The rich traditions and culture of Indigenous Australians are often overlooked by visitors to Queensland. Indigenous culture is a portal into Queensland soul. There was a time when over 100 languages were spoken in Queensland. It’s the only state that is home to two indigenous cultures, the oldest continual surviving culture on earth, the Australian Aboriginal, and Torres Straits Islanders.
From amazing art to bush tucker, ancient landscapes and traditional activities, a journey from the south to the north of the state offers plenty of authentic indigenous cultural experiences.
Here are 8 ways of experiencing Queensland’s indigenous culture.
Begin your journey into Queensland’s indigenous culture at Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Works in this collection come from all over Australia with Queensland being a key focus.
The Queensland collection has rainforest shields and swords, sculptures from Aurukun, ceramics by Thanakupi, paintings by the Lockhart River Art Gang, fibre works from Yarrabah, Lockhart River, Girringun and Mossman.
The gallery also has a collection of dance sculptures by Torres Strait Island artist Ken Thaiday. Admission to the gallery is free, except for special exhibitions.
2-Riverlife Mirabooka, Brisbane
Award-winning Riverlife Mirabooka is an aboriginal cultural experience right in the heart of Brisbane.
At Riverlife Mirabooka descendants of the Nunukul Yuggera Yugimbir and Nugi tribes perform indigenous stories and dances passed on by their forefathers, demonstrate traditional fire starting techniques, boomerang throwing, spear throwing, didgeridoo playing and educational talks offering insights into Aboriginal life and history.
Other traditional activities are message stick painting, face painting, clap stick painting and traditional food tasting. Learn to throw a boomerang or join a traditional dance workshop.
The Yuggera Aboriginal Dancers have performed to audiences around the world, from Queen Elizabeth II to street children in Asia.
3-The Bama Way Journeys, Tropical North Queensland
A self-drive journey along the Bama Way from Cairns to north of Cooktown takes you on a voyage that follows story-lines of the Kuku Yalanji and Guugu Yimithirr peoples.
The Bama Way links three Aboriginal-owned tours operated by the traditional custodians of the local area.
Throw a spear and hunt with the Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours at Cooya Beach, a traditional fishing ground of the Kuku Yalanji Bama. Or take a guided bush walk in a World Heritage rainforest with the Walker Family from Bloomfield Falls Tour at Wujal Wujal.
4-Rainbow Serpent Tour, Guurrbi Tours, Cooktown
At the northern part of the Bama Way, a date with aboriginal Elder Wilfred (Willie) Gordon, the appointed story-keeper of the Nugal-warra people, will transport you into a world of myths and legends.
In the hills outside Cooktown, Willie’s Rainbow Serpent Tour is a journey through a dramatic landscape. The tour visits six rock art sites, including the Rainbow Serpent Cave and an ancestral Birth Site where Willie’s grandfather was born.
Willie has vast knowledge of the land and shares information about its bush tucker and medicines. You’ll learn fascinating things about creatures that forecast the weather, leaves that are used as soap and how to interpret snake tracks.
5-Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Cairns
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) transforms the city into a celebration of art, music and dance. It’s a showcase of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and indigenous art, where art galleries and Indigenous art centres display art for sale. There are art exhibitions, talks, demonstrations and theatre shows.
6-Dreamtime Journey, Kookaburra Tours, Tropical North Queensland
The five-day Dreamtime Journey is a cultural voyage into the lives of five different cultural groups that are Indigenous custodians of the land.
It’s a journey into a world of ancient traditions and stories handed down over the centuries while enjoying the landscape of a World Heritage-listed rainforest.
The wetlands, coastal woodlands and Coral Sea provides a stunning natural stage for the storytelling. The journey includes a visit to the Jirrbal people near Tully, the artists at the Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre and Mungalla Station to meet the Nywaigi people.
7-Spirit of Rainforest Tour, Tropical North Queensland
The Spirit of the Rainforest four-hour walk is a lesson in nature’s classroom. You walk in the footsteps of the Aboriginal ancestors and learn on how they used the area’s flora and fauna for food and medicine.
There are visits to sacred places and dreamtime stories of the Janbanbarra Jirrbal Rainforest people from the Davidson Valley region, which is between Cairns and Townsville. It’s an opportunity to learn acout the beliefs, culture and language.
8-Torres Strait Heritage, Horn Island and Thursday Island
Walk in the steps of World War II veterans and the traditional people of Torres Strait. The award-winning Torres Strait Heritage is run by a fifth generation Torres Strait family.
Tours are informative and creative, such as the ‘Garrison Town’ tour of Thursday Island. The Torres Strait Heritage Museum offers pearling displays and a peek into Torres Strait culture, myths and legends.