Australia’s rich Indigenous culture is spread out across the country. From the far reaches of Northern Queensland to the depths of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, Craig Tansley explores the 10 best ways you can explore Indigenous culture across Australia.
Taste of Kakadu
It’s taken a long time for an annual food festival celebrating Australian Indigenous cuisine like this one (over 200 years). But Taste Of Kakadu is now Australia’s premier traditional food festival. For nine days, visitors can journey across Kakadu (three hours’ drive from Darwin) to study the landscape which inspired the diet of Indigenous Australians. A Taste Of Kakadu showcases the skills of Australia’s most gifted practitioners of Indigenous food, who deliver a whole new take on the farm-to-plate experience (complete with animals hunted by local clans). You’ll help forage for food, then eat degustation dinners in remote places shut off to other visitors.
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in Indigenous culture than to celebrate the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land at the Garma Festival (held just outside Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula, 1000 kilometres east of Darwin). Over four days every August you’ll join in language workshops, astronomy tours, arts and crafts workshops and listen to ancient story-telling to better understand the ways of Australia’s Indigenous people. The experience culminates each day in the bunggul – energetic traditional dances which run from 4pm to sunset. Tourist dollars help boost the economic opportunities of the Yolngu people.
Tiwi Islands Art Centre Tour
Take a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride north from Darwin to some of the most remote art centres on the planet. Take the boat to Wurrumiyanya in the Tiwi Islands (which are inhabited entirely by Indigenous Australians) to visit the town’s main art centre and meet local artists on an island (Bathurst Island) world-famous for its carvings and textile designs. You’ll get to meet the artists and watch them work. Time it for the island’s biggest day of the year – AFL Grand Final Day. The Tiwi Islands have produced some of Australia’s best Indigenous AFL stars, including Cyril Rioli.
Otherwise known as Katherine Gorge, this is one of the most sacred sites in the Northern Territory, and the whole country – and it’s easily accessible, just east of Katherine (three hours’ drive south of Darwin). Take cruises throughout the day or at sunset (with dinner) to the gorges on boats owned and operated by Indigenous locals. You can also stay overnight at Indigenous owned accommodation from campgrounds to the five-star Cicada Lodge. You can also rent canoes and go as far as the ninth gorge, camping overnight. Or take a helicopter tour to access remote gorges for private swims.
Dine under the stars
Take a ride with local Arrernte man Bob Taylor from RT Tours in Alice Springs, travelling west along the MacDonnell Ranges for a traditional Indigenous dinner under night skies clearer than you’ve ever seen before. Taylor is an Indigenous chef and he’ll prepare a three-course meal (cooked in a traditional earth oven) while you enjoy sunset drinks. Walk under torchlight after dinner and discover what creatures come out after dark in the desert and listen to Dreamtime stories while learning more about what the stars mean to Aboriginal people.
Walkabout Adventures through the Daintree
Take a half- or full-day cultural adventure through the world’s oldest rainforest right next to the ocean – visiting cultural sites and finding bush tucker (including mud crabs caught in creeks by the beach) along the way. You’ll walk right through the only place on Earth where two World Heritage-listed sites connect – the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef, with Aboriginal guides (the company is 100 per cent Aboriginal owned and run). And group sizes don’t get higher than 11. Stay in Port Douglas and get picked up from your accommodation.
Laura Dance Festival
There’s no bigger cultural gathering in Australia – every two years all the clans of Cape York in Far North Queensland gather for a weekend of song and dancing at the end of June. The event takes place south of Laura (115 kilometres west of Cooktown, 300 kilometres north-west of Cairns) – which is the site of some of the oldest and most sacred rock art on Earth. Visitors have been allowed to join in for the past 30 years and the festival now attracts visitors from all over the world.
Tjapukai Cultural Park
There’s no more accessible place in Australia to understand the traditional ways of Australia’s Indigenous than Tjapukai Cultural Park, a 10-hectare site just outside Cairns. Running since 1987, it’s the largest Indigenous employer of any Aboriginal tourism enterprise in the country. Founded by theatre artists and members of the Djabujay clan, it’s the most entertaining insight into ancient Aboriginal ways of the area – with dance shows, interactive historical displays and art shows. There’s also a restaurant serving traditional bush tucker (expect plenty of crocodile and kangaroo on the menu).
It’s one of the best places in Queensland to understand the Aboriginal connection to the land. Just 20 minutes’ drive from Port Douglas and 80 kilometres north of Cairns, Mossman Gorge Centre is in the middle of the World Heritage-listed Daintree rainforest. Take a Dreamtime guided walk through the rainforest here to see scared sites and remote waterholes where you’re permitted to swim. There are also self-guided walks to take and a cafe serving bush tucker.
Blue Mountains Walkabout
Go on walkabout (an hour west of Sydney) in the Blue Mountains with a guide from the Darug clan who’ll follow an ancient songline in the earth into national park. Discover ceremonial sites, rock art sites and hear Dreamtime stories while eating bush tucker. You’ll escape the crowds amongst thick rainforest and secret sandstone caves, and you’ll find waterfalls and billabongs to swim in deep in parts of the Blue Mountains few tourists ever get to see.