Indigenous rights activist and professor Marcia Langton has written an essential travel guide for those who want to learn more about, and experience, Australia’s indigenous culture and history. Welcome to Country outlines nearly 200 activities, festivals, events, tours and performances and includes a guide to indigenous customs, history and etiquette. Here, we highlight some of our favourite Aboriginal Australian experiences taking in culturally significant sites across the continent.
Dance is an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life. It is an ancient form of storytelling that connects people with their spirits, ancestors, community and traditional lands, and it is a vibrant part of Indigenous culture today. Since it was founded in 1989, Bangarra has inspired audiences nationally and internationally. Its performances of powerful and emotive dance and music bring together the contemporary and traditional duality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. For the artistic director, Stephen Page, the dance company’s relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and respected Elders remains at the heart of Bangarra. Stories for the company’s productions are gathered from around the country and performed by highly skilled artists – each with their own proud Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background that drives their passion and influences their styles of dance. Bangarra tours nationally in the major cities and in regional Australia, and also regularly tours internationally. Each production displays the wonderful diversity that is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia.
For dates, locations and ticket prices visit: bangarra.com.au or call +61 2 9251 5333.
Bremer Island Banubanu Beach Retreat
Banubanu Beach Retreat is an eco-resort in East Arnhem Land, built in partnership with the Yolŋu people on whose land the retreat is located. The resort offers a peaceful island getaway as it allows a maximum of only 20 guests at any one time. There are 3 accommodation options to suit all tastes: the Deluxe Beachfront eco tents, the eco-friendly Beach House cabin, and the Hideaway cabin with all the comforts of home. Day visits to the retreat are also available, where guests will receive a welcome drink, use of the facilities and a 2-course lunch. Banubanu Beach Retreat offers a range of tours and experiences, such as fishing charters, guided mud-crabbing tours, bird watching, bushwalks and swimming.
WHERE: Bremer Island is located just off the coast of Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land, and is accessible by light aircraft or boat from Nhulunbuy.
COST: Day visits cost $74 per person when transport to Bremer Island is arranged separately; $230 per person including boat transfers to Bremer Island; $375 per person including light aircraft transfers to Bremer Island. For cost of accommodation at the retreat and packages see the website.
For more information visit: banubanu.com or call +61 8 8987 8085
Venture North Safaris
Family-owned Venture North Safaris is a multi-award winning tour company that specialises in small-group tours exploring the rich cultures and environments of the Northern Territory. Venture North offers a range of multi-day, 4WD tours around remotes areas of Arnhem Land, Kakadu, Garig Gunak Barlu, Litchfield and Nitmiluk national parks and the Kimberley. For those who love fishing, there are also multi-day fly in/fly out fishing charters available, where guests are flown from Darwin to the Cobourg coastal camp (flights take 1 hour), and provided with an exclusive fishing experience, all equipment, meals and accommodation and shown the best places to fish in one of Australia’s true wilderness areas by experienced guides.
TIPS FOR VISITORS: Venture North offers the chance to create completely customised private charters as well. All details and booking forms can be found on the website.
WHERE: Venture North tours operate out of Darwin.
For more information visit: venturenorth.com.au or call +61 8 8927 5500
Dreamtime Southern X
Operating out of central Sydney, Dreamtime Southern X is owned and run by Aunty Margret Campbell, an Indigenous woman who was raised in Dunghutti country on the northeast coast of NSW. Margret was educated from age 5 in her traditional custodianship, the Baranbyatti Mirra Buuka (Dreamtime Southern Cross), and encapsulates the living wisdom of her ancestors’ Dreamtime. Margret has had a long career as an accredited teacher and has applied this knowledge to Dreamtime Southern X, which offers the The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour for individual tourists. The tour departs daily at 10 am from Cadman’s Cottage and makes a total of 7 stops at significant sites during a 90-minute walk around The Rocks. Tours give insights into the ancient heritage of the Aboriginal people of Sydney Harbour and their use of and connection to the Harbour’s waterways and foreshores.
WHERE: Cadman’s Cottage, 110 George St, The Rocks, Sydney.
COST: The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour: adults: $44; children: $32. Tours must be booked in advance by phone or on the website.
For more information visit: dreamtimesouthernx.com.au or call +61 2 9517 4390; +61 428 661 019
Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Awareness
Ngaran Ngaran Cultural Awareness (NNCA) was established in 2011 and is an Aboriginal-owned and operated business and Tourism Australia accredited Indigenous Tourism Champion located on the NSW far south coast on Yuin country. Owner and operator Dwanye Bannon-Harrison created NNCA to pass on the legacies left to him by his family over 17 years of traditional teaching in Yuin country. Ngaran Ngaran offers a range of workshops, performances and multi-day tours, including their ever-popular Gulaga Creation Tour, which gives participants a 2-night, fully guided walking tour departing from the Island View Resort in the Narooma region of the south coast. It includes traditional performances, ceremonies, a guided mountain hike up Gulaga Mountain, and meals. Ngaran Ngaran have recently partnered with Tilba Lake Camp to create a 2-night glamping experience in their Djirranganj Dreaming Tour, offering participants a fully guided bus tour of the Yuin region, with traditional ceremonies, a fully guided tour of the Djirringanj Dreaming Trail, luxury accommodation in twin-share or solo glamping tents, and Indigenous-inspired meals served with ocean views.
WHERE: Narooma and the Tilba region are 4½ hours drive south of Sydney, or 3 hours drive east of Canberra. Bus transfers are available from the local Moruya airport as well as Sydney and Canberra airports at additional costs.
