Indigenous tourism experiences to learn and connect

Kristine Tarbert
·Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·16-min read

From the outback to our capital cities, there are so many Indigenous tourism experiences that provide an opportunity to connect with and learn from Australia’s First Peoples.

In celebration of NAIDOC week, Tourism Australia has put together a collection of experiences and destinations to help travellers gain a newfound appreciation of, and connection to, Australia’s history and natural environment.

“Learning more about the connection between our land and its people is something that I encourage all Australians to experience for themselves,” Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director for Tourism Australia, said.

Driving off-road in Western Australia at sunset, aerial view. Francois Peron National Park
Here are some of the best experiences to learn and connect with indigenous culture. Photo: Getty

Australian Capital Territory

Canberra – Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri Country. The Ngunnawal Ngunawal and Ngambri people have lived in the country that is now known as the Canberra region and are the Traditional Custodians of the land.

Dhawura Aboriginal Cultural Tours,
Dhawura Aboriginal Art centre tour. Photo: Tourism Australia

New South Wales

Sydney - Gadigal Land. Sydney is home to the vibrant Aboriginal culture of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation who are the Traditional Custodians. There are about 29 clan groups of the Sydney metropolitan area, which are referred to collectively as the Eora Nation.

  • Visit Australia’s oldest museum to learn about our oldest cultures: The Australian Museum’s First Nations collection comprises film, voice recordings and artworks, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people telling their stories, against the museum’s 40,000-strong collection, from spear tips to carved emu eggs. The Australian Museum is set to reopen at the end of November following a $57.5 million renovation.

  • Take a dreamtime tour with Sydney Harbour as the backdrop: Join Dreamtime Southern X for a 90-minute Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour (Illi Langi) to learn all about Aboriginal past and present, spirituality and connections to land and water, in the shadows of both the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Ochre is smeared onto your hand at the start of the tour and you’ll learn about the role of ochre in Indigenous ceremonies and the deep relationship between Aboriginal people and the land, water and seasons.

  • Connect with Country, without leaving the city: The Royal Botanic Garden is an oasis of 30 hectares (74 acres) right next to the Opera House. It’s also a means of exploring Sydney Cove’s history from the point of view of its Traditional Owners, the Gadigal people. Explore the Cadi Jam Ora – First Encounters Garden, on the site where Europeans first cleared native land; embark on an Aboriginal Heritage Tour with a guide to learn about plant uses and traditional culture; and join an Aboriginal Bush Food Experience, in which visitors will gather seasonal bush food and taste just how good it can be and how to incorporate it into modern recipes.

Eurobodalla Shire - Yuin Country. The people of the Yuin Nation are the Traditional Custodians of the land we now know as Eurobodalla Shire. Yuin people have an enduring cultural and spiritual connection to the land and water in Eurobodalla.

  • Take part in traditional Indigenous ceremonies: Aboriginal owned and operated, Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness takes people on deep cultural immersions into Yuin Country, a five-hour drive south of Sydney in Narooma. A two-day, two-night Gulaga Creation Tour, led by the business’ founder, Dwayne “Naja” Bannon-Harrison, offers the chance to see and take part in ceremonies involving dance and yidaki (didgeridoo), explore sacred Gulaga Mountain, meet the land’s Traditional Custodians, hear Creation (or Dreamtime) stories, enjoy local foods including seafood and kangaroo, and take part in yarning (talking) circles. An alternative, the Djirringanj Dreaming Tour, follows the nearby Djirringanj Dreaming trail.

"Well endowed in natural beauty, Port Stephens is a popular holiday destination in New South Wales, Australia."
The Worimi are the Traditional Custodians of the Port Stephens area. Photo: Getty

Port Stephens - Worimi Country. The Worimi are the Traditional Custodians of the Port Stephens area. The Worimi Nation was originally bounded by four rivers, Hunter River to the south, Manning River to the north, the Allyn and Patterson Rivers to the west.

  • Take part in an action-packed and educational Indigenous adventure: In Port Stephens, two hours north of Sydney, Sand Dune Adventures, operated by the Worimi people, will take visitors on a 90-minute adventure that’s one-third quad biking, one-third sandboarding and one-third Aboriginal culture: visiting midden sites, digging for fresh water on the beach and discovering bush foods and resources. The Worimi dunes rise up to 40 metres (131 feet) above sea level!

