This is going to be a very difficult piece to write about. I’m going to start with the disclaimer that I am in no way shape or form qualified to give an opinion on the heritage of Aboriginal people from their perspective. I am not aboriginal and as such, I am not privy to their customs and their culture.
What I do understand
What I can begin to describe is my deep respect for their ancestors and their management of our country. I grew up in the country, for people who follow my blog, you already know this. For Europeans I will explain: growing up in the country in Australia is an expression of growing up outside of the city. Rural areas. Yes, we all grow up in Australia – the country, but country is a term used for outside of the city. I appreciate it is confusing to say the least.
I grew up in a small place called Mullaley. It was an amazingly rich childhood in both freedom and the attention I got from living not only with my mother and father but my lovely grandmother and my grandfather. They lived in what is termed the ‘homestead’ on a large Australian property and we lived in the ‘cottage’. I should point out the ‘cottage’ became the size of, or close to, the ‘homestead’ after years and years of extensions. The ‘homestead’ is in idyllic fantasies, a large sprawling house with a wrap-around verandah. (a verandah is what Australian’s call a porch)
The word Mullaley is an aboriginal word for ‘mountain that stands alone’. On our property there were carvings in the rocks from aboriginal people. There were numerous other carvings nearby on neighbour’s properties. As a farmer’s daughter, I have a deep respect for the seasons and being in touch with the needs of our land. The Aboriginal people lived in harmony with the seasons and the land for tens of thousands of years. They knew what to eat and what not to eat. They were nomadic by nature and they traveled around the seasons.
What happened to our culture that we lost site of the fact that the land was the most precious and dear thing to us? Why didn’t we listen to them when we came here as to how the land worked? Why are we not asking the Aboriginal people how to manage our land now? Do the elders have the answers in a modern society? The complexity of these questions is large and far too difficult to cover in one little blog post.
As we walked around on the property we found many Aboriginal artifacts. We found old tools, axe heads and other weaponry and utensils but my favourite was art styles and carvings in the rocks. A visit to Kakadu or Uluru will certainly give you an understanding of how marvelous these paintings and carvings can be. The beliefs in their ancestors is evident in many of these paintings.
Aboriginal culture and colonisation
There were over 500 different Aboriginal nations within Australia at the time of European settlement. The culture has developed and changed dramatically since European colonisation. Aboriginal Australians have passed their culture down for at least 50,000 years – through art, dance, myths, music and the land itself. Aboriginal art and contemporary dance can be found in most of the cities. But for the true magic, head to the outback and listen to Dreamtime myths of creation by the campfire. Aboriginal groups lived throughout this large country so they are not all dessert dwellers. Instead the diversity of dance and art is immense. Aboriginal Australians are the best help for you to understand this ancient land and its spirituality and wonder.
Like all countries that have been settled there is a sad and unhappy history. There are horrendous stories of violence and separation from their families, a whole generation who were taken from their mothers. It’s not a happy history and we should not be proud of our forefathers.
Australia Day is celebrated on the day the First Fleet arrived in Sydney. Recently there has been some controversy around this is not a day to be celebrated by Aboriginal people because it marks the beginning of so much sadness. I equate it to being the equivalent of celebrating something on the day Hitler came to power in Germany. The request is for the day to be moved to another date in the year out of respect for our Aboriginal ancestors.
Aboriginal Culture now
Aboriginal Culture has changed again in recent decades as Aboriginals have been given both more rights, greater opportunities for academic wisdom, greater understanding between both the modern world and Aboriginal culture. In recent years elders have turned towards how are we going to work together to move forward. There has been a focus on building understanding rather than a focus on blame and retaliation. We are now in a place to deeply appreciate how amazing and wonderful these people are. The walls, stigmas and misunderstandings will soon be removed completely with greater knowledge on both sides.
Click here for a link to more facts about Aboriginal Culture from the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Highlighted are some key points below which give strength to how much our understanding has not only increased but benefited.
