Indigenous tourism: 10 sacred places in Australia you must visit

You may have seen the ancient monuments of Pompei, Petra and the Pyramids. Or perhaps those experiences are on your travel wish list. Of course, thanks to the pandemic, it may be a while before those wishes can be fulfilled.

But consider this: in her Indigenous people, Australia is home to the oldest continuous culture on Earth and stunning relics of its history remain throughout this land. Non-Indigenous Australians remain largely ignorant, at worst apathetic, of this incredible asset.

"When Rio Tinto exploded [Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia] one of the oldest art galleries on earth, this country almost shrugged its shoulders," says Bruce Pascoe, author of the seminal Dark Emu in his introduction to his new book, Loving Country – a guide to sacred Australia, co-authored with Vicky Shukuroglou, an extract of which appears below.

Perhaps 2021 can be the year then, to at least start to change that, as, in the face of closures and international border restrictions, we satiate the travel bug by exploring our own backyards more enthusiastically than ever before.

Everywhere we go, from Broome to Bass Strait, we can be mindful of the Aboriginal culture there, past, present and future. And we can make this an endeavour not of token deference, but of real personal enlightenment and even national conciliation.

This extract from Loving Country, which the authors hope will enrich "conversations with yourself, your loved ones and those you are yet to meet" about this "great land" and its "ancient stories" offers starting points for your journeys into Indigenous Australia. - JULIETTA JAMESON

THE SACRED PLACE

Gulaga and Biamanga, NSW

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Yuin

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THE OVERVIEW

As you travel along the coast towards Tilba Tilba, you find yourself among the green hills of the country rising off the coastal plain. Eruptions of granite boulders are common, looming out of the landscape, drawing the eye, threatening story. Two of those mountains, Gulaga (The Mother) and Biamanga, have special meaning for Yuin people. The mountains are the centre of Yuin lore. Gulaga, formerly known as Mount Dromedary, its European name, is a place for both men and women, but the top third of the mountain is for the exclusive use of women, and part of the lower mountain holds significance for birthing rituals.

DON'T MISS

Any Australian can climb Gulaga Mountain and visit the seven chapters of Yuin lore. Women can walk to the summit if they wish, but men can go no higher than the gallery of granite tors. If you do climb, remember it is sacred and perhaps choose to climb with an Indigenous guide.

THE DETAILS

Gulaga and Biamanga are located on the far South Coast of NSW, in the area around Tilba Tilba and Bega, five hours' drive south of Sydney. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au; visitnsw.com

THE SACRED PLACE

Brewarrina, New South Wales

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Images to only be used in relation to extract from book Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou
Brewarrina On the banks of the Barwon River in north-west New South Wales. Ngemba, Murrawarri, Yuwaalaraay, Wayilwan Language groups

THE LANGUAGE GROUPS

Ngemba, Murrawarri, Yuwaalaraay, Wayilwan

THE OVERVIEW

The Brewarrina fish traps, or Baiame's Ngunnhu, are arguably the oldest human construction on earth, thought to be at least 40,000 years old. These magnificent traps, built to provide sustainable food for the local community, stretch along the Barwon River for around half a kilometre, but similar constructions are found in most other Australian river systems and estuaries. It is amazing that such significant engines of economy have received so little attention. Consisting of rock weirs, pens and pools, the traps have ecological and egalitarian functions embedded into their operation. The traps show a way of living that involves cooperation and relationship within families and with neighbours, with the river itself and with all other life forms.

DON'T MISS

Book a tour of the Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum and fish traps area. New projects include a nursery and garden of native plants important to human health.

THE DETAILS

Brewarrina is set on the banks of the Barwon River in north-west NSW. See brewarrinafishtraps.com.au; visitnsw.com

THE SACRED PLACE

Gariwerd (Grampians National Park), VIC

TRA 27 OCT. Grampians, Vic. Brambuk cultural centre.. Supplied by Visions of Victoria HIGH RES 1080484

Photo: Visit Victoria

THE LANGUAGE GROUPS

Djab Wurrung, Jardwadjali

THE OVERVIEW

When you tour around the great vineyards of this district and the charming towns of Cherrypool, Ararat and Stawell, remember this is Aboriginal land and for all its agricultural production today it is a shadow of the managed verdancy of pre-colonial times. There are not many better places to camp than this wonderful region. The rock art within Gariwerd is extraordinary, the scenery just as phenomenal. The Brambuk Cultural Centre at Halls Gap is the start of several exciting Aboriginal-led tours of the region. It will be a highlight of your year. Here, you will also find a map of the rock-art sites that you are permitted to visit. While Gariwerd has hundreds of sites, only a handful are open to visitors.

