Australia’s Indigenous peoples are custodians of the world’s oldest living culture, stretching back over 60,000 years. Here are some suggestions for experiencing this culture
Desert Tracks, Northern Territory
Owned and operated by the Pitjantjatjara people of the region around Uluru (Ayers Rock), Desert Tracks has been introducing visitors to the wonders of Central Australia’s deserts for over two decades. This is a sensational part of the country, saturated with the soul-stealing magic of the desert landscape.
The most popular tour is the one-day Cave Hill ‘Aboriginal Experience’. The day is spent walking and talking with Aboriginal guides, sharing some of their food, gathering and hunting along the way and listening to their stories around the campfire, which gives visitors a whole new way of looking at the world. The highlight of the tour is the magnificent cave paintings, possibly the most significant Indigenous art site in Central Australia.
Tours begin and end at Ayers Rock and private charters, including tours of up to five days, are available (from April to October only).
Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney
Exciting and innovative, Bangarra Dance Theatre is one of the most electrifying contemporary dance companies working in Australia today. Stephen Page, Bangarra’s choreographer and artistic director, digs deep into Aboriginal culture to orchestrate powerful performances that explore contemporary Aboriginal social themes.
Bangarra first leapt to prominence a decade ago with Rites, choreographed to Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ and performed in collaboration with The Australian Ballet. After its premier at the Melbourne Festival, the work toured to overwhelming acclaim to the New York City Center. Based in Sydney, Bangarra continues to perform to an appreciative audience in other cities throughout Australia, as well as on the stages of the wider world.
Aboriginal Cultural Cruise, Sydney Harbour
Owned and operated by local Aboriginal people, the Tribal Warrior Association has a fascinating tour that focuses on Sydney’s Aboriginal heritage. Beginning at Circular Quay, the Aboriginal Cultural Cruise travels aboard the motor vessel Deerubbun past the Sydney Opera House to Clark Island to experience a traditional welcoming ceremony against the incredible backdrop of Sydney Harbour. The ceremony provides a unique insight into the significance of dance for indigenous Australian cultures, and visitor participation is encouraged. As the vessel cruises around the harbour during the remainder of the 1 hour 45 minute tour, passengers get an insider’s view of one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world as they learn about traditional fishing methods, food gathering techniques, lifestyle and the Aboriginal names for various harbour landmarks.
The Deerubbun is an ex-Navy Torpedo Recovery Vessel, originally named TRV3. She was one of three wooden-hulled TRVs built on Sydney Harbour during World War II for the Royal Australian Navy.
The Bama Way, Queensland
Between Cairns and Cooktown in Far North Queensland is a sensational region of rainforests, coral reefs and soaring mountains. It is an area steeped in Indigenous culture, and the best way to experience it is with an Aboriginal guide on a Bama Way tour, following story lines through the traditional country of the Kuku Yalanji and Guugu Yimithirr peoples. As it travels between Cairns and Cooktown by four-wheel drive safari vehicle, the tour links together three separate tours owned and operated by traditional Aboriginal custodians. Along the way, travellers will have a chance to sample bush food and medicine, try their hands at hunting with spears and explore rock art that offers an insight into Aboriginal concepts of society and spirituality. For the Kuku Yalanji and Guugu Yimithirr peoples, theirs is still a living culture and bush foods and traditional hunting skills are part of everyday life. The Bama Way is available either as a two-day ‘Discovery Tour’ or a one-day fly-drive version. Although there are many other tour operators that travel the same route, Bama Way tours are unique. For the traveller who wants magic as well as mystery from their travels, journeying through country with people who have absorbed it through the bare soles of their feet brings another dimension to the experience.
Yiribana Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Housed in Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Yiribana Gallery is one of the largest spaces in the country dedicated exclusively to indigenous art and sculpture. The name ‘Yiribana’ means ‘this way’ in the language of the Eora, the original inhabitants of the coastal region around Sydney. Highlights of the collection include traditional works on bark and some spectacular pieces from Arnhem Land, in far northern Australia, one of the wellsprings of Aboriginal art. Among these artworks is a spectacular group of Pukumani grave posts from Melville Island, north of Darwin. Many of these pieces were collected during the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when Arnhem Land was still relatively isolated and its traditional culture intact. The permanent exhibition also includes works by some of Australia’s leading Aboriginal artists, such as Rover Thomas, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Long Tom Tjapanangka and Ginger Riley Munduwalawala.
Harry Nanya Tours, Wentworth, New South Wales
Deep in the south-west corner of New South Wales, Mungo National Park is part of the Willandra Lakes Region, a wild, lonely moonscape of saltbush and sand dunes with profound significance for the Indigenous people of the region. Before the last Ice Age much of this area was covered by shallow lakes that provided a rich habitat for fish, shellfish and wallabies, and a food source for Aboriginal people who lived here as much as 60,000 years ago. Some 30,000 years ago they evolved burial rituals, regarded as one of the earliest manifestations of a spiritual dimension in human existence. They also ground seeds from wild grasses to make flour, one of the earliest uses of the grindstone in human history. Today, these dry lake beds provide a snapshot that has helped unravel some of the mysteries of Aboriginal life. In 1981, this region became one of the first in Australia to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
While it’s relatively easy to tackle Lake Mungo on a self-drive tour, exploring this region from an Aboriginal perspective is a far more revealing experience. Based in the town of Wentworth, Harry Nanya Tours is an Aboriginal-operated enterprise that has earned many accolades for its interpretative tours of the region based on traditional Aboriginal knowledge. On a Harry Nanya tour, visitors can experience a remarkable corner of the state and unravel some of the powerful mysteries of the Barkindji people.
Author: Michael Gebicki on behalf of Tourism Australia. This article is copyright-free and may be reproduced. Originally published 24 November 2008..
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