Aboriginal family groups
‘Aboriginal kinship relations reflect a complex and dynamic system that is not understood in non-Indigenous families’. For example, many of the stories of the Dreamtime are discussed within the family group. As a child, you may hear Auntie repeat these stores over and over. Remarkably many Aboriginals can trace their family back generations based on stories they have been told throughout their childhood.
‘Emerging evidence supports some of the strengths of traditional Aboriginal culture in family functioning and raising children, yet conventional academic wisdom can be incompatible with traditional Aboriginal knowledge systems.’ In an Aboriginal family group, you will be equally disciplined and cared for by a large number of aunties and elders. For a non-Indigenous person, this seems unconventional without understanding.
Best places to visit for Aboriginal cultural experiences
In areas throughout Australia you will find amazing examples of Aboriginal ancestory. My top picks for developing your understanding are the following places
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory
According to the Anangu Aboriginal people’s creation myths, ancestral spirits formed Uluru. Uluru has huge spiritual significance and when you visit you will experience this. Ancient stories are shared by Aboriginal guides as you walk around the rock’s base. Nearby is another sacred site – Kata Tjuta. These are truly breathtaking and you will understand why the Aboriginal people in this area place such significance on them.
Kimberley, Western Australia
The Kimberley region is one of the world’s last wilderness areas. Full of panoramic views and deep gorges, there are figures painted in caves and the mysterious Gwion Gwion paintings. The legend of the orange and black beehive domes of the Bungle Bungles and a flight over Lake Argyle in Kununurra are exciting trips.
The Daintree, Queensland
The traditional owners the Wujal Wujal people will be your guides in this area. Over 135 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world. Learn about bush tucker and fish for barramundi. Foodies be ready, this will excite you and amaze you. For thousands of years the Aboriginal people in this area have been adding herbs and spices to their meals.
Coorong, South Australia
The Ngarrindjeri guide will tell you about bush tucker, traditional medicines as you kayak through this area. Make sure you experience damper (bread cooked in the coals)
Aboriginal Cultural Tours are a unique way to build on your understanding of Aboriginal Australia. Aboriginal is the term referring to mainland Australia and Indigenous is the term for Torres Strait Islander. There are many unique ways to experience the culture but the most rewarding are the interactive tours that go beyond the sites and pictures and share Dreamtime stories and offer you the opportunity to paint, create music or search and hunt for food. One tour in one area will be completely different in another area so don’t consider yourself an expert having visited or joined one tour. To grasp this, try to compare an Irishman explaining his heritage and a Polishman explaining his.
The performances here are fabulous and allow you the opportunity to participate as well as learn.
Cooya Beach on the far north east coast of Australia, 10 minutes north of Port Douglas. Run by the Kubirri Warra brothers this is a cultural walk through the mudflats and tidal lagoons. You will develop a far greater understanding of how the traditional people, the Kuku Yalanji people have a deep respect and understanding how their particular eco-system all fits and works together.
Owner and guide, Juan Walker is a young Kuku Yalanji man from the Daintree Mossman area. Not only will you be tasting bush tucker and secret spots that other visitors to the area are not privy to, but you will find swimming holes and other area of interest.
This is the traditional area of the Jirrbal Rainforest Aboriginal people. Elder, Ernie Grant and his family take you on a walking, kayaking trip through the untouched rainforest and crystal clear creeks.
Ngilgi Cave with Josh Whiteland who performs a didjeridoo performance in the caves. Can you think of a better place to hear a didjeridoo? Josh demonstrates traditional fire lighting whilst discussing the Dreaming spirits so important to the local people and the ancestors.
Swim, snorkel, fish or just relax and enjoy this wilderness camp, located 220 kilometres north of Broome. Local Bardi community residents will take you mud crabbing, trapping fish and allow you to sample bush fruits.
