the Aboriginal culture in North Queensland. In the beginning, we didn’t know the people very well and then they were very shy, but if they started to know you they are very open and want to learn you about their culture. When I was working in the shop they were so shy and almost didn’t want to talk to me, but after a while, they got to know me better and they were calling me their friend, sister or even family, this was very special to me. We were called Brother Jai and Sister Daria, haha.
Here some more pictures! Enjoy
One day we were going to Possum Creek to get some refreshment. It can get really hot in Aurukun, there is no swimming pool and swimming in the sea is not possible because of crocs and sharks. There is just one place and that’s the creek, it is a 45min drive. So we went that one day, but when we wanted to go again the week after, the creek was completely dried out 😦
Thank you Aurukun for this special opportunity!
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