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Indigenous Australian culture

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Many travellers to Australia are interested in the indigenous people of Australia, often collectively referred to as Australian Aborigines or simply Aborigines. This page is an introduction to travelling to sites of historic, cultural, natural and religious interest that relate to indigenous Australia.


There are a large range of places all around Australia that have sites that reflect the full array of the indigenous experience of the last two hundred years. In each state there are museums, galleries and places where the richness of the culture can be found.

There are also sites of sites of ancient rock art and stories that go back thousands of years, there are places where you can see living expressions of indigenous art and culture, and everything between. The time of the British presence in Australia is very short in comparison to the time of the indigenous population. It is well worth looking at the places that have records of the presence.

Each state has organisations that co-ordinate promotion of Aboriginal / Indigenous tourism.


  • Dancing With Strangers, Inga Clendinnen, 2003. Australian historian Clendinnen presents her reading of a wide range of primary sources from the eighteenth century describing early interactions between indigenous Australians and invading British colonisers. She illustrates very early days of genuine curiosity and attempts at cultural understanding eventually soured and thwarted.


Map of Indigenous Australian culture

Each state and territory of Australia has important indigenous heritage museums, events, activities, as well as shops with indigenous arts and crafts.

Australian Capital Territory[edit]

New South Wales[edit]

  • 1 Mungo National Park, Mungo. Inside the national park is Lake Munro, now a dry lake, which contains the archaeological remains of three Mungo people. Dated to over 40,000 years old, they are the oldest human remains in Australia.


  • Australian Museum, 6 College Street, Sydney, +61 2 93206000. 9:30am to 5pm daily except 25 December. The Australian Museum has a Indigenous Australia gallery. It is also involved in helping indigenous communities preserve cultural artefacts throughout New South Wales. $12 adult, $6 child, family admission and concessions available.
  • Museum of Sydney, Corner Phillip and Bridge Streets, Sydney, +61 2 92515988. 9:30am to 5pm. The Museum of Sydney has an exhibition focussing on the Cadigal people of Sydney including artefacts, paintings, film and soundscapes. $10 adults, children and concessions $5.
  • Boomalli Gallery, 55 – 59 Flood Street, Leichhardt, Sydney, +61 2 95602541, fax: +61 2 9560 2566, e-mail: . Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative is one of Australia's longest running indigenous owned and operated art galleries. It promotes urban indigenous art that sometimes has trouble being shown as authentic indigenous art in the mainstream.
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney, +61 2 9225 1744, fax: +61 2 9225 1701, e-mail: . 10am to 5pm, except 25 December and Good Friday. The Art Gallery of NSW has a permanent collection of indigenous art, rotated through the Yiribana Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Gallery.
  • Muru Mittigar, 89 - 151 Old Castlereagh Road, Castlereagh, Sydney, +61 2 4729 2377, fax: +61 2 4729 4193, e-mail: . 9am to 4pm Mon to Fri, 10am to 2pm Sat. Muru Mittigar is a cultural education centre, featuring short tours and talks on such subjects as traditional use of plants, art designs and dance.
  • Rock Carvings, can be seen in 2 Royal National Park - catch the train and ferry to Cronulla and Bundeena. There are extensive carvings in 3 Kuringai Chase National Park, near West Head that are accessible only by car. Closer to the city, there are examples at Balls Head and Berry Island, near to Wollstonecraft station. There is an interpretive walk at Berry Island.

Northern Territory[edit]

  • 4 Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The heart of Australia's Red Centre and Australia itself. A part of the nation where indigenous culture continues to thrive and where the sacred Uluru monolith stands.
  • 5 Kakadu National Park. Home to the Bininj people in the north and the Mungguy people in the south, Kakudu contains rock art before and during the last ice age, showing a unique perspective on life in northern Australia at the time.


South Australia[edit]



Western Australia[edit]



  • 26 January, the anniversary of the invasion of the First Fleet, and commemorated officially as Australia Day, is marked by indigenous Australians as Invasion Day, a day of political action, or Survival Day, marked with concerts and community events celebrating the survival of the indigenous peoples.
  • The National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee has a week of events in the Australian winter each year. During the week of 7-14 July 2013, the focus city will be Perth.



  • Thulli Dreaming, 3/11 Eddie Road, Minchinbury, Sydney, +61 2 9675 5678, fax: +61 2 9675 6789, e-mail: . Thulli Dreaming is an indigenous-owned business providing catering and dance and music performances. They sell indigenous art in their shop.


The lemon myrtle plant

The food and cuisine of Aboriginal Australians, and for that matter any dish made from native Australian ingredients is known as bush tucker. Unlike the foods eaten by many of the pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas, the European colonisers were not too keen on the foods encountered in Australia and did not attempt to grow most of them on a commercial scale. The one exception is the macadamia nut which spread to Hawaii in the 1880s and is now famous the world over.

Meats include kangaroo, crocodile, emu, goanna and witchetty grubs. The seafood Indigenous Australians particularly on the coast ate was diverse and comprised barramundi fish, catfish, mud crabs, angasi oysters along with many other fish and crustaceans. Plant foods range from the quandong and riberry fruits to the warrigal greens leafy vegetable. Lemon myrtle is a spice that has become popularly used in teas.

The Indigenous Australian bread making tradition is among the oldest in the world. Breads are made by grinding seeds, roots and corms. The precise ingredients and methods used vary by group and location. Certain seeds had to be leached of its toxins before it was made into dough and cooked over an open fire.



The best way for a traveller to contribute to the well being and dignity of the people is to support indigenous-run tourism and cultural ventures and to treat individual indigenous people with respect.

Indigenous Australia is a complex group of living, continuing cultures: it is important to understand many aboriginal sites are not museum pieces arranged for the benefit of curious travellers. When visiting sacred sites or fragile ecosystems of cultural significance many communities would prefer that visitors arrange their trips through formal community programmes, or indigenous organisations.

Some communities, townships and protest sites can also be places where issues are fragile and current and can be problematic with a range of issues occurring. Understanding that some locations might best not be part of a travel itinerary is well worth researching before travelling to them.


It is important to understand the diversity of the indigenous communities. There are over 400 Aboriginal nations in Australia, with over a hundred different Aboriginal languages still spoken among them. Aboriginal people in Melbourne or Sydney are not the same nations as those in Alice Springs or Broome.

In Tasmania, there are descendants of Aboriginal people who are serious about their indigenous roots. It is not correct to say the Tasmanian aboriginal community no longer exists.

Each state has variation as to how the governments have related to the indigenous population, it is not just the peoples responses. States have differing levels of involvement in indigenous rights and heritage.


Indigenous Australians, as a whole, are disadvantaged relative to other Australians in a number of ways including health, education and employment and, in some communities, quite severely so.

When travelling, you may encounter aboriginal people asking for money or other items. This is called 'Humbug', and should be refused. If humbug is entertained, you only encourage the problem. Rather than giving money to beggars, consider visiting an aboriginal Art centre (there are many around) and support those who are making a living, or if you can't access an art centre, consider giving to an Aboriginal charity, such as Conways Kids, a charity in Central Australia set up to ensure that cultural Aboriginal Children from remote communities have the same opportunities as youth from the rest of Australia.

See also[edit]

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