For many of us we have a strong interest in and appreciation of Australian First Nations culture, we may also possess some knowledge, and yet we lack any real experience of being immersed in traditional ways of life on country. First of all it is important to realise that there are certain parts of Indigenous life and knowledge that are not for everyone to experience, they are special and sacred. In saying that, there are also many parts we can experience respectfully and for many remote Indigenous communities tourism provides an important source of income. Dotted across Australia there are many tours and experiences that give you a unique taste of Indigenous culture.
Mäpuru Women’s Weaving Shelter. Image sourced from Nature Philosophy
Nature Philosophy is one group that runs authentic cultural experiences in Mäpuru, Eastern Arnhem Land, NT. The tours are run as a community development program that has been going since 2008. The Yolngu men and women of Mäpuru offer inspirational workshops which are facilitated under the wise mentorship of Mäpuru elders. The tours are a complete immersive experience where you spend 10 days on country learning of traditional skills, language and sharing in the day to day life of Yolngu peoples. At Mäpuru every part of the community and life is connected, the food cooperative, the school, the weaving practices and local tourism ventures - it is all intertwined. Through this tour visitors get to experience this interconnectedness with one another (Institute of Cultural Survival, 2020).
Mäpuru basket weaving. Image sourced from Nature Philosophy.
The trips are split into women's and men's. Within traditional Indigenous culture men and women have specific roles and there are many parts of life that are men's business or women's business. As such this is what visitors experience through the tours. The women’s trip workshops include basket weaving, string making, gathering traditional bush foods and Yolngu cultural exchange. There is no pre-set itinerary with each day evolving naturally under the guidance of the Mäpuru women. The focal point of the men’s trip is a journey out on country. Yolngu men share their skills in hunting, fishing and living on country. The workshops are spent making spears and getting ready to go out bush. Then 6-8 days are spent “on country”. Both the men's and women's trips offer a rare opportunity to learn about and share in the culture of the Mäpuru community. All of the money gathered from the trips goes directly to the people of Mäpuru. Senior weaver of the community Roslyn Guyula Malŋumba talks about the positive effects these tours have had on the community:
"For the first time in our lives we are meeting visitors who are not paid service providers or public servants, paid to 'teach' and tell us how to do things, that hurts us inside. The weaving visitors are different. These women are respectful, not telling us what to do, but want to be with us and learn from us. For the first time my families are getting back dignity and self esteem that can't be bought with money." - Roslyn Guyula Malŋumba
Mäpuru Men’s Trip. Image sourced from Nature Philosophy
There are many other experiences available all across Australia varying from other week long tours to day trips exploring country or ocean. If you're in Queensland the Connect with Culture eBook provides some excellent ideas and simple itineraries that help you explore sights of Indigenous significance from the beaches of the Torres Straits to the tropical rainforests of the Daintree. Meet Indigenous artists and experience the incredible Laura Dance Festival, a cultural experience like no other. You can access the eBook here.
Through all of these tours and interactions it is so important to remain respectful and fully embrace the experience. Remember that you are learning from people with incredible knowledge and wisdom. As mentioned earlier it is also incredibly important to select a tour that is directly supporting the Indigenous community you are visiting, not putting money in the pockets of large tour companies. Find experiences that are authentic and are done on the terms of Indigenous peoples, sharing parts of culture that they want to share. It is a privilege to learn about the culture of the true custodians of this country.