Welcome to Australia from the Nation’s First Peoples03/03/2023
A trip to Australia isn’t just a visit to the land down under: it’s the modern home of ancient peoples – the oldest living cultures on Earth, in fact. Multifaceted and imbued with timeless wisdom, Australia’s Aboriginal peoples are warm, welcoming and extremely generous of spirit; getting to know their approach to life may well be one of the richest travel experiences available.
Sixty-five thousand years – that’s the mind-boggling age of Aboriginal Australian cultures, a number based on the archaeological backdating of enduring sites. To put that into context on a world stage, Australia’s First Peoples lived, thrived, traded and recorded their Dreamtime stories on rock faces tens of thousands of years before the great Pyramids of Giza were even thought of.
Every part of Australia is Aboriginal country, and every part of that country has a unique set of stories and experiences. The country is made up of many cultures and peoples, in fact over 120 individual languages are still spoken today.
The Discover Aboriginal Experiences collective is a carefully curated selection of Australia’s signature Aboriginal tourism offerings. Recognised not just by a stringent official selection process but by peers, competitors and the industry at large, each member of this collection is considered a world-class leader in Aboriginal tourism, representing local Aboriginal culture with integrity and authenticity – a responsibility indeed.
Collectively they shine the light on tourism operators that celebrate contemporary and Indigenous heritage in a way that has a positive impact for community, culture and their environment.
Importantly, each of these experiences also involves the use of Aboriginal guides. For who better to show you around than a Traditional Custodian of the land? Aboriginal guides don’t just afford a unique means of bringing Australia’s landscapes to life…as the owners of the stories they share with you, they offer a means of connecting to Australian places and cultures quite unlike anything else you’ll find.
From adventure seekers and cultural enthusiasts to foodies and nature lovers, there really is something for everyone with more than 160 experiences on offer. No matter where you choose to go, you’ll be sure to find a meaningful, memorable experience. Experiences range from one hour to overnight escapes across the country and can be tailormade.
The collective delivers fabulous transformational and exhilarating experiences such as quad-biking down the largest sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, kayaking on pristine tropical rivers or on the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, expeditions over land or sea to catch fish and mud crab, exploring labyrinths of rock art that showcase both ancient and contemporary history, watching crocodiles while hearing the traditional stories of the land, hiking through stunning vistas or guided tours in city centres that offer a different view about these urban centres.
Flavour your trip to Australia with an Aboriginal experience in each location to make a great itinerary awesome and memorable. It’s often the people that we meet in our travels that stay with us forever, and you will certainly experience that when meeting our storytellers.
Discover Aboriginal Experiences features operators under 9 different thematic journeys:
1 – Nature and Wildlife: View Australia’s distinctive landscapes through different eyes, helping you gain a deeper appreciation of the natural environment and the nation’s unique wildlife – and enjoy great fishing!
2 – Culinary Experiences: Guided bush tucker walks reveal the surprising fecundity of the Australian landscape, while outback dining, infused with the unique flavours of the Australian bush, offers a deliciously immersive experience. Alternatively, try your hand at traditional hunting.
3 – Active Adventures: You’ll find a wide selection of exhilarating experiences on offer in Australia’s beautiful landscapes, from paddling, quad-biking and hiking to 4WD adventures and a bridge climb with a difference.
4 – Coastal and Aquatic: Aboriginal cultures are not only connected with the outback but also with Australia’s spectacular coastal regions. Sail, fish, search for mud crabs, snorkel, kayak and swim in beautiful beaches and aquamarine waterways.
5 – Exclusive Accommodation: When you want to immerse yourself fully in Australia’s remarkable and remote landscapes, unique Aboriginal- owned accommodations, including wilderness retreats, safari tents and architecturally designed huts make your experience all the more special.
6 – Art and Museums: Explore Australia’s excellent Aboriginal art galleries and museums, visit ancient rock art sites offering profound insights into Dreamtime stories, or take part in artist-led workshops in contemporary art practice. All help you understand the fundamental role of art in the transmission of culture.
7 – Urban Culture: Aboriginal cultures also thrive in Australia’s urban centres, with walking tours as well as museums, galleries and cultural centres offering easily accessible ways to connect with Indigenous cultures.
8 – Bush and Outback: The Australian outback is a wild, ancient place. With an Aboriginal guide, explore working cattle stations, outback gorges, ancient rock art galleries and waterholes, and learn about the bounties a seemingly barren desert can provide.
9 – Immersive Journeys: Go off the beaten track and you’ll soon learn that there is not one, but many Aboriginal cultures, each with its own language, belief system and powerful connection to place. On an immersive journey, you’ll gain both insight into the world’s oldest living cultures and an understanding of Aboriginal spirituality and connection to Country.
We wish we had space to feature every single one of the 45 unique Aboriginal Experiences on offer in Australia…but we don’t. So here are three to whet your appetite and ensure you include a Discover Aboriginal Experience on your next trip to The Great Southern Land.
Saltwater E Eco Tours – Sunshine Coast
Forge a cultural connection to the Sunshine Coast
The sky is blushed crimson when we set sail down the Mooloolah River with Simon Thornalley, skipper and co-owner of Saltwater Eco Tours, at the helm. As I settle in on the deck of the Spray of the Coral Coast, Simon reaches for his didgeridoo while his wife Jenna takes the vessel’s wheel.
The water is flat, gleaming like galvanised steel, as Simon walks slowly to the ship’s bow, calm and purposeful, where he sits, cross-legged and brings the instrument to his lips. Minutes pass as we sit listening to the deeply resonant music produced by Simon, who uses the ancient instrument to great effect. As the rhythm, timbre and volume builds to a crescendo, he asks us to close our eyes and imagine his ancestors, preening and dancing, their silhouettes stepping in and out of the light.
