Djiringanj woman Cath Thomas is quickly spreading her tribe’s culture via outdoor education.
As a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger, Ms Thomas has been running Discovery Tours between Gulaga and Biamanga mountains for the last two years, and she says they are quickly growing in popularity with increased numbers of visitors wanting to learn about Indigenous culture.
“Since the tours started there’s been greater understanding of the cultural significance of the area by locals and tourists, especially at Biamanga,” Ms Thomas said.
Once used as a place where boys would wash after being initiated, the mountain became used as a swimming hole after the arrival of Europeans to the Bega Valley.
“I was lucky growing up with my generation being taught about our culture,” she said.
“Without our culture we have nothing.”
Ms Thomas is employed by both the Gulaga and Biamanga Board of management to undertake the tours she initiated herself four years ago.
On Monday Ms Thomas met with an intrigued group at Arragannu Beach, the site of what she says is possibly the oldest shell midden in NSW.
“It is supposed be a bush tucker tour, but there’s not a lot around because it’s so dry at the moment so I have a few new things planned like teaching the kids how to make fishing hooks from abalone shells,” she said.
Taking the tour was Linda, Jen and Christine Arulappen from the Sydney suburbs of Belmore and Belrose.
“When I travel I like to know the history of the area, especially the indigenous history,” Christine said.
Eight-year-old Samson Jaede from Rosebud in Victoria made sure he was on the tour after getting to know Ms Thomas last year.
“Samson loves everything to do with indigenous culture," his mother Suzie said.
Ms Thomas began the Arragannu tour, the most popular on her summer calendar, by discussing common misconceptions of the Djiringanj.
“A lot of people know us as the Yuin people, which includes 13 tribes, but we weren’t known as Yuin before Europeans came,” she said.
“A German explorer traveled from the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to Newcastle and while he was here he was speaking to men and they would say ‘talk to that man over there’, so he misunderstood what they were saying.”
Ms Thomas described how traditionally men and women were classed as equals, and while parents were out hunting together for days at a time, older children would care for their siblings.
“Some of our traditions are still going, but the last initiation down here was great-grand-uncle Guboo Ted Thomas,” she said.