Currumbin’s Yugambeh Aboriginal Dancers

A Family Affair

The Yugambeh
Yugambeh Territory
Yugambeh Culture Yugambeh of the Yugambeh Aboriginal Dancers are not a tribe. Rather, they are a people united by the common Yugambeh language spoken by upwards of eight Southeast Queensland Aboriginal tribes or clans. A territory that stretches from the Tweed River  region of the southern Gold Coast to Logan and the Scenic Rim Region to the north. They were skilled hunters and gatherers and equally efficient in feasting on the schools of running mullet which graced their shorelines. Schools, the hunters knew, would appear soon after the Paperbark Tree first started to shed its bark.

I, of course, knew none of this the first time Kaia and I sat down to watch their Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary daily 3:30 performance. All I knew was, whether it was the drone of the didgereedoo, the rhythmic singing, the body paint or the dancing, a normally rambunctious two year old Kaia was captivated. Captivated and miraculously sedate.

It was a fluke, I told myself, that first time. But I was wrong. Many subsequent visits have proven this. Enough visits to where we no longer go to the park, so much as we ‘go and see Luther’.

Luther Cora, the voice and driving force of the Yugambeh Aborignal Dancers and, as fate would have it, father of three of the dancers (6 year old Jahvon, 10 year old Tayvonn and 12 year old Hezekaiah). Dancers that, over time, have been kind enough to adopt Kaia as an unofficial blond haired mascot, of sorts, of the dance troupe.

Not surprisingly, it’s been an amazing journey to watch and be a part of. And one, I knew was worthy of diving a bit deeper into. Starting with the man who makes it all possible.

JWK: When and how’d you start dancing?
Luther: I started at the age of 12 up in Townsville. A group of older people came by as part of an afterschool program and showed some of us a few things. That was almost 28 years ago. I’ve been dancing more or less ever since.

JWK: What was it about those early dancing days that drew you in and kept you coming back for more?
Luther: At first, it was just fun. We were a pretty big troupe of about 40 young people and 10 or more adults and it was fun being around everyone and dancing. Plus I danced with a younger sister and two younger brothers. And I used to win quite a few best dancer awards, too. That was always a nice bonus. But then it became more about learning about who I was as a person and where my family was from. Before I started dancing I didn’t really know much of anything about my culture and my heritage. Before dancing I was just Indigenous, just an Aboriginal, just black. Dancing and the stories that go with it, stories told by the older people, helped change all of that.

JWK: So where would you dance back then?
Luther: We’d go around to lots of schools and show them what we were doing and try to get them involved. Sort of like just do what people had done for us.

JWK: You’ve t me the dancing wasn’t as prevalent or as big a part of the local culture then as it is today. Who were the main people who were carrying the torch back when you were just starting out?
Luther: In Townsville it was the Waddama, the Townsville Waddama. Waddama means ‘Shake a Leg’ which is the style of dance we do. And then there was the Brady Family which were from far north Queensland, up near Cooktown. They were very influential and they trained a lot of dance troupes all around Queensland and even other parts of Australia.

JWK: And now you’re carrying the baton. You’ve been at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary performing for close to ten years. What’s your main objective with each performance?
Luther: Well, of course, we like giving the tourists a good show but, at the same time, I really try to let the members of the Australian audience come away understanding more about what Aboriginal culture and heritage is all about. There’s a massive gap between various Aboriginal stereotypes and reality and I hope we are doing our part in that gap.

JWK: When you say ‘we’, I have to believe by your being able to include your children in that statement, the journey and the process take on a much more special significance. How have Jah, Tay and Hez been brought up in the dancing and what are your earliest memories of Hez’s dancing ability?
Luther: Yes, it’s a special treat to have my children dancing with me though it’s definitely not something I planned. I remember Hez as a two year old, he had an amazing ‘shake a leg’, even at that early age. Even before I’d even tried to teach him. I guess, them having grown up watching their father doing it predisposes them to wanting to perform on stage but performing on stage is not something I expect of them. Learning the dances, though, that is expected. Like it did for me, I think it just really gives them a better grasp of where they’re coming from. And I can honestly say, they’re so far ahead of the game compared to where I was at their ages.


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