Sydney’s Aboriginal side
The Blue Mountains area, north of Sydney, Australia. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Australia’s Indigenous people see the earth as a living, breathing mass that is full of secrets and wisdom. Dreamtime stories recount the time of creation, when ancestral spirits embarked on epic adventures, roaming the land to forge new life and carve the valleys and mountains. Once the world was complete, these supernatural forces morphed into rocks, trees, ponds and even the stars, which have become sacred in Aboriginal lore.
These ancient parables have endured through dance, song and art, and increasingly tourists are exploring the delights and mysteries of Australia’s Indigenous culture.
In the Blue Mountains, 80km west of Sydney, Evan Yanna Muru promises visitors a journey of “spiritual, mental and body transformation” during daylong hikes through untouched national park and bush land, where sandstone gorges disappear into vast eucalyptus forests.
It is a rare treat for the adventurous to be guided to sacred sites in unspoiled country, where the significance and energy of the land are carefully explained. On cooler days, guests huddle around blazing cave fires to listen to ageless tales, learn the art of body painting and are encouraged to simply let the old legends seep freely into their consciousness.
The trick, said Yanna Muru, is to clear and calm your mind to build a bridge into the spirit world.
“Dreamtime amplifies your experience of life. You get people who are just fascinated by the traditional cultural wisdom and how that helps them in their modern life to give balance to it. Some of them get in touch with spirits of ancestors,” Yanna Muru explained.
His company, Aboriginal Blue Mountains Walkabout operates from Faulconbridge, a quiet town that is a pleasant one-and-a-half hour train ride from Sydney’s Central Station. Yanna Muru accommodates groups of up to ten people, at a cost of 95 Australian dollars per person.
“I’d love everyone to go away feeling happier, healthier and wealthier and I’m not talking money wealth, I’m talking spiritual wealth,” he said.
Other Aboriginal-owned cultural businesses seek to show how Australia’s original inhabitants, whose history dates back as long as 60,000 years ago, have adapted to life in a modern, industrialised nation.
“There are times when some of the guests have literally thought they were going to see an Aboriginal person running down Pitt Street [in central Sydney] with a spear chasing a kangaroo because that’s their perception of what Aboriginal Australia is about,” said Sharon Winsor, who runs Thulli Dreaming. “Aboriginal cultural is always evolving and that is how we’ve been able to maintain it for so many thousands of years. We help people understand how we still maintain our cultural rituals living in urban society.”
The company does that through its traditional Aboriginal dance company and its expertise in history, contemporary art and bush tucker (food). It is located at Mt Druitt a area of western Sydney, with the most concentrated urban Aboriginal population in the country, who come from different tribal areas and backgrounds.
Thulli Dreaming produces its own native food label, including fruits, herbs, spices, tea and skin care products. But it is the mesmerising dance performances that are relished by overseas visitors, who get a glimpse into an age-old way of life often without leaving their hotel. The dance troupe is only available for private bookings and can be hired for AUD$1,000 per day, while a display from a didgeridoo player and artist costs AUD$250.
Since European settlement in the late 18th Century, Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous communities has often been shameful, with mass killings and repeated attempts by the authorities to dilute and demolish native culture. Today Aborigines remain the poorest, sickest and most desperate group of people in the country. But Sydney is keen to redress the imbalance and celebrate the resilience of Indigenous Australians. The local authority has produced a free booklet called Barani/Barrabugu (Yesterday/Tomorrow) that charts Aboriginal history from colonisation to the present day. Its pages are bursting with intriguing narratives and self-guided walking tours.
“It is really important to tell the story of Aboriginal people in Sydney because it is that site of first contact. It is the place where all those initial cultural exchanges took place,” said Dr Lisa Murray, the official historian at the City of Sydney Council.