The first time I meet Caitlin Hockey my feet are cooling in the crystal clear waters at Valla and the smell of freshly baked lemon myrtle damper wafts through the air. This softly spoken young woman is focussed on making every visitor to her Interpretive Coastal Nature Reserve Walk on Gumbaynggirr country feel warmly and personally welcomed. Her enthusiasm is palpable. Before long, we’re led away from those tantalising bush-tucker aromas to be painted and prepared for our first and very important experience on this tour – a smoking & cleansing ceremony courtesy of knowledge-holder and linguist Micklo Jarrett and passionate Didgeridoo player and storyteller Rob Canning. Every Part of the Earth is Sacred. Marraal gundi julu gurray yarrang jaagi …
When I meet Caitlyn some weeks later to find out what her ‘master plan’ is with these insightful experiences, it becomes clear that her modest demeanour and gentle nature is equally matched with passion and determination: To do her bit to preserve (and improve) this beautiful part of the world’s natural landscape. And she declares her desire to share its uniqueness with others while ensuring it’s done within the framework of respect and inclusion. So she tells me about Spirit of the Rainforest (SOTR).
It all started with…
30 years ago Caitlin’s parents, Julie & Nick came across this patch of paradise in the Nambucca Valley. It captured their imagination. They moved in and named it ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’. Holding strong to their vision, they set about improving the soil and planting up native rainforests and a Davidson Plum orchard.
- Vision: To build a community of people who want what we can provide – whether it be a product, knowledge, adventure or food for the soul/rejuvenation.
To have people appreciate the decadence of nature.
To be seen as custodians and knowledge-holders of our (piece of) land and the rainforests of the Mid North Coast.
It’s clear the apple (or plumb in this case) doesn’t fall far from the tree. And now, with a career background in Tour Guiding, and 30 years of assimilating her family’s vision, Caitlin has started offering connective, immersive & cultural tour experiences from the grounds of ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’.
“While I don’t have indigenous heritage, I was born on Gumbaynggirr country and am a passionate woman of this land. I’m trying to create shared, educational & cultural experiences (with these tours) on Gumbaynggirr homeland that are respectful, consultative and inclusive. By necessity, this means they have an organic and evolutionary flavour. I’ve only got a tiny little part of the earth to work within. So using my skills, I’m connecting with local indigenous people, conservationists and knowledge-holders to create tours of shared experiences. Fortunately everyone I’ve been working with is really supportive of that.”
Caitlin explains, “the main thread of these tours are underpinned with the belief Every Part of the Earth is Sacred. Marraal gundi julu gurray yarrang jaagi ; Ngiyaa marraal gundi – we belong to the earth. It’s one of the first things Micklo says to guests before embarking on the (above-mentioned) Valla Beach coastal walk, where he introduces medicinal plants, totems, language, stories, forages for bush tucker and more.” And yes, it concludes with that delicious lemon myrtle damper & Davidson Plumb jam, tea, cool drinks and other tasty homemade treats.
Caitlyn has also developed a secondary tour experience – Deep Forest Connections. “The vision is to take you into these really incredible places to experience its grandeur and beauty. I’ve been doing quite a few trips out with local conservationists who have been looking after this area for many decades and who know the area quite intimately. And I thought wow we need to be able to share this with the planet but in a way that’s special, unique, respectful and connecting, and not as some huge crazy tourism scheme.”
Through Deep Forest Connections you’re taken out into the Nambucca Valley Rainforest and immersed into special parts of it – areas that you usually wouldn’t see. “It’s remnant rainforest out in the hinterland and it’s been totally untouched by man,” Caitlin enthuses.
What can people expect from one of the SOTR experiences?
“We want to tailor experiences to meet people’s unique needs and circumstances. Our itineraries will be flexible, so you don’t have to be super fit or experienced hikers. We’re even designing guided driving tours where conservationists and knowledge-holders can share their knowledge in specially selected locations just off the roadside. We recently took a group, which included a young family, out into a special rainforest location where one of the mums was able to carry her bub and feed her along the way.”
Down the track (pun intended!) Caitlin has a deeper vision to organize overnight experiences in the Great Koala National Park, with an abundance of local knowledge being provided throughout.
“We’ve also created retreat-style accommodation* where you can stay on Spirit of the Rainforest to experience a farm-stay and learn about native rainforest & local plants. It will also be the base for SOTR off-property experiences like our beach n bush cultural experience, and more exciting joint adventures which I hope to share over time.”
Why does she do it?
“I just want to do my bit to make this world a better place, preserving and protecting what I can.
And if I can empower anyone else to do their little bit then together we can all have a more meaningful connection to the planet and more respectful for it.”
*retreat accommodation will soon be available – check with Spirit of the Rainforest.