The creation of Down Under Discoveries is quite a special story, one we have told many times to our amazing clients, but for those that have yet to join us, we wanted to share it on here as well so that you get an insight into why we do what we do.
My name is Chelle and I am owner and operator of Down Under Discoveries, a nature based tour company here in Western Australia that began with a vision from a very spiritual experience in the Northern Territory, a place I had once called home.
Let me paint the picture for you. It’s June 2011, my husband Dave, our daughter Sophie and I are on a holiday in the Northern Territory renewing our wedding vows in this place we had once called home, the tropical city of Darwin. We had a number of outdoor experiences planned on this holiday with two of them having the most significant impact on me I have ever had. They ultimately helped me find my way and led to the creation of Down Under Discoveries.
We woke up at dawn this morning in June knowing we had a 70km drive out to the Adelaide River to jump on board a “Jumping Crocodile Cruise”. We packed up our goodies for the day, carried our sleeping 3 1/2 year old daughter to the car and head off to what was going to be a rather pleasant day. As we turned off the Stuart Highway, on to the Arnhem Highway, we approached the turn off to The Croc Cruise and a sign caught my eye. 225km to Kakadu National Park and in that very moment I knew our plans would change. Despite living in Darwin for a short time we had never ventured out to Kakadu and I knew this could possibly be my only chance for a while so I turned to hubby and said let’s go. He looked at me with this crazy look but agreed and off we went laughing at the randomness of our decision. Kakadu is a huge National Park, definitely a place you need to explore over a few days but we didn’t have a few days, we only had one, but I was determined to see as much as we could in that time so began searching the internet and created a short itinerary to the Bowali Visitors Centre, Nourlangie Rock, Gunwarddehwardde Lookout, Warradjan Cultural Centre and a Yellow Water Sunset Cruise.
The Bowali Visitors Centre is a great place to visit first up. Named after the Bowali Creek nearby, the long linear design was inspired by an Aboriginal Rock Shelter and they are a wealth of information on everything Kakadu. It was our first insight into the strong Aboriginal Culture within the area. We spent about an hour exploring the displays, galleries and gathering our maps and info before making our way to our next stop and definitely the one I was most excited about, Nourlangie Rock.
Burrunggui (Nourlangie Rock) is a World Heritage listed area with extensive Kakadu birdlife, Rock Art and rugged escarpment. We spent over half the day here, even though it was only a 1.5km loop track, but we also combined it with the 1.5km circular walk at Gunwarddehwardde Lookout and the 2.5km Anbangbang Billabong walk at the base of the rock. All locations taking you past ancient Aboriginal shelters and outstanding Rock Art sites. Paintings such as Namarrgon (lightening man) explore the relationship of the people to their country and belief, illustrating the important stories, food sources, wars and mythological figures.
The feeling I got from these places was like nothing I had experienced before. It moved me to tears. I had always had an interest in Aboriginal Culture, had always admired their connection with the land, but this took things to a whole new level. I was overwhelmed with emotion and instantly felt a stronger connection to their culture, to country and I was so blessed to be sharing it with my husband and daughter who were both just as awe inspired by the magnitude of it all as I was. We literally had to tear ourselves away knowing our time here was limited.
We then made our way to Yellow Waters where we first visited the Warradjan Cultural Centre. Named after the pig nose turtle, the centre offers amazing insight into the Aboriginal history of the park and is where we learnt about the Bininj people in the north and the Mungguy people of the south. Visiting here and getting a deeper understanding was certainly a valuable experience viewing displays which contained artefacts, arts and crafts and lots of videos of their stories.
It was nearing the end of the day by this point and we made our way to the boat ramp to board our Yellow Water Sunset Cruise. The Yellow Water Billabong is at the heart of Kakadu and offers a memorable journey through the region’s wetlands, rich with dramatic scenery, ever-changing landscape and wildlife, which by the way included crocodiles, so we got to see some crocs after all. The experienced guide was supported by an Indigenous guide who had been taught the secrets of Kakadu by tribal elders, and hearing his stories of how the Bininj people used the flora and fauna to support their way of life left us feeling privileged to have been involved in this storytelling of the Dreamtime.
It was then that our Kakadu experience had come to an end but actually made me more excited for our Nitmiluk National Park adventure which was a few days later. We left the park quite late and once again were completely in awe of every single moment we had experienced and to make it just that little more special the trip back along the Arnhem Highway was highlighted by fire stick burning happening either side. Isn’t it funny how something so simple can touch you in such a way. We had remembered learning about the importance of Fire Stick burning earlier in the day, and once again just had a huge connection and deep respect for the Traditional Owners of this land. I went back to our accommodation a very different lady. I wanted more.
Then our day at Nitmiluk National Park in Katherine arrived. This experience I had booked months in advance. Financially things were tight, but the 3.5hr Bolong’s Dreaming Cruise had been calling me so we made it happen, having absolutely no idea of the effect it would have on me and the road it would lead me to.
Once again rising early to prepare for a 292km drive, (lucky we like driving), were off at the crack of dawn making our way along the wide open roads to Katherine, a beautiful little town with much to offer. We enjoyed a quick brekky before heading out to Nitmiluk National Park, located 29km north east of Katherine and spent some time exploring the Visitors Centre which had a Heritage Museum & Display Centre within, offering graphic displays and models illustrating the flora, fauna and rock formations of the park, traditional Aboriginal artefacts, as well as informative audio visual displays presenting a living record of Nitmiluk.
