- Learn more about the first Australians
- 1. Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden – Royal Botanic Gardens
- 2. Yiribana Gallery – Art Gallery of New South Wales
- 3. Australian Museum – an interactive indigenous Australian experience
- 4. Sydney Coast Walks – Jibbon Aboriginal Tour
- 5. The Rocks Dreaming Tour
- 6. Aboriginal Rock Carvings – Indigenous Rock Art in Sydney’s National Parks
- 7. Bangarra Dance Theatre
- 8. Blue Mountains Walkabout – A Blue Mountains tour with a difference
- 9. Nura Diya – Taronga’s Aboriginal Discovery Tour
- 10. Muru Mittigar Cultural Centre – An authentic Indigenous experience only 1 hour from Sydney
Learn more about the first Australians
Many people consider Australia to have a very short history however Aboriginal Australian’s have occupied this land for over 60,000 years. Their culture is rich with art and stories that are inspiring and interesting. At the time of European settlement, Aboriginal people had been living in the Sydney region for at least 40,000 years so while our city might be young the history of its first people is not. If you want to learn more about Australia’s indigenous culture on your visit to Sydney, there are plenty of options. The best place to find out about Aboriginal culture is in outback Australia, but I suggest you try to include at least one of the places below if you have time.
1. Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden – Royal Botanic Gardens
The Aboriginal heritage tours are run every Friday and last for about 1 and half hours. During the tour, you learn more about traditional music, dance, food, and medicine. You may even get to taste some of the bush foods. Bookings are essential for these tours. Ph 9231 8134
Key Facts – Royal Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Heritage Tours
When: 10 am Fridays
Where: Walks depart from the Information Counter at the Palm Grove Centre (see the website for a map)
Why: Learn more about the first Australians
How: short walk from Martin Place Station
Visit Royal Botanic Gardens for more details.
2. Yiribana Gallery – Art Gallery of New South Wales
The Yiribana Gallery at the Art Gallery of NSW is home to the largest permanent collection of Indigenous Australian art in Australia and amazingly entry in free! The collection includes both traditional and contemporary works by aboriginal artists and features bark painting, sculpture, weaving, prints, photography and watercolours.
If you would like to explore some great indigenous artworks but are not taking a trip down under try the free online tour
Key Facts – Art Gallery of NSW
When: Free guided tours of the Aboriginal collection at 11 am daily. Gallery open 10-5pm daily and 9 pm on Wednesdays
Where: Art Gallery Road, The Domain
Why: For the free tour and talk on Australian Aboriginal Art
How: short walk from Martin Place Station or Bus 441 from the QVB
Visit Art Gallery of NSW for more details.
3. Australian Museum – an interactive indigenous Australian experience
If you are at all interested in the culture and history of the first Australians, then this museum is worth a visit. There is a good range of interactive exhibits that are suitable for both adults and children. Listen to dream time stories, learn about the Stolen Generation, view a collection of boomerangs, didgeridoos, and other artefacts.
The exhibit includes the problems faced by aboriginal communities both in the past and today, something which most Australians don’t talk about. Their website is a background for learning more about indigenous culture.
Key Facts – Australian Museum
When: 9.30am to 5.00pm every day except 25 December
Where: corner of College Street and William Street Sydney – opposite Hyde Park
Why: Large aboriginal cultural collection and lots more
How: short walk from Museum or Town Hall Station
More: Visit Australian Museum website
Image By Pimlottc (Own work) GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
4. Sydney Coast Walks – Jibbon Aboriginal Tour
Where: The tour meets at Cronulla where you board the Bundeena ferry
Why: This is a beautiful part of Sydney that most visitors don’t get to see
How: Train to Cronulla station from Town Hall or Central
Where: Cadman’s Cottage 110 George Street, The Rocks.
Why: Great option if you are short of time
How: Short walk from Circular Quay around to the Rocks
There are several examples of rock carvings in the national parks around Sydney.
