Aboriginal culture stretches back more than 60,000 years, pre-dating the likes of Stonehenge, the pyramids, and the Acropolis. What’s more amazing is that the oldest living culture in the world can be experienced today – Aboriginal people across this country are waiting to tell their stories and share their ways of life. Indigenous cultural experiences are a great way to start listening and learning.
NAIDOC Week celebrations will be held across Australia this July 4 to 11 to celebrate the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This year’s theme is ‘Healing Country’. There are hundreds of experiences across Australia; for specific information on your suburb or area and to see what’s still on, click here.
But celebrating and learning about these cultures and clans should span far beyond NAIDOC Week, and we’ve spoken about our appreciation for Indigenous-led experiences before.
With this in mind, Tourism Australia has collated this list of incredible Indigenous cultural experiences to be enjoyed year round. *Please note COVID restrictions in place for your state.*
New South Wales
Sydney (Gadigal Land)
Sydney is home to the vibrant Aboriginal culture of the Gadigal peoples of the Eora Nation who are the Traditional Custodians. There are about 29 clan groups of the Sydney metropolitan area, which are referred to collectively as the Eora Nation.
The Australian Museum in Sydney’s CBD boasts one of the most significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections. You’ll marvel at more than 40,000 Indigenous cultural objects and contemporary artworks from across the country, including brand new acquisitions featured in the groundbreaking Unsettled exhibition.
On display until October 10, this powerful exhibition features more than 80 significant cultural objects and over 100 contributions by First Nations people across the country, uncovering the untold history of Australia’s foundation, the lasting impact of colonisation and first-hand stories of devastation, survival, and the fight for Indigenous sovereignty. The museum also offers the opportunity to take a tour with their First Nations guides.
Taking place from over the weekend from July 3 to 4 at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in the Rocks, the National Indigenous Art Fair is a two-day art market and program of events, which will see Indigenous artists from around Australia come together in celebration of NAIDOC Week. You’ll have the unique opportunity to purchase your own unique artworks directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, many of whom have travelled from remote parts of New South Wales, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia. There will also be live music, dance performances, art installations, and weaving circles by Indigenous artists, along with more than 25 Blak Market vendors selling a variety of jewellery, gifts, homewares, bush food, and plants.
You don’t need to leave the city to connect with Country. Join a 90-minute Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour (Illi Langi) to learn all about Aboriginal past and present, spirituality and connections to land, water and the seasons, at the place of first contact in the shadows of both the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is holding events this NAIDOC week, inviting the public to join the Garden’s team of Aboriginal Educators for insightful and interactive workshops, like The Sea of Hands at The Calyx (designed by award-winning artist Frances Belle Parker, a proud Yaegl woman), weaving workshops and cultural talks.
Moree (Kamilaroi Land)
The Kamilaroi are the second largest nation on the eastern coast of Australia, Wiradjuri being the largest. Their nation covers 30,000 square miles of fertile soil, running rivers, and streams. Their language is Gamilaraay.
Jump on a direct flight from Sydney or take a five-hour drive from Brisbane to Moree’s Yaama Ganu art gallery. They display works by artists of the local Kamilaroi Aboriginal peoples, renowned for their ambitious colour palettes in linear and dot painting styles, as well as a range of works created in Aboriginal-managed art centres around Australia.
Coffs Harbour (Gumbaynggir Country)
The Gumbaynggirr people have lived on the Mid North Coast since the Dreaming, occupying land that stretches from Nambucca to the Clarence River and the Great Dividing Range. They’re known as the ‘sharing people’ because their land was so abundant with food and resources that they often shared with other nations.
Let Australia’s first paddlers take you through the idyllic waterways of Coffs Harbour. Wajaana Yaam is owned and operated by Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man Clark Webb, and offers both paddle boarding and kayaking tours that run down three serene waterways within Solitary Islands Marine Park: Coffs, Moonee and Red Rock Creeks. On the tours, guests learn about the native flora and sample bush tucker while listening to dreaming stories.
