ORM had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with local artist Luther Cora to hear stories from his cultural knowledge. He shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of Indigenous languages and storytelling — and how sharing these stories can connect cultures to celebrate their differences.
The National Trust of Australia Queensland’s mission is to protect, conserve, and celebrate environmental, built, and cultural heritage. My role as general manager of education, creative, and community engagement includes managing Queensland’s inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan. During this time in particular, I’ve been fortunate to build on business and personal relationships that have seen me expand further on my respect and appreciation for the Indigenous cultures of Australia.
The National Trust of Australia (Queensland) currently holds 12 properties, and I feel honoured to spend the majority of my time based at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, the Gold Coast’s premier wildlife park. The sanctuary recently celebrated its 70th birthday and is the longest-operating tourist attraction in the region and the most-visited National Trust property in Australia.
I’m sitting on the deck of the Sanctuary Café at the front entrance to the park waiting to meet with Luther Cora. Luther is having his photo taken with an endless line of guests after presenting the daily Aboriginal Culture and Dance Show that his family has been performing now for more than 20 years at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Luther is a proud Indigenous man from the Yugambeh Language Group on the Gold Coast. Most recently, he and his family featured in the 2018 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony. He also directed the performance piece Gathering as part of the Commonwealth Games Festival 2018. Luther is a well-accomplished artist, having designed many football code jerseys and boots for the Indigenous rounds and has his photographic and digital art on display at various exhibitions throughout the year. He has also won NAIDOC art awards for his artistic talent.
As Luther arrives, I am always warmed by his appearance. With his dreadlocks, welcoming big smile and deep eyes that hold the wisdom of the ages, it is no wonder that Luther is regarded as the face of Indigenous culture for the greater Gold Coast region.
How was your culture shared with you growing up, and who were the main influencers who’ve led you to be so passionate about sharing and teaching your culture as an adult?
I grew up around the river and saltwater — fishing, swimming, crabbing, and hunting. I had a lot of great influencers and teachers within my family — my uncles, parents, and grandparents — who were always telling stories from the local Gold Coast and Tweed Heads area. As a youngster, my family moved to North Queensland, and it was there that I started to learn dance, culture, and song. I had teachers from Far North Queensland and the Kuku Yalanji people, and in particular the Bradys, Uncle William, Uncle Mathew, the Doolans from Townsville, and the Walker brothers from the Nunukul of North Stradbroke Island. Learning dance and song was a very important part of my life and the start of my journey, and it was the one thing that changed my life around and gave me discipline. When you are learning dance, you are learning culture, and a big part of culture is respect, and so we learnt to respect all our elders, the older people who had the knowledge. To this day I am still learning.
While working in rural Aboriginal communities, what were the main issues you experienced?
I lived in Emerald in Central Queensland for about nine years working with youth in schools and the community, and I found the reason behind most issues was the loss of identity. I think this is true for people of all cultures around the world: if you don’t have identity, you are more or less lost. We have a lot of social and mental issues in the world today, and I believe these stem from not knowing who you are or where you are from, who your family or mob is, and feeling like you don’t belong — they are lost within themselves and turn to other things, like drug and alcohol abuse.
What do you feel is the main impact that colonisation had on your ancestors and culture?
There was a time in history where we were not allowed to practice song and dance, and there was a loss of language and culture. Language holds a lot of the keys to culture, and if you lose your language you start to lose your identity. Identity and culture are all locked up in language. Colonisers all around the world, not just in Australia, try to take language away from the Indigenous people, along with other cultural practices, and it really affects people’s identity and belonging.
I know it has had a great impact within the Gold Coast area, and there is no older person left today who speaks fluent Yugambeh dialect anymore. We are relearning our language now and are having to go back to books from early settlers from this area as, luckily, they recorded down a lot of the language. It’s ironic that we have to go back and learn from those who disallowed us from practicing our culture in the first place.
What is your greatest personal achievement to date?
My family. I’ve been married to my wife for 14 years and have five beautiful children. My children practice and learn song and dance, they are very respectful and well behaved, and I think this all comes through culture. The one thing I always teach them is respect — respecting your parents, other people, laws and authority, everything around us, and the land. I instil into my children who they are and how they belong by taking them out on country fishing and hunting, showing them different parts of the area that are special to local Indigenous people and just giving them the opportunity to learn culture. I’ve always loved to dance since I was a young kid, and it’s wonderful to see my children following in my footsteps. They love it too.
What does reconciliation mean to you and what does it look like?
We are all Australians — black, white, no matter what colour you are, we need to come together. There is a lot of hurt and frustration between both groups and I feel a lot of the issue stems from the true history not being taught in schools. The Indigenous cultures of Australia are the oldest continuing living culture in the world, and science has now proven that it is at least 65 million years old. People travel overseas to find exotic cultures, to visit the pyramids of Egypt that are 2000 years old, when we have the most beautiful, rich culture right here in our backyard. The aboriginal culture, the histories, the stories, they belong to this land, and so if you are Australian they belong to you too. Through education and respect all Australians can embrace culture and with this comes reconciliation.
How do we bridge the gap between cultures?
Education is the key. Making people aware of Indigenous culture and Australia’s history, and making sure it is taught correctly and inclusively. Other countries teach their history, all the good and all the bad, and that is how we move forward as we learn from the past and don’t make the same mistakes again.
Being a father of five children, what are the most important lessons that you want to instil in your children as a father and mentor?
I want to instil in my children to be proud of who they are, strong, Indigenous people, with a connection to this land and a rich, beautiful culture. To be respectful people in the community, and that they can achieve anything that anyone else can achieve. That the colour of their skin, their heritage and culture is not going to stop them from achieving anything — it is in fact an advantage. Aim high, be the best that you can be, know who you are, and respect yourself and others.
* Luther and his family perform the Aboriginal Culture and Dance Show at 3.30 pm daily at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Luther Cora regularly presents his culture through musical performance with his family, sharing the stories of the local Yugambeh language region. He is a well-known and respected member of the Gold Coast community where he resides with his wife Ivanka and five children, Khadesia, Hezekiah, Tayvonne, Tedashii, and Jahquon. Luther is a proud member of the National Trust of Australia (Queensland) Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group and Indigenous Advisory Group.