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Caption: EWB’s ‘Impactful Futures’ Immersive took participants on a journey from Cairns to Port Stewart in Far North Queensland in July 2023.

‘Look, listen, learn’ was the mantra of Traditional Owners on Lama Lama Country during EWB’s Impactful Futures Immersive in July, which took participants on a journey through the tropical landscapes and cultural sites of Cape York for a week. By observing and attuning themselves to the sights, sounds and voices around them, participants were able to experience a deep immersion in the culture and history of Lama Lama Country.

This Impactful Futures Immersive for industry professionals, delivered by EWB with Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation and the Lama Land Trust, was the first since the COVID-19 pandemic put study tours on hold.

The experience gave participants a fresh approach to their work, expanding their skills and cultural knowledge and deepening their place-based understanding of environmental and developmental challenges. Bringing professionals into dialogue with local community members and stakeholders, Immersives expand participants’ ways of thinking and problem-solving and challenge them to foreground deep understanding and cultural connection in their work.

Traditional Owners welcomed participants to the beginning of Lama Lama Country at Kalpower crossing.

‘Look, listen, learn’ 

Following Immersives held in Cambodia and Broome, the Immersive at Cape York was originally planned for May 2020 but was put on hold due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The program returned in July 2023 with a 7-day study tour co-designed and delivered by EWB, the Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation and Lama Lama Land Trust, offering an exploration of the possibilities of Indigenous-led sustainable development. Participants were able to immerse themselves in the sights, landscape and wildlife of Cape York, where they were encouraged by the Traditional Owners to engage their senses and ‘look, listen, learn’. The Immersive took participants on a deep dive into Traditional Knowledge and into the history and culture of the Lama Lama people, and their Elders’ work to return to Country after being forcibly removed.

The program was co-designed over an extended period with the Lama Lama Land Trust, who guided participants through their immersion into life on Country. The Immersive built on and strengthened EWB’s long-term partnership with Lama Lama, allowing participants to benefit from the trust built with the community through a sustained, close relationship. For participants, the Immersive placed an emphasis on observing, listening and learning from the Traditional Owners through discussions and site visits.

Deep engagement with Lama Lama Country

The second day of the Immersive took participants through a cultural tour at Mossman Gorge.

Participants began the tour in Cairns, where they were welcomed through an Acknowledgement of Country by Yirrganydji Traditional Owner Brian Singleton, and spent two days travelling up to Lama Lama Country. The journey gave participants an appreciation of the remoteness of the area and of life on Cape York, and participants were able to learn about the ecology of the region as they passed through important cultural sites such as Mossman Gorge, Laura Quinkan Split Rock Art Site, the Gateway to Cape York sculpture park at Lakeland and Scrubby Lagoon.

At Kalpowar Crossing, participants were welcomed to the beginning of Lama Lama Country by Traditional Owners, then set up camp in Port Stewart. Their time in Lama Lama Country included immersive experiences of traditional culture, food, language and practices, ongoing discussions of environmental and developmental challenges, opportunities to view key infrastructure, and visits to culturally and environmentally significant sites. Participants gained an in-depth understanding of life on Country and the challenges affecting conservation and infrastructure, including water quality, power supply, and telecommunications.

On the last day of their time on Lama Lama Country, participants engaged in a 2-hour workshop, beginning with mapping social, cultural and environmental and structural assets already present in Lama Lama Country. This led to participants identifying challenges affecting people and Country that they’d heard directly from Lama Lama people during the trip, including limited access to communications networks, the risk of frequent flood damage to infrastructure and the environment, and challenges in ensuring a safe and reliable water supply. 

Participants then identified initial potential opportunities or solutions for development, which were presented to Lama Lama Traditional Owners for their feedback.

Open minds and open hearts

Participants at Hann River Crossing on their way to Port Stewart.

Participants described the Immersive as a challenging and rewarding experience which introduced them to new mindsets and methods, teaching them to approach communities with ‘an open mind and open heart’ and ‘be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable’.

Reflections from participants described the ‘powerful and moving’ experiences they had throughout the week, including memorable highlights of ‘walking through the rainforest and being totally immersed in the stories’ and the privilege of spending time with Lama Lama Traditional Owners and their ‘willingness to share, openness and generosity’.  

What’s next?

For participants, the Cape York Immersive offered an opportunity to reflect on their professional practice, challenge their assumptions and cultivate a focus on listening and learning in partnership with communities.

The program is planned to continue in the coming months with an Immersive in Port Vila, Vanuatu which will explore engineering for climate resilience in the region. Find out more here. If you would like to be on our mailing list to hear about upcoming Immersives, complete our Expression of Interest form here

EWB Australia would like to acknowledge the Lama Lama Traditional Owners who supported our time on and allowed us to safely visit Country. We would like to thank the Lama Lama Land Trust, Yintjingga Aboriginal Corporation and their staff and partners who have shared so much with us to inform and support the delivery of 2023 Cape York Immersive. We would also like to thank other individuals and Traditional Owner groups who met with us on their Country at different parts of our journey on our way up Cape York to Lama Lama Country. We are also grateful to the support of our corporate partners who supported their staff to attend this Immersive.