Indigenous guided walks in Australian cities: Now's the time to learn our hidden history

As Fortress Australia pulls the drawbridge even higher and rolling lockdowns continue to thwart family reunions, holidays and any sense of normalcy for our tourism industry, we've all become very familiar with our own backyards.

My own world has shrunk to a perimeter of a couple of kilometres this past week or two – or, more specifically, about 6000 steps around Sydney's picturesque Rushcutters Bay harbourside park, my daily walk. As holding pens go, it isn't bad.

But doing this walk repeatedly for the 18 months that I've lived here, I realise I know very little about the history of the land I step on. I've wondered how the bay got its name, but beyond that, I've often thought about the First Peoples who lived there and what life must have been like for them before European invasion; a bountiful place, jumping with fish, framed by rolling hills covered in bio-diverse bushland and edged with sandstone caves for shelter.

Yet I haven't come across a single plaque or guidepost in the park that acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional owners of the land, let alone their stories as the first inhabitants of this beautiful territory.

The Navy gets multiple plaques and there's plenty of signage about dog walking rules, but the people who first walked the tracks that became William Street and Oxford Street might never have existed.

It is NAIDOC week, an annual Australia-wide celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, for and by them. But every week is NAIDOC week in our backyards, in a sense. The past is present, more than 60,000 years of lived history in much of Australia.

While we're "stuck" at home, the paths we take every day can have new meaning if we look at them from the perspective of the people who have had a longer and deeper connection to place than anyone.

Fortunately, Australians don't need to go bush to connect with these stories and voices. There are a number of Indigenous-led walking tours, cultural experiences and bush food excursions in each capital city. Right in our backyards. Here are just a few.

In the inner city of Sydney, or Warrang, Aunty Margaret Campbell spins stories about the history and culture of the Gadigal people in The Rocks Dreaming Tour. In Redfern, Aunty Donna highlights the social and political history of the urban heartland (of course, you will need to wait until current COVID-19 restrictions are eased).

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In Melbourne, Naarm, the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens are an important cultural site for the local Kulin (Koolin) Nation. On the guided Aboriginal Heritage Walk, participants learn about plants of cultural significance to Koori people and discover the botanicals' medicinal and culinary uses. Following that theme, head into Federation Square for lunch at Big Esso, the soon-to-open restaurant from Mabu Mabu's Nornie Bero, who champions native ingredients. 

In Brisbane, Meeanjin, Black Card Tours is a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned and run company that offers three regular cultural tours through the city – a journey through the riverside and parklands to explore bush tucker, a tour of Southbank's cultural precinct and Indigenous art galleries, and a walk to Kurilpa Bridge to learn about the significant public collection of Aboriginal art.

In Adelaide, Tandanya, learning about First Nations history as easy as following an interactive map on your phone. The Adelaide Kaurna Walking Trail is a 10.7 kilometre ramble around the city, starting at the Kaurna Reconciliation statue at the Adelaide Festival centre, following the Torrens river bank and concluding at the Tandanya National Aboriginal Culture Institute.

In Darwin, Garramilla, Larrakia man Trent Lee of Saltwater Cultural Tours guides travellers around the local area of the Larrakia Peoples. When in town, hang out at the café at Aboriginal Bush Traders, a 100 per cent not-for-profit organisation that sells ethically sourced and sustainable products that directly support local Indigenous communities.

In Perth, Boorloo, proud Whadjuk woman Kerry-Ann Winmar of Nyungar Tours is the entertaining guide on a number of walks around South Perth and King's Park, including Women's Business cultural experiences.

Canberra, Ngambri-Ngunnawal, sometimes seems like it's dominated by white men, but that's certainly not the case. Local Ngunawal man Tyronne Bell of Dhawura Tours goes beyond Parliament House to explore the trio of peaks that surround Canberra city – Mount Majura, Mount Taylor and Black Mountain - sharing knowledge of the Aboriginal interpretation of the landscape, and the importance of preserving and protecting it.

Further afield, in Tasmania or Lutruwita, the three day/four night Wukalina Walk is a First Nations guided and operated hiking tour of the homelands of the Palawa people in Iarapuna (Bay of Fires). Small group tours depart regularly from Launceston from September, and there are shorter Off Season walks throughout winter.

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