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Australia: Indigenous tourism experiences to learn and connect

From the outback to our capital cities, there are so many Indigenous tourism experiences that provide an opportunity to connect with and learn from Australia’s First Peoples.

In celebration of NAIDOC week, Tourism Australia has put together a collection of experiences and destinations to help travellers gain a newfound appreciation of, and connection to, Australia’s history and natural environment.

“Learning more about the connection between our land and its people is something that I encourage all Australians to experience for themselves,” Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director for Tourism Australia, said.

Australian Capital Territory

Canberra – Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri Country. The Ngunnawal Ngunawal and Ngambri people have lived in the country that is now known as the Canberra region and are the Traditional Custodians of the land.

  • Get an insight into Ngunawal history and culture: Join a Dhawura Aboriginal Cultural tour and you’ll be accompanied by a  Ngunawal guide who will take you on a journey to find hidden rock art, identify historical artefacts, learn about “bush food” and traditional stone tools, and hear the stories attached to each of the significant local sites in Australia’s capital.
  • See the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander art in Canberra’s museums: The National Gallery of Australia is home to the world’s largest collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. After, visit the National Museum, where every day at 3pm members of the local Ngunawal and Ngambri people host a First Australian’s Indigenous Australia Tour.

New South Wales

Sydney – Gadigal Land. Sydney is home to the vibrant Aboriginal culture of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation who are the Traditional Custodians. There are about 29 clan groups of the Sydney metropolitan area, which are referred to collectively as the Eora Nation.

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  • Visit Australia’s oldest museum to learn about our oldest cultures: The Australian Museum’s First Nations collection comprises film, voice recordings and artworks, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people telling their stories, against the museum’s 40,000-strong collection, from spear tips to carved emu eggs. The Australian Museum is set to reopen at the end of November following a $57.5 million renovation.
  • Take a dreamtime tour with Sydney Harbour as the backdrop: Join Dreamtime Southern X for a 90-minute Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour (Illi Langi) to learn all about Aboriginal past and present, spirituality and connections to land and water, in the shadows of both the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Ochre is smeared onto your hand at the start of the tour and you’ll learn about the role of ochre in Indigenous ceremonies and the deep relationship between Aboriginal people and the land, water and seasons.
  • Connect with Country, without leaving the city: The Royal Botanic Garden is an oasis of 30 hectares (74 acres) right next to the Opera House. It’s also a means of exploring Sydney Cove’s history from the point of view of its Traditional Owners, the Gadigal people. Explore the Cadi Jam Ora – First Encounters Garden, on the site where Europeans first cleared native land; embark on an Aboriginal Heritage Tour with a guide to learn about plant uses and traditional culture; and join an Aboriginal Bush Food Experience, in which visitors will gather seasonal bush food and taste just how good it can be and how to incorporate it into modern recipes.

Eurobodalla Shire – Yuin Country. The people of the Yuin Nation are the Traditional Custodians of the land we now know as Eurobodalla Shire. Yuin people have an enduring cultural and spiritual connection to the land and water in Eurobodalla.

  • Take part in traditional Indigenous ceremonies: Aboriginal owned and operated, Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness takes people on deep cultural immersions into Yuin Country, a five-hour drive south of Sydney in Narooma. A two-day, two-night Gulaga Creation Tour, led by the business’ founder, Dwayne “Naja” Bannon-Harrison, offers the chance to see and take part in ceremonies involving dance and yidaki (didgeridoo), explore sacred Gulaga Mountain, meet the land’s Traditional Custodians, hear Creation (or Dreamtime) stories, enjoy local foods including seafood and kangaroo, and take part in yarning (talking) circles. An alternative, the Djirringanj Dreaming Tour, follows the nearby Djirringanj Dreaming trail.

Port Stephens – Worimi Country. The Worimi are the Traditional Custodians of the Port Stephens area. The Worimi Nation was originally bounded by four rivers, Hunter River to the south, Manning River to the north, the Allyn and Patterson Rivers to the west.

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  • Take part in an action-packed and educational Indigenous adventure: In Port Stephens, two hours north of Sydney, Sand Dune Adventures, operated by the Worimi people, will take visitors on a 90-minute adventure that’s one-third quad biking, one-third sandboarding and one-third Aboriginal culture: visiting midden sites, digging for fresh water on the beach and discovering bush foods and resources. The Worimi dunes rise up to 40 metres (131 feet) above sea level!

Northern Territory

Alice Springs – Arrernte Land. The Aboriginal Arrernte (pronounced arrunda) people are the Traditional Custodians of Alice Springs and the surrounding region. Mparntwe (pronounced m’barn-twa) is the Arrernte name of Alice Springs.

  • Enjoy a bite to eat from the world’s oldest living culture: In Alice Springs, the Mbantua Gourmet Bush Lunch Tour, takes visitors on a leisurely walk to a site that is historically significant to the Arrernte people, followed by a bush tucker demonstration and a gourmet barbecue in a bush setting. Or visitors can experience The Mbantua Starlight and Bush Dinner Tour includes an evening stroll and a cooking demonstration on an open fire featuring native ingredients, while listening to Dreamtime stories about the night sky.