We then eagerly awaited to be called to head down to the boat ramp to jump on board our Cruise. As we did we were welcomed by tiny little bats hanging from the trees, noisy but interesting little things they were. We could see the captain calling people through and as I wanted to get the best vantage point we quickly made our way down and got on board to find the best place to sit. Once all other passengers were on board we made our way through the maze of waterways sculpted from the sandstone over countless millennia by the Katherine River. About 15min in we were introduced by the captain to a young Aboriginal boy. Sadly, I do not remember his name but will remember his face forever. He was an up and coming Tour Guide and he was going to be delivering the commentary for the journey of our cruise through Jawoyn country. He explained to us he was still learning so much from his Elders so would be reading a lot from his papers but you only had to listen to him to understand that his culture ran deep within his bones. A passionate, humorous young man, he really did a wonderful job of engaging us in to the past of his ancestors.
After a short cruise through the waters we came to a Rock Art site reflecting on the ingenuity and knowledge that represents thousands of years of learning and observation and are ancient evidence of the existence of the Jawoyn culture in the area during the last Ice Age. This artwork remains even after thousands of years of exposure to the elements. We listen in awe about the stories of the most significant characters in Jawoyn traditions, Bula – The Creator – who came from the salt water country in the north and is regarded as the most important figure in Jawoyn dreaming. Then there was Nagorrko, another important dreaming figure who divided the people into two main groups, and through this social grouping, taught about correct behaviour and marriage relationships. Then of course we heard of Bolung – the Rainbow Serpent, who is believed to inhabit the deep green pools on our land including the deep pool in the second of the Nitmiluk Gorges, an important life-giving figure but also known to act as a destroyer.
I still am not sure why but the tears were flowing, the overwhelming emotion of this culture touched me deep within my soul and in that very moment I knew that I too was now deeply connected to this land. An experience like no other, that Jawoyn boy had me engaged from the get go and honestly I could have listened all day. Trying not to be a sobbing mess, because I am sure the people around me would have had no clue what had just happened to me, I wiped away my tears and began to smile. I had found my why, I had finally found what I was supposed to be doing and I turned to my husband and said “This is it. I want to do what he is doing. I need to share my country with everyone who wants to learn about it. I want to offer people an experience as that young Aboriginal Boy had just done for me”. I want people to visit and leave feeling as though they too are connected to this magical place we call the Land Down Under”.
And from there idea came into fruition and Down Under Discoveries was born a few weeks later. I began studying Tourism, started thinking about the places I wanted to share with people and every step I took forward just made perfect sense. I looked back on my life at everything I had ever done and whilst many mistakes had been made there was an underlying common theme in it all, my connection to country. It was there from the beginning, right back to my childhood. I had just forgotten but I realised all my favourite times, were all outdoors. I was never really a girly girl, I liked exploring, I liked adventure, I liked getting down and dirty. I loved my time in Army Cadets and taking on a leadership role. Some of the best times were camping out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the bare basics and then the Army Reserves for the short time I was listed, all played a part in building the foundations to this very moment.
The years following our Darwin holiday were spent researching and gaining the qualifications and skills necessary to become a Tour Guide and run my own business. I could have possibly tried to get employment with an established Tour Operator but I was very clear on the type of experience I wanted to give people and just didn’t see that same vision in other companies. I’ve never liked “busy” so for me it was a no brainer that I would not be creating Tours that explored Perth city itself or the Swan Valley or Fremantle hence why you will see our Tours, or Experiences as we would like to refer them to now, include a more nature based approach. After all, it was no fancy building or theme park that helped me find my way, it was nature, so I create my experiences for you all in the hope of helping connect you to this beautiful land because there is nothing like it anywhere else on earth.
In 2013 I was able to step up into the business, create our logo and vision and bought our first bus which got us through the first few years of operation. In that time we received our Tourism Accreditation, won a few awards and began to inspire not only our International Clients but the local people of Perth to get outdoors and explore their own backyard.
In 2017 we participated in the Tourism Boost Program and were able to get help with the business as a whole and for that I am ever so grateful. We did a full re-brand and makeover of the business with a focus on creating those authentic, memorable experiences connecting to country, immersing ourselves in the power of nature.
We also started providing Bushtucker inspired food including lunches, morning and afternoon teas as our way to honour and say thank you to the traditional owners of this land which I am now fortunate enough to work on. It is our hope that by introducing you to the foods of the bush that you will begin your journey of self discovery into the world of Bushtucker and learn from those whose bond with the earth is second to none.
Following the rebrand we really established our place in the industry as innovative leader of unique nature experiences throughout Western Australia. We upgraded our trusty wheels to a smaller luxurious Toyota Hiace fitted with high-back reclining seats, air con, heating and tinted windows offering passengers unrestricted viewing. We provide usb charging docks, Wi-Fi and a DVD player to use on long trips.
In December of last year, in 2018, we decided to deepen our connection with country a little further and after 40 years of living in the city, we made the huge decision to relocate our family and lifestyle to Porongurup, a little village in the Great Southern set at the base of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Our yearning for a quieter country life has not been without it's challenges but we have no regrets and couldn't be happier to now call this place home.
The Porongurup Community is an amazing community of people who have welcomed our family and our business with open arms. The often used phrase 'Find Yourself in the Porongurups' cannot be underestimated for it is here that we finally feel at home.
The Amazing South Coast of which we are blessed to be a part of offers some of the most diverse terrain and we have worked hard over the last 6 months to put together experiences in our new home with the intent of connecting our clients, friends and family to this amazing part of the country. We obtained Eco Accreditation within this time and our focus is now on Sustainable Tourism.
We invite you into our world to experience extraordinary! I look forward to welcoming you to Australia.
Let us show you our country, our Great Southern Land.