Born in the basement of a shopping centre in Kuranda in 1987, the Tjapukai story is nothing short of phenomenal. …a dream which combined a love of the theatre and a rich ancient culture. They, along with seven young men of the Tjapukai tribe produced a one hour play that harnessed the spirit of the “BAMA” and presented it with love humour and compassion. The show opened at a time when no one was sure what it would mean to present the Indigenous culture through tourism.
“We only knew what we didn’t want; to trivialise or exploit it. Yet using theatre as a medium, our partnership of black and white like minded people was successful in showcasing this culture to a global audience over a period of 20 years and to more than 2,000,000 visitors.
In 1996, after nine years of successful operations, Don and Judy Freeman designed, produced and directed the relocation of Tjapukai to its current 25 acre site at Caravonica, and expanded its business activities to include interactive demonstrations and performances, a cultural village, restaurants, retail and much more. They combined holographic images and live actors in the Creation Theatre, which depicts the wondrous legends of how the world began They produced a provocative film “ The Story of Survival”; unafraid to confront the often bloody reality of the culture clash experienced by early black and white Australians.
In 2002 HRH Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip jetted into Cairns for a day and spent an hour with Don and Judy who hosted their visit to Tjapukai. They achieved world press making the cover of almost every Commonwealth daily in the world.
Since commencing operations, Tjapukai has injected in excess of $35 million to the local Aboriginal community in wages, royalties and through the purchase and commissioning of art and artifacts. Don and Judy have overseen the training and employment of hundreds of young Aboriginal people and helped them to achieve economic independence.
The Freemans have also overseen the continued expansion of the attraction's activities, including the recent addition of a live 'dinner show', Tjapukai by Night, to the business.
Under their directorship Tjapukai won over 27 awards and today, after 25 years of operation, is recognised as the national ambassador for Australia's Aboriginal cultural tourism.
The company flourished in every year that they were at the helm. The Freemans sold their interest in 2009 to IBA who are currently the sole owners.
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Indigenous Business Mentoring
Don and Judy Freeman were appointed as business mentors under the Australian Government’s $3.8 million Business Ready Program for Indigenous Business.
Both were one of a select group (six only nationally) chosen by the Federal Tourism Minister to be business mentors in the Indigenous Business Ready Program. This 3 year project had set goals of facilitating chosen indigenous businesses along the path to successful tourism enterprise.
The objective of the program was to fund business mentors to assist Indigenous tourism operators to effectively design, manage and operate a successful tourism business.
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The Freeman Factor
Don and Judy have worked on numerous committees and consultancies to help develop Cultural Tourism both within Australia and overseas.
- They have both been speakers on the tourism circuit speaking at symposiums, and conferences in Australia and internationally.
- Don and Judy Freeman were appointed as business mentors under the Australian Government’s $3.8 million Business Ready Program for Indigenous Business. The objective of the program was to fund business mentors to assist Indigenous tourism operators to effectively design, manage and operate a successful tourism business.
- In September 2005 Judy was appointed to the newly formed Indigenous Tourism Australia by The Minister for Small Business and Tourism, The Hon. Fran Bailey and through this role is assisting in developing programs and activities that directly contribute to the advancement of Indigenous Tourism.
- Judy was a member of the Tourism Advisory Board for the Indigenous Land Corporation, a past member of the National Indigenous Tourism Leadership Group (an initiative of the Federal Department of Tourism) and a past director of Tourism Queensland.
- Don is a past Deputy Chairman of the Tourism Tropical North Queensland, was a member of the Tourism Industry Advisory Group which oversaw the development of the Australian Federal governments National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism Strategy, and is a past member of the PATA advisory committee task force report to the Republic of Indonesia on international tourism for Banten and Lampung Provinces.
In addition to Tjapukai, Don and Judy, through their company Freeman Productions, have also been involved in several other national and international cultural tourism projects.