Berry Island Reserve – less than 20 minutes from the city and easily reached by public transport. Take the signposted walk along the Gadyan Track and learn the story of the Cammeraigal, who used the area as a campsite.
Jibbon Point – Another site that can be reached by public transport is the Royal National Park at Bundeena. To get to the park catch the train to Cronulla and ferry to Bundeena. The best examples are at Jibbon Headland, take the walking track from Bundeena to Marley Head. There are signs with descriptions and among the engravings are boomerangs, sharks, fish and whale.
If you have a car there are some incredible engravings at West Head in Kuringai National Park The Basin Engraving Site and The Elvina Engraving Site – are located off West Head Road between Elvina Nature Trail and West Head are all easily accessible and well signposted.
Key Facts – Aboriginal Rock Cravings
When: Any nice sunny day
Where: Berry Island is closest to the city, Bundeena is a train and ferry ride south, The Basin needs a car in my opinion.
Why: A bushwalk and some art make for a perfect day out
There are lots more Rock art sites to explore if you have time.
The Bangarra Dance Theatre is a National Indigenous Performing Arts company that uses modern dance to tell the stories of their ancestors. The company has had very successful tours to the USA and the UK and are world class performers.
Key Facts Bangarra Dance
When: Season runs June to December – check the calendar
Where: 15 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW 2000
Why: A more subtle way to be exposed to some indigenous culture
How: Walk from Circular Quay or take the
Here is a clip from their 2010 production Of Earth and Sky
8. Blue Mountains Walkabout – A Blue Mountains tour with a difference
In my opinion, this is probably the most complete Aboriginal experience you can get while you are visiting Sydney. You explore the beautiful Blue Mountains with a local Aboriginal guide who was raised in the area and has spent his life studying the local environment. The tour consists of a 4-hour bushwalk and 3 hours of hands-on style activities including bark and body painting, bush tucker tasting and a swim in the billabong in warm weather.
Key Facts – Blue Mountains Walkabout
When: 10.30am Monday to Friday and 10.45 am on weekends
Where: Tour departs from Falconbridge Station in the Blue Mountains.
Why: for a “real” aboriginal experience you will not forget
How: Take the train from Sydney – detailed instructions on the Blue Mountains Walkabout website.
Visit Blue Mountains Walkabout for more details.
9. Nura Diya – Taronga’s Aboriginal Discovery Tour
The Aboriginal Discovery tour at Taronga zoo was developed by the indigenous community and is led by an Aboriginal guide. The tour includes Dreamtime stories, bush food and medicine talk, a chance to meet all your favourite Aussie creatures, including an opportunity for a photo with a Koala. An excellent choice for families.
Where: Taronga Zoo
Why: Spend the morning learning about indigenous culture and Australian animals and the afternoon exploring the rest of the zoo.
How: Ferry from Circular Quay
You can view a video clip of the tour here
10. Muru Mittigar Cultural Centre – An authentic Indigenous experience only 1 hour from Sydney
I first visited Muru Mittigar a couple of years ago on a half-day “experience”. It was great, firstly we learned about the symbols used in Aboriginal art and then painted our own boomerangs. We had a talk about the music and culture, followed by a great BBQ lunch with Kangaroo and emu among other things. After lunch we learnt how to throw a boomerang… mine did not make it back to me, so I guess I didn’t learn much 😉
The centre is located near Penrith in Sydney’s west. It’s a bit of a hike, but if you are looking for an authentic aboriginal experience, it is worth the drive. Run by the local indigenous community there is a good range of arts and crafts, and this is a good place to purchase your didgeridoo if you plan to buy one while you are in Oz. Visit their website to see the full range of things you can do at the Muru Mittigar Cultural Centre.
Boomerangs painted & photographed by author
Key Facts – Muru Mittigar Cultural Centre
When: Monday to Friday 9-4pm
Where: 89 – 151 Old Castlereagh Road, Castlereagh
Why: paint and throw a boomerang and eat some emu sausages
How: Car is best but can take a train to Penrith and a bus or cab
Visit Muru Mittigar website for more details.