With the encouragement of the Australian Government Aboriginal tourism has been established as a way for the indigenous people to tell their story in their own way. These people can now share their cultural insights, traditional practices and contemporary concerns with international visitors and non-Indigenous Australians. The Indigenous people of Australia see this type of tourism as a way to educate others about their culture while creating employment and training opportunities at a local level.
Aboriginal tourism is a broad and varied experience but there is one common thread, the inclusion of insights into and about the cultural knowledge, lifestyle and benefits of Australia’s Indigenous people. Aboriginal tourism goes beyond the lifestyles and traditions of the Indigenous people who live in these remote communities and includes urban Aboriginal tourism, focusing on rock art, politically themed art exhibitions, live theater and stories from the Dreamtime.
With the interest of preserving and marketing of Aboriginal culture the Australian Tourist Commission has defined Aboriginal tourism as “a tourism experience or service, which is majority owned or operated by Aboriginal people and/or owned or operated in partnership with non-Aboriginal people.” This is not always the case, for example, in New South Wales only 39 of 250 Aboriginal tour operations were Aboriginal-owned in 2001.
Since 1995 the Aboriginal Tourism Australia (ATA) has been operating on the behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. The ATA is a non-profit company that provides leadership and focus strategies for the development of Aboriginal tourism keeping in mind Aboriginal economic, cultural and environmental values. In Aboriginal culture land is very significant and many areas are sacred and spiritual to these Indigenous people. Traditional owners have a responsibility to the land and to look after the environmental, cultural and spiritual well being of those areas.
This unique relationship and respect for the land is increasingly attracting visitors seeking to ‘touch the earth’. These areas include Uluru (Ayers Rock) and many sites in the Northern Territories that contain cave paintings over 5000 years old. Another major element of Aboriginal tourism is cultural control. These people have been around for a long time and already many of them have been attracted by many parts of modern society. It is important that we are aware of these differences and considerate towards them. For example many areas are scared and photographs are not allowed, also the visitor center in Uluru contains a book of apologies for taking pieces of rock known as the ‘Sorry book’, claiming that they caused bad luck.
Lately a priority has been to develop guidelines for the accreditation of Aboriginal tourism operators and after two years consulting with Ingenious communities, industry stakeholders and tourism operators, ATA has developed the program Respecting Our Culture. By encouraging businesses to protect Indigenous cultural, social, religious and spiritual values. The program aims to help find a balance between businesses, communities and the environment in the overall pursuit of sustainability. For more on this subject and further posts about Australia make sure to follow Our Shadows Will Remain.