How to explore the best indigenous cultural side of Australia
The Cairns & Great Barrier Reef region’s World Heritage areas are home to Australia’s two Indigenous cultures, which can be experienced on more than 80 tours during Queensland’s Year of Indigenous Tourism.
Dreamtime stories are woven throughout the land and waters of Cairns & Great Barrier Reef, the only destination where the culture of both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are found.
Travellers have the opportunity to interact with these cultures when they explore the World Heritage Areas of the Wet Tropics rainforest and Great Barrier Reef, as well as the accessible Outback – all of which are found in the Cairns & Great Barrier Reef region.
Indigenous art, dance and storytelling reveal a history stretching back more than 40,000 years. Multifaceted cultural events bring Traditional Custodians of the land together for a display of dance, art, music and fashion, while cultural centres introduce the stories and traditions of Australia’s First Nations People.
Opportunities to interact with the Traditional Custodians are plentiful. Visitors can learn to hunt mudcrab with a spear, hear Dreamtime stories alongside ancient rock art, take part in the cleansing ritual of a smoking ceremony, and look for bush food in the rainforest. They can learn about Buda-dji, the carpet snake that created the Barron River where the Djabugay people live, and hear why the Quinkans are fearsome creatures for the Kuku Yalanji people.
Cooktown celebrates 250 years
Cooktown Expo 2020 is a regional showcase from July 17 to August 4, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the arrival of British explorer Lieutenant James Cook, who spent 48 days on the Endeavour River. His interaction with Cooktown’s Aboriginal people resulted in Australia’s first recorded act of reconciliation. Three key events showcase the region’s history – Reconciliation Rock Music Festival, Cooktown Discovery Festival and the Endeavour Festival. cooktown2020.com
Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival
Indigenous culture, song and dance are celebrated by more than 20 different communities at Laura, near one of UNESCO’s top 10 rock art sites, on Cape York Peninsula. The internationally recognised biannual celebration of Aboriginal culture attracts thousands of visitors to the traditional Bora ground, with the next festival taking place on 3-5 July 2020.
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
More than 600 Indigenous visual and performing artists from communities throughout mainland Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands showcase their diverse cultures and artistic wealth at this prestigious annual event. CIAF is on 10-12 July 2020 and includes an ethical art marketplace, fashion show, cultural performances and free family activities.
Winds of Zenadth
Torres Strait Islander culture, including traditional dance with extraordinary headpieces, is on show at Winds of Zenadth, a bi-annual event where people from across the Torres Strait Islands gather to revitalise and preserve their language, art and ceremonies. Dates are being finalised for 2020. More information will become available at: www.torres.qld.gov.au.
Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival
This free event south of Cairns features an impressive line-up of Australian musicians along with food stalls, local art, rides and cultural experiences. The festival is built upon the legacy of the Yarrabah Brass Band, which since 1901 has played a pivotal role in the community’s musical identity. The festival will be held on 10 October 2020. More information will become available at: yarrabahfest.com.au
Jarramali Rock Art Tours
Explore one of UNESCO’s top 10 rock art sites in the world with a Traditional Custodian to see paintings dating back tens of thousands of years. Kuku Yalanji guides tell the story of the ancient Quinkan rock art and join you at a camp overnight in Cape York.
Mossman Gorge Centre
A traditional smoking ceremony welcomes you to Kuku Yalanji country at Mossman Gorge Centre. Join a Traditional Custodian on a Dreamtime walk to learn how their people sustained themselves in the world’s oldest rainforest.
Discover the Torres Strait
The history, arts and culture of the Torres Strait are uncovered on a bespoke tour with Torres Strait Eco Adventures. Guide Dirk Laifoo shares his local knowledge on tours to Waiben (Thursday Island), Muralag (Prince of Wales Island) and Ngarupai (Horn Island). The region has a rich World War II and pearling history entwined with the local Torres Strait Islander culture.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel
Step back into the Great Barrier Reef’s Dreamtime with Indigenous sea rangers on a day tour to two spectacular outer Great Barrier Reef sites, incorporating the legends passed down by Traditional Custodians over thousands of years.
Traditional Custodians show how their ancestral lands are the source of Dreamtime stories and songs in a tour for just 11 people. Learn about bush foods and medicines, hunting, Aboriginal history, culture and beliefs, and experience the Indigenous connection to country.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park
Traditional Custodians have created a performance depicting the rainforest culture of the Djabugay people, while modern technology and live performers deliver the Djabugay Creation story. Join interactive hunting and bush food demonstrations and a night-time fire ceremony.
Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, Rainforestation Nature Park
Watch a ceremonial dance in the rainforest and see traditional hunting and gathering techniques before learning to throw a boomerang. Join the Dreamtime Walk along the Rainbow Serpent boardwalk for an insight into ancient Aboriginal beliefs.
Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours
Take a boat ride across Trinity Inlet to an environmental reserve at the base of Grey Peaks National Park where you are welcomed with a smoking ceremony. Enjoy dinner with authentic Indigenous dancing and entertainment. Other tours include an eco cultural tour and bush camping overnight on Indigenous lands.
Flames of the Forest
Discover the magic of the Dreamtime and dine on tropical regional produce beneath the rainforest canopy. Kuku Yalanji performers immerse you in storytelling, didgeridoo and song lines of the ancestors.
Experience the Dreamtime stories of the Gangalidda-Garawa people under the brilliance of a pollution-free night sky on Australia’s largest salt pans or see the crimson magic of an outback sunset on a river cruise, observing the unique wildlife of the Gulf Savannah country by dusk. There is also a tag-along tour and fishing option.
Thala Beach Nature Reserve Resort
Meet Kuku Yalanji elders who share stories of culture, history and Aboriginal tradition at an eco stay on a private headland between Cairns and Port Douglas. Learn about bush tucker food from traditional hunter-gatherers.
Yarrabah Arts & Cultural Precinct
The Yarrabah Arts Centre, Menmuny Museum and a rainforest boardwalk are part of the Arts and Cultural Precinct showcasing local culture, history and art including pottery, woven baskets and textiles.
Janbal Gallery Painting Workshop
Learn traditional Aboriginal painting techniques and see Brian “Binna” Swindley and his mother Shirley’s works depicting Dreamtime stories, Kuku Yalanji life, the animals of the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest.
Adventure North Australia
Meet the custodians of the world’s oldest rainforest to try traditional fishing and gathering techniques from the Kubirri Warra clan and discover traditional soap, bush food and ochre paint on a rainforest walk at Mossman Gorge.
Join a guided tour or private charter to traditional country in the World Heritage Daintree rainforest and the tropical savannah country of Cape York. Experience festivals and events on the Indigenous cultural calendar from a unique perspective.
Down Under Tours
Experience Aboriginal culture with a trip including Mossman Gorge Centre and their Dreamtime Walk, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park’s shows, and Rainforestation Nature Park where the Pamagirri Aboriginal Dancers explain Aboriginal culture.
Indigenous Art Centres
Remote art centres can be found at Aboriginal communities throughout Cape York. You can see the renowned camp dog carvings of Aurukun’s Wik and Kugu people, the ghost net weavings from Pormpuraaw, and the internationally acclaimed work of Lockhart River’s Art Gang.