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Saltwater Eco Tours bringing Indigenous culture to life on the Sunshine Coast

09 November 2020

A young Indigenous business leader is sharing his cultural heritage and mob’s deep connection to the Sunshine Coast with the launch of his tourism venture Saltwater Eco Tours in July.

Launched during Queensland’s Year of Indigenous Tourism, Saltwater Eco Tours operates out of Mooloolaba, taking passengers aboard a century-old historic timber sailing vessel, Spray of the Coral Coast.

Saltwater Eco Tours is founded by Saltwater man, Simon Thornalley. From a young age, Thornalley has had a strong relationship with the ocean.

“I grew up on an ex-mission boat that was from Thursday Island, very similar to the boat we are using now, and I guess that’s where the inspiration has come from. My Dad is a timber boat builder, both Mum and Dad spent most of their lives sailing around the world,” he said.

Thornalley’s family travelled up and down the Queensland coast until he turned six, when the family settled in Mooloolaba. Thornalley later became a commercial diver, which enabled him to travel internationally.

“All of my experience I’ve had on the water as well as my passion for Indigenous culture, that is where the business model grew from,” he said.

“The Indigenous cultural experience is the number one [priority], that is really what I wanted to encompass in the experience … an authentic local Indigenous experience,” Thornalley said.

The tour hosts local Indigenous storytellers who share stories, traditions and culture of the Kabi Kabi people of the Sunshine Coast.

“Although there are a lot of Indigenous experiences all over Australia, we wanted something that was on the water, that reflected the culture from this area.”

“You could look back on the land, back on the mountain ranges and hear those creation stories told by the local Indigenous people. And in combination with that, the vessel we have is 112 years old, so just being on that timber boat gives you the presence of history.”

Saltwater Eco Tours offers a series of tours, including the Cultural Tour, Sunset Acoustic Tour and Private Charters.

Although only in its early stages, Thornalley hopes the business can expand in the coming years.

“We aim to be more established within the tourism community, to create bigger and more exciting trips and when international borders re-open, I’d like to reach a global audience.

“Ideally we will expand our product through merchandise and produce, eventually wanting to open a local booking office that supplies Indigenous products with a strong cultural focus.

“We also want to continue to build on our reputation as an authentic, traditional sailing experience and to maintain our five-star TripAdvisor rating,” he said.

Mr Thornalley said it is important for Indigenous businesses to connect and support each other, collaborate, think big, stay proud and build a sustainable future together.

“It is important to celebrate success among Indigenous businesses and business operators well into the future to share our culture, history, and traditions across many industries and to showcase the uniqueness and diversity of our culture across Queensland and among the various Indigenous communities from the Torres Strait to rural, regional, and metropolitan areas,” Mr Thornalley said.

Mr Thornalley, who is also one of the department’s Young Tourism Leaders, encouraged other Indigenous business to reach out, ask questions and stay motivated.