The international border may still be closed, but Australians are opening up to new domestic travel experiences. And businesses that collaborate with Indigenous groups are set to be the big winners.
- Cultural tourism can include a people’s history, how they lived on the land, bush medicines, tucker, and dreamtime stories
- Fearful of large groups of tourists, operators are finding smaller groups allowed for a deeper local connection anyway
- The number of domestic tourists participating in Indigenous experiences grew 41 per cent between 2013–2018
Tourism operators say travellers are seeking genuine engagement with traditional owners when choosing to holiday in their own back yards.
As they do, the operators hope it will break down cultural and financial barriers.
Fraser Coast tourism operator and owner of Hervey Bay Eco Marine Tours, Wil Hikuwai, takes tours on land and sea.
He said he believed he and his wife Jacqui were unique in the Hervey Bay area for their approach to collaborating with the local First Nations people.
“It was a natural thing to do to involve the Butchulla people,” he said.
“You can’t tell someone else’s story. You could, but it’s not going to be the same.
“To have these guys come on board and speak about how they grew up, what they learnt from their fathers and grandfathers, and the stories that were handed down — it’s priceless.”
A tool for reconciliation
Across the water on Fraser Island, chair of the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation Veronica Bird said there are plans to establish tours led by the local land and sea rangers.
“Our young people have a yearning to connect to country and we have an excellent relationship with Queensland Parks and Wildlife who provide those opportunities for [them] to work on the island,” she said.
Butchulla man Dinka Dinka, who also goes by the name Travis, said Indigenous histories deserved a bigger share of the limelight in local tourism.
He works as a tour guide teaching guests about his people’s history, how they lived on the land, bush medicines, tucker, and dreamtime stories.
He said there was a generational effect for his people.
“It’s a stepping stone for future generations,” he said.
“It feels awesome to have your kids going out there and doing what you do.
To the north, Nicole Tiger organises cultural tours with her husband Byron Broome, run by the Taribelang Aboriginal Corporation.
They tour iconic Bundaberg locations like Mon Repos, the largest loggerhead turtle nesting beach on the east coast.
She said the tours were a source of pride for the local Indigenous community.
“It brings tourism dollars to the industry but also helps with healing,” she said.
“All [Indigenous] culture, history, and Dreamtime stories are completely different. Tourists like it … because it’s an eye-opener.
She urged non-Indigenous people to take a tour as a step toward reconciliation.
“We want to break barriers so we can better understand each other,” she said.
COVID-19 a blow to vulnerable communities
At a time of year when thousands of tourists would normally be flocking to Queensland for events like NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation fun runs, coronavirus lockdowns have kept many away.
Communities like Cherbourg in the South Burnett will reopen today in line with eased restrictions across the state, but Ration Shed administration officer Bronwyn Tipman said it may never really go back to normal tourism operation.
“Within our organisation and our elders, we don’t think we will ever return back to large groups that we used to host,” she said.
“Not just [because of] COVID-19, but in the Aboriginal community winter is a primary concern, the flu season.
“We may have to scale things down to keep everybody safe.”
But she said smaller groups had allowed for a deeper local reconnection.
“We have been busy hosting regional and international visitors in the last three years,” she said.
Reclaiming what’s left of the tourism year
It has turned into one of the toughest years for the industry, but Bundaberg Tourism CEO Katherine Reid said things were bouncing back.
She said Australian operators should see Indigenous culture as an opportunity.
“When we look at statistics, the number of domestic tourists participating in Indigenous experiences grew 41 per cent between 2013–2018,” she said.
“But when we look at the whole amount of domestic visitors, people within Australia, it is 0.5 per cent of domestic visitors.
“There is much opportunity there for us to understand our culture a lot more.
“New Zealand is a great example of embracing their Indigenous culture and we can learn a lot from that here.”
Walking Together is taking a look at our nation’s reconciliation journey and where we’ve been and asks the question — where do we go next?
Join us as we listen, learn and share stories from across the country that unpack the truth-telling of our history and embrace the rich culture and language of Australia’s First People.
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