Indigenous culture experiences in Australia: Why aren't we embracing our first cultures?

I screwed up. I'm happy to admit that. In climbing aboard my high horse last week and declaring that day-to-day life in Australia is not particularly culturally rich, I neglected to say something important.

And that is that Australia is not a cultural wasteland – but we are wasting our culture.

This land is home to a vast swathe of ancient Indigenous cultures that are packed with tradition and ritual and belief. These, according to many estimates, are the longest continuous living cultures on the planet today. They take the form of myth and legend, of knowledge and understanding, of art and craft, of a deep connection to country that many of us will never properly appreciate.

And I didn't mention them. I didn't mention them because, in my mind, what I was trying to say was true: you just don't see those cultures in day-to-day Australian life.

When I picture the everyday existence in some other countries I've spent a lot of time in, the likes of Spain and India and Japan and Vietnam, I see culture that's dense and inescapable, ancient traditions that are played out before your eyes day after day after day. They're there, right in front of you.

I think about Spain, where I lived in 2019, and I see parades and marches going past my apartment almost daily; I see all of these unique and historic celebrations that took place on an unbroken loop on my doorstep.

And then I consider my life in Australia, where I don't see any of that. In particular, I don't see this country's Indigenous cultures as part of my everyday existence. Not in the same way they are in, say, New Zealand. You might be Australian, but you already know what "kia ora" means; you know what the haka is. But how many phrases do you know from the traditional owners of your home? How many rituals or traditions?

The fact is that Australia's First Nations cultures haven't been embraced by the others who now call this country home, they're not honoured or respected in a way that's natural or visible.

And whose fault is that? It's mine. It's yours. It's not up to Indigenous people to spread the word. It's up to people like me – and maybe like you, if you're not Indigenous – to make an effort, to be inclusive, to be respectful, to be interested in our nation's Indigenous practices.

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That's not always easy. I get it. I make a conscious effort to be an "ally" to Indigenous Australians, to promote understanding and to further my own knowledge, but I don't get it right all of the time. Sometimes I screw up. But I can do better, and so can you.

So the question now is, how do you fix this? How do you make Indigenous culture part of your everyday life if it isn't already? How do you make our country's true heritage more visible and accessible?

For travellers, it's actually pretty easy. I'm going to make a commitment here, and I think every non-Indigenous Australia should do that same: to include at least one Indigenous tourism experience in every single holiday that you have in Australia. Every trip away.

This won't be a chore, it will be a pleasure. You'll see that. There are some amazing, insightful and wonderfully experiential Indigenous tourism products out there in Australia. Go spend a day kayaking and exploring with Darren Capewell in WA's Francois Peron National Park and you'll know what I mean. Cook up a mud crab on the beach with Juan Walker in the Daintree and you'll be on board.

Every holiday, every trip away – book yourself an Indigenous tourism experience. Make it a day, or a night, or just a few hours. But do something. Research before you go – there's so much that's out there. (You could begin by listening to two great episodes of Traveller's Flight of Fancy podcast: "Indigenous Tourism" and "What is Australian food".)

Experience a day tour on country. Take a guided walk. Eat some Indigenous food. Meet the traditional owners of the land. Learn about country, and about culture.

If nothing like that exists in the place you're visiting, at least take the time to learn who the traditional owners of that place are, their history and a few of their beliefs.

An approach like this from all travellers will have a hugely positive effect in multiple ways. To begin with, you will be supporting some great operators out there who deserve your business. An increase in interest in this sector will also encourage new operators to get out there and build a bigger and more accessible industry.

And, of course, the more that non-Indigenous Australians can learn about the traditional owners of this country, the more all of us can meet face to face, the more questions we can ask and the more hands-on experience we can gain, the better for Australia. The better for all of us.

So I'm making the commitment: every trip I take in Australia will include some element of Indigenous tourism. You should do the same. Everyone should.

And then, maybe, we will start to feel Australia's cultural richness, to celebrate it and honour it as part of our day-to-day existence.

Have you been on an Indigenous tourism experience in Australia? What did you do? What would you like to do in the future? Is this important for Australians to experience?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Banished, banned and broken, a unique Australian culture is making a comeback

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