Wagga Wagga (Wiradjuri Country)
Known as the people of the three rivers, the Wambool (Macquarie), the Calare (Lachlan), and the Murrumbidgee, Wiradjuri people have inhabited modern-day New South Wales for at least 60,000 years.
Join professional guide and Wirdadjuri Man, Mark Saddler, on a personal tour of country in the Riverina region. On the banks of the Murrumbidgee River near Wagga Wagga, the tours, which range from 2 hours to a full day, are designed to help visitors slow down and connect with the land.
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra (Ngunnawal, Ngunawal, and Ngambri Country)
The Ngunnawal, Ngunawal, and Ngambri peoples have lived on the country that is now known as the Canberra region and are the Traditional Custodians of the land.
The Burrunja Art Gallery is a not-for-profit gallery showcasing independent artists, with a focus on original, handcrafted arts and crafts and exhibitions featuring local Aboriginal artists. They also offer workshops.
If you’re keen on purchasing a new piece of artwork, this gallery displays a stunning collection of Indigenous art, gifts and jewellery. You can nab something at either of its galleries: one in Gold Creek Village and the other in Artworld ADG, Canberra city centre.
The National Gallery of Australia is home to the world’s largest collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. But you should also check out the National Museum at 3pm, where members of the local Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples host a First Australian’s Indigenous Australia Tour every day.
Join a tour to significant local sites in Canberra and you’ll be accompanied by a Ngunawal guide who will take you on a journey to find hidden rock art, identify historical artefacts, learn about bush food and traditional stone tools, and hear the stories of the land.
Brisbane (Yuggera Land)
The Brisbane river provided peoples’ livelihoods and created traditions. A great number of languages were spoken across the area we now know as the greater Brisbane region but in the area of Brisbane CBD, the Yuggera language was spoken by the Turrbul and Jagera people.
Tucked away in Brisbane is one of the most interesting Aboriginal-owned and -operated art galleries in the country, Birrunga Gallery & Dining. Located in a slick basement space just five minutes’ walk from the Queen Street Mall, this on-stop gallery, performance space, wine bar and café. Curated by Wiradyuri man Birrunga Wiradyuri, who is also the principal artist, the gallery houses his own haunting and thought-provoking work alongside pieces by accomplished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Just a short 30-minute drive from Brisbane, the Spirits of the Red Sand Welcome to Country Daytime Experience allows guests to experience the world’s oldest culture in true ancient storytelling style. The experience has four stages designed to share elements of Aboriginal culture, including a Welcome to Country Smoking Ceremony as well as didgeridoo playing, bush tucker tasking and spear throwing. You’ll leave with an understanding of Aboriginal Dreamtime beliefs.
Cairns (Yidinji Country)
The Yidinji Yabanday (tribal land boundary) covered a large area from the Barron River in the north to the Russell River in the south, east to the Murray Prior Range, and west to Tolga. The Yidinji people include eight clans who are the Traditional Custodians of the area. Gimuy is the traditional place name for the city of Cairns.
Visitors to Cairns looking for an interactive Indigenous experience should visit Aboriginal-owned Janbal. Home to an impressive range of Aboriginal artefacts, including didgeridoos and jewellery handmade by artisans from across Tropical Northern Queensland, the gallery also encourages guests to ask questions about the artists and get their hands dirty at their creative workshops. During owner Brian ‘Binna’ Swindley’s art classes you’ll not only learn about the dot techniques utilised in this part of Queensland, but you’ll also create your own painting to take home.
Experience the Great Barrier Reef from an Aboriginal perspective on a Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel tour from Cairns, with on-board Indigenous reef rangers who work to conserve both their culture and the reef. As well as spending a generous five hours at outer reefs – where visitors can snorkel, scuba dive or admire all that underwater beauty from a glass bottomed boat – visitors will hear reef creation stories, experience traditional dances and didgeridoo playing, and get to know not just the underwater world, but the people who call this their “sea Country”.