DON'T MISS

The Grampians Peak Trail will eventually be a 13-day hike across the mountains; for now, it's a three-day 36 kilometres loop walk from Halls Gap. See brambuk.com.au

THE DETAILS

The Grampians, located on the Western Plains of Victoria, are a three and a quarter hour drive north-west from Melbourne. See parks.vic.gov.au; visitvictoria.com

THE SACRED PLACE

Moyjil (Point Ritchie), VIC

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Gunditjmara

THE OVERVIEW

The findings of new archeological searches for ancient Aboriginal history have been astounding. A grinding dish at Cuddie Springs in central northern New South Wales was found to have been used to grind grain 36,000 years ago. Soon after, one found at Madjedbebe, Arnhem Land, was dated at 65,000 years. And then came Moyjil, an ancient site previous to the Gunditjmara. A rocky headland where the Hopkins River meets the sea, Moyjil showed signs of ancient fire use with its hearth-like features and blackened stones, as well as shell middens. The results (of work by geologist Jim Bowler of Mungo Man and Lady-fame and others including local Aboriginal people) yielded an initial age of occupation of 80,000 years, an incredible age in terms of human history, but a subsequent survey came up with 120,000 years, far older than any other site in Australia. Parts of Moyjil are fenced off to protect the fragile heritage site, but if you visit you will see wild ocean and windswept cliffs of Victoria's south-western coast and imagine the lives lived here possibly more than 100,000 years ago.

DON'T MISS

From the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre, join guided twilight bush and nature walks in a dormant volcano at Tower Hill, between Warrnambool and Port Fairy in south-western Victoria, three and a half-hours drive from Melbourne. See worngundidj.org.au

THE DETAILS

Warrnambool, is in the Great Ocean Road region of Victoria. See visitwarrnambool.com.au

THE SACRED PLACE

Namadgi, ACT

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Images to only be used in relation to extract from book Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou
Namadgi Namadgi National Park, at the northern end of the Australian Alps and about forty-five minutes’ drive from Canberra. Ngunnawal Language group

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Ngunnawal

THE OVERVIEW

In this valley you are only an hour from your country's federal parliament. But the political decisions here began 120,000 years ago. Evidence of the culture is all about you as you walk through this national park – rock art, scar trees, stone arrangements, tools. It is so tempting to take a souvenir but please stay your hand. Those specimens have yet to be fully studied and we need them to explain and defend our culture. We need our cultural objects in situ, not on your mantelpiece only to be turfed out by your grandkids when you die.

DON'T MISS

Explore the Gudgenby Valley in Namadgi with an Aboriginal ranger to learn more about the rock art of the area and the culture of the Ngunnawal people via Murumbung Yurung Cultural Tours.

THE DETAILS

Namadgi National Park is at the northern end of the Australian Alps and about 45 minutes' drive from Canberra. See environment.act.gov.au

THE SACRED PLACE

Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Northern Territory

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Images to only be used in relation to extract from book Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou
Mparntwe (Alice Springs) In the heart of Australia, roughly 1500 kilometres south of Darwin. Arrernte Language group

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Arrernte

THE OVERVIEW

The Arrernte people have long cared for this land of subtlety and dynamic scale, where the smallest of creatures is held in the highest regard and remains firmly connected to the vast skies and far-reaching ridges. Arrernte people's knowledge of country relates to the movements and interactions of Ayepe-arenye, Ntyarlkarle Tyaneme, Utnerrengatye and Irkngeltye, the main caterpillars of the area, which created the sites throughout this region and set out protocols for a harmonious life. These caterpillars travelled from afar, fought great battles with other beings, including Irlperenye (green beetle), and converged here. The kangaroo, emu and dog are among other prominent story holders.

DON'T MISS

Alice Springs Desert Park is a fascinating nature park (particularly if you're travelling with children) with a focus on the plants, wildlife and habitats of the desert. See alicespringsdesertpark.com.au

THE DETAILS

Alice Springs is located in the heart of Australia, roughly 1500 kilometres south of Darwin. See northernterritory.com

THE SACRED PLACE

Laura, Cooktown and Wujal Wujal, Queensland

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Images to only be used in relation to extract from book Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou
Laura, Cooktown and Wujal Wujal Three hundred kilometres north of Cairns, on Cape York Peninsula. Kuku Thaypan, Kuku Yalanji, Kuku Warra, Kuku Mini, Olkola and Guugu Yimithirr Language groups

THE LANGUAGE GROUPS

Kuku Thaypan, Kuku Yalanji, Kuku Warra, Kuku Mini, Olkola and Guugu Yimithirr

THE OVERVIEW

Red-orange rock juts above the treeline and it's impossible to imagine the number of paintings that rest among the innumerable protected walls. Escarpments stretching through the Laura region are richly animated, reflecting the culture of those who love these places. A rock splits away revealing giant blackboards in the greatest of schools, with enough slant to protect faces from rain and sun. We follow ancient tracks of people connected to those painted walls, the gaps and turns of shadow among them. Be wary, for it is easy to get lost here if you do not know your way, if you do not know the song that may accompany your travels. Be wary for you may be entering a space not used to the presence of a man, or a woman. Better still, go with a local.

