Native Village Youth and Education News
February 1, 2009 Issue 194 Volume 1

In search of true colours

Australian travellers are increasingly drawn to the country's indigenous attractions, writes Paul Myers.

Spurred by a growing interest in Aboriginal culture, Australians are embracing indigenous tourism. As a result, domestic visitors are closing the gap on the number of overseas tourists patronising Australia's 400-plus Aboriginal tourism operations.

Tourism Australia figures show 837,000 overseas visitors and 677,000 Australians participated in some form of indigenous tourism last year.

But with fewer overseas tourists visiting indigenous tourism operations and heightened local demand, the balance is changing.

Some indigenous tourism operators believe the Federal Parliament's apology to the stolen generation in February and strong public support for reconciliation with Aborigines are fuelling local demand.

"There has been enormous interest, especially among school groups and people wanting genuine, authentic contact with indigenous people," says John Harvey, the visitor services manager for Booderee National Park, on the NSW South Coast, which won the state's 2008 indigenous tourism award.

"It's part of reconciliation. People are looking for the opportunity to understand indigenous people, where they come from and what they offer. It's helping to break down barriers."

Graham Clarke, a Bakindji Aborigine and owner-operator of Harry Nanya Tours at Mungo National Park, which has been occupied by Aboriginal people for more than 40,000 years, says the apology "opened the eyes of average Australians". He says schools are talking more about Aboriginal people.

"The Victorian Principals Association sends members here for two-day packages and as a result we're getting more school visitors," he says. But another indigenous operator, Evan Yanna Muru, whose Blue Mountains Walkabout tours are dominated by overseas tourists "looking for something different", believes Australians "have still got a lot to learn" about Aboriginal culture.

"I would like to see a lot more Aussies doing walkabout," he says.

Helen Read, whose Darwin-based Didgeri Air Art Tours has taken visitors to remote Aboriginal communities for the past 16 years, says the parliamentary apology has helped boost indigenous tourism.

"It's a far cry from 30 years ago when people didn't know anything about indigenous people. Now there's a whole galaxy of things to explore."

The executive chairman of the Indigenous Tourism Industry Advisory Panel, former Democrats senator Aden Ridgeway, believes the integration of indigenous tourism into mainstream travel marketing is having more impact than other factors, especially among overseas visitors, at whom Tourism Australia's publicity efforts are mostly directed.

"[Indigenous tourism] used to be viewed more traditionally but an authentic experience can be had at a Bangarra Dance Company performance at the Opera House as much as by visiting Uluru," Ridgeway says.

A former managing director of the Australian Tourism Commission, John Morse, who is now an Aboriginal art dealer and adviser to Parks Australia, forecasts more strong growth in the next decade.

"We could see things happen we can now hardly imagine," he says, nominating Arnhem Land as an area ripe for tourism expansion.


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