What we planned:
Just outside Cairns is an Aboriginal Cultural Center named Tjapukai. The Aborigine people, as you may know, are the original inhabitants of the continent. The white man pushed them aside when settling and expanding in this land (sound familiar?).
We are taking the opportunity to see a few young people descended from the Tjapukai nation of Aborigines demonstrate and discuss the life of their people. I’m going to give you the best guide to pronouncing their name that I can, but keep in mind that I’m having loads of trouble saying Cairns as CANS! I think you say Tjapukai as:
- cha’ – pook – EYE – – with the accent on the last syllable but some emphasis as well on the first syllable
Now you can speak aboriginal!
What we saw and did:
It was indeed a day of cultural communications. Not only did we learn about the ancient people of this land, but we learned two things about the current people as well.
The Tjapukai at the cultural center gave demonstrations and performances as well as interacting with us. This was not an over-produced Disney spectacle, but a friendly sharing of some traditions, skills, and knowledge in a relaxed outdoor setting. We liked that it was easy-going.
First we learned the music of the Tjapukai, performed only by men using a hollow wooden tree limb or small hollow tree trunk fashioned into an instrument of four to six feet long named the didgeridoo. Then we were shown the Tjapukai way to throw boomerangs and spears, getting our hand at both. We also were taught about trees, roots, nuts, and other wonders of nature that provided food, clothing, and medicines. Another discussion was about weapons used in battle and hunting.
The largest event at the cultural center was a stage show with music, singing, and dancing. We didn’t expect audience participation to surface, but the lesson learned here is that if you sit in the front row AT a performance, you just might BE IN the performance. In some tourist’s collection there is now video of Doug, Betsy, and a dozen others engaging in Tjapukai traditional song and dance. With both of us brought on stage, we couldn’t provide our own video or photos to share this with you (aw, shucks!).
No animals were harmed by our spear throwing, we assure you, unless you spot a hyena laughing so hard it hurts. Ditto for their demonstration of hunting clubs made from various woods and sanded smooth with varieties of tree leaves that have sufficiently rough surfaces.
Boomerang tossing was a bit more successful for us, once engaged with the right equipment. It was revealed that there are both right-handed instruments and those for the southpaw. Once fitted properly, Doug saw his career in this field take flight; it seemed to be going somewhere; but the better he became at tossing the boomerang, the more likely it was that things would be right back where they started. 🙂
After one presentation, we learned the Tjapukai people, (cha’ – pook – EYE) “Have no word for thank you, but will say a very strong good-bye.” Hmm; a very strong good-bye? Ahh; I think I have seen that in other cultures as well, such as Italian. Wasn’t it true in ‘The Godfather’ that a few people were sent packing with “a very strong good-bye?” Is that what was meant here?
We weren’t staying around for the night show to find out.
Instead, our Port Douglas hotel sent a van to Cairns and we moved along to our next stop in time for dinner. We had a table reserved at a local restaurant , wise for the holiday weekend. Delicious Australian barramundi and nanagai fish were on the menu then on our plates. A surprise on the menu was a “15 percent public holiday surcharge” on the entire bill. That set us pondering as well as paying.
Thus was the genesis of learning more about the current culture in Australia. Why upcharge on a holiday? Were all the restaurants doing this? Why was the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday considered a public holiday?
Let’s put a little Sherlock Holmes to this situation! What do we know already? We learned from our travel agent that there is no need to tip a waiter, waitress, or any service staff in Australia. It is okay to do so, but the wage structure is set such that these folks are not reliant on tips for a decent income.
We learned from a knowledgeable fellow passenger on our flight over the Pacific that minimum wage here is about 17 per hour in Australian dollars (AUD$17). That is currently about 16 American dollars, and quite a healthy wage floor. What’s more, it is safe to say that the average “minimum wage job” pays about AUD$20.
With wages that strong on “regular” days, our “brilliant deduction” was that holiday wages were likely to be pushed higher. As luck would have it, the newspaper of the region provided a definitive answer upon returning to our hotel: the government mandates “wage penalties” during holidays that push hourly rates to two-and-a-half times the norm. Thus, our waitress this evening was likely making AUD$50 per hour. The owner needed to cover that unusual cost, which fell to patrons like us in the form of a 15% surcharge on our tab for the evening. We found a coupon for a free glass of wine or champagne, so were able to offset the surcharge, at least in our minds.
The newspaper went on to inform us that Easter forms a four-day holiday weekend, from Good Friday to Easter Monday. Restaurants are free to charge what they wish to cover costs mandated over those days. Thus, dining on this particular Saturday means dining on a holiday … in the sense that wages are set higher for that day.
We love learning; in Australia as in the U.S.A., a good education has a cost!
Getting back to the newspaper, another bit of cultural education came from current events: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting Australia; a big deal. Oh, that would be William and Kate for those of you more familiar with the royals. They have been to Sydney and were now in the same state as we, that being Queensland. Big deal? Sure, the newspaper proclaimed that Queensland might for a time be known as Katesland, but until they rename this town Port William, I’ll lay claim to having achieved highly honorable recognition in Port Douglas.
The modern cultural facts:
- Most people in Australia are well paid.
- They love their royalty to visit.