DON'T MISS

On the coast, 140 kilometres east of Laura, is Gangaar [Cooktown], visit Kuku Bulkaway Indigenous Art Gallery and enjoy the work of local artists whose inspiration comes from their connection to the land. See kukubulkaway.com.au

THE DETAILS

Cooktown is just under 330 kilometres north of Cairns, on the Cape York Peninsula. See queensland.com

THE SACRED PLACE

Broome, Western Australia

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Yawuru

THE OVERVIEW

Broome has an extraordinary history of blended cultures thanks to the colonial pearling industry. People from Malaya, Japan, Indonesia and China came to the area to dive and trade in pearls. The diving skills of the local Aboriginal people meant they participated in the industry too. Walk around Broome, have a beer or wine in the pubs the locals go to and absorb the story of this town, not just what the brochures tell you. This great blend of nationalities created a special culture of food, music and art and the town is still influenced by it today.

DON'T MISS

Broome-based Narlijia Tours offers itineraries into the Broome bay area, mudflats and mangroves with Yawuru man, Bart Pigram. See toursbroome.com.au

THE DETAILS

In the Kimberley region, on the north-west edge of Australia. See visitbroome.com.au; visitwesternaustralia.com

THE SACRED PLACE

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Karta

THE OVERVIEW

Kangaroo Island has an Aboriginal past but it hides from that history, centred around the sealing industry of colonial Australia, which saw Tasmanian Aboriginal people translocated. Sealers routinely dropped off women on isolated islands when they were pregnant or no longer able to work. Quite a few were left at Kangaroo Island. Australia's bellicose resistance to the nation's history is an unedifying reflection of our national character but Rebe Taylor's brilliant history of Kangaroo Island, Unearthed: The Aboriginal Tasmanians of Kangaroo Island, is the exception. Seek out a copy to read before you visit.

DON'T MISS

Seal Bay – join a guided tour and walk along a beach filled with snoozing sea lions. See sealbay.sa.gov.au

THE DETAILS

Kangaroo Island is 20-minute ferry ride off the coast of South Australia or a half--hour flight from Adelaide See tourkangarooisland.com.au

THE SACRED PLACE

Bruny Island, Tasmania

Bruny Island Neck is an isthmus of land connecting north and south Bruny Island. tra20-brunyguide
Jason Charles Hill/Tourism Tasmania
Image supplied by Tourism Tasmania, approved for Traveller use only - print and online. Note credit requirements

Photo: Tourism Tasmania

THE LANGUAGE GROUP

Nuenonne

THE OVERVIEW

Soon after their arrival at Bruny, the English took more and more of the land and hunted the Aboriginal people into smaller and smaller refuges until a final last massacre, that would have been heard by the people on the mainland across the strait. This history is almost invisible on Bruny Island. There is a charter tour that takes you around part of the Bruny coast near Lunawanna and it is highly recommended, if only for the offshore perspective of this mild coastline. Look and dream of the earlier life. For a different view, climb the 270-odd steps to Neck Lookout between North and South Bruny and it's here that you will most likely spot mutton birds. You will also find a monument to Aboriginal woman Truganini. Today, the local Aboriginal people run Murrayfield, a 4000-hectare farm. It's not just a sheep farm on a stunningly beautiful coast, but also a cultural and training centre for young Aboriginal people.

DON'T MISS

Before visiting Murrayfield Station, please contact the weetapoona Aboriginal Corporation via email: weetapoona@hotmail.com

THE DETAILS

Bruny Island is located off the south-east coast of Tasmania, consisting of North Bruny and South Bruny, joined by The Neck, a narrow isthmus. See discovertasmania.com.au

This is an extract from Loving Country – A guide to sacred Australia by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou (Hardie Grant Travel, $39.99).

A SACRED LAND: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTOGRAPHY

Ask before photographing an individual or group and respect their wishes and be aware that you may be requested not to photograph certain areas and images.

LANGUAGE

Remember that not every Aboriginal person you meet will necessarily have all of the information you're seeking, and for many, English is not their first language.

ARTEFACTS

You will probably see Aboriginal artefacts during your journey. Enjoy the presence of Australia's ancient past but please always leave the objects where you see them.

WRITTEN WORD

The writing of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages is a relatively recent undertaking and the complexity is evident in the great variations in spellings you will encounter.

ART

Many communities will have an art centre where their art is also available for sale, and this is a great way to support local economies.

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