Northern Territory

Alice Springs - Arrernte Land. The Aboriginal Arrernte (pronounced arrunda) people are the Traditional Custodians of Alice Springs and the surrounding region. Mparntwe (pronounced m'barn-twa) is the Arrernte name of Alice Springs.

  • Enjoy a bite to eat from the world’s oldest living culture: In Alice Springs, the Mbantua Gourmet Bush Lunch Tour, takes visitors on a leisurely walk to a site that is historically significant to the Arrernte people, followed by a bush tucker demonstration and a gourmet barbecue in a bush setting. Or visitors can experience The Mbantua Starlight and Bush Dinner Tour includes an evening stroll and a cooking demonstration on an open fire featuring native ingredients, while listening to Dreamtime stories about the night sky.

An Aerial shot of a car driving on the red dirt roads in the Australian Outback
The red dirt roads in the Australian Outback hold plenty of history. Photo: Getty

Uluru - Anangu Land. Uluru, Kata Tjuta and the land around them have always been very special places. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage listing for both cultural and natural values, the Anangu (pronounced arn-ung-oo) are the Traditional Custodians. The Anangu welcome you to learn about their Tjukurpa (traditional law, stories and spirituality), ancestors and culture.

  • Feel scale of Central Australia’s rich culture: SEIT’s Patji tour, named after the Aboriginal land it explores, takes visitors on an exclusive off-road adventure just south of Uluru. Travelling through Patji by 4WD with an Aboriginal guide, expect to learn about the cultural and historical significance of the area, as well as stories passed down for generations about how the Traditional Owners survived in this desert landscape.

  • Take part in a dot-painting workshop: Maruku Arts in Uluru has been contributing to cultural sustainability for over 30 years, helping to preserve Aboriginal practices like painting, drawing and carving through sharing these traditions with visitors and local employment. Owned by Anangu, here you can peruse an extensive range of paintings and distinctive punu (wooden carvings) by some 900 Anangu artists, depicting Creation stories and places. Beyond the retail gallery, this outback art centre offers hands-on dot-painting workshops, where you’ll be guided by a local Anangu artist to learn about the traditional art form, symbols and tools, creating your own artwork.

Tiwi Island - Home to the Tiwi people. The Tiwi Islands comprise of two main islands – Bathurst and Melville - and is home to the Tiwi people. Most of the island’s residents are of Aboriginal descent, and travellers need to apply for a permit before heading to this sacred spot.

  • See ‘The Island of Smiles’: On the Tiwi Islands, 100 kilometres from Darwin, a unique culture has evolved independently from the mainland. With carved pukamani burial poles, renowned screen printed fabrics, and an obsession with Aussie Rules football, the Tiwi’s are well worth the 2.5-hour boat ride from Darwin. SeaLink NT operates ferries to Bathurst Island and offers day tours with Tiwi guides that include a “Welcome to Country” smoking ceremony, a visit to a remarkable church that combines Christianity with Dreamtime beliefs and a behind-the-scenes art session.

Katherine - Land of the Jawoyn, Dagoman, and Wardaman Aboriginal peoples. Marking the point where the traditional lands of the Jawoyn, Dagoman, and Wardaman Aboriginal peoples converge, Katherine has been an important meeting place for Indigenous people for many thousands of years, and it remains so today.

  • Create art with a legend: Manuel Pamkal learnt to paint using bark from the stringybark tree when he was 15. Today, visitors learn from him at the Top Didj Cultural Experience & Art Gallery just outside Katherine, a three-hour drive south of Darwin. Manuel shares stories about growing up in the bush and his tribal life, demonstrates traditional fire lighting and spear throwing, before teaching the rarrk (cross-hatching) painting technique, in which painters use pieces of billabong grass to make long parallel lines. Visitors even get to take their own work of art home.

Queensland

Cairns - Yidinji Country. The Yidinji Yabanday (tribal land boundary) covered a large area from the Barron River in the north to the Russell River in the south, east to the Murray Prior Range and west to Tolga. The Yidinji people include eight clans who are the traditional custodians of the area. Gimuy is the traditional place name for the city of Cairns.

