You’re viewing a version of this story optimized for slow connections. To see the full story click here.

Journey into Olkola Country

Story by ACF March 10th, 2016

Experience Olkola country for yourself

The Olkola, along with Intrepid Travel and ACF, are running ACF-dedicated trips to their country.

There are two spots left for our 1st-6th August trip. Book Now!

Alternatively, there are places on non-ACF trips on 18 July and 15 August visit Intrepid’s website for details and to book.

Cost: $2845 | Departing: Cairns, Qld | Group size: 10 | Date: 29 August - 3 September 2016

Read more details about the itinerary and trip.

“I came away with a great respect for the ambition, vision and capability of the Olkola people that we met. It was exciting too to see the close and constructive role that the ACF has played in supporting the Olkola in their ambitions.” – Sue Richardson


In September 2015, the inaugural Journey into Olkola Country took place. It was on an overcast Monday morning when a group of 11 ACF supporters and ACF’s Northern Australia Program Manager Graham Tupper left Cairns and travelled dusty roads to the blue skies and expansive bushland of Olkola country.

On arrival, we received a warm welcome from Traditional Owner and Station Manager Andrew Malcolm, who in the space of a few sentences turned us from people on a trip to guests in his home. Later, around a crackling campfire, guides and Olkola Elders Mike Ross and Jack Lowdown joined us and we shared our stories – in particular what led to this trip on country and the area’s nature, history and living culture.

It is rare in an age of consumer tourist experiences to encounter something genuine. This Journey into Olkola Country was that and more. To spend time with people on their land and see how much it means to them, to see the Australian bush anew with its richness and life-giving attributes and to be welcomed into a family and culture so freely is not something that happens every day.

There were myriad stand-out experiences on this first journey to Olkola country: the powerful welcome to country ceremony; being invited to walk through bora grounds where millennia of Olkola people have held significant cultural rites of passage; Jack singing to Olkola ancestors to let them know we came as friends before climbing Kimba Plateau to see ancient rock paintings.

We also learnt about bush tucker and the significance of local plants from Mike and Jack, swam at Jungle Creek, witnessed the artistic temperament of termites, saw upwards of forty endangered Alwal (golden-shouldered parrot) at Maryanne Yards and sat around the campfire as the stars surfaced and shared what it meant to all of us to be welcomed to Olkola country.

This journey wasn’t five star – we were camping and travelling dirt roads over long distances. But we had all come for an experience of country and to encounter the unique story of a people and a living cultural landscape. This we rated a million stars, same as those we gazed at at night.

“The group leaders—Mike, Andrew and Jack—were exceptional. They were knowledgeable, very open, happy to share their experiences and what they knew [as Elders] and from Elders about living on their land.” – Sue Richardson
Olkola Elder Mike Ross demonstrating how spears are made from grasstrees
Glen Kulka on the lookout for the some of the unique bird species found on Olkola country
Killarney Station
Enjoying a relaxed lunch in the shade
Olkola elder Jack Lowdown talking about the rock art at Kimba Plateau
Sunset at Maryanne Yards
Termite mounds scattered across the beautiful landscape of Olkola country
Olkola Elder Mike Ross sharing his knowledge of the traditional uses of trees and bark to the group

years in the making

It took thirty years of hard work, but on December 10, 2014, the Olkola people were handed back 633,630 hectares of their ancestral homelands in south-central Cape York Peninsula.

This was a life-changing result. Now the largest non-government landholders in the region, the Olkola are playing a huge role in determining the future of Australia’s Cape York and its people.

Under the handover, the Olkola National Park was also created — an area covering 269,830 hectares of extensive wetlands, rare and unique tall open forests, rainforest remnants and savanna woodlands, which is jointly managed by Olkola and the Queensland government.

The park protects ancient bora grounds, rock art and other cultural heritage of great significance to the Olkola people. It houses the critically endangered Alwal (golden-shouldered parrot) and other rare and threatened species and safeguards the Kimba Plateau — the headwaters of five vital river catchments at the top of the Great Dividing Range.

Read more about the Olkola story.

“ I found the experience fascinating and very positive. The management group seem very capable and good at making connections, and the Olkola have a bunch of young people coming on too, all developing further skills. It was easy to talk with them and I loved the soft spoken confidence and enthusiasm of all. I’m particularly impressed by how they are integrating their past and the present.” – Gaille Abud
Traditional Owner Jack Lowdown sharing his knowledge of  Olkola land
Sunrise at Maryanne Yards watching flocks of endangered Alwal (golden-shouldered parrot) coming in to drink
Termite mound under repair
Kimba Plateau
Traditional Owner Mike Ross showing how certain roots were used to make boomerangs and hunting implements
Lunch at Jungle Creek
Relaxing at Maryanne Camp
Grasstrees after flowering
The main camp at Killarney Station

Book your plACE NOW

Cost: $2845 | Departing: Cairns, Qld | Group size: 10 | Date: 29 August - 3 September 2016

Includes: Transport from Cairns to Olkola country and return in 4WDs, camping in tents and all meals while on Olkola country, guesthouse in Cooktown.

Not included: accommodation in Cairns on the last day of the trip, dinner in Cooktown, sleeping bag while camping

Read more details about the itinerary and trip.

Our three trips have sold out, but there are places on non-ACF trips on the 18 July and 15 August – visit Intrepid’s website for details and to book.

Glen Kulka, Olkola Land Manager, explaining how the Alwal (golden-shouldered parrot) makes its nest in termite mounds
Footnote: Photo credits: Olkola, ACF, Kerry Trapnell