February 3, 2019 / By Shelley Ann Morgan
On 23 June we hiked the 5 Lands Walk. Far from being just a physical activity, we were keen to understand the meaning and message of this festival which is inspired by Italy’s Cinque Terre. The festival is held along one of Australia’s most scenic coastlines. As the name implies, it connects five lands: MacMasters Beach, Copacabana, Avoca Beach, North Avoca Beach and Terrigal. This is an organised 10-kilometre walk where you can retrace the steps of Australia’s indigenous ancestors. The ethos of the 5 Lands Walk is ‘connecting people to people and people to place.’
President of the 5 Lands Walk, Con Ryan, explains it’s an inclusive Central Coast community event - bringing people together of all ages and abilities, whilst celebrating cultural differences. “A place where nobody is excluded, a place where people are encouraged to celebrate life and also have fun with their family and friends, and the wider community. And in doing so help create a more harmonious and inclusive society on the Central Coast and beyond,” he says.
We arrived at the 7:30 am Opening Ceremony, and under a bright winter sky, we were greeted by kind-hearted volunteers who set the scene for a community working harmoniously together. During the ceremony the importance of paying respect to the Darkinjung people, the traditional owners of the land, is a significant aspect of the 5 Lands Walk, and is a most fitting way to not only acknowledge ‘connecting with cultural groups’ but this was an essential way to start the festival.
In the distance we spied, as if it was almost on cue, magnificent whales frolicking in the deep ocean waters. The whale (and stingray) is a totem for the Darkinjung people. Spirituality and connectedness to the people, land and animals is at the core of Aboriginal culture. We listened to indigenous presenter Gavi Duncan’s speech, as the whales seemed to magically frolic. “We ceremoniously celebrate this day today each year, along with the ceremony of the whales when they start to migrate and move along our coastlines.” Whales give birth in the warmer waters, and once they have given birth, they make their journey back. “That is family, this is family,” says Duncan. Here I experienced a transcendent moment.
We eagerly ambled to the ‘The Portal of Good Intention’ - the start of the walk. At the Opening Ceremony I was taken with the smoking ceremony, preschool performances and indigenous talks, and I now had the opportunity at The Portal to weave and then place a pebble of good intention into the community mandala (see the top photo). 5 Lands Walk was one of the most touching community events I have experienced. It is also a particularly impressive event considering the ever-flowing crowds that attended - it was estimated that over 20,000 people gathered to celebrate this festival.
From ‘The Portal’ we joined the pilgrimage-style trek along the shores of the coastline, which made for a spectacular scene. As you approached each destination or lands, sounds such as music, cheerful chatter and laughing eventually led you to your anticipated bustling festival destination (those not hiking could also visit festival events at any point along the route and enjoy all the festive celebrations). This is what the festival is all about: connecting people, connecting people to place, and celebrating cultural differences. Music and dance performances ranged from Cuban, Greek, Aboriginal, Latino and Filipino. There were also a variety of activities and exhibitions at each destination - which included photographic and art exhibitions, face painting, kite making, Aboriginal leatherwork and weaving, and art workshops. At the start we were given water bottles, programs and maps. Amazingly, 5 Lands Walk is a free event too!
We traversed beaches along the coastline, roads and bushland; from well-maintained paths to dirt paths (and on our particular day - muddy paths). We stopped at Captain Cook Lookout to spot the migrating humpback whales, and with a variety of terrain and some tiring uphill stretches, our weary legs ached for the finish line. Having said this, given the opportunity to do this trek the next day - we would have completed it all over again! This is a place where community, people from far and wide, and Mother Earth are cherished. When I interviewed Con Ryan for this article, he asked me, “Did you feel the love?” I certainly did.
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