  • Dive into a Dreamtime experience: Discover the Great Barrier Reef from an Aboriginal perspective on a Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel tour from Cairns, with on-board Indigenous reef rangers who work to conserve both their culture and the reef. As well as spending a generous five hours at outer reefs – where visitors can snorkel, scuba dive or admire all that underwater beauty from a glass bottomed boat – visitors will hear reef creation stories, experience traditional dances and didgeridoo playing, and get to know not just the underwater world, but the people who call this their “sea Country”.

  • Taste 60,000 years of tradition: The Flames of the Forest Aboriginal Cultural Experience is a remarkable evening, less than 10 minutes outside Port Douglas, or a one-hour drive from Cairns. The rainforest setting is magical: visitors are seated beneath a black, silk lined marquee illuminated by handmade crystal chandeliers. The banquet itself is similarly exceptional: a seven-course progression of modern, mostly locally sourced, Australian flavours with an Indigenous (‘bush tucker’) twist. And the Kuku Yalanji are the perfect hosts, offering a blend of intimate storytelling, didgeridoo and song, as well inviting guests to enjoy soaking up the sounds of the rainforest.

  • Experience one of the first Indigenous-operated tourist offerings: It started back in 1987 with Aboriginal man Jimmy Edwards throwing boomerangs with his dog Sammy while people waited to board an amphibious World War II Army Duck for a tour of the rainforest. Over time, that evolved into the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, which has been performed for almost 3 million visitors to the Rainforestation Nature Park, at Kuranda, a 30-minute drive north of Cairns. It’s an hour of dance performance in a rainforest amphitheatre and a Dreamtime walk involving didgeridoos, boomerangs and some impressive spear throwing from world record holders.

Tourist with camera on a rainforest trail in north Queensland
The rainforest is an important part of Queensland. Photo: Getty

Mossman - the traditional homelands of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji. The Eastern Kuku (Goo-goo) Yalanji (Ya-lan-gee) people are the Traditional Owners for the Mossman Gorge and surrounding areas.

  • Connect to country and create: A deaf Kuku Yalanji man, the remarkable Brian “Binna” Swindley established Janbal Gallery at Mossman, an hour north of Cairns, just over 20 years ago. Rainforest art has its own unique meanings – dots represent raindrops, for example – and Binna draws inspiration from the forest, beach and reef, as he blends tradition with his own style. “It’s about what you see when you look around,” he says. “What you feel. What you eat and what you taste.” Shop for art and artefacts, and join a 90-minute workshop, in which Binna will teach visitors how to paint a boomerang or canvas..

South Australia

Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park - home to the Adnyamathanha people. The Adnyamathanha people are the Traditional Owners of Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, including the Wilpena Pound (Ikara). Adnyamathanha means rock or hills people in Yura Ngawarla, the language of the Flinders Ranges.

  • Visit one of the oldest landscapes on earth: 430 kilometres (267 miles) north of Adelaide is Wilpena Pound Resort in the dramatic Flinders Range - it’s the only accommodation within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. The Resort, owned and operated by the Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners, offers a range of guided Aboriginal cultural tours that include 4WD tours to visit 550 million-year-old fossil sites and ancient rock engravings, walking tours to Old Wilpena Station and scenic flights over extraordinary Wilpena Pound, an 800 million-year-old natural amphitheatre.

Tasmania

Tasmania - Home of the palawa and pakana people. The palawa and pakana people (Tasmanian Aboriginal community) are the Traditional Owners of lutruwita, the land we now know as Tasmania.

  • Walk with the oldest living culture: The guided multi-day wukalina walk combines culture, nature and luxury in one of Australia’s most scenic landscapes, Tasmania’s magnificent Bay of Fires wilderness area. Stay in bespoke luxury accommodation, meet palawa elders, hear creation stories and learn about traditional medicines and foods, feast on mutton bird, wallaby and doughboy dumplings (as well as plenty of seafood and some of Tasmania’s finest wines), try kelp and reed basket-making, learn how to belt out a tune on the clap sticks, and see kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, whales, dolphins, and birdlife including black swans, sea eagles and arctic terns.

