The Indigenous Australian culture is one of the oldest and most fascinating on Earth. Australia’s first inhabitants were Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. They are believed to have arrived in migratory waves from South East Asia between 40,000 and 150,000 years ago. This makes Australia one of the oldest continents in the world both geologically and in terms of continuous human history. Australia’s Indigenous people now comprise only 1.5 per cent of the country’s total population, with approximately two thirds living in cities and towns and the balance living in rural and remote areas.
ARTS AND LANGUAGE
Indigenous Australians believed that their ancestors created the land and were ‘great spirits of the Dreaming’ who controlled the movements of the planets and stars, the seasons and the tides. Aboriginal law and custom evolved from the myths that grew up around these ancestor figures. They also believed that the process of telling these myths whether in dance, song or painting enabled them to draw on the power and influence of their ancestral spirits. In a culture which has no written language, their very distinctive art form, which reflects a deep connection with the land and the environment, evolved over many millennia to record the beliefs and stories from the ‘Dreaming’, enabling them to be passed on to successive generations.
There are more than 365 Indigenous language groups in Australia; at least 60 of these are spoken in Western Australia alone. As well as English, most adult Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, Pilbara and desert regions of the North West speak at least one traditional language, and possibly varieties of Aboriginal English or Kriol, an Australian Creole language developed out of necessity between the Indigenous people and European settlers.
You can take a guided walking tour or head out on a camping safari, led by traditional custodians of the land. Enjoy bush tucker, listen to stories and music-making — you might even get to have a go at throwing a boomerang. More adventurous options include cruising along gorges of the North West, taking on a four-wheel drive desert adventure in the Golden Outback, or mudcrabbing with local families along the Dampier Peninsula.
To learn more about the Indigenous people of Australia, or to find out how you can immerse yourself in their culture, contact the WA Indigenous Tourism Operators Committee (WAITOC), a not-for-profit organisation promoting authentic Indigenous tourism ventures.
TRAVELLING THROUGH ABORIGINAL LANDS
If you’re interested in discovering more about the Indigenous people of Western Australia, there are many opportunities to take a tour and learn about the culture by meeting Indigenous people, tasting their food, hearing their music and seeing their land. The ancient open spaces of the Kimberley region have been home to Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. It’s here that you are most likely to see people maintaining their traditional way of living. You can also view traditional rock and cave paintings, some of which are estimated to be up to 50,000 years old.
When passing through Indigenous communities please remember you
are guests of the traditional custodians. Do introduce yourself on arrival if you are staying, and don’t drive around the area or reserve without the community’s knowledge and permission. If you want to take photographs or film the local people make sure you ask first, and don’t attend ceremonies or meetings without an invitation. Many communities do not permit alcohol consumption on their land, so it’s a good idea to check for more information and guidance prior to your visit before you arrive.
Any person wishing to enter an Aboriginal Reserve must obtain a permit to carry out any activity. Applications for permits should be made to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage in Perth well in advance of your expected departure. For more information and to apply online visit: dplh.wa.gov.auwww.waitoc.com/permits