Australia has more than 8,000 islands dotting its shores, and many have their own unique and rich Indigenous history. Whether it’s a short tour or a multi-day cultural experience, visiting with an Aboriginal guide can give you a deeper, authentic understanding of an island’s culture, and the ongoing connection of the Traditional Owners.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.
K’gari (Fraser Island)
K’gari – the Butchulla word for paradise – is a World Heritage Area and the largest sand island on earth. You can experience the rich history and traditions of the Butchulla people through K’gari Cultural Tours. With this Indigenous-owned business you can partake in a Welcome to Country ceremony, guided cultural walks and bushtucker tours, as well as enjoy storytelling and nighttime experiences.
You can also sigh up for the K’gari Dreamtime Tour with Drop Bear Adventures. On this tour you’ll gain a better understanding of daily life in K’gari, and learn about the art, storytelling, boomerang skills, bushtucker and local knowledge of the Butchulla people, over the course of three days. It’s an unforgettable experience.
Wadjemup (Rottnest Island)
Way back during the last ice age . After the island was cut off by rising sea levels, it remained significant thanks to its connection to Dreaming stories. Sadly, during colonisation, it operated as a prison and forced labour camp for Aboriginal people.
Connect with the deep history of the Whadjuk Noongar with Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences. These award-winning walking tours provide a deeper understanding of the island’s history, with an Aboriginal sand ceremony, museum tour and Dreamtime story, where you can hear the Noongar language through story and song. This 100 per cent Indigenous-owned business is run by the McGuire family. The co-owner, Walter, is a Traditional Owner of Wadjemup.
Quandamooka Country: includes Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) and Mulgumpin (Moreton Island)
There are three clans that make up the Quandamooka people: the Nughi, the Nunukul and the Gorenpul. These clans remain connected to the land and sea they look after, and tell their stories through visual art and performance.
In Quandamooka country, go on a First Nations Cultural Tour with Yalingbila Whale Watching, a Guided Land-Based Whale and Cultural Walk, or Minjerribah Aboriginal Culture Walk. You can also experience a Welcome to Country, a smoking ceremony, or participate in an Aboriginal dance workshop. Whether travelling solo or with a large group, learn more about the Quandamooka people and their traditions.
Ratuwati Yinjara (The Tiwi Islands – including Bathurst and Melville Islands)
Head to Bathurst Island to experience the culture of the Tiwi people. Go on the Tiwi By Design walking tour and participate in a traditional welcoming ceremony, morning tea and a museum tour to get familiar with the islands’ culture and history, and end the tour with an afternoon art lesson. You can make a piece to take home as well as exploring the traditional pieces for sale. For the Tiwi people, art, song, dance and hunting together are all intrinsic parts of their culture.
Wunyami (Green Island)
Wunyami has a history shared by the GuruGulu Gungganji and Gimuy Yidinji peoples, and its name can be translated as ‘Place of Spirits’. Tour the island with Indigenous guides to learn all about its history and how the Traditional Owners co-exist with the land. You’ll also hear about the connection between the two ancestral story-time warriors who formed the land and continue to protect it, and learn about the tribes’ cultural ceremonies.
Dhambaliya (Bremer Island)
The Traditional Owners of north-east Arnhem Land are known as the Yolngu, meaning simply “people”. The term refers to members of several clans who inhabit the region. You may recognise some famous Yolngu who have brought their culture to the global stage through art, music, dance and politics.
Banubanu Beach Retreat is a beachfront glamping experience like no other. Established with permission from the Yolngu, its patrons pay a permit fee to the Traditional Owners for their stay. When you get there, you can experience a Welcome to Country day tour with a Yolngu guide, with an introduction to the more than 50,000 years of history embedded in these ancient lands.
The Ngaro people of the Whitsunday Islands were a unique coastal community in that they lived fully off the sea, building sophisticated canoes to range among the islands, mainland and reef.
Immerse yourself in nature and history on the shores of the picturesque islands as you embark on the Ngaro Indigenous Cultural Tour. You will spend the day exploring two islands, including visiting a cave featuring Aboriginal rock paintings, hear about the history and customs of the people of the region, and even learn how to throw a traditional fishing spear.
The Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt are comprised of two distinct cultures: Warnindilyakwa people, who have occupied the island for around 8,000 years, and the Nunggubuyu people, who arrived on invitation from the Warnindilyakwa in the late 18th century.
Curating two guided tours to get to know the land and its history, the Groote Eylandt Lodge and the Anindilyakwa people have partnered to provide visitors with an authentic Indigenous experience. Visit a church, kitchen, cave paintings, Milner Bay Port, and other locations to experience the Indigenous history Groote Eylandt holds.
If you want to check out more on the Aboriginal culture of Groote Eylandt, read more here.