Australia road trip: Visit with Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours

Australia road trip: Visit with Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours

Written by Heather

Topics: Life in Oz

Even as a little girl, I was a thinker. I have always pondered, analyzed, and most of all, reflected. When I was 7 I started my first diary in a small, pink, hard cover book — complete with a tiny lock and key!

Little me, thinking about something in between acts at the circus
Clifton Forge days

Over the years, I have learned that the pull toward introspection and reflection is likely due to my innate personality preferences (ISFJ on the Myers Briggs if you’re into that sort of thing). I’ve maintained various journals and blogs, and though most people know me as a talker, I can spend hours thinking, reminiscing, and connecting past events.

Since arriving in Australia I have looked forward to participating in one of Aboriginal Elder Willie Gordon’s tours of his ancestral land. While I knew that Willie’s tour was called Guurrbi Tours, I did not truly note the significance of the name until the week before I arrived in Cooktown.

Quoted from Guurrbi Tours site by permission

“Guurrbi is a time, a place, a space; a personal sanctuary or dwelling place made sacred by Yirmbal, the Rainbow Serpent; a place for reflection, and for the quiet time spent before bora when important decisions are made.

Because Guurrbi is sacred it must not be entered, accessed or used without permission or without due acknowledgement of Aboriginal lore and law.

These tours are an invitation from Willie to join him at his Guurrbi — his own, very personal place.”

Making time for guurrbi sounded like just the the perfect thing for me to include in my travels.

After picking up passengers from various locations, Willie drove us to his family’s land while explaining some of its past. Decades ago, his people were moved to other locations “for their own protection” and because they were perceived as a potential threat during WWII. They only returned in 1949 and are leasing the land from the government for 99 years. It is now up to representatives from 51 different family groups to determine what is in the best interest of the entire group and what will happen with the land in the future

Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours

Not only did Willie teach us about the land’s past, but he also shared the importance of education and knowing the land itself — knowing how to survive. It was imperative to make sure that no one was dependent on anyone else for survival…you were taught how to use the land to find everything you needed.

For example, green ants (yangga) have a variety of medicinal uses. A week before the trip, Brooke and I both had a bad cold, and Willie and his business partner Judy teased us saying that we would have to try some green ants during the tour! Or perhaps they weren’t teasing — Willie crushed several of the ants and offered some of the juices for Brooke to try!

In addition to education, Willie spoke with a passionate yet gentle voice about the importance of spirit — life and hope. He challenged us to think about and reflect upon our own views of how what we see came to be. Some of his rhetorical questions were quite direct and the quietness that followed provided time for introspection.

Rock art including the creator
Rock painting on Guurrbi tour

We were also introduced to the cave of the birthing site where generations of children were born and its rock art.

Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours

Rock painting at birthing cave on Guurrbi tour

I loved learning about the special, personal stories of Willie’s grandparents and this site (which you’ll have to go on the tour to hear ;-)). What I will share, however, is one of my favorite statements from the entire day: “We can’t choose or change our place of birth. We have to find acceptance for each other.” There are some things in life we have no control over but we can always choose how we respond to what life sends our way. Those choices often define us — it’s our actions speaking louder than our words.

Over the course of several hours on the Rainbow Serpent tour, Willie welcomed us all into his personal place — his Guurrbi — and shared stories of his grandparents and his father on this very land. We smelled tea tree leaves, learned how to fish with the help of a plant, and saw how one plant can be a multi-purpose skin care product. We learned that Guurrbi is the place where you find yourself and were encouraged and challenged to ask questions of ourselves and reflect.

I truly enjoyed the tour and am glad we made the journey to Cooktown. Many travelers stop at Cairns, but if you have time to head a few hours north, say hi to Willie and Judy for me and hear Willie’s stories for yourself! It was hard not to share them here but I did not want to provide too many details and spoil the learning experience :-)

You can follow Guurrbi Tours on Twitter and find general information and everything you need for a booking on the official site.

Read about Brooke’s experience with Guurrbi Tours

Featured image courtesy of Guurrbi Tours.

12 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Lauren says:

    Very cool! I’ll have to check it out.

  2. I reckon I could learn a thing or two from Willie. The aboriginal way of connecting with the land, their spirituality, their law… They had it together! Our society, not so much.

  3. Andi says:

    AMAZING!!!!!!! I would love to do this tour next time I’m in Oz. Wow!

  4. Mom says:

    Aww, loved the pic of ‘little’ you. As always, your writings stir me and at times move me to tears. I’m your mom, what else can I say? <3

  5. Dennis says:

    wow. That’s really cool.

  6. James Cole says:

    I’ve only learned about the Guurrbi tour since joining twitter after I returned from my trip to Cooktown. It’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to partake in this wonderful experience but knowing about it now has certainly given me the drive to return to this special place and meet Judy and Willie in the real world.
    Great post Heather :)

    • Madeline says:

      Great to hear James, will be fabulous to have you back up here. Plenty to see and do in the Tropical North that’s for sure and Guurrbi is certainly one of the highlights of our area, I’m sure Willie and Judy will be more than happy to take you on their entertaining tour!!

  7. Poi says:

    This sounds great, we’ll have to remember it for when we make it to OZ!

  8. Nicole says:

    What an interesting tour this sounds like! LOVE the pic of Willie from Gurrubi Tours at the top of the page & LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the pic of cute little you! What an inquisitive little thinker you were – SO cute! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Annie says:

    What an amazing experience. I hope that more people are inspired to do something like this and learn more than just how to surf while they are in Oz!

  10. Gale Davis says:

    Hi there:

    It has been a LONG time since I have written you (sorry)–been buried into a painting class at PVCC (needed 4 credits). I loved seeing you as a little girl. Amazingly, we share the same personality profile. When my husband was active duty Coast Guard, we went to a military sponsored retreat for couples and they did the Myers Briggs test so we could see how our spouse perspective and approach to things. It was very helpful. I, too, was and still am a very reflective person, who likes to chat with people. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece about Willie’s history. His viewpoints on life are simple, but powerfully true.

    We are relishing the gorgeous weather here in C-Ville. The leaves are turning quickly now. Our summer’s heatwave did some damage though as many of the trees lost their leaves early. I was thinking about you the other day because someone had the audacity to rent MY favorite locker. I came in and saw a padlock on MY SPACE. Now I am to readjust myself as best I can. I don’t know who this locker thief is, but I intend to get to the bottom of this.

    P.S. You can count on my vote! I love your blog. Have a great day and keep writing. You have a wonderful gift of expression. Take care.


    • Heather says:

      Aww thank you!!

      Ha! A locker thief! We have lockers at work but there are so many staff that I haven’t been able to claim one of my own yet. just got where there’s room :-)

      Glad you got to take the MBTI! Very interesting indeed. I’ve done it so may times for various retreats, work and class projects, etc., that it’s hard to take because I know “how” to answer to get my type.

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