A NEW TAKE
New-found ways to discover a culture steeped in history
WORDS KIRSTIE BEDFORD
The way travellers experience Aboriginal culture in Australia has changed drastically. No longer are you a mere spectator on the sideline of a commercialised performance. Authenticity is now at the heart of cultural tourism.
You can walk alongside a local guide and hear the stories of the Elders, see rock art that is 60,000 years old or go foraging for food and learn its medicinal purposes used for centuries by First Nations peoples. Or, if adventure is more your thing, sandboard down the highest coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, or trek in one of Australia’s most startling natural wonders - all while learning about Aboriginal culture. Here, we give you our picks of new-found experiences incorporating culture that you may have never known existed.
Snaking through the desert — Sand Dune Adventures.
REV IT UP
Few would imagine you could learn about Aboriginal culture while revving quad bikes over the highest coastal sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, but that’s exactly what Sand Dune Adventures is all about. Scale the 40-metre Worimi sand dunes on Stockton Beach in Port Stephens through coastal grassland and scrub, then sandboard back down. The 90-minute experience is just two-and-a-half hours north of Sydney and gives visitors exclusive access to Aboriginal land. Led by expert Indigenous guides, mostly from the Worimi community, you’ll learn how to find bush tucker and dig for fresh water. CEO Andrew Smith says the best thing about the experience is being in the moment. “It puts time down and people become present … with all senses alert and open to receiving story.”
Going down the Worimi sand dunes, thanks to Sand Dune Adventures is a lot faster than coming back up.
A REAL PEARLER
Terry Hunter grew up among the vast red desert wilderness and turquoise tropical tides of Western Australia’s Dampier Peninsula, where he now runs Borrgoron Coast to Creek Tours. His early years were spent with best mate James Brown, whose grandfather founded Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, and where Terry’s great grandfather, a Bardi Jawi Elder, worked. The relationship grew into a friendship and has spanned the generations. Now, both James and Terry work at the pearl farm. James manages the farm and Terry runs two-hour walking tours educating visitors about the 22,000-year connection the local Aboriginal people have with pearl shells. Tours begin at the farm where he explains Riji, the Bardi art of carving pearl shell, which is how Bardi people pass down their stories to each generation, rather than the more well-known form of rock art. He then takes visitors to the beach flats to see where fresh water bubbles from the sand at low tide and demonstrates how you can smoke oysters without prying them off the rocks. Terry says, “the tour is a way to give travellers knowledge, respect and a better understanding of Aboriginal culture that connects them at many levels spiritually and emotionally”. Make a weekend of it and stay on-site in a safari tent or pearler shack where you can relax by the infinity pool and dine on fresh pearl meat while taking in views of Cygnet Bay.
Smoke oysters without taking them off the rocks with Borrgoron Coast to Creek Tours.
Grab your girlfriend and head to East Arnhem Land, in the northeast corner of the Northern Territory, for a tour that is as enlightening as it is emotional. Lirrwi Tourism created the Gay’wu women’s tour so female travellers could learn about the life of the Yolŋu people and the historically unspoken ‘women’s business'. This is the only way the local women are actively teaching and sharing their practices. On a five-day tour, you’ll learn about the local culture, history and Country. You may also partake in gathering oysters, dancing, weaving, bush medicine and an incredibly moving ‘crying ceremony’ where the Creation ancestors are thanked for people past and present, the sun and stars, and the flora and fauna. Be prepared to leave your watch and smartphone behind and not follow the itinerary precisely, Yolŋu life works in sync with the environment, wildlife and climate.
Lirrwi Tourism has created an intimate experience with the Yolŋu people, for female travellers only.
Dancing with the Yolŋu people, thanks to Lirrwi Tourism.
Learning to weave is one activity female travellers might find themselves doing as part of Lirrwi Tourism's five-day tour.
A STEADY HAND
There’s art class, and then there’s this. With Maruku Arts you can try your hand at the Indigenous practice of dot painting in an open-air classroom at the base of Uluru in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Northern Territory. Your artwork will be created under the guidance of an Anangu artist (Aboriginal people from the Western and Central Deserts of Australia). Visitors can also peruse (or buy) an extensive range of paintings and distinctive punu (wooden carvings) by 900 Anangu artists. After the art lesson, you’ll also have a far better knowledge of how to 'read' the paintings on display that will no longer be abstract and instead tell fascinating stories of life in Australia’s spiritual and geographic centre. Flip over some of the unframed canvases and it’s likely you will also see traces of red dust.
There should be no shortage of inspiration in Maruku Arts' outdoor art class at the base of Uluru.
A TREK IN TIME
The Bay of Fires/larapuna is undisputedly one of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Here, orange granite boulders rise out of an emerald ocean in scenery so dramatic it has graced many postcards. It’s little wonder so many people travel from all over the world to hike its trails. Our suggestion? Join the four-day wukalina Walk that will deepen your understanding of the local palawa people. You’ll trek between five and 17 kilometres a day and be rewarded at the end of your hike with muttonbird harvested by your guides, oysters, crayfish and local wines. Accommodation is in bespoke palawa-inspired domed huts crafted from native blackwood, and the meticulously renovated Lighthouse Keepers Cottage. Along the way, you’ll participate in cultural practices that have been passed down for hundreds of generations.
The wukalina Walk takes in Tasmania's Bay of Fires.
Can it get more Aussie than this? Bounce around in the back of a 4WD in Tropical North Queensland with the Balnggarrawarra People and see rock art otherwise inaccessible to tourists. Culture Connect takes small groups to Normanby Station, 31,000 hectares of cattle country in Tropical North Queensland. Here you will meet the Harrigan family, born and bred cattlemen who are the Traditional Owners of the land 70 kilometres from Cooktown. Vince and Dylan Harrigan will walk you through the bush and share stories about Country handed down from their grandfather and show you the rock art that can only be seen by those who venture here with Culture Connect. Director Roger de Vos says the journey not only goes deep into the tropical savannah of the Cape York region, but it’ll get into your soul too. “Goosebumps just appear because people don’t expect to see something so strong as far as spirituality goes.”
Culture Connect can tell you some stories of the outback, of which there are no shortage.