From museums, galleries and cultural centres to award-winning walking tours, explore the Aboriginal heart of Australia’s urban centres.
Rainforestation Nature Park – Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience
If you’re keen on learning to throw a boomerang or want advice from experts on how to play the didgeridoo, Cairns’ Rainforestation Nature Park is the place to come. Set amid 40 hectares of World Heritage-listed rainforest, a 30-minute drive north of Cairns city, this eco-friendly, family-owned nature park has called the jungle home since 1974, working with Aboriginal communities to develop tours and performances inspired by the land that has sustained them for thousands of years. Their signature offering, the one-hour Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, stands out for its dedication to preserving and sharing the stories of the Pamagirri people. During the activity, you’ll be led into the Daintree to attend a ceremonial dance in a rainforest amphitheatre, where the tropical trees, vines and fauna act as the theatre’s living walls.
Spirits of the Red Sand
There are few opportunities to learn about Queensland’s Aboriginal community that are quite as comprehensive, and at times confronting, as Spirits of the Red Sand, a show based on real-life Aboriginal encounters with the British in the 1800s. As part of the two-and-a-half hour show, you’ll enjoy a barbecue dinner where you can mingle with the actors, hear their stories and learn more about their experiences in this part of the state. The ‘set’ is an authentic 19th-century town, halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. As part of the audience you’ll move between different set locations over the course of the evening, making you feel part of the action. This intimate and moving experience will leave you with a greater appreciation for traditional customs and changing beliefs among the state’s Aboriginal community, and how colonisation has impacted their lives today.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
One of the largest employers of Aboriginal Australians in the country, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park offers an expansive showcase of Aboriginal culture and community through song, dance and theatre. Their facilities, near the tropical city of Cairns, are expansive: in addition to the main high-tech theatre and museum, there’s a movie theatre, dance space and gallery, as well as a restaurant with an emphasis on native foods, and a cultural village where you can learn to throw a boomerang, play the didgeridoo and sample bush tucker. The park’s commitment to telling Aboriginal stories across 40,000 years of history offers a powerful insight into Australian culture, through song, dance and native bush foods.
Dale Tilbrook Experiences
With Dale Tilbrook, a Wardandi Bibbulmun woman, enjoy a captivating dive into Aboriginal food, medicine, culture and art with an emphasis on bush tucker as a food and medicine. During Dale’s two signature bush food experiences enjoy tasting a huge range of bush tucker like quandongs, Kakadu plum, native finger limes, muntries, salty grapes, native spinach, saltbush and other herbs and spices. Bush herbs are added to kangaroo and emu to provide extra flavour. In the ‘Aboriginal Art and Dreamtime Stories’ experience, the history of Aboriginal art and dot painting is explored, and participants create their own piece to take home. Dale’s storytelling skills come to the fore when she delves into ‘Local History and Culture’. These experiences take place at three venues in the Perth suburbs including the stunning Mandoon Estate winery in the Swan Valley. Dale can also come to your Perth venue.
Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences
Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences offers walking tours around Perth’s easily accessible waterfront. Nyungar guide Walter McGuire leads these tours, sharing unique insights spanning culture, bush food and spirituality along the way. Learn of the six seasons observed by Aboriginal people, see how they relate to the edible plants still growing in Perth city, hear spiritual creation stories and expect to learn the Aboriginal names of iconic parts of Perth. By the end of the walk, you’ll glimpse Perth through Aboriginal eyes, as it was before European settlement. A three-hour extended cultural tour includes hands-on elements such as paint-making using natural ochres and handling hunting weapons and other traditional implements.
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne Gardens – Aboriginal Heritage Walk
Long before Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens were established in 1846, these lands were used as a camping and meeting place by the local Boon wurrung and Woi wurrung people. To learn more about the traditions that have been passed down through countless generations, the daily Aboriginal Heritage Walk explores the ways that spirit, connection and land intertwine in Aboriginal culture. The 90-minute experience includes a traditional smoking ceremony, an introduction to bush medicines and samples of native bush foods. Understanding which plants were best suited for which purpose and when was the best time to harvest them was essential knowledge for Australia’s earliest inhabitants; this is an excellent opportunity to gain insight into the traditional way of life.
Koorie Heritage Trust
So many of Australia’s absorbing Indigenous experiences happen against a backdrop of red dirt or blue ocean, but our Aboriginal history is just as compelling in the cities as it is in the outback. And the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne is one of the best places to immerse yourself in that urban Aboriginal culture. With the motto “Gnokan Danna Murra Kor-ki” – which translates as “Give me your hand my friend” – the trust’s mission is to give visitors a deeper understanding of both the past and present. Wander the museum-style collections of art, photography, oral history and objects at its headquarters in Federation Square. Alternatively, take a walking tour with an Indigenous guide, who will share some of their own story as they help you discover some of the city’s most important traditional landmarks.
New South Wales
Australian Museum – Indigenous Tour
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 across the country. Highlights include 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 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.
Dreamtime Southern X – The Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour
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 Royal Botanic Garden Sydney – Aboriginal Heritage Tour
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.