Uluru – Anangu Land. Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the land around them have always been very special places. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage listing for both cultural and natural values, the Anangu (pronounced arn-ung-oo) are the Traditional Custodians. The Anangu welcome you to learn about their Tjukurpa (traditional law, stories and spirituality), ancestors and culture.

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  • Feel  scale of Central Australia’s rich culture: SEIT’s Patji tour, named after the Aboriginal land it explores, takes visitors on an exclusive off-road adventure just south of Uluru. Travelling through Patji by 4WD with an Aboriginal guide, expect to learn about the cultural and historical significance of the area, as well as stories passed down for generations about how the Traditional Owners survived in this desert landscape.
  • Take part in a dot-painting workshop: Maruku Arts in Uluru has been contributing to cultural sustainability for over 30 years, helping to preserve Aboriginal practices like painting, drawing and carving through sharing these traditions with visitors and local employment. Owned by Anangu, here you can peruse an extensive range of paintings and distinctive punu (wooden carvings) by some 900 Anangu artists, depicting Creation stories and places. Beyond the retail gallery, this outback art centre offers hands-on dot-painting workshops, where you’ll be guided by a local Anangu artist to learn about the traditional art form, symbols and tools, creating your own artwork.

Tiwi Island – Home to the Tiwi people. The Tiwi Islands comprise of two main islands – Bathurst and Melville – and is home to the Tiwi people. Most of the island’s residents are of Aboriginal descent, and travellers need to apply for a permit before heading to this sacred spot.

  • See ‘The Island of Smiles’: On the Tiwi Islands, 100 kilometres from Darwin, a unique culture has evolved independently from the mainland. With carved pukamani burial poles, renowned screen printed fabrics, and an obsession with Aussie Rules football, the Tiwi’s are well worth the 2.5-hour boat ride from Darwin. SeaLink NT operates ferries to Bathurst Island and offers day tours with Tiwi guides that include a “Welcome to Country” smoking ceremony, a visit to a remarkable church that combines Christianity with Dreamtime beliefs and a behind-the-scenes art session.

Katherine – Land of the Jawoyn, Dagoman, and Wardaman Aboriginal peoples. Marking the point where the traditional lands of the Jawoyn, Dagoman, and Wardaman Aboriginal peoples converge, Katherine has been an important meeting place for Indigenous people for many thousands of years, and it remains so today.

  • Create art with a legend: Manuel Pamkal learnt to paint using bark from the stringybark tree when he was 15. Today, visitors learn from him at the Top Didj Cultural Experience & Art Gallery just outside Katherine, a three-hour drive south of Darwin. Manuel shares stories about growing up in the bush and his tribal life, demonstrates traditional fire lighting and spear throwing, before teaching the rarrk (cross-hatching) painting technique, in which painters use pieces of billabong grass to make long parallel lines. Visitors even get to take their own work of art home.

Queensland

Cairns – Yidinji Country. The Yidinji Yabanday (tribal land boundary) covered a large area from the Barron River in the north to the Russell River in the south, east to the Murray Prior Range and west to Tolga. The Yidinji people include eight clans who are the traditional custodians of the area. Gimuy is the traditional place name for the city of Cairns.

  • Dive into a Dreamtime experience: Discover the Great Barrier Reef from an Aboriginal perspective on a Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel tour from Cairns, with on-board Indigenous reef rangers who work to conserve both their culture and the reef. As well as spending a generous five hours at outer reefs – where visitors can snorkel, scuba dive or admire all that underwater beauty from a glass bottomed boat – visitors will hear reef creation stories, experience traditional dances and didgeridoo playing, and get to know not just the underwater world, but the people who call this their “sea Country”.
  • Taste 60,000 years of tradition: The Flames of the Forest Aboriginal Cultural Experience is a remarkable evening, less than 10 minutes outside Port Douglas, or a one-hour drive from Cairns. The rainforest setting is magical: visitors are seated beneath a black, silk lined marquee illuminated by handmade crystal chandeliers. The banquet itself is similarly exceptional: a seven-course progression of modern, mostly locally sourced, Australian flavours with an Indigenous (‘bush tucker’) twist. And the Kuku Yalanji are the perfect hosts, offering a blend of intimate storytelling, didgeridoo and song, as well inviting guests to enjoy soaking up the sounds of the rainforest.
  • Experience one of the first Indigenous-operated tourist offerings: It started back in 1987 with Aboriginal man Jimmy Edwards throwing boomerangs with his dog Sammy while people waited to board an amphibious World War II Army Duck for a tour of the rainforest. Over time, that evolved into the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, which has been performed for almost 3 million visitors to the Rainforestation Nature Park, at Kuranda, a 30-minute drive north of Cairns. It’s an hour of dance performance in a rainforest amphitheatre and a Dreamtime walk involving didgeridoos, boomerangs and some impressive spear throwing from world record holders.

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