The Kombumerri People: The Original Custodians of the Gold Coast

Although we all love the Gold Coast for the stunning coastline, abundant marine life and incredible national park areas, there’s a good chance the majority of us are unaware of the rich Indigenous history and traditional ownership of the area. Given that 26 January has recently passed, it seemed fitting to honour the original custodians of the region, as well as learn more regarding the proposed cultural centre at The Spit that will aim to lessen the gap and leave a long-lasting legacy.

Dating back more than 20,000 years, the Kombumerri, or the ‘Salt Water’ people, are the traditional custodians of the Gold Coast region and their tribal boundaries extend north to the Coomera River, south to the Tweed River and west to the foothills of Mount Tambourine. In fact, there are numerous places of significance across the Gold Coast, such as the 1,200 year-old burial ground in Broadbeach, the Bora Ring at Burleigh Heads along the Gold Coast Highway and the sacred dreaming mountain, Jellurgal, more commonly known as Burleigh Mountain.

When speaking with the effervescent Maxwell Dillon, Project Officer for the Moondarewa Native Bee Program, his passion for both the Gold Coast and his culture is undeniable. In addition, his desire to see the two merge through both the current Moondarewa projects and the proposed Performing Arts and Cultural centre, is something that will lead to these ideals becoming a reality.

Offering a range of services, such as Welcome to Country didgeridoo performances, Dreamtime story retellings, private tours of Jellurgal Sacred Mountain and educational collaborations with schools and Universities, Moondarewa provides both a sense of authenticity and connection, one that Max wants to further at the proposed Cultural and Performing Arts centre, part of the Queensland Government’s Master Plan development for the Spit.

“The cultural centre is a way for us to heal from the past and maintain some of the things that would be lost if we didn’t have this opportunity- it’s a way we will be able to showcase to the rest of the Gold Coast aspects of our culture and traditions that people may have never seen or been aware of,” Max said.

“Although the completion of this project is still a couple of years away, we have some great ideas and collaborations that we can’t wait to put into action, including a proposed shell midden restoration and preservation, a sugarbag-bee festival, as well as corroboree performances and projects that will enhance our spiritual connection with the sea, which is something we’d like to share with everyone.

“In our culture, When a visitor comes to the border of our territory, we welcome them, yet ask that they respect this land. As the original custodians of the Gold Coast, we believe we have something great to offer and together, we know that we can continue to make the Gold Coast a great place to visit,” Max continued.

“The legacy we wish to leave behind will be the Kombumerri future having a home and a base at long last. At present, we do not own or even lease a building on our own country- therefore, a cultural centre will be the legacy and home for our people, bringing a sense of justice for us as well.

“It’s all about authenticity and getting the right local people to share their knowledge -having local people tell their stories is important and unfortunately, at the moment, this is a vital ingredient Gold Coast tourism is missing.”

So next time you are at the beach, take a moment to remember and pay your respects to the Kombumerri people, whose history and stories we need not only to continue telling, but also preserve.

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