Friday, April 19, 2024


Learning from Australia’s Indigenous storytellers

Australia’s history is epic. The story of Australia is one in which the natural environment – a world that is continental…

By Chan , in Travel , at December 13, 2023

Australia’s history is epic. The story of Australia is one in which the natural environment – a world that is continental in scope and stunning in beauty – occupies a central position. The story is told from the perspective of Australia’s original inhabitants, whose connection to their land has many lessons for sustainability.

Aboriginal Australians have been around for at least 60,000 years. In 1788, when European settlers first arrived in Australia, they found hundreds of distinct cultures, clans, and languages living in what is now known as Australia. They were as varied as the land. They were desert and forest people, fishermen, and farmers.

Aboriginal peoples have maintained a strong connection to their land or Country for more than 200 years. Aboriginal communities are increasingly embracing tourism as they recognize its importance in supporting this vital bond. The ever-growing number of authentic Aboriginal tourism opportunities across the Country offer the chance to learn about the culture and traditions that are intrinsic to it.

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Art Centres & Festivals

Visitors to Australia visit the Outback for meaningful encounters with Australia’s first peoples. Aboriginal art centers offer a great opportunity to do so. Sitting next to an artist as they patiently paint the intricate dots on canvas or bark is a great experience. You could wait out the sun with the local women who weave baskets using the fronds from pandanus palms.

Kevin, a local artist who showed us around Injalak Arts at Gunbalanya in the Arnhem land region of the Northern Territory, says that everyone benefits when travelers show interest in ancient traditions. Some visitors prefer to sit back and watch as we paint. Some visitors like to chat and ask questions. We can all learn from each other, he says.

Injalak Art is dominated by the X-ray style, in which artists paint the interior skeleton of the subject. This style is a typical one of Australia’s Top End, Arnhem Land, and other northern Australian regions. It takes inspiration from the ancient art on rock walls. Like modern Aboriginal art and rock art painted by ancients, it is a way to tell stories about the world. You can tour the nearby rock art site from Injalak Art, which is one of the most important in the region.

Jarramali Rock Art Tours takes you to the amazing Quinkan Country rock art sites near Laura. Quinkan, a vast open-air Outback Museum of immense significance and scope, is ranked by UNESCO among the top ten rock art sites in the world. Some of the rock artwork here dates back to 20,000 years. The three-day Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival, held every two years, is Australia’s biggest celebration of Indigenous culture and dance. The festival is also a good reminder that Aboriginal arts in all their forms remain one of the best ways to learn about Australia’s Indigenous history.

Take the Water

What if you don’t have the time to travel Outback?

Simon Thornley is the owner of Saltwater Eco Tours, located in Mooloolaba on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. He enjoys the opportunity to show off his community. “To be right on the coast, where people are already traveling – people can jump on board and experience an authentic Indigenous Experience.”

Saltwater Eco Tours takes visitors out onto the rivers and further into ocean waters in a more-than-one-hundred-year-old replica of the wooden sailboat used in the first solo circumnavigation of the earth.

The tours are led by local guides of the Kabi Kabi nation (Gubbi Gubbi). They take the visitors on an immersive journey into the past and present of the Indigenous people in the area. Local foods are the focus of this tour. Thornally calls it bush tucker-infused caterers: “We use a lot of native herbs and flavors, such as lemon myrtle and bunya nuts. We also make drinks and dips. We make drinks and cocktails onboard – our bar is fully licensed. We also serve local seafood, such as Mooloolaba prawns and oysters. We make a bunya-nut dipping sauce to serve with the prawns and use finger lime caviar on top of the oysters.

Walkabout Cultural Adventures is located in Port Douglas, a major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It also offers a rich and diverse landscape.

Juan Walker, owner of Kuku Yalanji, says, “We’re very spoilt here.” “We have a beautiful rainforest, mountains that descend to lowland rainforests, estuaries, river systems, and mangroves. Then we get down to the beaches. There are beautiful coastal environments and mudflats on the shores. You can walk right up to the Great Barrier Reef.

Storytelling is at the core of their approach to introducing visitors to their culture and land. Walker says, “We try to teach people as much as possible about the Kuku Yalanji and our connection with the country.” We want to show the people that it’s all interconnected – the rainforests and rivers are linked to the sea, the reef, and the sea. The interconnectedness of the ecosystem is something that our people have observed for thousands of years.

In other words, you can travel through millennia-old Aboriginal history here in one of the world’s most beautiful corners in just one day.

City & Other Encounters

You can have an unforgettable experience of Australia’s Aboriginal culture, land, and people without ever leaving the city.

Aboriginal guides in Melbourne lead Aboriginal Heritage Walks at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. They recount the oral history that has kept their culture alive even as the city around them grew.

The gardens used to be a meeting place for Boonwurrung, Woiwurrung, and Kulin language groups. Guided walks will take you through river red gums and Yellow Box – eucalyptus trees that are over 350 years old and predate European settlement. Native grasslands and ferns surround the Indigenous rainforest. Indigenous people still use bush foods. Also, look out for plants that are used in ceremonies. The traditional smoking ceremony is one of them.

As he walks through Long Island, an amazing refuge for native birds and plants, one of the tour guides, Christopher Jakobi, says, “Melbourne is a city that was built here due to its abundance of resources. This is why it was and still remains a very important place for meeting. All of these resources allowed tens and thousands of people to meet and marry on this land before the Europeans arrived. It’s the connection between past and current.”

Dreamtime South X is located in the heart of Sydney’s district, The Rocks. The Rocks contains some of colonial Australia’s oldest buildings.

Margret Campbell, the owner of the museum, took visitors through Sydney before it became what it is today. She starts with a smoking ceremony and then reveals the little and often forgotten signs of Sydney’s pre-European past. She tells stories from the Aboriginal Dreaming, or Dreamtime, and the stories that describe how the world came into being.

Campbell and other Aboriginal storytellers are oral historians who faithfully recite today’s history of Aboriginal culture. This helps keep Aboriginal culture alive. Campbell will change the way you see Sydney.

Sydney, Melbourne, and Australia’s other major cities are all equally important.

The Western Australian Museum in Perth is now known as the WA Museum Boola Bardip. This means ‘ many tales’ in the Whadjuk Noongar local language.

Adelaide’s Bookable Tours tells South Australia’s Indigenous Kaurna Story. The Adelaide Botanic Gardens is where the tour’s highlight lies, as it involves a search for bush food.

Of course, such experiences aren’t limited to cities. The Wukalina Walk in Tasmania follows the traditional land owners’ footsteps through the Bay of Fires with a Palawa Indigenous Guide.

You’ll be able to travel back in time and connect the dots between Australia today and its proud, unbroken past.