Exploring Australia’s Aboriginal culture
If you really want to get to know Australia, exploring its Aboriginal culture is a must. Interestingly, a recent DNA study has revealed that Aboriginal Australians are the world’s oldest living civilization, dating back some 40,000 to 70,000 years. Well before European colonisation in Australia that commenced in the late 18th-century.
Some great ways to learn about the Aboriginal people, their history, art, traditions and more, is to put some of these options on your itinerary as you travel through the Land Down Under.
What's in this guide?
- Canberra: Namadgi National Park and Mount Majora
- Grampians National Park, Victoria
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
- Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
- Nitmuiluk National Park, Northern Territory
The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Tour
While Australia’s most remote areas are filled with opportunities to delve into Aboriginal culture, you can explore it in the cities too, including Sydney. Join a 90-miute walkabout led by an Aboriginal guide through the historic area of the city centre known as The Rocks. You’ll be shown the ancient wisdom of Dreamtime which is continuously weaved throughout Sydney, and how the flora, fauna, harbour and other waterways continue to influence how Australian Aboriginals live today. It all begins with a traditional spiritual welcome ceremony overlooking the famous harbour, bringing participants across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You’ll witness sacred sites and historic rock engravings that are hidden throughout the capital city and cap off the experience with a lunch featuring Aboriginal flavours.
Tribal Warrior Cruise
Embarking on a cruise across Sydney Harbour, called Birra Birra by the local Aboriginals, is sure to be a highlight for any traveller visiting this city. Hop aboard the Tribal Warrior Cruise to learn all about its ancient history and culture. Passengers are taken to an island to enjoy a cultural performance focused on what it was like here before the Europeans arrived, listening to stories of the Cadigal, Eora, Wangal and other Aboriginal people who still live here today.
4-Wheel Drive Tour
If you have the time, it’s worth spending on a full-day 4-wheel drive tour through Namadgi National Park, which covers nearly half the area of the Australian Capital Territory. Evidence has revealed that this region has been occupied by Aboriginals for at least 21,000 years, and there are numerous cultural and historical sites dotted across the landscape along with wildlife like wombats, kangaroos, emus and swamp wallabies. You’ll be able to marvel at the Yankee Hat rock art site while listening to the stories of the local Ngunawal, sample bush foods, and, with any luck, you might even find an Aboriginal artefact yourself.
Dharwra Tour, Mount Majura, Canberra Nature Park
Mount Majura is the highest peak in Canberra at just over 2,900 feet, situated on the northeastern edge of the city. Here you can join a two-hour Dharwa tour to learn about the importance of the mountain to the Aboriginals, identify and sample some of the bush foods, look for a “scar tree”, find out about traditional uses of tools and the wildlife that lives in the area. The climb is worth the view of the valley below alone.
Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum
The Melbourne Museum hosts the award-winning First Peoples exhibition, cultural centre and gardens that focus on the indigenous communities of Victoria. Visitors can explore the history, culture and achievements of the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung people via a free guided tour. You’ll gain insight into their rich traditions of artwork, storytelling and performance. Marvel at cave paintings, see live animals and discover the traditional uses for indigenous plants in addition to learning more about the artefacts in the museum.
Royal Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Heritage Walk
Take the Heritage Walk at Melbourne’s botanic gardens for unique insight into its history as the Kulin nation’s ancestral lands. It includes a guided walk through the gardens and a traditional smoking ceremony as well as a talk about how plants were used traditionally as a source of medicine, food and tools.
Grampians National Park, a three-hour drive from Melbourne, is home to 80 percent of Victoria’s rock art with about 60 different rock art sites containing more than 4,000 various motifs. Traditionally known as Gariwerd, the Aboriginal people have had an association with this land for over 30,000 years. Discoveries here have also included scatterings of stone that were left from toolmaking and ancient oven mounds.
At the Brambuk centre in Halls Gap, visitors can view impressive art displays and artefacts as well as watch informative presentations in the Dreaming Theatre. One illustrates the Indigenous and European history of the area along with its flora, fauna and geology, while the other is on the Gariwerd Creation Story.
Rock Art Tour
Brambuk Centre also offers tours led by Aboriginal guides to see highlights like the ancient handprints and huge emu footprints at a boy’s initiation site and a large red and white ochre painting of the Bunjil Creational Ancestor.
There are many opportunities to experience the indigenous culture in the heart of the Australian Outback. Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a lot more than a giant red monolith. Its traditional owners, the Anangu, still have a strong connection to this land and the past with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom. Their traditions are passed and maintained through rituals, songs, ceremonies, stories, art and dance.
