Traditional owners, operators Walking Together in Queensland’s Year of Indigenous Tourism

From ABC Tropical North 
By Angel Parsons and Ollie WykehamQueensland’s stunning reefs, sandy beaches and luxury resorts attract hordes of tourists every year, but until now the traditional owners of the landscape have had little to do with the industry.

After decades of restricted access to country, and amid ongoing native title legal battles, Ngaro elder Peter Pryor and his brothers, Tony and William, have partnered with a Whitsundays tour operator.The brothers will soon start taking small groups to culturally significant sites throughout the islands, telling stories and giving visitors an insight into what the area was like long before it became a bustling tourist hub.

“It’s a stepping stone towards reconciliation,” Peter Pryor said.

“This is huge.

“It’s the very first time since settlement we’ve had the chance to come home — it’s history in the making here.”

Old pain, new path

The brothers announced their plans during an emotional address to a gathering of Queensland tourism industry leaders.”We know what happened to our ancestors, we know we were removed from the islands through decisions a hundred years ago,” Mr Pryor said.

“But we can’t hold onto that pain from the past.”

“We just want to go home, doing this is our way home.”

Mr Pryor said he knew of non-Indigenous guides leading tours through culturally significant sites around country.

“I’ve had some cases of tour operators doing the right thing, they do their research into the Ngaro people, but they’re not telling the true stories,” he said.

“So I ask those tour operators to approach the Ngaro people and have a yarn … hear a little bit of our story so you can help us to transfer our words, our story.

“Walking together as a tourism industry is huge.”

Skipper John Henderson, who charters tour groups throughout the islands, says he was not sure how to go about informing tourists about the local Indigenous culture until he spoke to Mr Pryor.

“All the years that I’ve been taking people out on charters and learning more, but the frustration is I know that the stories are there, but I don’t know how to tell them properly because I don’t want to tell them inaccurately,” Mr Henderson said.

“I can’t tell your story for you because it’s your story.”

He encouraged other tour operators around the country to directly involve traditional owners.”

[The story] will be told correctly, and accurately and with heart,” he said.

Mr Pryor called on more traditional owners to get involved with operators.” 

Our storytelling is what connects us to the land, it connects us to the sea, it connects us to the ancestors,” he said.

“With the connection back to our islands, comes the connection back to our language and our culture and our ceremonies, which we hold very special.”

The way for us to go forward into the future is to work in partnerships.

“Black and white working together could be special.”

Queensland has declared 2020 the Year of Indigenous Tourism.