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Encounters. Indigenous contact and culture: a classroom resource

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Yidinji country

Cairns, Queensland

The Yidinji people of the tropical rainforests of northern Queensland have a rich and vibrant cultural heritage. Explore how that vibrancy continues today through the expression of artists who use contemporary techniques to reflect on the past.

  • Map of Australia showing the location of Cairns, Queensland.
    Cairns, Queensland
  • Tropical rainforest
    Setting the scene
  • Two flat pieces of wood with rounded ends, secured in a cross shape with fibre threaded through holes.
    Yalma (cross boomerang)
  • Oval shaped wooden shields with painted designs in red, yellow, white and black.
  • An etching showing an oval shaped shield with different shades of brown and a white cross dividing it roughly into four quarters.
    Crossroads shield etching
  • A fibreglass surfboard featuring a rainforest shield design on the front, with a portrait in black and white on the reverse.
    cantchant shield sculpture
  • Necklace made from nautilus shell and natural fibre.
    Shell necklace
  • A historic black and white photo of Indigenous Australian adults and children with their shields and baskets.
    Rainforest people


Match the picture to the text

What do you know about Cairns?

Video stories

Learn about defending culture

Watch this video of Bindur Bullin man and Yidinji artist Paul Bong talking about shields and his art.

Activity: Have a class discussion about the symbols and meaning in Paul’s artwork.

Learn about the meaning of objects

Watch this video of Gimuy Walabura Yidinji Elder Henrietta Marrie talking about what it means to have objects taken from her traditional lands returned to Australia.

Activity: Have a class discussion about why Henrietta thinks objects in the British Museum collection are important to local communities?

More activities

cantchant shield sculpture

Activity: Examine Vernon Ah Kee's cantchant shield sculpture, pictured above. Investigate the life of a grandparent or older person in your community. Make an artwork using their image, or an object that belonged to them, that conveys a significant aspect of their life.

Museums and collections 

Activity: How and when do you think the objects pictured above might have been acquired? What does this tell us about the relationships at this time between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people? What is the legacy of such collections?

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