Join the Mala walk, exploring the base of the nearly 1,000-foot-high Uluru Rock which bears multiple inscriptions carved by the ancestral indigenous people. You’ll be able to witness the connection between these people and the land firsthand, viewing rock art along the way and even foraging for arnuguli (bush plum) and ili (wild fig tree). Watch local artists demonstrate their crafts and listen to the Anganu stories of creation for an especially memorable insight into this ancient culture.
Maruku Arts Dot Painting Workshop
Ayers Rock Resort hosts special painting workshops where participants are instructed by a local Aboriginal artist. Learn about the various symbols and Dreamtime (Tjukurpa) stories they depict so that you can make your very own personal creation story – a dot painting on canvas to take back home.
SEIT Patji Tour
This unique experience will bring you beyond the main boundaries of the national park to the homelands of Uluru’s traditional family. You’ll be able to hear their stories, including how they fought for Aboriginal land rights in Central Australia, as well as intimate accounts about their daily life in the region over afternoon tea.
Tali Wiru Dinner
Another fascinating dining experience in the desert, enjoy a three-course dinner paired with Australian wines at a large dune in a remote area of the park with Uluru Rock visible in the distance. A local will play the didgeridoo at sunset with an evening of Aboriginal stories and stargazing to follow.
About a three-hour drive from Darwin, Kakadu National Park hosts some 5,000 rock art sites that range from 20,000 years old to the more recent past, carved along its gorges, escarpment and rock outliers.
Visitors can take self-guided tours at three main rock art sites which feature viewing platforms and extensive signage. Ubirr includes a painting of a Tasmanian tiger that became extinct on the mainland some 3,000 years ago as well as early records of European visitors. Nanguluwur features ancient hand stencils with a two-masted sailing ship, a female spirit with four arms and horns, and figures wearing large headdresses carrying boomerangs and spears. Visit Nourlangie to marvel at a remarkable depiction of the Lightning Man Creation Ancestor.
4-Wheel Drive Tour
An Aboriginal-led 4-wheel drive tour hosted by Kakadu Cultural Tours can bring you to some of the park’s more remote sites, venturing into the Mikkinj valley, also known for its abundant wildlife and spectacular billabong scenery. You’ll meet Aboriginal artists at the Injalak Arts & Crafts Centre, watch women weave their beautiful pandanus baskets and people painting.
In the dry season, which occurs during the Australian winter (Europe’s summer), visitors can enjoy this easy yet rewarding walk. It follows a just over 1.5-mile trail showcasing sandstone rock formations along the banks of the East Alligator River, along with caves and Aboriginal rock art.
Yellow Water Cruise
One of the top experiences in Kakadu is a cruise on the Yellow Water River. Glide across its still waters through tropical trees, pandanus and mangroves as you watch for the more than 5,000 sacred Aboriginal sites with includes 50,000-year-old rock art. Along the way keep an eye out for crocodiles, wild horses and more than 60 different bird species. The cruise also includes a walk through the Nourlangie art site to admire the ancient rock art there, including the Lightning Man Creation Ancestor.
Warradjan Cultural Centre
This cultural centre features a fantastic display that explains the culture of the Aboriginal traditional landowners as well as an exhibit explaining hunting methods, tribal elder stories, marriage rights and blood lines, the effects of white settlement in the Top End and the more recent history of the park. It includes many unique works of art, much of which is created by local artists, and offers the opportunity to purchase some too.
Nitmuiluk is just south of Kakadu National Park and is home to some of Australia’s oldest rock art as well as the billion-year-old Katherine Gorge.
Cicada Lodge Helicopter Tour
Owned by the Jawoyn people, Cicada Lodge offers multiple tours, including the opportunity to fly by helicopter to an Aboriginal women’s site and Nipbamjarn boy’s initiation site. An expert guide will interpret what you’re seeing while revealing some of the secrets of the ancient land.
Katherine Gorge Cruise
Experience the Katherine Gorge and its towering sandstone cliffs on a cruise, with knowledgeable guides who reveal insights into the local Jawoyn people as you take in the magnificent scenery. Nitmuiluk Tours hosts a variety of cruise options, from a dawn tour with ideal morning light for photographs to a sunset dinner tour featuring local Australian dishes prepared fresh on board.
Top Didj Aboriginal Cultural Experience
This two-and-a-half-hour experience in Katherine offers visitors the opportunity to interact with Top End Aboriginal artist Manuel Pamkal. You’ll be able to learn about the significance of his painting style and how he lived off the land as well as the technique of Rarrk painting. Afterward, paint your own piece to bring home. He’ll demonstrate his skills at spear throwing and you can participate in the ancient craft of fire lighting as well.
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