An interview with Palawa Elder Uncle Clyde Mansell.
Story by Matt Sykes with Jaari Heyes
Photos courtesy of the wukalina Walk & Rob Burnett
“People spend millions of dollars flying overseas to visit cultures when they’ve got the oldest living culture at their front door. It’s crucial that people understand this land, it’s total story, which has existed for thousands and thousands of years.”
Eight years ago, I sat down on palawa land in lutruwita / Tasmania and listened to an Elder share his vision for a 4-day cultural walk in one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth, larapuna (the Bay of Fires). This conversation led to a pilgrimage out on Country, during which I discovered one of Australia’s darkest chapters in history – a place of war, kidnapping, rape and holocaust.
But through the resilience of leaders like Uncle Clyde Mansell, a rite of passage-like travel experience has emerged. One that shines a light into the horror as well as uplifting stories of cross-cultural collaboration, adaptation and survival. Since that time, I’ve been a passionate advocate for wukalina Walk. In late 2020, I caught up with Uncle Clyde to reflect on the journey so far …
How would you describe the Walk?
Firstly, “it’s an interpretation of Palawa culture and an opportunity for Aborigines to become involved in the interpretation.” It’s also an opportunity for Australians with European and migrant heritage to learn about the cultural heritage of our country.
What impact is it having on guests?
“Local non-Aboriginal Tasmanian’s are paying to go on the walk and we tell them the stories warts and all, no holds barred. It’s not hard core but it’s the truth. For me that’s the pleasing thing about it. They haven’t been able to get the kind of information they desire from other sources and the Walk is seen to be the provider of that missing information.”
The Walk starts at the Elder’s Council in Launceston, why is that important?
“It has become an avenue for the Elder’s Council to tell its story. We start the walk here and finish the walk here, and what goes on in between is the journey of learning about land, culture and identity. When they come back its overwhelming. Guests are buying thank you gifts for the guides out of appreciation. To me that’s the best feedback and appreciation you can get.”
A pathway for young Palawa guides to grow and develop their leadership …
“It’s provided them with an opportunity to express their culture and their connection to land and all the stories that go with it. It’s more than what I was thinking in the beginning, far greater than what I anticipated.”
How are the local Palawa community responding to the Walk?
“We’ve had a couple of community trips up to krakani lumi [the standing camp, 'place of rest'], and the result is that community members have come to understand what we’re seeking to achieve. They’re aware of what the walk can offer - we’ve provided that opportunity for non-Aboriginal people to learn more about Aborigines and our culture. They’ve been highly supportive of the concept.”
What is one of the lessons hidden within the experience?
“The footprints between the cultural site [a light impact camp nestled into landscape] and the European site [a giant lighthouse made from quarried granite] is an example of our relationships with the land.” For guests, and leaders in general, the question becomes - How do you instil that care for Country in everything you do?
Regeneration Projects would like to extend an invitation to leaders around Australia – CEOs, politicians and community decision-makers - to pencil the wukalina Walk (or other cultural tourism experiences) into your schedules for FY 2021/22. These are our opportunities for healing. First Nations people are welcoming us onto Country, let's now make the time to stop and listen so that we can walk together into a better future for all.
More information available at: https://www.wukalinawalk.com.au/