Published in Australian Airlines magazine, April-July 2006.
Fifteen minutes’ drive from the North Queensland seaside resort of Port Douglas, a bus filled with mostly international visitors comes to an abrupt stop as flames leaps across the road. In the pitch black of the night, it’s a signal for everyone to alight and follow a candle-lit path into the forest.
The verdant Mowbray Valley, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, is the setting for Flames of the Forest, a magical evening of culture and cuisine presented against the backdrop of one of the world’s oldest rainforests.
The valley was the traditional tribal land of the Kuku Yalangii people, who entertain guests with their music and storytelling. Under a marquee in the forest, a three-course tropical feast is served, some of the dishes featuring native ingredients, such as lemon-myrtle and thyme-scented chicken, and mesclun salad with roast macadamias.
Bruce the bandicoot, a small native marsupial, weaves in and out between the tables. For one brief, very special moment, the electricity generator is turned off, leaving only flickering candles and the sounds of wildlife and the nearby rushing creek punctuating the night air.
Aboriginal storyteller Gary tells a charming tale of how the platypus was born from a union of the duck and the water rat – its shy, retiring nature a result of its embarrassment at its parents’ union. This strange little mammal, with its duck bill and webbed feet, can still be found upstream in the Mowbray River.
Fellow tribal member Robert plays the didgeridoo and clapping sticks in his own interpretation of the story, before visitors work their way back along the candle-lit path to the 21st century.
Bus transfers for Flames of the Forest are available from Port Douglas, Palm Cove, Cairns and Northern Beaches. Book at hotel tour desks or +61 (7) 4098 3971.
© Christine Salins