Australia’s rich Aboriginal culture is spread out across the country.
Craig Tansley explores 10 of the best cultural attractions, from the far reaches of Queensland to the depths of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains.
Dine under the stars
Take a ride with local Arrernte man Bob Taylor from RT Tours in Alice Springs, travelling west along the MacDonnell Ranges for a traditional Indigenous dinner under night skies clearer than you’ve ever seen before. Taylor is an Indigenous chef and he’ll prepare a three-course meal (cooked in a traditional earth oven) while you enjoy sunset drinks. Walk under torchlight after dinner and discover what creatures come out after dark in the desert and listen to Dreamtime stories while learning more about what the stars mean to Aboriginal people.
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in Indigenous culture than to celebrate the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land at the Garma Festival (held just outside Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula, 1000 kilometres east of Darwin). Over four days every August you’ll join in language workshops, astronomy tours, arts and crafts workshops and listen to ancient storytelling to better understand the ways of Australia’s Indigenous people. The experience culminates each day with the bunggul – energetic traditional dances in a ceremony that runs from 4pm to sunset. Tourist dollars help boost the economic opportunities of the Yolngu people.
Tiwi Islands Art Centre Tour
Head off on a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride north from Darwin to some of the most remote art centres on the planet. Take the boat to Wurrumiyanga in the Tiwi Islands (which are inhabited entirely by Indigenous Australians) to visit the town’s main art centre and meet local artists on Bathurst Island, which is world-famous for its carvings and textile designs. You’ll get to meet the artists and watch them work. Time it for the islands’ biggest day of the year – AFL Grand Final day. The Tiwi Islands have produced some of Australia’s best Indigenous AFL stars, including Cyril Rioli.
Otherwise known as Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk is one of the most sacred sites in the Northern Territory, and the whole country – and it’s easily accessible, just east of Katherine (three hours’ drive south of Darwin). Take cruises throughout the day or at sunset (with dinner) to the gorges on boats owned and operated by Indigenous locals. You can also stay in Indigenous-owned accommodation, from campgrounds to the five-star Cicada Lodge. Rent a canoe and paddle as far as the ninth gorge, camping overnight, or take a helicopter tour to access remote gorges for private swims.
Taste of Kakadu
It’s taken a long time to establish an annual food festival celebrating Australian Indigenous cuisine like this one (over 200 years). But Taste of Kakadu is now Australia’s premier traditional food festival. For nine days, visitors can journey across Kakadu (three hours’ drive from Darwin) to study the landscape which inspired the diet of Indigenous Australians. A Taste of Kakadu showcases the skills of gifted Indigenous food practitioners who deliver a new take on the farm-to-plate experience (complete with animals hunted by local clans). You’ll help forage for food, then eat degustation dinners in remote places shut off to other visitors.
Blue Mountains Walkabout
Go on walkabout in the Blue Mountains (an hour west of Sydney) with a guide from the Darug clan who’ll follow an ancient songline in the earth into the national park. Discover ceremonial sites and rock art, and hear Dreamtime stories while eating bush tucker. You’ll escape the crowds amongst thick rainforest and secret sandstone caves, and you’ll swim in billabongs and under waterfalls deep in parts of the Blue Mountains few tourists ever get to see.
Mutawintji Eco Tours
Operated by Broken Hill-based Tri State Safaris tour company, Mutawintji Eco Tours runs small group tours to areas of cultural and ecological significance in and around Mutawintji National Park. Led by Aboriginal guides, the tour focuses on local wildlife and plants, bush tucker, bush medicines and local walks.
Tjapukai Cultural Park
There’s no more accessible place in Australia to understand the traditional Indigenous ways of the country than Tjapukai Cultural Park, a 10-hectare site just outside Cairns. Running since 1987, it’s the largest Indigenous employer of any Aboriginal tourism enterprise in the country. Founded by theatre artists and members of the Djabujay clan, it’s an entertaining insight into ancient Aboriginal ways of the area – with dance shows, interactive historical displays and art shows. There’s also a restaurant serving traditional bush tucker (expect plenty of crocodile and kangaroo on the menu).
Walkabout Adventures through the Daintree
Take a half- or full-day cultural adventure through the world’s oldest rainforest right next to the ocean – visiting cultural sites and finding bush tucker (including mud crabs caught in creeks) along the way. You’ll walk through the only place on Earth where two World Heritage-listed sites connect – the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef – with Aboriginal guides (the company is 100 per cent Aboriginal owned and run). Group sizes are capped at 11 people and transfers from Port Douglas accommodation are available.
Laura Dance Festival
There’s no bigger cultural gathering in Australia – every two years the clans of Cape York in Far North Queensland gather for a weekend of song and dance (pictured above). The event takes place south of Laura, 300 kilometres north-west of Cairns – which is the site of some of the oldest and most sacred rock art on Earth. Visitors have been allowed to join in for the past 30 years. The 2021 Laura Dance Festival is scheduled for July 2-4.
Please check with operators prior to travel as operating times and capacity may be limited due to COVID-19.