Australia's pandemic woes have promulgated "holiday here" as less a suggestion, more a necessity for those seeking to get any kind of change of scenery this summer. But in a glass-half-full kind of way, there's a unique gift on offer to Australians. Being forced to consider our own backyard for holiday options (all 7.692 million square kilometres of it) has given new impetus for curiosity and adventure.
And within that, the influential thinker and advocate in Australian Indigenous affairs, Professor Marcia Langton, says: "I see this as a wonderful opportunity for Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to get together and enjoy each other's company, cultures, and appreciation of our environment and country."
Extraordinarily, as much of the travel world has contracted, Indigenous tourism experiences have proliferated. Langton, an anthropologist and geographer and Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, has created a second edition of her groundbreaking book, 2018's Welcome to Country, a compendium of Indigenous travel across Australia.
"It's my estimate that the Indigenous tourism sector has grown by about a third," Langton says. "Some of that can be attributed to the period of two to three years before the pandemic, but that growth has continued."
Indeed, Welcome to Country's 2021 edition has a whopping 250 more listings than the first.
"As to quality, I've had universally rave reviews about Indigenous tourism experiences," Langton says. "Clearly many of these initiatives are providing something that people genuinely want and they provide it well."
At a time when many businesses in hospitality and tourism had it tough at best, or were devastated at worst, Langton says the resilience of the Indigenous sector has surprised her.
"I personally made some calls to make sure ventures were still open to the public, especially after the pandemic," she says.
"Most of them managed to save their businesses and that was a huge surprise to me. Businesses have been able to remain open with minimal numbers through sheer determination. I shouldn't be surprised by that, it's what I would expect of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that I know and that have gone into these enterprises. It is wonderful to see."
In our post-pandemic world, Langton says a significant part of the allure of Indigenous travel attractions is their likely connection to nature.
But she adds, with differing vaccination rates in remote areas and community concerns for vulnerable locals, informing yourself before you go is key.
"It's very important to telephone ahead, or email, or write a letter, to find out what the COVID-19 restrictions are in each area and specifically in relation to the venture, or Indigenous tourism experience that you want to have."
Welcome to Country 2nd Edition ($50) by Marcia Langton (Hardie Grant Explore). See hardiegrant.com