Sightseeing in Australia can mean walking in the footsteps of ancient ancestors and sharing stories of the land — an experience that is helping to keep alive the oldest continuous culture on earth.
Hundreds of local, national and international visitors each year are embarking on the Aboriginal Cultural Tours in South Australia for an unusual sightseeing experience in Australia.
Australian indigenous cultures are the oldest living continuous culture in the world, dating back more than 50,000 years. Before European settlement in 1788 there were more than 500 different clan groups or “nations” around the continent, many with distinctive languages and cultures.
Quenten Agius began Aboriginal Cultural Tours of the Narangga and Ngadjuri nations in South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula and Mid North regions in 2003.
The tours range from half a day to five days in duration and include the sharing of “Dreamtime” stories, visiting significant sites, seeing rock ancient carvings and learning about giant mammals that once roamed the area.
Agius said the guides also talked about the many issues aboriginal people had faced since European settlement and the significance of tribal boundaries through land formations such as rivers and mountains.
“The stories are based around the stories our mothers left behind, which their grandfathers gave to them,” he said.
“We talk about nature based aspects and we also talk about the early interactions between my ancestors and the early (European) settlers.
“We give them both sides of the story rather than just focussing on the positive or the negative side of things.”
About 500 people a year go on the award-winning tours, most of which leave from Adelaide, the South Australian capital. Small groups, including many international visitors travel between sites in four-wheel-drive vehicles while larger groups such as students from Australian schools are transported in larger vehicles.
Dreamtime stories are told such as how the Hummocks hill was formed or how the Ardrossan cliffs gained their red colour.
Discussions are also centred around the giant kangaroos (Procoptodons), huge wombat-like marsupials (Diprotodons) and Tasmanian tigers (Thylacine) that once roamed the area.
Ceremonies and aboriginal dances are performed on some of the tours.Groups also visit ancient rock engravings that help describe what aboriginal people saw thousands of years ago.
“What they dreamt and what they saw in those days they engraved on the rocks in a way like how we draw things in our current books,” Agius said.
“The main thing is about teaching the beauty of our culture and the knowledge the old people handed down to us and sharing it with other people.
“The stories that we tell are our family stories that were shared with us as children.”
Agius said more than 20 local aboriginal people had learnt the stories in detail as part of their training as tour guides.
“It’s also important for us to teach our people the significance of their culture.”
“When you look at aboriginal culture today, it is everybody’s culture and we all need to respect it and look after it as one because once it is gone it is gone for all of us.”