Jarramali Rock Art Tours (Quinkan Country)
Join Kuku Yalanji Man Johnny Murison on a wild ride to an ancient outback art gallery. Johnny takes guests on a full day adventure from Laura (330km North West of Cairns) via 4WD or helicopter. otherwise, you can opt for an overnight trip from Cairns or Port Douglas that includes a stay at an outback campsite overlooking a gorge. On the journey visitors will see off-the-beaten-track Quinkan rock art within the so-called “Magnificent Gallery”, some of which tell Dreaming stories about how the landscape was created.
Yagurli Tours Hot Air Balloon Ride (Gangalidda and Garawa country)
Indigenous-owned and operated Yagurli Tours have just launched a brand new Indigenous cultural experience in partnership with Balloon Aloft, and it will take you sky-high: a casual hot air balloon ride over Australia’s largest salt pans during sunrise. Located in Burketown inland from Cairns, nestled up in the Gulf of Carpentaria, you’ll cop some pretty spectacular aerial views. Why? Because while the town itself is tiny (only 238 residents), it’s surrounded by pretty much every type of terrain: vast salt pans, the flowing Albert River, wetlands, grass plains and out to the ocean. Check out our full run down here.
Melbourne (Land of the Eastern Kulin Nation)
The Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation are the Traditional Custodians of the land we now call Melbourne. For the Kulin Nation, Melbourne has always been an important meeting place for events of social, educational, sporting and cultural significance.
Containing one of the most significant Aboriginal cultural collections in the world, the museum was designed in collaboration with Aboriginal people, including Melbourne’s traditional owners, the Boon wurrung and the Woi wurrung. Meaning ‘the place of Bunjil’ (the ancestral wedge-tailed eagle, a creator spirit), the centre offers an intensive, interactive and often moving immersion in Aboriginal culture, covering art, storytelling, and powerful multimedia experiences.
In Melbourne’s oasis that is the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria – said to be one of the world’s leading botanic gardens – visitors can tour the ancestral lands of the Eastern Kulin Nation, led by an Indigenous guide on the Aboriginal Heritage Walk.
In bustling Federation Square, the Koorie Heritage Trust is dedicated to promoting and supporting the living culture of south-east Australia’s First Peoples. Visit the centre to see the latest Indigenous art exhibition on display, the huge permanent exhibition of photography, oral history and artefacts, or, if time allows, embark on a two-hour guided Aboriginal Walking Tour, taking in sites like the iconic Yarra River that threads through Melbourne.
Melbourne’s Cannoleria will be supporting Indigenous charity, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), with the release of its first ever native ingredient cannoli for NAIDOC Week. From July 2 to 4, $2 from every Blood Lime Cannoli sold will go directly to VACCA; the leading Indigenous child and family welfare organisation in Victoria, protecting and promoting the rights of Aboriginal children and young people.
Adelaide (Kaurna Land)
The Adelaide Plains are the traditional lands of the Kaurna peoples, stretching from Port Broughton down to Cape Jervis. Kaurna actively manages the land and lives off the land and waterways of the region.
Located in the heart of Adelaide, Tandanya is a dedicated space for the cultural expressions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The gallery sits on Kaurna (pronounced ‘Garna’) land, and is named after the Kaurna word for ‘place of the red kangaroo.’ There’s visual arts, live music and performing art programs taking place throughout the year here.
McLaren Vale’s GemTree Wines has partnered with Senior Cultural Custodian, Karl Winda Telfer of Yellaka to share Tirkandi. Karl will share his knowledge as he takes you on an inspiring journey of Culture, Connection and Country on a tour through the Gemtree Eco-trail. You’ll top off the experience in the Gemtree Tasting Room quaffing certified organic and biodynamic wines grounded in earth.
