Celebrating Aboriginal culture through tourism

This week is NAIDOC Week – a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements. And what better way to do it than through tourism?

Unfortunately, while cultural visits are so often part of our holidays overseas, we can tend to overlook Aboriginal culture on our holidays within Australia.

Who hasn’t been to Fiji without attending a Fijian cultural show? Or travelled to New Zealand without seeing at least one haka? So when we visited Tropical North Queensland late last year, I was keen to include indigenous tourism in our holiday.

We ended up taking part in two very different experiences – one at Mossman Gorge, north of Port Douglas and the other at Tjapukai Cultural Centre in Cairns.

With my husband off on a fishing adventure for a few days, I took Mr 13 and Miss 10 to Mossman Gorge, where we were among a handful of people taking part in a Dreamtime walk.

Welcome to Mossman Gorge
Welcome to Mossman Gorge

This experience was down-to-earth and hands-on, allowing us to learn about the local Kuku Yalanji people, how they lived in their environment and how they travelled and marked their way through the thick, almost impenetrable rainforest.

We heard local Dreamtime stories and took part in a smoking ceremony. Our guide’s knowledge of the local plants enthralled the kids – what is poisonous, what can be used to heal and what can be used as bush soap.

We made and used ochre paints, as our guide explained markings that indicated family groups. Our guide and another we shared a mini-bus from the visitors centre to the rainforest, are both from local families.

Scenes from the Dreamtime walk at Mossman Gorge, north of Port Douglas.
Scenes from the Dreamtime walk at Mossman Gorge, north of Port Douglas.

This is their land. And as you walk through the rainforest and listen to stories and life skills handed down for countless generations, you will gain a renewed appreciation for these people who are so at one with their environment.

Our second experience was more entertainment-based, but just as enlightening. It was the Night Fire dinner and show at Tjapukai on the northern outskirts of Cairns. Here the local Aboriginal people are the Djabugay.

Daytime experiences are also available at this major cultural tourist attraction, but we decided to focus on the night show.

It gave us a chance to dress up and enjoy a night-out, while being educated and entertained at the same time. A cocktail style welcome saw me enjoy a glass of sparkling, while the kids enjoyed their first taste of crocodile.

We were officially welcomed with a didgeridoo ceremony and face-painting to link us to the traditional land, before being lead to the auditorium where we experienced a truly mesmerising dance show celebrating Aboriginal Dreamtime stories.

Scenes from the the Night Fire dinner and show at Tjapukai on the northern outskirts of Cairns.
Scenes from the the Night Fire dinner and show at Tjapukai on the northern outskirts of Cairns.

Much to her horror (and delight), Miss 10 was included in some audience participation – but also received a special painted stone which she now treasures as a thank-you.

We then made our way to the fire ceremony, where we again participated with clap sticks and learned traditional songs. This time Mr 13 was called up to actively take part, which he enjoyed and enthusiastically participated in.

Group picture with the Tjapukai performers.
Group picture with the Tjapukai performers.

A buffet dinner followed, with enough prawns to keep myself and Mr 13 happy! Unfortunately, the rain meant the fireside farewell could not go ahead, although the indigenous performers posed for photos for all of us.

The Night Fire Dinner is not cheap ($321 for a family of 4) but it does include dinner (food only), and it is an experience that you and your children truly will enjoy and remember.

So, next time you are travelling in Australia, why not check to see what indigenous experiences are on offer.

It is then that you can see your surrounds on a different light – the mountain towering over Mossman Gorge is not just a rock. It is Manjal Dimbi and it is holding back an evil spirit. And that river you are rafting on in the Barron Gorge – it was created by Buda:dji, the carpet snake.

Tourism Australia has more information on Aboriginal tourism. Tourist information offices will also have more localised information.

Learn more about Mossman Gorge and Tjapukai Cultural Centre.

Need accommodation? See where to stay in Tropical North Queensland.

Note: This is an independent review. These excursions were made without prior knowledge of the organisations involved and full price admission was paid.



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