At first glance, the secluded bush camp looks like a lost city.
As you drive along a dirt back road west of Bundaberg in south-east Queensland, the scrub reveals caravans, tents, vans and little dorms.
Overlooking the Burnett River, the hidden site is a home away from home for a group of kids who are switching off technology and connecting with their culture.
For a week, television is off-limits as are mobile phones, except if the kids need to communicate with their families.
For Raaul Walsh, getting back to nature means having peace of mind.
“To see the trees moving, the wind, [the] breeze, I love that the most,” he said.
“[It’s] good to get away from all the technology, take a break.”
Raaul is here for an inaugural five-day camp that’s a collaboration between the local Indigenous community and the Bundaberg East Rotary Club.
Kids aged 12 to 17 are learning about Aboriginal culture and the importance of dreamtime storytelling, traditional dance and language.
There are also leadership workshops, and activities designed to boost confidence and mental health awareness.
Raaul likes to teach the younger kids confidence through dance.
“When I first started, I wasn’t confident,” he said.
“I tell the younger kids to groove it out, that’s what I do. You don’t have to show off, just feel the music.”
Another teenager, Shannon Chandler, said the camp had helped him understand more about his culture.
“I have learnt cultural dance. I have always wanted to learn [it]. The camp has helped me overcome fears.”
Raaul Walsh and Shannon Chandler connect with their culture through music. (ABC Wide Bay: Scott Lamond)
Shannon has taught himself to play didgeridoo and always has his instrument in close range.
“Back in year 8, I made my didge all by myself,” he said.
“It is the biggest achievement of my life.”
Bundaberg East Rotary Club project manager Rod Medew said he was very proud of the program and there were plans to expand it into other parts of regional Queensland.
“In five days, it’s incredible the amount of change that occurs in these kids,” he said.
“They become more confident and their self-esteem rises.
“I can’t help to be proud like a father would be of a son or daughter.”
Two worlds come together
The camp is the result of more than two years of planning.
Mr Medew worked with Taribelang elder Raymond Willy Broome, or Uncle Willy, and others to incorporate Aboriginal culture into the program.
Raymond Willy Broome says it’s great to see kids embracing their culture. (ABC Wide Bay: Jenae Jenkins)
Uncle Willy said a lot had changed since his day and it was good to see culture coming back and kids being proud of who they are.
“Rotary are doing a wonderful job bringing the kids together and including our culture,” he said.
“It’s wonderful and about time.”
Nikki Tiger from Taribelang Cultural Aboriginal Corporation worked heavily on the project, and said the elders’ involvement was crucial.
“We always go through the elders for permission,” she said.
Once the elders gave their approval, a mutual agreement was reached to mentor local Aboriginal kids in a safe environment with the corporation leading the cultural way, while Central Queensland Indigenous Development selected teenagers to participate.
Ms Tiger said it was an honour to showcase what was in the community, especially to non-Indigenous people taking part in the camp.
“This proves that we can be together and be all as one. We have shown it, so we should just act it and come together,” she said.
The camp brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous locals together. (ABC Wide Bay: Jenae Jenkins)
Mr Medew said the camp had made it clear to non-Indigenous people how Aboriginal culture connected the kids to the land.
“It’s so important for them to connect with the land, that’s where their healing takes place, it’s where their spirituality is, it’s where their understanding is,” he said.
“We don’t quite get that, it’s very deep.”
When the sun sets, it’s storytelling, or yarning, time.
Mr Medew said the kids were proud of their culture but had faced some difficult times because of intergenerational trauma.
He said yarning time aimed to help address those issues in the hope of healing.
“Most of these kids would have experience racism at one stage,” he said.
“There are certainly some children here from … stolen generation [families] and we address all those things in the yarning time.”
Dreamtime storytelling, traditional dance and language were emphasised. (ABC Wide Bay: Jenae Jenkins)
The night-time discussions are heavily influenced by the elders.
“Elders are key to this program,” Mr Medew said.
“They are here all the time and the kids have so much respect for them.”
Bonding with the elders is something that Shannon Chandler has clearly enjoyed.
“Uncle Willy is deadly. I love Uncle Willy,” he said.
“He tells some good dreamtime stories.
“I have made lifelong friends.”