You will need your own four-wheel drive or a hire vehicle to join one of his half day or full day adventure tours. Spectacular scenery will not dissapoint on this tour.
This is an up-market tour with gourmet treats. It is remote – starting between Broome and Derby, but you can’t experience it unless you are there.
Located in Central Australia, RT Tours Australia offers tours to Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Alice Springs and surrounds.
Venture North Australia offers tours departing Darwin. Rock art of Arnhem Land, and waterfalls inside the Kakadu National Park are the heart of appreciating Aboriginal Australia if you ask me.
Lord’s Kakadu and Arnhemland Safaris offer private luxury touring from Darwin to Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park.
Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours bush tucker walk starts with a traditional Welcome to Country. Join in demonstrations of music such as the didjeridoo, clapsticks, and crafts like basket weaving and dilly bag making.
Djabulukgu Association – Kakadu Cultural Tours (KCT)
Located in Katherine, Top Didj Cultural Experience and Art Gallery is led by local artists.
Cruise, canoe, hike, walk, swim or take a scenic helicopter flight with Nitmiluk Tours.
Waradah Aboriginal Centre is located in the Blue Mountains National Park, 90 minutes from Sydney.
Located at the heart of the Great Ocean Road region near Warrnambool, the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve sits inside the crater of a dormant volcano. Worn Gundidj offer guided tours every day at 11am and 1pm
Bunjilaka at Melbourne Museum is Australia’s leading Aboriginal Cultural Centre and has one of the most significant Aboriginal cultures collection in the world.
With all this spiritual and cultural experience of an ancient civilisation it is often the case travelers want to take something home to remember the profoundness of the journey and this increased learning. Sourcing the right artifact is responsible tourism. A guide to choosing Aboriginal artwork is necessary to ensure the right people are enriched by your purchase. My guide is as follows.
Understand the meaning of the artworks.
Traditional indigenous artists do not see themselves as artists but storytellers. There are no written languages, and the artists creations are all about sharing their spiritual association with their “country” and communicating their obligations to this “country” through their Dreaming stories. With over 500 Aboriginal nations, there is huge diversity in the way in which the artists express their spiritutal association with “country”.
As a result, there is a great diversity of artistic styles and media, from the well-known dot paintings and ghost like Wandjina creations with huge mouth less faces. Many different medias can be found. Traditionally, there was rock art, ochre bark paintings, and wood carvings to mention a few. Western acrylics and canvas have been introduced. The art may be contemporary, it is important to remember the spiritual storytelling is unchanged.
How to ensure it is authentic
The majority of indigenous works are not signed. Being sure of whether your work is authentic is somewhat difficult. Works are authentic if you buy from members of the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia, the Australian Commercial Galleries Association or the Indigenous Art Code.
Travelling to remote indigenous centers is rewarding
Community-based Aboriginal art centres have been set up all over Australia. Two key umbrella organisations are Desart, which represents 30 Aboriginal art and craft centres in Central Australia, and the Association of Northern and Kimberley Aboriginal Artists of Australia. (ANKAAA) ANKAAA is the leading support agency for Aboriginal artists working individually or through 48 remote art centres. Maruku near Uluru is a wonderful art market experience if you are in the area. Maruku Arts is a not-for-profit art & craft organisation. Products from Anangu artists and craftspeople can be sourced at the markets. The markets offer fun art workshops led by local Anangu artists. You will not only create your own work but learn through the process.
To understand Aboriginal culture you need to get out there. You need to experience the more remote areas of Australia to grasp how amazing this culture, their Ancestors and the Aboriginal and Indigenous people are. For thousands upon thousands of years they knew how to get the best from our land, there is much to learn from them. In building understanding we are closing the gap and bringing all of us together. It is exciting to live in a time when there is much to look forward to and a bright future for all. By buying artwork you are not buying an understanding but you are appreciating one of the oldest and wisest cultures on earth. I only hope that by continuing to demand these products we are helping in a way to support their communities for many more generations.