APY Gallery Adelaide is one of 11 Indigenous owned and governed enterprises in the APY Collective. Featuring artists studios as well as an exhibition space, the gallery showcases a wide range of work from emerging Indigenous artists, such as paintings, punu (wood) carvings, ceramics, baskets and soft sculptures, works on paper and textiles.
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park (Home to the Adnyamathanha people)
The Adnyamathanha people are the Traditional Owners of Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, including the Wilpena Pound (Ikara). Adnyamathanha means ‘rock’ or ‘hills people’ in Yura Ngawarla, the language of the Flinders Ranges.
Visit one of the oldest landscapes on earth, just 430 kilometres north of Adelaide. Wilpena Pound Resort in the dramatic Flinders Ranges is the only accommodation within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. The resort, owned and operated by the Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners, offers a range of guided Aboriginal cultural tours that include 4WD tours to visit 550 million-year-old fossil sites and ancient rock engravings, walking tours to Old Wilpena Station and scenic flights over extraordinary Wilpena Pound, an 800 million-year-old natural amphitheatre. This is also an amazing area to star gaze, and July is the perfect time.
Uluru (Anangu Land)
Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and the land around them have always been very special places. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage listing for both cultural and natural values, the Anangu (pronounced arn-ung-oo) are the Traditional Custodians. The Anangu welcome you to learn about their Tjukurpa (traditional law, stories and spirituality), ancestors and culture.
Located in the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park Cultural Centre at the base of Uluṟu, the Walkatjara Art gallery is owned and directed by the Mutitjulu community of the Anangu people. The gallery is home to a range of vibrantly coloured creation stories painted by local artists and also offers visitors the opportunity to meet Mutitjulu artists at work in the studio. While you’re there, check out Maruku Arts, a second gallery that features works by Anangu artists of the wider Central Western Desert region. They offer a fun dot painting workshop that runs twice daily, taught by a local Anangu artist.
The newly renovated GoCA in Uluṟu features around 80 artworks supporting existing and emerging artists from the Central Desert area. Designed to help artists achieve a more sustainable income stream, the gallery is known for its display of specially curated items like punu (traditional Anangu wood carving) and pieces designed and hand-made by communities across the region.
In terms of Indgenous cultural experiences, SEIT’s Patji tour is up there with the best. They offer a truly special experience – travelling on an off-road 4WD adventure beyond the boundaries of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with Traditional Uluru Family to their homelands (or Patji). You’ll also explore the mystical Mutitjulu Waterhole and Mala walk, hear the Creation stories of Liru and Kuniya, see rock art of the ancient Anangu teachers and learn about Uluru’s significance. Then, it’s time for uninterrupted sunset views over the sacred monolith.
Mount Borradaile, West Arnhem Land (Land of the Amurdak people)
Mt Borradaile in West Arnhem Land is still owned and managed by its traditional custodians, the Amurdak people, who have inhabited the area for 50,000 years.
Way up in the Top End in West Arnhem Land you’ll find Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris, which offers a rare opportunity to stay overnight at an Aboriginal sacred site at Mt Borradaile. From this remote eco-lodge your small-group tours rock art sites, cruises billabongs, spots crocodiles, roams through rainforest and delves into catacombs to discover the country and culture of the Traditional Owners, the Amurdak people.
Katherine (Land of the Jawoyn, Dagoman and Wardaman)
Marking the point where the traditional lands of the Jawoyn, Dagoman, and Wardaman Aboriginal peoples converge, Katherine has been an important meeting place for Indigenous peoples for many thousands of years and it remains so today.
Home to an extensive range of art, didgeridoos, artefacts, gifts and books, the gallery also offers morning and afternoon Aboriginal artist-led cultural experiences. Located in Katherine, three hours south of Darwin, the gallery displays an outstanding array of Jawoyn and Dagoman work, as well as further pieces from Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and the Central Western Desert.
The organisation also runs the popular Top Didj cultural experience, a two-and-a-half hour session led by Aboriginal artist Manuel Pamkal. During the experience, Manuel Pamkal takes visitors on an enriching journey through local customs, hunting practices and art-making, giving visitors the opportunity to return home having painted their own work of art.
