Yugambeh and Bundjalung artist, Luther Cora is a cultural educator and has been performing for the Yugambeh Aboriginal Dancers for the past 27 years.
The group of 20 Indigenous dancers, who all come from the same family in the Gold Coast, have continued to learn, share and perform their traditional work nationally and internationally.
As Luther passionately describes his tribe’s zest for culture, he pauses to remember one very special member.
“My ‘cousin-brother’, Aaron Cora, passed away in a car accident in the Gold Coast, which is our traditional land, the Yugambeh and Bundjalung Tweed Heads area.”
Luther says even though the 35-year-old’s life was taken from him too soon, his culture continues to live on.
In a final tribute to Aaron, as an artist and a strong cultural man, Luther created a special memorial to send him off accordingly.
“His mum asked me to decorate his coffin so I made sure to include the Brolga Jungai, which is his totem animal, as well as his traditional body paint worn during dance and ceremony.”
Aaron has been remembered as a cultural man who continually strived to embrace his Aboriginal heritage. Luther says the pair danced together for the last 20 years, shared stories about the land, hunted for bush tucker and created Indigenous art work representing their ancestors.
For four days straight, Luther worked long and hard to complete a special cultural send-off coffin for Aaron, using acrylic paint with traditional colours and significant totem animals.
“His totem animal, the Brolga is so special, it represents a bird, one of the creation ancestors that taught us how to dance - which was his passion in life.”
“He was painted all up in traditional dress at the funeral, so I thought it was fitting that we painted his traditional body paint on his coffin,” Luther explained.
“All these animals painted are ones that were important to the elders. Our families tried to stick to our culture as much as we could, considering we lived in the urban Gold Coast area.
That’s what connects us back to our ancestors - we can still collect mullet fish and ugarie’sand stuff like that which is good for us to be able to retain culture, customs and traditions, which was especially important for Aaron.”
Luther says Aaron unfortunately didn’t get a chance to ‘get his artwork out there’ but that he was a very talented man.
“He was a great artist in our community, he had a unique style and his work was the same standard as big gallery artists,” Luther said.
“His work was very abstract, he had big paintings of animals – and his work portrayed different rays of light through rain drops and water – so it was all very based on nature… a true unique style.”
“On top of the coffin there was an eagle and that’s our totem animal for the Gold Coast area. It’s what passes us up to the sky country when we pass on, so that was right up where his head was.”
“On the top of the lid was his totem animal - the Brolga, which is his name and represents a bird, one of the creation ancestors that taught us how to dance.”
“On the bottom of the feet I painted goannas which is totem to Bundjalung.”
“On the side is a mullet fish, they are important to our people in the Gold Coast area because they feed our people. Aaron always loved them because they were strong in our culture.”
“Beside the mullet fish there were the pippi shells – or ugarie, and our families always collected them as bush tucker.”
“On the side of the coffin were sea turtles, which was another one of his favourite foods that he liked to go hunt for. It reminded him of trips to north Queensland where he’d go turtle hunting with his other brothers up there.”