Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Historical travel > Indigenous Australian culture
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.
- In Western Australia—it is the Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council
- 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.
Each state and territory of Australia has important indigenous heritage museums, events, activities, as well as shops with indigenous arts and crafts.
- 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, ☎ . 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, ☎ . 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.
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 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.
- 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.
- 4 Ewaninga Conservation Reserve. The reserve is a claypan, a natural storage of water even after light rain, which attracts flora and fauna to the area. Rock art was imprinted into the soft sandstone by the Arrente people, the precise age of which is not known. What makes the art stand out is its recurrent circular motifs.
- 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.
- 6 Tiwi Islands. Islands off the Northern Territory mainland where the majority of inhabitants are Tiwi people. The Tiwis traded with Macassan voyagers from present-day Indonesia for hundreds of years before the British arrived. Tiwi culture is fairly different from mainland Aboriginal culture, including neighbouring Arnhem land. For example, Tiwi art is considered to be more abstract, colourful and geometric. Wood carvings of birds is an important artistic tradition on the islands.
- 7 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.
- 8 Torres Strait Islands. A part of Australia where indigenous people are still the majority. Torres Strait Islanders are ethnically Melanesian and are more closely related to Papuans to their north than to Aboriginal Australians who are native to the rest of the country. Some Torres Strait were also engaged in agriculture, another way in which they are distinct.
- 9 Bay of Fires. The area has many impressively large shell and bone middens that grew from the local Palawa people eating seafood over thousands of years here.
- 10 Budj Bim. The earliest evidence of aquaculture in the world is found here. As early as 6000 BC, the Gunditjmara people created a system of channels, dams and weirs trapping eels and fish. The eels were smoked and preserved and were eaten all year around.
- 11 Mount William Stone Axe Quarry, near Lancefield. This greenstone quarry contains over 200 mining pits, some up to 18 metres deep, over 30 flaking pits and many mounds of rocky debris. It was an important source of raw material for the production of stone hatchets which were then traded across the southeastern region.
- 12 Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula). What was an island and is now an artificial peninsula is estimated to have the largest collection of rock art in the world, with up to 1,000,000 individual petroglyphs.
- Bangarra Dance Theatre, Pier 4/5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Sydney, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Bangarra Dance Theatre combines indigenous history and culture with contemporary dance. They tour Australia-wide.
- 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.
In all of the capital cities and towns with significant Aboriginal populations (such as Cairns and Alice Springs), there are plenty of workshops and lessons where you can immerse yourself in indigenous culture.
- Boomerang throwing is a popular skill that many tourists want to acquire. If you want to learn throwing a boomerang that comes back to your hand, make sure you have a suitable boomerang for returning. Most boomerangs available in Australia are in fact non-returning. It is best for beginners to not try throwing in windy weather. It will be hard to make progress and build confidence. You can also learn how to throw hunting boomerangs that move in a straight line.
- Didgeridoo lessons are as common throughout the country. Learning how to play the didgeridoo is not easy and it can take a long time to truly master the instrument. You will need to have strong lungs and learn the art of circular breathing. Despite that, there are many lessons suitable for novices that teach the fundamentals, which are more than useful.
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.