A tent city has emerged on the sandy banks of a remote Yarrabah beach as more than 120 international indigenous leaders fly into Cairns for the total solar eclipse.
Battling march flies, mosquitoes and stingers threatening the coastline, more than 25 volunteers are setting up tents made from bamboo, tarps and wooden pallets to accommodate elders from across the world.
One of the organisers and keen environmentalists, Lyndon Howard, has travelled from Tasmania to help and says the tents are being set up not only for the eclipse but for a five-day summit called the Global Elders Gathering.
At the invitation-only event, between 120 and 150 indigenous elders will arrive in the region from today, including the King of Tahiti, Native American Indians and elders from Japan and the Philippines.
It is an Australian first, is facilitated through the Rare Earth Foundation and as Lyndon puts it – a chance to reboot humanity.
“We want to carry on the oral traditions from tribes across the world and we want to preserve those stories,” he says.
“In this era of technology, the next generation are getting more interested in television and Facebook and drinking, and they are losing interest in their background.”
The group, which also includes a film crew, will record the five-day summit, including an eclipse ceremony to show in a digital message stick that will be launched on the foundation’s website next year.
“What I feel the greatest meaning that will come out of this, is the tribes come from an Earth-based culture and what we have developed in our western society is a more materialistic point of view,” Lyndon says.
“All the Earth-based cultures are scattered, so the spiritual aspect for me is bringing together these Earth-based cultures and bringing about a greater awareness towards the relationship between humanity and the Earth that we live on.”
While the concept might sound like it comes straight from the hippie subculture, Lyndon says the group is made up of realists.
“I think it’s a bit more grounded than the hippie side of things,” he says.
“The people who are here and all very in touch with reality. “Our main focus is about listening, it’s not about speaking.”
He says the summit is a historic event with hundreds of tribes coming together from all corners of the globe for the first time to record their stories on the film.
“They feel a calling, it’s time to come out of their little areas and speak to the rest of the world,” he says.
“The oral tradition is like their sacred doctorate and these go back thousands of years so recording them for the first time – it’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about it.
“We are blown away by it.”
Gurubuna clan elder Bob Patterson says three clans in the Gungandji tribe of Yarrabah came together to agree on holding the summit at the time of the eclipse.
The grandfather of 15 will be telling his dreamtime story to the masses during the two minutes of totality on Wednesday.
“There will be dancers and we will have all the elements – fire and water – and I will be telling my story that is relevant to the eclipse,” Uncle Bob says.
“In our tribe, (we have) my story my dad gave to me about the bird that could go up (to the sun) and he had a piece of fire on his tail and he came down and gave it to the tribe and that’s how we got fire.
“All those years of growing up and I didn’t know how special that story means to us until this eclipse comes.”
Yarraburra clan elder Evelyn Noble says the gathering is the biggest event to ever happen in her home country.
“It’s a good thing and it’s bringing people together,’’ she says.
“It’s more about culture and it’s on our country.
“It’s a good experience for us to learn from the other (elders).”
Evelyn’s son, Ricco Noble, is the chairman of the Prescribed Body Corporate which is co-ordinating the summit.
“I’d like to see us create a good support group to advance our causes,” he says.
“It’s the first time Aboriginal people are involved with other indigenous people around the world. It’s the first type of this event and it’s finally happening.”
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Gurubuna elder Robert Paterson (right) with his son Wyndham Ludwick and granddaughter Janet Brady at Wungu Beach where the gathering is to be held ahead of the solar eclipse. photo // stewart mclean