We’ve collated even more enriching NT-based Indigenous cultural experiences, check them out here.
South-west Western Australia (Noongar Country)
The Noongar peoples are the Traditional Owners of south-west of Western Australia. Whadjuk is one of 14 clans of the Noongar nation, the Traditional Owners of the place we now call Perth. The South West Boojarah region refers to the Wardandi and Bibulmun/Piblemen Noongar clan groups, and encompasses Margaret River and Manjimup.
One of the most impressive collections of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art for sale can be found in the port city of Fremantle or Waylyup, as it was known by the Noongar people. Located in a 19th-century warehouse, visitors will discover an impressive ground-floor display of works by leading Aboriginal artists from across Australia, as well as two feature galleries upstairs.
Take a walk through the heart of Perth with Elder Walter McGuire from Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences. He paints word pictures of the natural scene that’s been covered over by modern development, revealing the practices, traditions and spiritual understandings of his Whadjuk peoples.
South-west of Perth, in the Margaret River wine region, Josh Whiteland of Koomal Dreaming likes to combine culture and place with his enlightening experiences. He plays didgeridoo inside the spectacular Ngilgi Cave amphitheatre, walks through bush in search of medicinal plants, demonstrates traditional fire making, guides you along the breathtaking Cape to Cape track or takes people fishing for salmon, herring and bream inside stunning Meelup Regional Park. With tours beginning again in late spring 2021, it’s a unique way to experience this region beyond its exceptional wine.
Located in Geraldton, mid -west Western Australia, the Yamaji Art Centre is completely Aborginal owned and operated. With a focus on sustaining maintenance and arts practice while creating economic benefit, the centre provides services to support Aboriginal artists living in the Lower Murchinson region of Yamaji Country.
The Bardi Land and Jawi Island
People of the Dampier Peninsula – the Bardi Land and Jawi Island peoples – retain a particularly special relationship with their land and sea that encompasses in-depth knowledge of bush food, medicine and traditional hunting and fishing practices in the areas.
Terry Hunter’s Borrgoron Coast to Creek walking tour is a two-hour transportation into another world – one that exists parallel to our own, yet is unknown to most non-Indigenous people. Exploring mangrove-rich landscape surrounding Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, where red earth and saltwater meet, reveals as much about Terry’s day-to-day life as it does his Aboriginal culture and the local pearling trade his family has been part of for four generations.
Tasmania (Home of the palawa and pakana peoples)
Meaning ‘to give knowledge and understanding’, the ningina tunapri Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery in Hobart houses an exhibition which explores the journey of Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples and is a celebration of all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations.
Featuring rarely seen original objects and examining topics such as climate change, astronomy and stories of creation, craft, technology and architecture, this exhibition in Launceston takes a different approach to presenting and exploring the history and culture of the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples.
Walk with the oldest living culture on a guided multi-day wukalina walk which combines culture, nature and luxury in one of Australia’s most scenic landscapes, Tasmania’s magnificent Bay of Fires wilderness area. Stay in bespoke luxury accommodation, meet palawa elders, hear creation stories and learn about traditional medicines and foods, feast on mutton bird, wallaby and doughboy dumplings (as well as plenty of seafood and some of Tasmania’s finest wines), try kelp and reed basket-making, learn how to belt out a tune on the clap sticks, and see kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, whales, dolphins, and birdlife including black swans, sea eagles and arctic terns.
(Lead image: Tourism Australia/supplied)
Sonia feels most at home on the road, with travel her greatest passion. But really, she’s hype about a lot of things: beautiful design, tasty food, wellness, nature, interesting people and women’s issues. The Founding Editor of Junkee’s The Cusp and former Homes Editor at Nine, Sonia prides herself on seeking out authentic experiences with charm and loves sharing a personal rec. Catch her on Instagram @sonnietothetee.