Len Waters is something of a legend around Tamworth, though he’d never tell you that himself. He’s ‘the’ guy to have opening your show with a Welcome To Country or helping curate it – hell, he’s even put on a few cultural shows of his own that people still talk about months and years later.
His love for putting for showbiz with a meaning is evident, both in the way he loves to share his knowledge, and in the way his face lights up when he’s talking about music and being in front of an audience.
A highly respected Indigenous elder, he spent 20 years working in Aboriginal tertiary education before starting up his own Cultural Tours business in 2015.
He runs all sorts of tours – from intense hikes to places of Indigenous significance, to easy half-day drives, to two-day experiences (but no, you don’t have to camp), to special shows. His passion for his work is truly something to behold.
Whichever experience you pick, he promises to “take you on a spiritual journey from the ancient to the contemporary” – and he delivers.
Len met me at my hotel in the morning for a half day tour. He’s made something of a taste tester itinerary for me, so I can get an insight into his knowledge and work in the short time I have available.
We start at his ‘head quarters’ of sorts, with a café where he cooks a mix of bush tucker-inspired and classic Australian meals. He told me he’s always been a good cook, which is why he started the café. Since Covid he’s had to stop opening to the public, but he still gets to it for the many functions booked through him – from funerals (Indigenous and non-indigenous) to work groups looking for a day of bonding.
Around the same small room, you’ll get to wander among one of the largest collections of Indigenous artefacts in the area. It’s so well known that people from around the country (and even some neighbouring island nations) have sent Len their own stash to take care of and display. Len rightly notes he’s going to need a bigger space.
From there, we began our drive around Tamworth and surrounds. Please pardon my ignorance, but I was genuinely shocked at how many sites of significance there are in the area. Many of which I absolutely would have just driven right passed on my own.
Out of necessity, and just the fact he has an easy-going personality that people are drawn to, he has a pretty friendly relationship with (most) property owners in the area, as most of these significant sites are on what is now private land. Which is one reason you shouldn’t go it alone. Another being that you can’t hope to find all the places Len knows. Plus, you wouldn’t have his knowledge and explanations to understand what you’re looking at, or be sure you’re doing it respectfully.
Not to mention you’d be missing the stories of both his full and vibrant life, and those of the Dreamtime that he shares with you along the way – but only the ones you’re ready for.
He explains that even within Indigenous communities, different stories have different meanings as you grow up and enter different stages of life – and they’re not all meant to be heard at any old time.
“That’s the thing with culture,” he told me, “at some stage it’ll connect. It may not be when you want it too, but it’ll happen.”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that taking this trip with Len was like looking at a whole new world. Heck, I even learned a new thing about trees like this one:
We’ve all seen trees like this yes? Well they’re known as ‘scar trees’ and their shape didn’t just happen naturally like I’ve always assumed. When the tree was only the size of the scar width, the bark was carved off by an Indigenous person to carve into a Coolamon. I can’t be the only one whose mind is blowing?
I honestly learnt more in a few hours with Len than I did in 13 years of schooling.
There’s literally no better time to actually get to know this country, and learn more about the 60 000 year-old culture that started its history. You can find out more about Len’s cultural tours here, trust me, it’s the best thing you’ll do.
(Lead image: Provided / Tamworth Regional Council)