Whether you are keen to learn more about their art and customs, such as the many dances of the corroboree ceremony or the songs of The Dreaming, or simply want an authentic trip to Uluru, there are no better guides to Australia’s outback than the many Aboriginal peoples who have lived her for millennia. All the following experiences are run by indigenous Australians and are committed to preserving and sharing one of the world’s oldest cultures.
Go walkabout in the Flinders
While it may look like a vast crater formed by a meteor strike, Wilpena Pound is in fact an 83-square-kilometre amphitheatre of mountains in the arid deserts of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. It’s one of many natural highlights of a five-day trip through the area with Bookabee Tours, staying in remote lodges and Aboriginal communities, taking in gorges etched with 30,000-year-old rock art, and spotting kangaroos, echidnas, emus and many other of Australia’s endemic animals. Bookabee is run by Hadyn Bromley, a former teacher and member of the Adnyamathanha people, who is passionate about sharing his people’s understanding of the region. For him this is an essential part of sustaining his culture – for guests it is one of the best ways of grappling with such Aboriginal concepts as walkabout and Dreamtime.
Tours start and end in Adelaide, where Bookabee also offers short tours of the city from an Aboriginal perspective. For more details see www.bookabee.com.au.
Take the long road to Kooljaman
Unzip your tent early in the morning at Kooljaman wilderness camp in the north of western Australia, and you can watch the sun rise over the endless white-sand beach and azure sea. Take a short walk from your tent across the sands at the point of Cape Leveque and you can watch the sun set on an equally breathtaking stretch of beach on the other side of the point. You’re so far from anything and anyone here that you’ll probably have both views to yourself.
Run by the two local Aboriginal communities, whose members are all shareholders in the company, Kooljaman offers a total escape into the Australian wilderness, whatever your budget – for those seeking a little barefoot luxury, there are safari tents, while those with less to splash can crash down in the rustic beach shelters. Whatever you choose, the attractions are the same – hunting for crabs with the locals in the mangroves, diving off the empty reef or simply letting your head clear in one of the most remote places on Earth.
Kooljaman has tents, cabins, beach shelters and campsites available all year round. For information on accommodation and activities visit www.kooljaman.com.au.
Learn what rock art means
Standing under the heavy overhanging rocks of Wangaar-Wuri caves in northern Queensland, whose sides are covered with Aboriginal paintings representing the myths of their creation story, it’s easy to forget about the modern world. All the more so when Aboriginal elder Willie Gordon, whose ancestral land this is and whose grandfather was born among these stones, begins to explain the stories and messages in the images. Willie runs Guurrbi Tours, taking visitors on short trips into the native lands of the Nugal people. And as you walk through the rainforest to get to the caves, he tells you about the animals and plants and their various uses, from the sap of bloodwood tree, used as an antiseptic, to various edible grubs. In 2007 Willie was recognized as Australia’s best indigenous tour guide – if you want to understand about rock art and bushcraft, he’s your man.
Wangaar-Wuri is a 40min drive from Cooktown, where Willie will pick you up, or you can arrange to meet him nearer the caves. For itineraries, directions and conservation policies see www.guurrbitours.com.
See Uluru the right way
No one has a deeper understanding of Uluru (Ayers Rock) than the Anangu, the name for the Aboriginal peoples of Australia’s Western Desert, on whose ancestral lands Uluru is found.
While the tourist hordes clamber to the top, despite requests from the Aboriginal peoples to leave their sacred rock alone, Anangu Tours offer a respectful alternative and the opportunity to share in their unrivalled knowledge of the area. Trips to the rock depart at sunrise or at sunset – the coolest times of the day – by foot or by camel. The company also offers workshops in Aboriginal dot painting, as well as lessons in bush survival skills, such as starting fires and hunting with spears.
Tours collect visitors from accommodation near the rock. All tours are conducted in Western Desert languages such as Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, and translated into English. For tour details see www.ananguwaai.com