COST: Djirranganj Dreaming Tour: $800 per person; Gulaga Creation Tour: $605 per person. Ngaran Ngaran tours depart on set dates and advanced bookings are essential. Tour dates, booking forms and additional details can be found on the website.
For more information visit: ngaranaboriginalculture.com or call +61 408 272 121
Grampians National Park
The Grampians National Park is a must see if visiting Victoria. The landscape is timeless, rugged and beautiful. The Grampians (Gariwerd) is and has always been a significant place for Victorian Aboriginal people, and their incredible rock art can be seen throughout the park, and at Bunjil’s Shelter in particular.
ABORIGINAL CULTURAL HERITAGE: For the Aboriginal people of this area, Bunjil is an essential spiritual figure and the creator of life. Bunjil created the land, the trees, the people, the food and resources, the waterways, religion and Law. To see Bunjil’s Shelter is to gaze upon rock art that is thousands of years old and yet the spirit and beliefs of Bunjil the creator are still evident in Victorian Aboriginal culture today. Many Victorian Aboriginal people continue to respect the stories and artworks about Bunjil that have been passed down through the generations and preserved in art galleries and museums.
THINGS TO DO: To discover more about the park’s natural and cultural landscape and to gain the most up-to-date information about the Grampians, visit the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre. Visitors can go to the spectacular Gariwerd Dreaming Theatre and take in the interpretive displays at the centre. Cultural rangers take groups on bush-tucker walks and rock-art tours.
WHERE: The park is located in Western Victoria, 3-hour (260 km) drive from Melbourne; and 5-hour (460 km) drive from Adelaide. It is easily accessed from the villages of Halls Gap, Wartook and Dunkeld, and a scenic day trip from the regional towns of Hamilton, Horsham, Stawell and Ararat. The Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre is located just south of the Halls Gap township.
WHEN: The Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre: 9 am–5 pm daily; closed Christmas Day.
CAMPING: A variety of campgrounds are located in beautiful forest surroundings. All have basic amenities including pit toilets, fireplaces and picnic tables; they do not have power. Drinking water is not provided so bring your own. Book early during busy holiday periods.
COST: Park admission is free.
For camping fees and more information visit: parkweb.vic.gov.au or call +61 3 5361 4000
Adventure North Australia
Adventure North Australia has been operating out in the Daintree region of north-east Queensland since 2004, and developed its Bama Way Aboriginal Tours in 2007 in partnership with several Indigenous-owned tour companies and cultural centres. Tours run by Adventure North are created in partnership with, and guided by Traditional Owners of the lands and immerse visitors in the natural and cultural beauty of the area. Guests can choose from 1- and 2-day Daintree Dreaming or Dreamtime Walk tours, a 2-hour coastal walk along Cooya Beach, or 30-minute walking tours to Bloomfield Falls. All tours have an emphasis on the rich Aboriginal cultures of the area and guides provide demonstrations, teach traditional skills and share their cultural knowledge.
TIPS FOR VISITORS: Bookings for all tours can be made through the website. All tours include walking, sometimes on uneven ground, so guests are advised to wear appropriate clothing and bring water and sunscreen.
WHERE: 36 Aplin St, Cairns (Adventure North tourism office).
For more information visit: adventurenorthaustralia.com or call +61 7 4028 3376
Wilpena Pound Resort
The only accommodation located within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, Wilpena Pound Resort was purchased in 2012 as a joint venture by Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA), to provide a sustainable economic future for the local Adnyamathanha people. The resort offers a number of activities to visitors to Adnyamathanha Country, including Aboriginal culture walks, 4WD tours, and scenic flights around the park and over Lake Eyre. Accommodation ranges from hotel rooms to luxury safari tents and camping grounds; check the website for details.
WHERE: Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is located 429 km north of Adelaide and accessible by car or scenic flight transfer (must be arranged in advance). Buses run from Adelaide to the town of Hawker, with transfers available from Hawker to the resort if booked in advance.
WHEN: 7 am–6 pm daily (reception); 8 am–6 pm daily (visitors centre and general store).
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Partial park closures are implemented during the summer months. Check the resort website for changes to activities.
For more information contact resort reception: +61 8 8648 0004; reservations: 1800 805 802; campground bookings: +61 8 8648 0048; wilpenapound.com.au
Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tour
Beautiful Cooya Beach (Kuyu Kuyu), a 15-minute drive north of Port Douglas, is the traditional fishing grounds of the Kuku Yalanji people and home to Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours. Both the Coastal Beach and Mangrove tour and the Coastal Beach Night Time walk focus mainly on fishing. A Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owner will meet visitors at their traditional homeland on Cooya Beach where they continue to practice their cultural activities and maintain their cultural heritage. After explaining the importance of this country, guides will introduce guests to their traditional fishing activity of spear throwing and handling as it is still practiced here today. Visitors can try their hand at fishing with a spear, and learn about traditional medicinal and food plants along the way. In the night tour, visitors can walk or row into the waters to fish. The Tradition Owners, the Kuku Yalanji people, operate and conduct the tours, providing visitors with the opportunity to see how the Kuku Yalanji people have hunted for thousands of years, and how they have mastered and adapted to using technology to continue hunting.
WHERE: Cooya Beach, Mossman.
WHEN: Coastal Beach and Mangrove tour: starts 9.30 am and 1.30 pm daily; Coastal Beach Night Time walk: 7.30 pm–9.30 pm.
COST: Coastal Beach and Mangrove tour: adult: $75; child 4–14 years: $45; Coastal Beach Night Time walk: $75 per person; boat rowing: $150 per person.
For more information visit: kycht.com.au or call +61 7 4098 3437
This is an edited extract from Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton published by Hardie Grant Travel ($39.99). Available where all good books are sold.
Image credit: Jacob Nash (Bangarra)