In the latest InTravel Yarn, new team member James Lofts speaks with Jirra Lulla Harvey, a Yora Yorta / Wiradjuri woman, Director and Founder of Kalinya Communications and big time travel lover.
James: Tell us about the year ahead for you, what interesting projects are planned for the year?
Jirra: Last year was a year of travel and adventure, so this year I plan on being more home based. I just set up a new office in Fitzroy, and have some exciting local projects I am working on to connect with Aboriginal entrepreneurs and hopefully inspire more community members to start small businesses.
But I do have some getaways planned.
In April, as a part of my MBA studies I will be competing in a global business competition in Montreal, Canada. It looks interesting but exhausting so afterwards I have a little getaway planned on a remote Mexican beach and will be staying in this incredible eco lodge I have had my eye on for a few years.
Miami is my second home, so I will go back there for May and again in December to attend Art Basel – a huge art event that takes over the city with parties and fun art events.
In September I am taking my first trip to the Torres Strait for the Winds of Zenadth cultural festival. I have been dreaming of visiting the Torres Strait for so long, I’m really excited. And then the following week up to Newman for a cultural forum – and can’t wait to explore the Pilbara.
James: What is your favourite international holiday destination and why?
Jirra: The Caribbean stole my heart about eight years ago. I was working with the Kalinago people in Dominica, and the natural beauty, food, music, people’s love of family, culture and celebration won me over. I have been going to the Caribbean every year since and am slowly making my way through all the different islands. I can’t pick a favorite because they each have such distinct cultures and landscapes, that’s why I made Miami my second home – so I have a base to explore from.
James: What is your favourite domestic holiday destination and why?
I love the tropics and the beach, so I have lots of favorite destinations in northern NSW and Queensland. I have taken a few trips to Stradbroke Island recently and love vising Delvene Cockatoo-Collins’s shop Made in Minjerribah – all handmade home wares and beautiful things that reflect her connection to the island.
I also had an incredible stay in Port Douglas because I did a tour with Juan Walker, of Walkabout Tours. He took me through the Daintree, his people are traditional owners and he had so much knowledge of the region it was really special. Whenever I travel I try to connect with Aboriginal business owners and it always makes the trip a million times better.
James: What international travel destination really resonated with you as an Aboriginal person?
Jirra: Places where I can connect with a community, and places where the community has a strong connection to place. I think that’s one of the reasons I love islands so much, nature rules. If a storm comes, you have to stop what you are doing. You can check the forecast as much as you want but on islands, if the weather wants to change – you change with it. I love Vanuatu and stay with a good friend in his family’s village – people in Pango has been so generous in sharing their cultural knowledge with me and my friends. Once I stayed in a Mayan boarding school in Southern Belize, that was incredible!
James: What Australian destination or experience makes you the most proud to be Aboriginal?
Jirra: I am a Koorie woman, so being home with my community makes me most proud of who I am.
James: Australia is a popular travel destination for international travellers, what do you believe our country can do better to represent our Indigenous culture?
Jirra: I believe in self-representation. No one can tell our stories like we do. Aboriginal owned and operated tourism, food experiences, learning exchanges – they are the future. The “Aboriginal brand” can be empty – advertising campaigns created through a non-Indigenous lens without a co-design approach. Without the depth that culture brings, they miss the mark. But honestly, I think that approach is on the way out and we are about to see some very exciting new products on the market that are driven by self-representation, Indigenous ownership and true collaboration.
James: What has been your most interesting travel experience and why?
Jirra: Oh I don’t know if I can answer that. My first really eye opening experience was when I was 19 and attended the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network Forum in the Philippines. After the conference I went to the most beautiful farming area in the mountains to stay with community. While I was there I learnt that an Australia mining company had poisoned the local water, and clean water had been privatized and people had to buy it. I saw the water trucks come in for those who could afford water, and the rest of the crops dying. I remember complaining about the smell of the toilets and washing with buckets and my cousin who was travelling with me having to explain - cuz that’s because you have to buy water here and its expensive. It was one of those moments that wake you up.
Now I am conscious of trying to tread lightly when I am a guest on other peoples’ land. As Australians we sit in a position of global privilege, with a strong dollar and passports that allow us almost unlimited entry. As Aboriginal Australians we can connect with experiences of loss. On my travels I have heard lots of stories of local people loosing land, water, culture, or reefs dying and forests being cut down. Often these stories are connected to the development of mega resorts and those giant cruise ships, so I feel happiest when I stay in locally owned accommodation and spend my tourist money with small businesses.
James: Business class or economy? And who is your favourite airline to travel with?
Jirra: I am Virgin traveller and addicted to the lounges. It takes up to tree days to get from Melbourne to some of the more remote places I like to travel, having a shower, skipping the lines and eating some free food along the way makes all the difference. I have never travelled business before! One-day maybe.
James: What are some of your most interesting travel habits or routines?
Jirra: I have so many, I’m pretty eccentric with it - I love flying and like to make it as pleasurable as possible. I do yoga before a long haul flight, have a facemask I wear because a lot of flying was taking a toll on my skin, and I take my own food. Plane food has much more sugar and salt – something about your taste buds changing up there so I bring a sandwich and fruit with me. I also never, ever download the wifi apps. Plane rides are sacred to me, they are for enjoying a wine and watching movies – never working or doing emails!
James: As a regular traveller what are your three “must do” travel tips?
Jirra: In Australia, find an Aboriginal owned tour company. It’s not always easy, but here are my tips for finding them – Google Aboriginal tour in the area you are going – then click on the websites that come up – then go to the “About us” – if it is Aboriginal owned, there will normally be a story about the owners telling you who their mob is.
Get out of the resort! I get frustrated in resorts because I can’t feel the place I am in, I can’t hear it, smell it, engage with it. I also struggle with the division in resort towns between locals and tourists. It seems like the resorts scare tourists about local engagement, because then you spend all your money inside their walls. But with that said, there are of course safer places to travel and if it’s your first time go easy on yourself and pick somewhere you have heard positive things about.
Be respectful. When we travel we are guests. We are not always invited either, not everyone wants tourism in their neighborhood or on their traditional lands. But I feel like when you act as a guest, respect culture and try to spend local, the whole experience is so so much more fun.