Australia’s Northern Territory boasts some of the most interesting places in the country and practicing cultural sensitivity through Indigenous (aboriginal) lands is easy with a little pre-thought, writes Ivy Carruth
Red. As far as the eye can see. Ochre, carmine, vermillion. There’s a certain peace to this place that transcends the now and shifts gears on the exasperating grind of your to-do list. The Northern Territory is a masterclass in immersive Indigenous culture, of course, but it’s so much more than that. Wellness and wilderness activities sit comfortably aside culinary adventures and art gallery events. The best ones are led by the people who know this place most intimately; Native Australians. Here, the connection to the land is sacred – not a sideline. From Alice Springs to Arnhem Land and all the hot spots in between, the NT awaits with open arms and desert songs.
How to travel responsibly
Exploring any culture different from your own is something of a path toward humility and truth-seeking. By working to understand, your sense of empathy is deepened, and you can challenge previously held stereotypes. When journeying on country, it’s important to travel respectfully and to come prepared, open-minded and curious.
Ask, ask - and then ask some more
If you know the specifics of your itinerary ahead of time, do a bit of research in advance and engage with tour guides and locals. Be curious. If you don’t know how to address someone or are unsure if it’s acceptable for you to do something, ask first. This simple act is a mark of respect in itself.
Utilise a community First Nations guide for Indigenous tours. They’re the experts who know the spiritual heart of the land and the ways that land speaks and wails. They can also help you access experiences that are truly extraordinary, with a profound understanding of their history’s narrative and impart it accurately.
Don’t fake it
Buy Aboriginal art and goods from Aboriginal people. By supporting authentic artists, you also support their community and their way of life. Cheap rip-offs from souvenir shops are a poor substitute and undermine the spirit of cultural respect, as well as, perhaps, your own ethics.
Did you know that in the NT, more than 100 Aboriginal languages are spoken? Traditions, backgrounds and ways of life will change wherever you go, so don’t expect a homogenised experience or make assumptions about a diverse group of Indigenous peoples.
Know the basics
Set yourself up for success by knowing the most basic customs. Never take photos of people or places without asking first, especially when with a local guide. Aboriginal land is private, and much of it requires a permit to enter – and even to pass through. Never touch rock art, or remove stones etc from the land of Traditional Owners.
Five incredible Indigenous-led tours in the Northern Territory
Larrakia descendant and artist Trent Lee is an advocate and all-around spitfire when it comes to Indigenous tourism. He started Saltwater Cultural Tours Darwin in 2020 with the tagline, “Culture. Discover. Learn.” The three-hour tour includes a traditional Welcome to Country, an introduction to the language, a bit of fire-making and spear-throwing, as well as storytelling and plenty of time for questions.
East Arnhem Land
Go deep with Liya Wanhurr Camping and Tours and immerse yourself in day excursions and multi-day tours in Dhalinybuy homeland. Tours provide the means for visitors to experience Yolŋu life, culture and history, as guests of the local residents. Opportunities differ between tours but most visitors will experience a buŋgul (Yolngu dance and ceremony), learn spear-making and weaving skills, and explore the region’s food and medicine resources.
Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine)
On the Nabilil Dreaming Tour, nightfall is magical over the gorge’s placid waters, with smooth sailing for a sunset cruise. Candlelight and three courses of fresh local produce set the stage for a gorgeous evening of learning about the Jawoyn peoples, their traditions and stories. Knowledgeable guides provide commentary about the Katherine River and the wildlife in the area, too.
The Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Cultural Centre is a museum, an art gallery, a bushfood cafe and a treasure trove of knowledge with tours led by a Warumungu staff member four times daily. Beautifully curated and presented with passion, this is a place of living history. Pop in for a cuppa and a yarn at Jujjikari and grab a bite to eat if you’re peckish.
Uluru (Alice Springs and surrounds)
That red monolith in the desert is the stuff of legend, and for good reason. On the SEIT Uluru tour, discover its ancient lore in the form of its Creation Stories of Liru (poisonous snake) and Kuniya (python). Survey the primitive rock arts of the ancients and learn why the mighty Uluru remains an important place for educating young Aboriginal people. If you didn’t already know, just don’t plan on climbing; they’ll explain that to you when you arrive.
For more top things to see and do in the Northern Territory, see northernterritory.com