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Aboriginal discovery centre showcases culture

September 24, 2009, 11:12 am AAP The West Australian

An Aboriginal discovery centre which invites people to "walk in our footsteps" is part of a new state-of-the-art tourism centre overlooking Wollongong.

Aboriginal discovery centre showcases culture
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An Aboriginal discovery centre which invites people to "walk in our footsteps" is part of a new state-of-the-art tourism centre overlooking Wollongong.

The Jumbulla Aboriginal Discovery Centre was the inspiration of five "aunties" - Aboriginal women elders who wanted a place to showcase their culture and history to visitors. Mary Davis, Linda Davis, Olga Booth, Dotty Henry and Gladys Douglas were the "five strong women who dreamt of this place".

Jumbulla project manager Chris Noel said the women, who are leaders in their community, thought it was important for people to learn about indigenous Australians' past, and how it is now for Aboriginals.

"We looked at a whole range of tourist ideas and thought what would work," he said.

They came up with a 45-minute audio visual "show" using four digital displays with glass and water screen technology linked to narrations as a way of exploring their culture and social history.

The narrations are based on four main themes: Welcome to Country, The Land, Family and Togetherness.

The Together Wall tells of the women and also how non-indigenous unionist Fred Moore became involved in helping the indigenous people of the Illawarra and South Coast and was made an honorary elder by them.

He worked closely with the "aunties", always taking their lead when it came to protesting and lobbying about improving their living conditions.

There's also a Hairy Man show for kids.

Jumbulla means welcome in the Dharawal language and is also the name for Mt Keira behind Wollongong.

The Dharawal tribe stretched from Botany Bay (Place of Stingrays) south to Shoalhaven and inland to Picton.

Wollongong in the Dharawal language means Five Islands, which was what the first British settlers called the Dharawal tribe.

The centre is above Bulli Pass, an ancient path that connected the sea with the mountain, which in 1817 became the first main road in the area.

The centre wants to also build a 400m walking trail on the edge of the escarpment.

Col Markham, former MP for the area and now chairman of the Jumbulla board, said the aim was for walkers to trigger commentary about wildlife, bush medicine, bush tucker and hunting.

They hoped artists would be able to work at the centre and that it would be popular with school groups.

"The potential's incredible," Mr Markham said.

The centre has employed eight local Aboriginal people.

"They have a pride in being able to tell their stories. It's more than a job," he said.

Funded by three levels of government, the $11 million complex known as the Southern Gateway Centre includes both the visitor information centre and Jumbulla as well as a restaurant, Altitude 1148.

It was designed to encourage travellers coming down the F6 freeway from Sydney to stop and take time out in the Wollongong and South Coast region.

The visitor centre has state-of-the-art digital interactive touch screens, which tourists can use to research activities, attractions, cultural experiences and accommodation options.

Tourism Wollongong staff can also help with advice.

The centre has a viewing platform with panoramic views.

At the opening in September traditional dancers performed and a smoking ceremony was carried out there.

The Illawarra region has received thousands more visitors since the new coastal route, Grand Pacific Drive, including the $49 million Sea Cliff Bridge, was opened four years ago.