Preparing your visit & travel to Aboriginal Australia

Planning a trip? Want to experience Aboriginal culture? Get the most out of your trip by following these handy tips for your visit.

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Things to do from home

Google and forums are your friends for preparing your trip.

  • Learn about Aboriginal culture. The more you know the more respectful you will be. Read websites like this. Try to find sites which give Indigenous peoples a voice. Read books written by Aboriginal authors.
  • Recognise stereotypes. Many travel sites still promote Aboriginal people as half-naked bush people who perform corroborees (ceremonial dances), throw boomerangs and play the didgeridoo. This is no longer the case. 60% live in cities. Avoid following those good tourist stereotypes.
  • Discover tribe names. Find out what Aboriginal people call themselves in the region where you will be travelling. They appreciate being called a Murri, a Koori or Nyoongar over just 'Aboriginal'. It's like being called a Pennsylvanian rather than just an American. For example, do a web search for 'aboriginal tribe name sydney'.
  • Research Aboriginal history. Research Indigenous history of the places you are going to. What happened there after invasion? Were there any massacres? Aboriginal missions? Which local hero roamed the area? Which events influenced local Aboriginal history? Search the web for 'Aboriginal history Perth' for example.
  • Prepare your questions. You'll be left with a few questions no matter how much you research. Prepare a list of them and take it with you.
  • Get the Aboriginal perspective. Read up on how to explore Australia from an Aboriginal perspective with guides (co-)written by Aboriginal authors, for example Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia.
  • Think what you'd like to buy. From your research you might favour certain art styles or artefacts to bring home. Browse pages about Aboriginal music and Indigenous movies for ideas. Many items are cheaper in Australia.
  • Research events. Chances are you'll be at the right place at the right time at least once. But only if you know. Check out events of the area you visit organised by or with Aboriginal people.

Things to do whilst travelling

Now you're here. Some tips to avoid the typical tourist traps.

  • Book tours offered by Aboriginal businesses. Many Aboriginal people offer tours and cultural experiences. Enjoy a first hand experience. Pull out your list of questions. Don't be shy. Ask local travel agents, your backpacker reception or fellow travellers, or browse a listing of Aboriginal tour operators.
  • Buy authentic Aboriginal. Many 'tourist traps' offer what they claim to be 'authentic Aboriginal'. Don't go there, chances are you'll pay for middlemen and gallery rent. Buy directly from Aboriginal people. Ask Aboriginal people you meet they can point you in the right direction. Think not only of art, but also of books by Aboriginal authors, DVDs by Aboriginal directors and CDs of Indigenous musicians. Get a copy of an Aboriginal newspaper.
  • Keep a diary. Write down your Indigenous experiences. You'll be rewarded with a deeper, longer-lasting memory of what you've experienced and paid a lot of money for. Plus you can publish it on your blog or read it back home when you show off your photos.
  • Photograph respectfully. Don't just point and shoot whilst in the presence of Aboriginal people. As with most social situations, ask if you can take pictures before you take the first. Your respect will be welcomed and permission granted more often than refused.
  • Ask, ask, ask. I cannot stress enough to fearlessly ask and engage with Aboriginal people. They'll appreciate your interest. One of my questions evolved into a talk at the end of which I was invited to a ceremony.

For me there’s no point going to some places unless you have the right Indigenous guide because they will open a door to a view that makes the place 10 times more meaning than if you explore it on your own.

— Brendan Fletcher, Australian director

Story: How to make travel better – Sarain's tips

Sarain Fox, a Canadian First Peoples actor, TV presenter and activist, has several tips for conscious and culturally aware travellers.

  • Learn about bush medicine and living off the land using traditional hunting and fishing techniques.
  • Seek out the indigenous population and their knowledge (about e.g. flora and fauna).
  • Look beyond colonial history with immersive experiences and experimental learning.
  • Find authenticity and participate in the indigenous economy (art, local food), supporting local businesses.
  • Take only pictures, learn the protocols of caring for the land and its wildlife, and leave nothing behind. Even small acts, like picking up a rock or stepping on an engraving, can be disrespectful.
  • "Understand that, sometimes, you're going to take more in without taking photos."
  • "Holding a phone doesn't allow for coming with your hands open."
  • When visiting a national park, take some pieces of rubbish with you that aren't yours. And don't use plastic products.
Ticket for community night of Bangarra Dance Theatre
Pick up Aboriginal newspapers to learn about social events or community nights, such as this Bangarra Dance Theatre performance.

Things to do back home

What a trip! Now that you're back and your memory is still fresh.

  • Document your trip. Create one folder for each place you visited. Create subfolders if necessary. Copy the photos for each place from your memory cards into the appropriate folders. Rename the files if you have the time. Move the files you saved during your research into these folders.
  • Send back photos. You might have promised someone you met back in Australia to send them photos you took of them.
  • Copy your diary. Copy your diary notes into a digital medium if you wrote them by hand. Add references to the photos you took.
  • Tell how it was. You might notice how your perception of Aboriginal Australia has changed during your trip. Share this transformation. Many people still hold stereotypes in their heads. Write blog entries, comment in the forums you visited during your research phase or create a mini site with your most striking experiences. Create a slideshow and invite friends and family.


View article sources (2)

[1] 'New film by Aboriginal director aims to boost $5.6bn indigenous tourism industry', Backpacker Trade News 8/10/2014
[2] 'The knowledge: How to make travel matter', SMH Traveller 12/5/2019

Cite this page

Korff, J 2021, Preparing your visit & travel to Aboriginal Australia, <>, retrieved 20 July 2024

Creative Spirits is a starting point for everyone to learn about Aboriginal culture. Please use primary sources for academic work.

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