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learned English and the ways of European people, later started
the first cross-cultural tourism initiative in the Uluru area, called
Desert Tracks. She saw value for her people in European culture,
but also stated, 'I want to teach all people, black and white,
about the land and our way of living with it. Ignorance is the
reason for a lot of racism.'
There is an Aboriginal proverb of sorts that states, 'Those
who lose dreaming are lost.' Something of this sentiment has
worked its way into the thinking of Australia's tourism sector,
which has placed greater emphasis on Indigenous tourism
experiences in recent years.
Once left mainly to international visitors, Indigenous tourism is
now drawing more Australians, often making for an exotic break
from traditional getaway options. Visitors are finding interest in
the fundamental similarities between Indigenous belief systems
and our own, but also the contrasts, and ways in which they are
The trail blazed by Nganyinytja continues through the still-
running Desert Tracks tours of the Uluru area and a growing
list of Tourism Australia-endorsed experiences, many of them
incorporating Dreaming stories, interpreting their significance to
Indigenous people and their way of life for tens of thousands of
It's fitting that visitors to the world's oldest continuously
surviving rainforest have the option of being hosted by its
longest-tenured inhabitants. The recently opened $20 million
eco-tourism development at Mossman Gorge in the World
Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest is testament to an increasing
focus on Indigenous tourism.
Two walks are operated by local Indigenous guides, granting
an intimate look into the culture and traditions of the Kuku Yalanji
people and their connection with the ancient tropical rainforest.
The experienced guides share Dreaming legends, demonstrate
traditional plant use, identify bush tucker and explain the history
of cave paintings.
The main tour starts with a traditional smoking ceremony
to ward off bad spirits, then sets off under the towering canopy
through a sacred ceremonial site, past traditional bark shelters,
all the while taking in one of the most diverse ecosystems on
earth, recently inspiring the awe of Sir David Attenborough during
a visit to capture living fossils for his BBC documentary First Life.
As the walk nears its climax, a building rhythm of clap sticks
and didgeridoos dances through the forest as the track rounds
a bend to meet an Indigenous musical performance taking place
in a large rock amphitheatre. The journey ends at a creek where
visitors are given the opportunity to take a freshwater dip at 'The
In the beginning, the land was dead silent. Flat, bare and
cold. The Rainbow Serpent, a supernatural form, lay sleeping
beneath the earth until its awakening, breaking through the
earth's crust with great force. She then travelled the land, resting
when tired, carving winding tracks and the imprint of her sleeping
body into the ground. Having travelled the earth, she returned
and called to the frogs to come out, their bellies swelling with
water. The Rainbow Serpent tickled their stomachs and when
the frogs laughed, the water poured from their mouths, filling the
tracks and hollows she had etched, creating the rivers and lakes.
So goes one variation of the Rainbow Serpent 'Dreaming'
legend, as told by the Jawoyn people of the Katherine Gorge
area in the Northern Territory -- a story some believe to be the
longest-held religious belief in the world.
We often forget that Aborigines have the longest continuing
cultural history of any group of people on earth, estimated at
between 50,000 and 65,000 years. Before European settlement
of Australia, there were around 600 different Aboriginal 'nations',
based on language groups, inhabiting the country.
These nations have dwindled significantly, with many of
their ways and philosophies lost with them. The remaining
Indigenous groups, by and large, communicate their history and
ideals through Tjukurrpa, which translates roughly to 'see and
understand the law', often referred to as 'Dreaming'. Tjukurrpa
outlines the beliefs that unite Indigenous people with each other,
their ancestors, and their landscape.
Carrying similar themes of goodwill common to most
religions, Dreaming also places a significant emphasis on caring
for the land. It brings together ceremonies of song, dance,
painting and storytelling, outlining ideas of right and wrong,
but also serves as the Indigenous people's source of history
and the laws that govern community -- a set of rituals that they
increasingly welcome non-Indigenous people to witness.
Nganyinytja (pronounced Naninja), the late Indigenous elder
and pioneer in reconciling Indigenous and European culture,
once stated, 'White people need to understand Aboriginal law
and that Tjukurrpa is in the land. People need to not just talk
mining, money, cars and cattle. They need to open their hearts,
let the wind that blows across my country talk to them.'
Nganyinytja, who grew up strongly immersed in her tradition
before bravely travelling to Adelaide in the 1940s, where she
Tea and damper at Mossman Gorge © Tourism Australia
Billy tea with the Jarlmadangah Burru Community © James Fisher; Tourism Australia
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