February 16, 2023
8 mins Read
While the fact that Australia is home to the oldest living culture in the world is a relatively recent discovery for many beyond our shores, the stories and histories and knowledge of this continent’s First Nations peoples have been carried and felt and handed down through generations like sacred totems over 60,000 years.
The vast expanse of the WA landscape is home to a united nations of peoples, languages and narratives that are joined together within the outline of the state, as if in a giant patchwork. Conscious exploration and a desire to hear and encounter Indigenous culture firsthand from the people empowered to share it pays rich rewards, with a roster of tours and experiences to delve into, from bush-tucker expeditions to staying on Country with the custodians of the land you stand on and the sky you sleep under. All you have to do is seek it out.
A unique WA initiative, Camping with Custodians allows travellers to stay in quality campgrounds operated by the communities of the land they are situated on. Such privileged access affords the opportunity to interact and learn from the Traditional Owners through everything from tours to cultural experiences, and gives an insight into the importance of Country to those who don’t just live on it, but who come from it. The fees paid for campsite accommodations stay within the community, while the program helps to generate not just income but also employment pathways.
There are currently six sites within the Camping with Custodians roster.
Imintji Campground and Art Centre is located on the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley, at the foot of the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges. The Imintji (Ngarinyin) people are gracious hosts, sharing Aboriginal history and culture and welcoming visitors into their colourful Art Centre to see artists from the community at work. The shaded wilderness camp also sits within easy striking distance of Bell Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge.
Mimbi Caves Tours & Campground is operated by the Gooniyandi people of the Mimbi community, for whom the surrounding landscape and caves are of deep cultural and spiritual significance. While the secluded campground at the foot of the Emmanuel Ranges – known as Jarlarloo Riwi (jarlarloo meaning coolamon tree and riwi meaning camp) in the local Gooniyandi language – has modern amenities, hot showers and a barbecue shelter, a stay here is all about exploring the landscape with local guides, including hearing Dreaming stories deep within the cave system itself.
In the Pilbara, the pastoral Peedamulla Station sits on 226,000 hectares of land some 75 kilometres outside of Onslow. Owned and operated by the Jundaru Aboriginal Corporation, the nature-based campsite includes hot showers, drinking water and gas barbecues.
Violet Valley Campground, off the Great Northern Highway near Purnululu National Park, offers 14 secluded campsites in a natural bush setting on the banks of the Bow River, the presence of which is helping the Gija people return to living and working on traditional country and re-establish connection with cultural and ceremonial sites.
Doon Doon Roadhouse, owned by the nearby Woolah community, has both a caravan park and campground with powered and unpowered sites, as well as four air-conditioned cabins some 110 kilometres south of Kununurra.
Owned and operated by the nearby Djarindjin community, the Djarindjin Campground, located on the newly sealed Cape Leveque Road on the stunning Dampier Peninsula, has 37 powered sites and 10 unpowered sites with hot showers, a large camp kitchen with gas barbecues, a sheltered dining area and communal fire pit.
Tour the land of the Whadjuk people with a Noongar guide to get a transfixing insight into Perth’s Aboriginal history and significant cultural sites. The family business of Walter and Meg McGuire, who work alongside their eldest daughter Lucy, Go Cultural share the first story of the Whadjuk people, detailing the traditional way of life and the spiritual connection to the country, river and the animals that inhabit Noongar Boodja. Tours explore various pockets of the city including Karrgatup (Kings Park), Goomup (Elizabeth Quay) and Goologoolup (Yagan Square).
Wadandi custodian Josh “Koomal” Whiteland guides his guests on a very personal journey through the histories, experiences and culture of the Wadandi and Bibbulman people who have lived in the Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas of Australia’s South West for thousands of years. On his signature Twilight Didgeridoo Cave Tour, Koomal leads a short bushwalk to discover traditional medicine plants and share local knowledge about the region, before heading to Ngilgi Cave for a live didgeridoo performance within the cavernous surrounds deep below the surface of the Earth.
On the four-hour Southern Cross Cultural Walk, Bardi-Jawi man Bolo Angus shares insights into his ancestral homeland at Lullumb, where the bush meets the sea in the Kimberley region. With knowledge passed to him by his grandfather and a passion for keeping these traditions alive for future generations, Angus and his family impart cultural knowledge on ancient hunting techniques, share insights into identifying bush tucker and bush medicine and demonstrate how to find fresh water. A delicious cook-up of the bush tucker collected and caught during the tour crowns the experience.
Belonging to the Ngarluma/Yindjibarndi language group and Burungu skin group, Clinton Walker is a descendant of the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people, who are the Traditional Owners of the coastal and inland areas of the West Pilbara region. Having spent his life learning the traditional ways of his people, including speaking the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi languages, Walker’s tours aim to educate visitors in the ways of his culture and history, encompassing bush foods and medicines, ancient rock art, traditional stories and songs, and raise the profile of the little-known Burrup Peninsula, home to up to one million Aboriginal rock carvings, some dating back 40,000 years.
Operating out of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, Terry Hunter is a fourth-generation pearler and proud Bardi man, who generously shares his story while exploring tidal flats, foraging for oysters and demonstrating ancient coastal hunting techniques on his Coast to Creek tour. You can also book a personalised culture and history tour for a walking Q&A session that allows you to dive deeper into Hunter’s cultural knowledge, as well as the landscape you are walking on.
These on-Country tours explore the ancient cultural stories and practices of the Shark Bay region’s First Nations peoples, the Nhanda and Malgana. In a place that they know as Gutharraguda, owner Darren “Capes” Capewell, a descendant of the Nhanda and Malgana people, offers escapes to Wirruwana (Dirk Hartog Island), Francois Peron and Steep Point, as well as kayaking and wildlife adventures and an evocative Didgeridoo Dreaming Night Tour.
EcoTourism Australia’s Respecting Our Culture (ROC) certification is at the forefront of encouraging the Australian tourism industry to adapt practices and operate businesses in a way that shows respect to and reinforces First Nations cultural heritage, as well as the living culture of First Nations communities. ROC-certified operators make a commitment to “protecting cultural authenticity and integrity, developing sound business practices, environmental protection and acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ spiritual connection to the land and water”.You can see this ethos firsthand with ROC-certified Kingfisher Tours in the Kimberley, whose tours to spectacular locations such as the Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park are conducted by Custodian for Country guides like head guide Bec Sampi, who has also been assisted in establishing her business producing soaps using traditional bush medicine from the Purnululu area.
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