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Taungurung pride on display at cultural experience launch

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By Colin MacGillivray

It was a day of pride and celebration on Wednesday as Taungurung Land and Waters Council, TLaWC, launched ‘wawa biik’ – a new cultural experience business the Indigenous group hopes will revolutionise local tourism.

TLaWC developed wawa biik, which means ‘hello country’ in Taungurung language, during the past two-and-a-half years in conjunction with Elders and the broader Taungurung community.

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The business will see guides take patrons to culturally significant sites across Taungurung country, which stretches from Wandong and Kilmore in the south to Nagambie and Euroa in the north, and east to Mount Buffalo.

Guides will share their knowledge of Taungurung country and culture, visiting locations including the waterways of the Tahbilk wetlands in Nagambie and the Euroa Arboretum – a pocket of rehabilitated native bush.

TLaWC received funding from the State Government’s Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions, DJSIR, which it used to purchase a 16-seat bus that will ferry patrons to and from the sites.

TLaWC chief executive Matt Burns praised the hard work of the many Taungurung people who helped create the business.

“This has been a deeply considered project, and we’ve collaborated with community and Elders to make sure we’re getting what we’re delivering right,” he said.

“A lot of the broader Taungurung community have a lot of ideas and passion for who we are and how we might celebrate that.

“It has also enabled us to develop a Taungurung-led training program to support our tour guides to take clients on country, and it’s something we’re really pleased with.”

Wawa biik currently has three tour guides – Elders Aunty Jo Honeysett, Uncle Shane Monk and Ms Honeysett’s son Jonah Honeysett – with more in training.

Mr Monk, who has a background in cultural heritage, said he had developed a passion for education.

“About five years ago we had someone contact us asking if we could do a private tour, and we got some really good feedback from that,” he said.

“That started a conversation about whether it would be viable to do tourism.

“I want to let the wider community know what Taungurung is about and share the Taungurung story.

“The information most people get is a generic story [about Aboriginal people]. There are more than 700 languages, so 700 mobs or more in Australia, and every mob has their own story. Being able to tell our story on our country is great. That’s what I’m passionate about.”

Mr Monk said wawa biik allowed Elders to pass cultural knowledge to younger Taungurung people, as well as the general public.

“If we don’t share that knowledge, when we pass away the knowledge becomes dormant until someone reawakens it,” he said.

“To have the younger generation working with us, we’re able to pass that knowledge down so it won’t become dormant.”

Ms Honeysett said she was thrilled to discover a new passion after retiring five years ago.

She said each guide brought their personal experiences to the tours, making every outing unique.

“Uncle Shane shows artefacts, I show possum skin cloaks that I’ve made,” she said.

“We have a yarn about all sorts of things and conversations go everywhere with people. There’s not a wrong question. As an Elder it’s our job to answer people’s questions.

“I want to showcase country and allow people to see country through a Taungurung lens.”

Mr Honeysett said he felt privileged to work closely with his Elders to learn about his culture while developing a new career path.

“I haven’t looked back. I was a bit intimidated at first, but once I went out shadowing my Elders and did a tour for our community and saw they were happy with it, that breathed new life into me,” he said.

“It’s allowed my generation and the generation under me to shadow the Elders and bring a new set of eyes and a new set of opinions. That in turn gets the Elders thinking and helps us get acknowledgement and recognition within the community.

“I’m proud to be able to say I’m a Taungurung man and that my ancestors were from this land. It drives me in the morning to get out of bed and be better every day.”

Mr Burns said the name wawa biik had special significance to the project.

“The name wawa biik means hello country. There are multiple reasons for that,” he said.

“It’s important to be able to say hello for guests who come onto Taungurung country, but it’s also an opportunity for our people to be able to say hello to country.

“They are able to say hello to country every day when they take people out and share their culture, their identity and their connection to country.”

Ms Honeysett said the ethos of wawa biik could be summed up in a phrase that came to her on the morning of the launch.

“Walk with us. Learn with us. Embrace this beautiful country with us. Allow us to take you on our journey,” she said.

People can find more information about wawa biik, including bookings, by visiting wawabiik.com.au.

Taungurung Land and Waters Council’s new tourism venture wawa biik, which will provide tours to culturally significant sites in Taungurung country, was launched last week at Trawool Estate. ​
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