There is a range of tours encompassing mudcrabbing, hunting and rock art, but for the ultimate bucket-list experience you needn’t look further than a stay at an Indigenous community on the breathtaking Dampier Peninsula.
WHERE TO GO
Northwest | The northwest is bursting with opportunities to learn more about Australia’s Indigenous culture. The Mimbi Caves are in the heart of Gooniyandi country in the Kimberley – you can learn to appreciate the beauty of ancient rock art and petroglyphs, and all about the caves’ importance to the Gooniyandi people, with Girlooroo Tours. The Indigenous communities own and operate many of the tours in the Kimberley, such as Kimberley Dreamtime Adventure Tours, which is owned by the Jarlmadangah Burru Aboriginal Community. They offer a two-day culture tour that includes rock art, freshwater prawn (cherabyn) fishing, and dreamtime stories, or a three-day bush adventure, with a dip in a local swimming hole, hunting and the chance to learn about bush tucker. Wandjina Tours has a range of activities – depending on weather conditions and guest fitness – and can include visits to Cyclone Cave rock art site, a freshwater swim, and possibly humpback whale sightings. The tours offered by Darngku Heritage Cruises are among the most spectacular in the Kimberley, taking visitors through the breathtaking Geikie Gorge. Another water-based tour is with Bungoolee Tours who will take you through Tunnel Creek (keeping in mind you may have to wade through thigh-high water). Bungoolee also offers a tag-along tour (if you’re travelling by 4WD) from Windjana Gorge to Tunnel Creek, led by Jimmy ‘Dillon’ Andrews, a traditional custodian of this land. Another awesome tour, which is great for families, is a tag-along tour with Brian Lee (departing from Kooljaman, north of Broome). Brian teaches the traditional Bardi ways of fishing and crabbing – and how to cook your catch. If you’re looking to design your own tour, Uptuyu Aboriginal Adventures is your best bet. The company offers a number of tours in the Kimberley region, and is happy to talk to you if you’ve got a particular combination of Uptuyu adventures in mind. The core base for adventures is the Oongkalkada Wilderness Camp, established at Udialla Springs between Broome and Derby.
Coral Coast | The Shark Bay Heritage Area is a good spot to learn about the local Indigenous culture. Wula Guda Nyinda Eco Adventure Tours explores the ties of the Nhanda and Malgana Aboriginal people to Gutharraguda (the Aboriginal name for Shark Bay).
Perth Surrounds | During the week, Indigenous Tours WA lead Indigenous Heritage Tours through Kings Park and, on the weekend, offers an Indigenous Heritage Tour of Fremantle that includes the story of Yagan (The Warrior) and Midgegooroo (The Elder of the Beeliar people). Urban Indigenous delivers charming and exceptional Aboriginal experiences tailored to meet guests’ requests. Everything is on offer, from educational incursions, corporate content and private group travel days, to day trips, bush camps, extended itineraries, welcome to the country, and more. Feel like a bush tucker walk? With Bindi Bindi Dreaming you can explore Noongar Boodja in the company of an Aboriginal guide. Its Women’s Cultural Workshop is another possibility, offering interesting insights into the role of women in the community.
Golden Outback | Kepa Kurl is the Aboriginal name for Esperance, and Kepa Kurl Eco Discovery Tours offers a selection of eco-cultural charters, ranging in length from two hours to overnight, and filled with great opportunities to learn all about the local Aboriginal culture.
Southwest | Based in Bunbury, Koomal Dreaming allows visitors to experience Wardandi and Bibbulman country in the company of Wardandi man Josh Whiteland. (His traditional name, Koomal, is the Wardandi word for Brushtail possum.) For cave lovers, the Twilight Didgeridoo Cave Tour and the Ngilgi Cave Cultural Tour are essential.
Gwoonwardu Mia The Gascoyne Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Centre in Carnarvon includes a permanent exhibition – Burlganyja Wanggaya: Old People Talking – gallery shop, cafe, conference room, artists in residency space, outdoor performing space and ethnobotanical gardens. (08) 9941 1989, www.gahcc.com.au/
West Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council This peak not-for-profit association represents Indigenous tourism in Western Australia. Click on the operators’ directory for a list of authentic Aboriginal experiences. www.waitoc.com/
Stop at Beagle Bay and visit the Sacred Heart Church with its mother-of-pearl shell altar, built by Pallottine monks and local Aboriginals in 1917. On the peninsula’s northern tip is Australia’s oldest operational pearl farm, Cygnet Bay Pearls. Don’t forget to drop into the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery and Aquaculture Centre at One Arm Point. Take time to explore (4WDing is popular) and visit the stunning beaches like Quandong Point, but remember to check where access is restricted, and that dogs are prohibited on the Peninsula. The Lombadina Community is situated near Kooljaman at Cape Leveque: kayak to the reef, whale-watch, and a take a tour of the community with Lombadina Tours. The award-winning and Aboriginal-owned Kooljaman at Cape Leveque offers safari tents and cabins, beach shelters and campsites, plus tours that range from snorkelling, to spear-making and night fishing. Alternatively, Chile Creek has safari tents, bungalows and camping grounds, plus a communal kitchen with the best chilli mud crab. It’s also worth noting the Dampier Archipelago includes 42 islands off the coast (25 of them protected), and the nearby Burrup Peninsula hosts a large array of Indigenous prehistoric rock engravings.
It is sometimes difficult to know what is considered appropriate or offensive in other cultures, so here are a few tips.
- Do not say the name or show film or footage of a deceased Aboriginal person, because it is offensive to cultural beliefs.
- Always seek permission before taking any photographic images.
- Many regions and Indigenous communities are dry – you cannot take alcohol in and there is nowhere to purchase alcohol.
- Planning a self-drive tour through the state? Check with relevant Land Councils to see if you need a permit to enter Aboriginal lands.
- Dress appropriately and modestly. In many communities, it is a sign of respect to cover the shoulders.
- Be aware that community members may prefer to deal with people of their own gender. As a mark of respect, your initial approach should be to a person of the same gender.
- Only local Indigenous people are allowed to collect the trochus shells from the Dampier Peninsula.
TOP INDIGENOUS TOURS
Bindi Bindi Dreaming Perth and surrounds www.bindibindidreaming.com.au
Brian Lee Hunters Creek Tagalong Tours Dampier Peninsula (Kimberley)
(08) 9192 4970, brianleetagalong.com.au
Bungoolee Tours Tunnel Creek (Kimberley) (08) 9191 5355, bungoolee.com.au
Darngku Heritage Cruises Geikie Gorge (Kimberley) (08) 9191 5552, darngku.com.au
Girlooroo Tours Mimbi Caves (Kimberley) (08) 9191 5355, mimbicaves.com.au
Indigenous Tours WA Perth and surrounds 0405 630 606, indigenoustourswa.com
Kepa Kurl Eco Cultural Discovery Tours Esperance (08) 9072 1688, kepakurl.com.au
Kimberley Dreamtime Adventure Tours Mount Anderson and Jarlmadangah Burru (08) 9191 7280, kdat.com.au
Koomal Dreaming Southwest 0413 843 426, koomaldreaming.com.au
Uptuyu Aboriginal Adventures Broome and surrounds (Kimberley) 0400 878 898, uptuyu.com.au
Urban Indigenous Perth and surrounds 0403 529 473, urbanindigenous.com.au
Wandjina Tours Northwest (08) 9193 6836, wandjinatours.com.au
Wula Guda Nyinda Eco Adventure Tours Coral Coast 0429 708 847, wulaguda.com.au