Aboriginals in Tourism

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.

History of Australian Aboriginals

It is predicted that there were around 300,000 Aboriginal people living in Australia when the British arrived in 1788. The Indigenous Australia’s lived in small family groups and lived a semi-nomadic life, moving with the changes in the seasons. At certain times large groups would meet for social, ceremonial and trade purposes, it is estimated that there could be up to 500 people at one time.

Land was very important to the Indigenous people. Boundaries were fixed according to the Dreamtime creation stories with each individual connected spiritually to a certain territory. Land was not owned, a person belonged to the land. Aboriginal people see the land as richly symbolic and spiritual rather than a physical landscape.

When Australia was being colonised in the early 1800s Europeans took what land they wanted by clearing it of Aboriginal people in order for development.  This then lead to war between the Europeans and the Aboriginal people. Poisoned flour was distributed to Aboriginal people, introducing diseases that they didn’t have immunity to wiping out entire tribes. With the advantage of guns, horses and organised military forces, the Europeans won the war for the land.

In the beginning of the 1900s it is predicted that the Aboriginal population had dropped to 75,000. Some were able to adapt to colonisation by making new independent lives during this time of great change, others were seen as a hopeless remnant of what was left of their culture and merely surviving.

At this time different legislations were introduced in order to control and restrict the Aboriginal population. The most prominent being the WA Aborigines Act of 1905 that allowed children to be removed from their homes and families in order to give them the ‘opportunity for a better life,’ away from the influences of the Aboriginal environment. This forcible removal of children and its effects are a huge part of the Indigenous Australian story.

Aboriginal people were believed to be less than human and were forbidden to enter cities without permission. This intervention into the lives of Aboriginal people affected everyone and no one was untouched by the legislation. It wasn’t until 1967 when the legislation was changed but by then the damage had been done.

Aboriginal Flag

Aboriginal Flag

In 1967 Australian Aboriginals were granted full citizenship rights but problems still continued for Aboriginal people such as racism and disadvantage. The Gurindji people’s walk-off from Wave Hill cattle station also marked turning point in the fight for land rights. Indigenous activists gained national attention as they made historical achievements in the struggle for Aboriginal rights. This included the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside the Parliament buildings in Canberra and the creation of the Aboriginal flag.

In 2007 a formal government apology was made to the Aboriginal people of Australia by the newly appointed Prime Minster Kevin Rudd on 13th February 2007. Among other things Rudd wanted to work towards closing the gap between life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

Since 1788 Indigenous people of Australia have experienced displacement and been the targets of genocidal practices, continued to live in a racist world that devalues Indigenous culture and people. Now, there is a reconnection and reclaiming of culture and creative expression. Australian Indigenous people have a history up to 120,000 years, that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.

If you have enjoyed this read more about the local Aboriginals of Uluru, the Anangu.