As the sun sinks below the horizon, a festive mob of kookaburras perched in the trees on the riverbank starts laughing uproariously. Suddenly Simon flashes a wide grin and bounds to his feet, bending over the bow of the boat to point to a turtle. “The turtle is one of my family Totems,” he says. “I have two Totems. One is the turtle and one is the dugong. They are significant animals for saltwater people.”
Everything from the staff t-shirts to Saltwater Eco Tours’ website logo features the green turtle. It’s an animal Simon saw a lot of as a child while sailing around Tropical North Queensland with his family, including the Torres Strait, where his maternal grandmother is a respected Kaurareg Elder and his great-great-great grandfather owned a fleet of pearl-lugging boats.
Guests onboard the 58-foot ketch (two-masted sailing boat) for today’s Native Bushfood and Seafood Cruise listen intently to stories about Simon’s Indigenous heritage while sipping signature lemon myrtle cocktails made from gin produced by BeachTree Distilling Co., one of the many local Indigenous businesses showcased on the two-hour cruise.
As Simon returns to the helm, Jenna and the rest of their team produce a tray neatly arranged with skewered prawns served with a lemon myrtle and native chilli aioli, oysters mornay made with macadamia cheese, as well as slow-cooked kangaroo served on tacos with a coleslaw and bush tomato relish from another local Indigenous business, My Dilly Bag.
Simon leans both arms on the wheelhouse as the dusk fades to an orange afterglow and the river becomes like a shiny road that we follow back to Mooloolaba’s wharf.
As well as stitching his story of Indigenous and seafaring heritage together as we cruise the protected waterways of Mooloolaba, Simon, a former commercial diver, touches on some meaningful maritime history relating to the beautifully restored historic vessel we cruise on.
“There is something unique about this boat. As well as being more than 100 years old, the boat was copied from a blueprint of a ketch owned by Joshua Slocum, who was the first person to sail solo around the world (1895-1898),” says Simon.
“Joshua’s spirit lives on with this vessel,” he adds. “I also come from Sea Country, so this boat celebrates my own personal journey and everything in my life that has led to me here.”
A Taste Of Place
Aboriginal dining experiences that elevate native produce
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia, the bush is a veritable supermarket – if you know where to look. There’s wattleseed that can be used to make damper, Kakadu plum to deliver a hit of vitamin C, finger limes for a citrusy zing, and saltbush to season and enhance flavours. But all too often, we walk right past this native bounty, unaware how it grows, in which part of the country it exists and, more importantly, how it can be used to elevate a dining experience.
That’s where Indigenous fine dining comes in, offering the chance to experience bush flavours in nuanced dishes and dreamy settings. Take Ayers Rock Resort’s Tali Wiru experience, where your open-air dining room comes back-dropped by the natural drama of Uluru. Each dish in your four-course meal presents native produce in an innovative way. Think pretty plates of pressed wallaby with fermented quandong; or roasted toothfish nestling beside coastal greens, desert oak and fermented muntries.
Meals are just as memorable at Flames of the Forest’s Indigenous Culture Experience, where chefs serve seasonal specialties that might include smoked crocodile rillettes with salsa verde, and lemon-myrtle- infused kangaroo loin on a bed of wild rocket and toasted macadamias.
Your setting, however, shifts from the outback to the rainforest – you’ll think you’ve been transported to the pages of a fairytale while dining amongst thousands of twinkling lights and candles amid the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site outside Port Douglas.
Nearby, in Cairns/Gimuy, the Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours team host their Deadly After Dark – Sunset, Canapes and Culture experience under a canopy of ancient Melaleuca trees.
There’s inspired bites – green ant salmon gravlax with desert lime salsa, mud crab drizzled with lemon aspen mayo and perfectly seared Queensland scallops.
Further south in Beenleigh, near Queensland’s Gold Coast, Spirits of the Red Sand’s Aboriginal Dinner Show offers a deep dive into Aboriginal cultures through a ‘roving theatre’ experience.
A post-show highlight is having the chance to meet the actors and hear their stories over dinner. There’s nothing quite like sharing an indulgent native produce-inspired meal – damper served with bush dukkah; skewers of emu, kangaroo and crocodile; seriously indulgent lemon myrtle cheesecake – to get the conversation flowing.
Meet Emily Johnson from the Australian Museum
“In recent years, we’ve seen a lot more demand to have Indigenous authenticity,” says Emily Johnson, the First Nations Creative Producer at the Australian Museum in Sydney/Warrane. “People are really hungry to hear about our 65,000 years of history, and to hear it from people who know it first-hand.”
A Barkindji, Latjilatji, Waka Waka, Birri Gubba woman, Emily has extensive experience telling these stories through creative mediums, working as an events producer and program coordinator within the arts, education and community sectors.
“I love that in my current role I get to keep promoting the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around the country and to show the broader community that they are still here, and that their culture is still happening and still strong.”
The Australian Museum has one of the world’s most significant First Nations collections, representing cultures from across the country via artworks, technologies and artefacts in the new learning space (Burra) as well as permanent exhibitions Garrigarrang (Sea Country) and Bayala Nura (Yarning Country). Emily says it makes such a difference to have the spaces now curated by Indigenous gallerists. “You can see how the items fit a space and tell a story, rather than being passively displayed.”
She says that her ultimate goal at the museum is to encourage collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the arts, and also draw people into the conversation around First Nations communities, conservation and climate change.
“There’s an inherent link, but a lot of people don’t connect those dots. For example, middens [piles of shells and bones] would communicate between communities what had been eaten and what should be avoided, and rock-fish traps were constructed to ensure smaller fish were not caught.
“It’s eye-opening to think this has been going on for millennia. Visitors to the Australian Museum are surprised about how diverse Indigenous stories and experiences are.”