After closing its doors almost a year ago due to COVID-19, the Board of Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park has announced they won’t ever be opening again.

Closed to the public since March 2020, the cultural park in Cairns relied primarily on international tourism and could not survive the effects of closing during COVID-19.

Ewamian man and Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park co-founder David Hudson told the ABC he was “absolutely gutted and disheartened” by the decision.

For just over three decades Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park has shared the traditions and culture of the Djabugay people.

Immersed in music, dance and storytelling — visitors gained a stronger understanding of Djabugay histories.

Founded in 1987 by Hudson and his wife Cindy, along with global theatre artists Don and Judy Freeman, Tjapukai’s mission was to provide authentic cultural experiences. Since then, Tjapukai has:

  • Taught 3 million people how to shake a leg
  • Pumped over $40 million into the local Indigenous community through wages, royalties, commissions, and authentic art/artefacts
  • Been truth-tellers about culture, colonial oppression, resistance, and the resilience and ongoing connection Djabugay people have to Ancestors and Country.

At its peak, Tjapukai was one of the largest Indigenous employers of tourism enterprise across Australia — boasting more than two-thirds Indigenous staff.

In its infancy, Djabugay men Willie Brim, Alby Baird, Wayne Nicols, Irwin Riley, Neville Hobbler and Dion Riley combined their cultural expertise with their performance knowledge to create a dance-rich, one-hour play about Djabugay culture.

As Tjapukai increased in popularity so did the demand for Tjapukai performers, including performing the Welcome Ceremony for the Sydney Olympic Torch and helping with the Gold Coast’s bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip’s Australian visit included a tour of Tjapukai.

Indigenous Business Australia, owners of the park for the past 12 years, made the decision to close as Tjapukai suffered the effects of a global pandemic and continued to lose money.

By Rachel Stringfellow