KUAM goes Down Under: Part 2 - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

KUAM goes Down Under: Part 2

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by Michele Catahay

We continue our special series now on the sights, sounds and wonder that is Cairns, Australia.  After visiting the zoo, feeding several dangerous animals, riding on the scenic Kuranda Railway and open gondola, what more could we see? After a jam-packed day filled with the sights and sounds of the rainforest, the next morning, we were up before sunrise.

I've never been on a hot air balloon before and being up thousands of feet from the ground gave me an adrenaline rush that made butterflies flutter in my stomach. The raging thunder happens to run the largest commercial balloon in the world. This particular balloon can accommodate up to 20 people.

Our balloon glided gently over the bushland and farms of the Mareeba Valley, located an hour west of Cairns. In fact, we were in the sky just in time for sunrise. The area was chosen as the launch site because it is protected from the coast winds by the Kuranda Range, allowing for clearer skies. We saw fruit and crops ranging from mangoes and bananas to sugar cane valleys and even roaming kangaroos.

After an hour in the air, we landed gently on an empty piece of land. In less than 15 minutes, we quickly got out of the basket, let the air out of the balloon and folded what was left. After an early morning adventure, we headed back to the Shangri-La Hotel for some rest and relaxation. Later that day, we were introduced to some of the cultural dances as part of the cairns indigenous arts festival.

It was one of the many groups we'd seen. They are the indigenous people in Australia and they have a lot more to offer in terms of making people learn more about their culture and their dance.

It's interesting to note that while Australia's lifestyle reflects its western origins, there are many multicultural societies enriched by over six million settlers from almost 200 nations. In fact, aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people total over 400,000, which make up over 2% of the population. Several of these tribes tell their stories through dance and songs. Jeff Waia (also known as Aniba) who is from the crocodile (Cadal) tribe, says most of their dances depict how the earth has changed and how these changes affect their way of life. His tribe is one of many from the Torres Strait Islands. This knowledge is passed on from one generation to the next, allowing a stronger culture.

Unlike the western society, their traditions are not written or documented. Rather, they're passed on through oral tradition. "Our dances belong to our families," he explained. "They are being passed on from our grandfathers, our fathers and then to us. It is mainly passed on through the male line. Sometimes in the females. But in my case, it's been passed on from father to son."

It's not just the elements of dance that are important to his clan, but also the elaborate costumes that set them apart from others. Despite the clash between the western world and their society, Aniba says it's really important for everyone in his country to unite and understand each other. The indigenous festival wasn't the only highlight of the day. On the other side of town at the esplanade, we were introduced to a more modern atmosphere. Thousands of people from all over Australia gathered to witness a very lively parade featuring dancers, colorful costumes, music, lots food and along with arts and crafts.

Garth Merger makes these handcrafted boomerangs. The boomerang is often used for sporting activities, but what you don't know, is that they're also used for other purposes. "It's not just sports, but it's a hunting boomerang and for a ceremony. Also it's used for when we have a dance; we also use it as a musical instrument. So that's the significance of the boomerang in Australia," said Garth.

"It's a very old item and it's something we want to keep and pass it on to the rest of the family and share with the people. So it's very sacred to us, the boomerang."

Merger says it's important for people to understand its purpose because the boomerang tells a lot about the history. This is why he and his wife opened their small business. The Cairns Festival highlighted much of the culture, history and modern day activities. At the end of the night, we were treated to a fireworks display at the Esplanade Boardwalk, where families, friends and great company gathered together to end the night on a joyful note.

Next weekend we'll take you on a boat ride to one of the Seven Wonders of the World - the Great Barrier Reef, where you'll see all the colorful and distinct underwater creatures you probably won't see anywhere else. The site is just amazing and you won't want to miss it.

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