Bright orange lichen covers the rocks and gives the Bay of Fires its name. Tasmania, Australia.
The palawa and pakana people are the Traditional Owners of lutruwita, the land we now know as Tasmania. Photo: Getty
  • Learn about Tasmanian Aboriginal culture and heritage: The Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery is a great day out to learn about the history of Aboriginal people in Tasmania, as well as the Tasmanian Aboriginal people living in Tasmania today. The newly-refreshed ningina tunapri gallery, a permanent exhibition, offers a rich and enlightening experience, exploring the journey of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and celebrating all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations. Our land: parrawa, parrawa! Go away!, is an immersive permanent exhibition, tells the story of Aboriginal people and colonists following the invasion of lutruwita, now called Tasmania, focusing on the Black War.

Victoria

Melbourne - Land of the Eastern Kulin Nation. The Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation are the Traditional Custodians of the land we now call Melbourne. For the Kulin Nation, Melbourne has always been an important meeting place for events of social, educational, sporting and cultural significance.

  • Take part in an authentic and immersive Aboriginal experience in Melbourne's city centre: In bustling Federation Square, the Koorie Heritage Trust is dedicated to promoting and supporting the living culture of south-east Australia’s First Peoples. Visit the centre to see the latest Indigenous art exhibition on display, the huge permanent exhibition of photography, oral history and artefacts, or, if time allows, embark on a two-hour guided Aboriginal Walking Tour, taking in the iconic Yarra River that threads through Melbourne, and sites of cultural significance along the way.

  • Visit Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre to witness their vibrant culture: The Melbourne Museum in nearby Carlton is home to the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, a permanent exhibition highlighting the vibrant culture of Victoria’s First Peoples through art and performance. The centre comprises three main spaces: Birrarung Gallery, featuring a rotation of exhibitions by contemporary Aboriginal artists; Milarri Garden, where visitors can discover native Australian plants that were key to traditional cultures across Victoria; and a performance space known as Kalaya.

  • Take a walk along Aboriginal heritage: In Melbourne’s oasis that is the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria – said to be one of the world's leading botanic gardens – visitors can tour the ancestral lands of the Eastern Kulin Nation, led by an Indigenous guide on the Aboriginal Heritage Walk. Beginning with a traditional smoking ceremony, visitors will deepen their understanding of Aboriginal customs by learning about traditional uses of plants for food, tools and medicine.

Western Australia

South-west Western Australia - Noongar Country.

The Noongar people are the Traditional Owners of south-west of Western Australia. Whadjuk is one of 14 dialectal groups of Noongar people, and Whadjuk is the name of Traditional Owners of the place we now call Perth. The South West Boojarah region refers to the Wardandi and Bibulmun/Piblemen Noongar dialectical groups, and encompasses Margaret River and Manjimup.

  • Strip back Perth's facade to understand the traditional land: Walter McGuire at Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences walks visitors through the heart of Western Australia’s capital city, Perth. He paints word pictures of the natural scene covered over by modern development, revealing the practices and traditions of his Whadjuk people. The Elder explains the strength of the spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with the land, and why it continues to resonate, even among office blocks. He talks about the hunting and gathering of native foods from wetlands that once made up the city centre, and shares Dreamtime stories that connect to Perth’s meandering Swan River – a life force both in the past, and now.

  • Experience Aboriginal culture, art and stories in Perth’s city-centre: Dale Tilbrook Experiences introduces guests to Aboriginal culture, art and stories with an emphasis on Australian bush tucker and its medicinal qualities. At different locations around Perth including Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery and Mandoon Estate winery in the Swan Valley, or at their locations of guests choice in Perth, Noongar Elder Dale Tilbrook makes use of all the senses during her hands-on experiences. Visitors are invited to smell and taste native produce like intensely tangy lemon myrtle or piquant pepperberry, as well as rub ointments such as emu oil onto the skin, while hearing about Indigenous farming methods and how full of resources the bush is.

  • Add culture to a winery hopping weekend: South-west of Perth, in the Margaret River wine region Josh Whiteland of Koomal Dreaming likes to combine culture and place with his enlightening experiences; he plays didgeridoo inside the spectacular Ngilgi Cave amphitheatre, he walks through bush in search of medicinal plants, he demonstrates traditional fire making, he guides walks along the breathtaking Cape to Cape track or takes people fishing for salmon, herring and bream inside stunning Meelup Regional Park. It’s a fascinatingly different way to experience a region best known for exceptional wine.

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