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"There are 400 Aboriginal tourism businesses in Australia," says Aden Ridgeway, executive chairman for Indigenous Tourism Australia. "On Aboriginal tours, visitors learn about the oldest surviving culture in the world, one that precedes Greek and Roman cultures."

The Indigenous Tourism Australia website provides contact information for Aboriginal tour operators. Through them, visitors experience cultural ceremonies, Dreamtime stories, bush tucker (Aboriginal foods), walkabouts, tours to rock art sites, indigenous music (didgeridoo lessons, Aboriginal dances etc.) and crafts, including spear-making and basket-weaving.

"Our mandate is to keep the stories, families, communities and experiences authentic," says Ridgeway.

Aboriginal package tours

Diverse Travel Australia is an Adelaide South Australia company that packages tours from more than 30 Aboriginal tour operators. "There are more than 200 indigenous language groups in Australia," says Cathy Turner. "Where the language is different, the Dreamtime stories are different, but they're always tied to the land."

The impression that Aboriginal culture is restricted to the Northern Territory region of Australia is incorrect, according to Turner. Besides Northern Territory, Diverse Travel offers Aboriginal tours in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.

"We customize Aboriginal tours and itineraries for clients," says Turner. "Most visitors, on a two-to three-week Australia trip, book a two- or three-day indigenous tour. We can combine it with Australian winery tours and city tours."

North Queensland tour

An example of a three-day Aboriginal tour in Far North Queensland is Diverse Travel's Amazing Bama Way tour, which begins in Cairns. On day one, Kubirri Warra brothers bring you on a walk through mud flats, mangroves and a beach. They show you how to throw a spear, observe wildlife and make homemade damper (white, non-yeast bread, baked in a campfire). At Niau Falls, you hear their Yalanji Tribe stories.

The second day, you travel in a four-wheel-drive vehicle through Daintree National Park. Linc and Brandon Walker tell you traditional Walker family stories at the sacred Bloomfield Falls.

On the third day, Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours, a Nugal-warra elder, meets you in Cooktown and brings you to six Nugal rock art sites, including Reconciliation Cave and the ancestral birthing site. Willie tells you stories that only the elders of the Nugal clan are allowed to tell. After a half-hour bush walk, Bama Way tour participants are transferred back to Cairns.

Wundargoodie Aboriginal Safaris

Another Aboriginal company that works with Diverse Travel Australia is Wundargoodie Aboriginal Safaris, owned by Colin and Maria Morgan in Wyndham, Western Australia.

"Wundargoodie means "my land or my country," says Colin Morgan. "My wife, children and I lead spiritual tours in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, between Broome and Darwin. The movie Australia was filmed in the Kimberleys."

Wundargoodie tours include meals, camping equipment, transportation, guides and many stories. "We run tours for one to 60 people," says Morgan. "Our guests live with us and learn how we live our lives. People leave their hectic way of life behind them, including their watches and cell phones.

"On a 10-day camping trip, our guests learn how to make spears and boomerangs, how to find crabs and cook them, and how to navigate by the stars. At night, we sit around the fire and talk about dreams and Dreamtime stories."

Aboriginal rock art sites

A highlight of Wundargoodie Aboriginal Safaris is the visit to the Bradshaw ancient rock art sites. "You'll learn about Wandjina, the spirit who gives us knowledge and laws and teaches us to respect Mother Earth and animals," says Morgan.

Another highlight of the Kimberley area is the imprint of footprints of men, women and children in stone. "They're 7,000 years old, which is older than the pyramids."

The best time to visit the Kimberley region of Western Australia is June through August, according to Colin Morgan. "This is our dry season."

Australian Aboriginal restaurant

You can also experience Australian indigenous culture in Melbourne, Victoria, according to Carolyn Briggs, director of Tjanabi. The word tjanabi means "to celebrate" or "feast." The fine-dining restaurant, located in the Atrium at Federation Square, is the only Aboriginal restaurant in Australia.

Briggs descends from the Boon wurrung, the original inhabitants of Melbourne. She runs indigenous tour packages that include gourmet cooking classes at Tjanabi, with lunch and fine Australian wine. Cooking course participants use Australian native fruits, produce and game to create a three-course gourmet meal.

"We also combine dinner at Tjanabi with a walking tour along the Yarra River," says Briggs. "It includes traditional Boon wurrung stories and a visit to the gallery of Australian indigenous art (Ian Potter Gallery) at Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria." Self-directed i-Pod tours are also available.

Mungo National Park

Briggs also recommends a visit to Mungo National Park, about 550 kilometers north of Melbourne. "Mungo Man and Mungo Woman were found here," she explains. "The oldest human remains were found here in the oldest cremation site in Australia." Age estimates range from 40,000 years to 75,000 years old.

"More than 400 footprints were found in the dried out bed of Lake Mungo," adds Briggs. "They were made by very tall people about 20,000 years ago." Diverse Travel Australia operates tours in Mungo National Park.

Bookabee Tours Australia

Haydyn Bromley offers indigenous tours in Adelaide and 4x4 outback tours into the Flinders Ranges. "Bookabee was my grandfather's name before missionaries made him change it," says Bromley, who is director of Bookabee Tours Australia in Henley Beach, South Australia.

Tours range from two-hour bush foods and bush medicines tours in Adelaide Botanic Gardens, to five-day all-inclusive packages. "They include pickup in Adelaide, accommodations, meals, native bush food, guided walks, Aboriginal cultural sites, stories from the Adnyamathanha people and interpretation of rock art by Aboriginal guides. Everything except drinks with dinner. Most participants choose to stay in the dorms in the community, where they can meet the elders, rather than in the luxury hotel," says Bromley.

Aboriginal foods

"We visit 40,000-year-old Aboriginal etchings, where I tell you stories told to me by my grandfather. Only Aboriginal tour operators are allowed to interpret them for visitors," he explains.

"Bookabee tours indulge all the senses — sights, sounds, smells and tastes. You walk through Ithala Awi gorge, where my great grandmother walked. You hear stories from the Adnyamathanha culture. You try native herbs, local fruit jellies, biscuits made with macadamia nuts and smoked kangaroo."

When is the best time to visit the Flinders Ranges in South Australia? Haydyn Bromley recommends March and April, as well as August, September and October.


Indigenous Tourism Australia: www.indigenoustourism.australia.com

Bookabee Tours Australia: www.bookabee.com.au

Tourism Australia: www.australia.com

More things to do in Australia:

Sydney Encounter by Lonely Planet

Sydney Australia Stopover