In Australia, we’re lucky to have the world’s oldest living culture in our very own backyard. This culture is as rich in its diversity as it is deep in its spirituality, full of colourful characters, engrossing stories and life lessons passed down from generations. For many travellers in Australia, things like seeing Indigenous dance or music performances, visiting rock art sites or going on bush tucker tours are common experiences. But if you think they are the only ways you can get an insight into Indigenous culture, think again!
We’ve pulled together ten of our favourite unexpected Indigenous experiences from around Australia, offered by our certified operators. So not only do you have the opportunity to experience culture in a whole new way, you’ll also be doing it with our nation’s leading sustainable tourism businesses – meaning they’ve had to prove that they’re presenting culture authentically, are giving back to their communities and are protecting the natural environment for decades to come.
How many of these have you heard of?
1. Stand up paddle board for community wellbeing
With Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours on New South Wales’ North Coast, you can paddle with the direct descendants of the world’s first stand up paddlers and connect to land and sea through stories, language and the collection of bush tucker. Better still, by doing so you’ll be contributing to the wellbeing of the local community, as Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours is a social enterprise that provides employment opportunities for local youth and community members. Find out more here.
2. Catch a mud crab the traditional way
The Bardi people of the beautiful Thomas Bay, north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula of Western Australia, are deeply connected to the ocean. For thousands of years, the sea here has served as both a food source and landscape of spiritual significance, shaping the Bard culture as represented through the people’s folklore, recreation, diet and economic activity. Lombadina Tours gives visitors a unique opportunity to experience this culture’s traditions, not least by joining a local guide for a traditional mud crab catching experience in a mangrove-rich tidal estuary. Once enough crabs have been caught, your guide will cook them up for you to enjoy, together with a fresh salad and Lombadina’s famous bread. Find out more here.
3. Learn about ancient mortuary rites in Arnhem Land’s catacombs
Aboriginal culture is full of creation stories, but did you know our country’s first inhabitants also had certain rules and rituals surrounding the end of life? With Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris, you have the chance to visit rarely seen catacombs in the sacred site of Mt Borradaile, a remote, 700km2 exclusively leased area in the heart of the Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land. Honorary custodian Max Davidson and his staff share the history of the Amurdak people with visitors, whose inhabitation of the area dates back for 50,000 years. Find out more here.
4. Join an Aboriginal-guided quad bike adventure
The Worimi Sand Dunes of Port Stephens: They’re some of the highest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere and offer incredible sweeping views of the coastline below. Access is only possible with the local Aboriginal people and approval of the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council, which operates twice daily Aboriginal culture and quad biking adventures where visitors can learn about local culture and bush tucker, dig for fresh water and see Aboriginal midden sites along the beach. No experience is necessary, and kids as young as six can travel as pillion passengers on the guide’s bike. Find out more here.
5. Share campfire stories with one of Australia’s National Treasures
He is a master storyteller (songman), descended from the proud and resourceful Wardaman people of the Victoria, Flora and Katherine River Districts of the North Territory. He has written two books, speaks seven languages, and is the last senior lawman (knowledge custodian) of his people. He has travelled widely in Australia and around the world, sharing his culture with didjeridu performances and as an artist, his works are displayed in the National Gallery of Australia, the Federal Parliament and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Ydumduma Bill Harney is an elder, and a good friend of Far Out Adventures’ owner, Mike Keighley. That’s why he regularly joins Mike on tours throughout his homelands, camping with visitors under the stars and sharing stories of the area’s heritage. By joining one of these tours, you’ll be contributing to the maintenance of Bill’s culture, as a percentage of the money generated goes back to the Wardaman people to assist with ongoing education and cultural projects. Find out more here.
6. Visit a Diamond Mine with an Indigenous guide
Mining and Aboriginal culture may not be the most common combination, but when you travel with Kingfisher Tours, you have the unique opportunity to visit Argyle Diamond Mine – one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds and the largest supplier of natural coloured diamonds – with an Indigenous guide. After being welcomed with a traditional “Muntha,” a ceremony to ensure safe passage through the land, your local Luridgii guide will take you to the lookout at the top of the tailings dam wall and tell you about the geological formation and eventual discovery of diamonds on this country. You will learn about the sorrow and desecration of an important sacred site, but also about the opportunities and partnerships that have since benefitted the Luridgii people. You’ll get to visit the processing plant and the mine gallery and, if your circumstances allow, have the opportunity to purchase your very own diamond directly from the mine. Find out more here.
7. Learn from an award-winning artist
It’s not every day you get to meet an award-winning artist, let alone talk to one face-to-face and learn the insider secrets of their style and success. With Wayoutback Australian Safaris, you get the chance to do just that as part of a five-day 4WD Kakadu, Litchfield and Katherine Tour, as you’ll visit the award-winning Top Didj Cultural Experience and learn in-depth knowledge from Brolga Award winning artist, Manuel Pamkal. Manuel was taught the traditional art of bark painting by his father at age 15, including how to harvest, burn and straighten stringy bark ready for painting and how to find and use traditional pigments like white clay (bim); red ochre (marnarr); yellow ochre (gilidih), and black charcoal (jardij) from the bush. Today, Manuel teaches young people traditional painting techniques, just like his father once taught him. Find out more here.
8. Enjoy a three-course dinner under the stars
With an Indigenous Master Bush Chef cooking you dinner, the expanse of the Milky Way above you and the sounds of the desert coming alive around you, the Mbantua Sunset and Starlight Bush Dinner in the Simpson Gap National Park just outside Alice Springs is definitely a special night to remember. Dinner is cooked over an open fire and features bush foods and traditional cooking styles of the local Aboriginal people. Find out more about this memorable experience offered by ROC certified Diverse Travel Australia here.
9. Learn about buffalo hunting
The Gabarlgu Billabong and South Alligator mangrove forest in Kakadu were traditionally areas where magpie geese, wallaby and fish were caught, but the arrival of Europeans brought gold mining and buffalo. When commercial buffalo hunting began in 1885, it became the only way for Indigenous people to stay on their country. With the Kakadu Historical Buffalo Camp and Wildlife Tour offered by Ecotourism and ROC certified Ayal Aboriginal Tours Kakadu, you’ll hear first hand from local Indigenous man Victor what life was like before Europeans came to the area, and what it was like to work as a buffalo hunter in the 1970s. Lean more here.
10. Hike up a mountain
Mount Gulaga, on the south coast of New South Wales, is an extinct volcano rising 797 metres above sea level. It’s also the sacred centrepiece of the Yuin people, rich in cultural knowledge that’s been handed down through generations. Dwayne ‘Naja’ Bannon-Harrison, founder and managing director of Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness, takes visitors on a two hour ascent of the mountain, sharing traditional knowledge and protocol not available from anywhere else. It’s part of the company’s two-night Gulaga Creation Experience tour, which you’ll be happy to know also features a relaxing dinner and traditional yarning circle to recover from the day’s physical activities. You may even have the opportunity to experience a traditional healing ceremony! Find out more here.
What’s been the best unexpected Indigenous experience you’ve had? Let us know in the comments below!
[Header image: Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness]