Tjapukai is where Australia begins. It is Australia’s most accessible venue to experience authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture dating back over 40,000 years.
History and Culture Overview
Located in Cairns, Tropical North Queensland, Tjapukai has been sharing the authentic culture and traditions of the local Djabugay people for the past 28 years, providing employment opportunities for their people and giving the performers immense pride in demonstrating their culture.
More than 3 million people around the world have discovered how to “shake a leg” by joining in traditional performances drawn from Djabugay corroborees, they have learnt how to make fire without a matchstick and been enthralled with the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo.
From its inception, Tjapukai’s mission has been about giving Australians and international visitors the opportunity to experience authentic Aboriginal culture and interact with Traditional Owners. That mission now includes authentic Torres Strait Islander culture.
Tjapukai was founded in Kuranda in 1987 by international theatre artists Don and Judy Freeman, David Hudson, a Ewamian man who was brought up among the Djabugay people, and his wife Cindy. They combined their performance expertise with the cultural knowledge of six Djabugay men – Willie Brim, Alby Baird, Wayne Nicols, Irwin Riley, Neville Hobbler and Dion Riley – to create a one-hour play incorporating the dance-rich culture of the Djabugay people who had lived in the rainforest around Kuranda for tens of thousands of years.
In 1996 Tjapukai moved to a 25 acre site next to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway at Caravonica and expanded to include interactive cultural demonstrations and performances, a cultural village, restaurant and retail gallery. Tjapukai performers were in demand at world events as an authentic example of Australia’s Indigenous culture. These included the Welcome Ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Torch and the bid for the Gold Coast to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. In 2002 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip’s Australian visit included Tjapukai.
Tjapukai is the largest Indigenous employer of any tourism enterprise in Australia with more than two-thirds of the team Indigenous. Tjapukai works in consultation with Traditional Owners and has injected in excess of $35 million into the local Indigenous community through wages, royalties, and the commissioning and purchasing of authentic art and artifacts.