Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory are keen to welcome cruise passengers back as key supporters of their tourism businesses. 

Isobel Peters and her guides are leading a tour group in the outback. Communications are tricky, but such is her enthusiasm for showing off her culture and country that she manages to make contact with New Wave.

Many of her clients come from vessels run by Ponant, APT, Coral Expeditions and Abercrombie and Kent.

“Our team love the guests. They meet lots of different people from all over Australia and the world.

Our culture respects old people so we love having older guests too. We have made many good friends with tour ship guides.

“It’s good that people are coming to learn about us, our history, our culture and what we are doing in this time and how we are protecting the wilderness and our heritage places.”

Times were tough through the pandemic. Ponant’s Asia Pacific chair Sarina Bratton highlighted the plight of Aboriginal guides, saying the loss of cruise business had cost as much as $6 million to communities in Western Australian and NT.

“It was tough. In 2020 we had no work but still mobilised because we did not really know what was going to happen with COVID. In 2021 we managed a few tours which was good.

“It was not just the loss of money, it was hard for our guides not working after starting up a new business and losing our momentum.

“We are happy to be back and having a good season with companies like APT, Ponant and Abercrombie and Kent and Coral Expeditions.”

Ms Peters Wijingarra Tours is five years old, a 100 per cent Aboriginal business with five guides and members of her family.

The company runs land tours featuring rock art from her clan areas.

“Guests can walk to a rock art site and receive stories of the art and my clan and my tribe. Rock art stories are told by my eldest son Neil Maru Jnr. Guests are welcomed to country by my eldest daughter, Naomi Peters, and told the story of the country and our clan connection to it Gideon Mowaljarlai.

“Our close relation supports Neil and Naomi and smokes guests to ensure a safe journey and is also our artist in residence painting on canvas works inspired by our culture. We also sell paintings from other members of my tribes such as Gordon and Gabriella Barunga and Chloe Nulgit.

“Guests who do not walk to the cave enjoy beach walks where they see birds and other wildlife, including humpback whales during migration months of late June to September.”

Vernice Gillies of Kurrah Mia said that before the pandemic she took cruise passengers out on tours, including the Quaranup Aboriginal Walking Tour, which lasts for two hours and follows paths travelled by the Menang People.

James Schultz of Noresman based Ngadju Cultural Tours, is thinking about expanding to Fremantle to support the cruise industry.
His tour company’s dancers have been extremely popular with cruise operators, receiving standing ovations. The group also serves traditional Indigenous food such as Damper and Kangaroo meat.

The NT’s Department of Tourism and Trade told New Wave Aboriginal cultural tourism is a key priority and research shows that the NT is considered the preferred destination for Aboriginal cultural tourism experiences.

“The Territory has a number of regional ports located alongside Aboriginal communities which cater for cruise passengers. As Aboriginal cultural tourism is a key preference for visitors to the Territory, through the Northern Territory Aboriginal Tourism Strategy 2020-2030 developments in this space will benefit the Cruise industry as a whole and provide outcomes to Aboriginal Territorians.

“Tourism NT is working with Developing East Arnhem Limited to articulate the unique selling points of multiple anchorages along the Arnhem Land coast including cultural experiences”

Ms Peters is now confident things are getting better. With the number of cruise ships allowed into local waters growing, she feels more confident.
“Hopefully it continues so we can make back the ground we lost and keep our staff happy and employed and on Country caring for my areas like Aboriginal mob should be doing.”