Here’s where to find some unique insights into Sydney’s rich Aboriginal culture.
By Georgia Rickard
Australia’s Aboriginal population might be the world’s most ancient living culture, but it’s flourishing right in the middle of Sydney. These new experiences offer authentic, meaningful ways to connect with some of Sydney’s friendliest locals, and gain genuine insights into Aboriginal ways of life at the same time.
Sydney’s Blak Markets aren’t just a place to shop for Aboriginal products. Each event is a unique full-scale production, featuring song, dance, bush tucker foods, craft stalls, smoking ceremonies and entertainers, with profits returned to local Aboriginal communities. The market also trains and employs young Aboriginal people in coffee shops, retail, food preparation and supervision. The trainees then go on to work in the charity's pop up coffee, food and retail stores at the markets. Hosted up to eight time a year, the location often changes.
The Barangaroo waterfront precinct is located on some of the most expensive real estate in the world, virtually underneath Sydney Harbour Bridge. But for decades it was the home of an industrial shipping port, and before that it was a significant location for the local Aboriginal community. Barangaroo was a prominent historical Aboriginal figure, and the entire suburb was named in her honour. The reserve is a vibrant cultural experience in a powerful, beautiful setting – and all within sight of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Take the 90-minute Aboriginal Cultural Tour to explore stories of local Aboriginal history, told to the theme of the city’s changing landscape. The guides are also highly knowledgeable about Barangaroo Reserve’s extensive native plant collection; you’ll finish the experience with new respect for the traditional Aboriginal approach to food and medicine.
Tim Ella (a well-known local personality), of the Dharawal-Yuin people, along with Grant Hyde started Kadoo Tours at Watsons Bay in Sydney Harbour National Park and La Perouse in the Kamay Botany Bay National Park. The immersive two-hour tours begin with a traditional ochre ceremony and Welcome to Country. They also provide visitors with the chance to try bush tucker and learn about the traditional uses of plants and animals for food, medicine and ceremony. Tim will share his personal history and tell some Dreaming stories as he guides you along the coastline and through native bushland.
Learn about the beliefs and lifestyles of the world’s oldest living culture, in the country’s oldest museum, with a personalised guided tour of the First Australians galleries at the Australian Museum in the heart of Sydney. In one of the finest collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts, the museum houses more than 40,000 Indigenous Australian weapons, body ornaments, tools, bark paintings, toys and contemporary art and sculpture from all across the country. Highlights include ancient grindstones more than 32,000 years old, ancient bark drawings, modern dot paintings and carved emu eggs, as well as crocodile masks made from turtle shells, feathered headdresses and pearl-shell ornaments that are still worn for rituals and ceremonial dances in the Torres Strait Islands. There are also intricately woven baskets, art made from ghost fishing nets, exquisite shell jewellery, drums, canoes and ingenious tools for hunting and fishing.
Join the leisurely 90-minute walking tour of Sydney’s famous foreshore with Dreamtime Southern X and see how the harbour landscape reverberates with spiritual significance and continues to influence modern Aboriginal culture. Guides share stories that offer glimpses of what Australia was like before colonisation. Listen to the creation stories that shaped Sydney, learn how the Eora people reacted to the coming of the Europeans and how the saltwater people practised seasonal food sustainability. Discover the ongoing connection to country and the true meaning behind the colours of the Aboriginal flag, taste bush tucker plucked from trees growing on city streets, and visit sacred Aboriginal sites hidden in the heart of the city’s most popular tourist precinct. This tour will give you a new perspective on the harbour city.
The 90-minute Aboriginal Heritage Tour through Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden is located just behind the Sydney Opera House. It explores the garden’s rich Aboriginal heritage through the many uses of the plants that grow here. Forage for and taste Australian bush foods as you walk and talk, and identify plants used for medicines and shelter. Collect seasonal fruits, berries and seeds in a traditional coolamon (a shallow dish made of bark), learn traditional methods of cooking and how to incorporate the bush foods into your own meals at home, as well as tasting some recipes inspired by bush foods. The Royal Botanic Garden also holds Aboriginal art classes where you can discover how to use the plants and other elements of the garden – sticks, ochre, grasses and bark, as well as paints and natural brushes – to create the ultimate souvenir, a unique piece of art to take home with you.
Jump on a train at Sydney’s Central Station and within 90 minutes you’ll be stepping into the Blue Mountains for an experience sometimes described as emotional, meditative or deeply moving. Aboriginal guide Evan Yanna Muru’s full-day walkabout tour takes hikers through valleys and caves and past sacred cultural sites deep into the rainforest. It asks them to slow down and reconsider the natural world using ancient Aboriginal knowledge, which in many ways translates to modern-day wisdom. The Blue Mountains are World Heritage listed for their outstanding beauty and biodiversity, so you’ll enjoy this area regardless of what you choose to do here, but this special exercise adds an extra level of poignancy.