14 ways to connect with Queensland’s Torres Strait & Aboriginal culture
Surviving over 50,000 years, Australia’s Indigenous culture is actually the oldest living cultural history in the world. In fact, aspects are sacred and still privately practised to this day.
While you may think you can only admire this culture from behind the glass restraints of a museum display, the truth is, around these parts, you can experience culture first-hand. Literally.
From hunting and gathering amongst the mangroves to the lush rainforests of the Wet Tropics where you can experience Aboriginal-inspired spa and massage treatments.
So check your Queensland holiday itinerary and add these lesser-known Indigenous experiences to your list.
DAINTREE ECO LODGE & SPA, TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
Retreat to Tropical North Queensland and check into the Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa where you can immerse yourself in the sacredness of Wawu-Karrba (special place for healing the spirit). It offers pure escapism and enables you to disconnect from the world and reconnect with your mind, body and spirit.
And, when you’re not being pampered, explore the ancient rainforest with an Aboriginal guided walk or dine at Julaymba Restaurant and treat yourself to delicious cuisine with a native twist.
The Winds of Zenadth Festival
Every two years in September, the usually sleepy island town of Thursday Island comes alive as communities from all over the Torres Strait converge for the Winds of Zenadth Cultural Festival.
This colourful celebration of dance, music and storytelling sees more than 400 dancers and musicians from the Torres Strait’s 18 inhabited islands gather to perform an array of traditional dances in elaborate ceremonial dress for thousands of locals and visitors.
Prepare to be wowed by the performers’ elaborately feathered dhari headdresses, whirling grass skirts (known as zazi) and the ornate white makmaks encircling their ankles as you succumb to the hypnotic, pounding rhythm of the iconic warup drum and kulap (bean pod) shakers.
DREAMTIME CULTURAL CENTRE, ROCKHAMPTON
Rock art is a significant storytelling piece in Aboriginal culture. It’s how elders pass down knowledge to younger generations and The Dreamtime Cultural Centre in Rockhampton allows you to interact with and understand these art pieces.
Not only will you see traditional art, but you’ll also be invited to retrace the Darambal people’s powerful history across 34 metres of reconstructed sandstone caves.
Delve deeper into the cultural centre and you’ll find replica burial and ceremonial sites from this vanishing culture of the Sandstone Wilderness
Take a notepad and pen and be prepared to learn a lot about Aboriginal heritage.
JOURNEY INTO OLKOLA COUNTRY, TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
The Olkola people have recently regained over 730,000 hectares of their people’s land in Central Cape York, and you’re invited to join them on their journey home – what an honour.
Kicking off at Killarney station, your adventure passes intricate river systems and takes you through the world’s largest unbroken savannah. With amazing outback sunsets, surreal woodlands and pristine landscapes, you’ll rediscover the beauty of this part of Queensland alongside its traditional owners.
This six-day tour is the ultimate bucket-list adventure where you’ll trade your WiFi connection for a deeper and more meaningful connection to the land and its rich history.
JELLURGAL ABORIGINAL CULTURAL CENTRE, GOLD COAST
Burleigh Heads isn’t just a surf haven with a pretty view, it actually has a symbolic cultural purpose to the local Yugambeh people. In fact, it was once known as a feasting ground for Indigenous travellers passing through the region.
These historic Dreamtime stories of Jellurgal (Burleigh Headland) are preserved and shared at the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
When you visit, take a guided journey to the ancient sites and middens to see where the ancestral Yugambeh people gathered and thrived for hundreds of years. The experience is both educational and enchanting.
GAB TITUI CULTURAL CENTRE, TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
Travel past the tip of Australia and you’ll find a cluster of islands that make up the Torres Strait. The Indigenous people that inhabit and protect this part of Queensland have a unique cultural history that ties them directly to the saltwater around them.
From traditional artefacts and remains to modern lino and print pieces, each item truly embodies Torres Strait’s cultural heritage and its evolution over the years.
Tip: When you visit the Torres Strait, the common language is Creole. So after you tour the gallery, you can thank your guide the local way by saying “Esso” (pronounced ‘S – Oh’).
Keep The Flame of Culture Burning Festival
Every second June, the quiet town of Bamaga in Cape York is transformed into a lively cultural hub for the Keep the Flame of Culture Burning festival.
Expect cultural workshops, fireworks, live music and plenty of incredible Indigenous flavours as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from the Northern Peninsula share their culture with the world.
TJAPUKAI ABORIGINAL CULTURAL PARK, TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
Or, forage for bush tucker by day and participate in an interactive fire ceremony by night.
Either way, this park is completely hands-on and you’re invited to join the hosts as they practice their Indigenous culture.
From primitive fire-making to learning specialist hunting techniques, this is a remarkable experience where you’ll also learn vital survival tools.
QUANDAMOOKA FESTIVAL, BRISBANE REGION
The spirit of the Quandamooka country really comes to life through the festivals song, dance and art. It’s so powerful you can feel the cultural pride deep in your heart and soul.
And with special talks by traditional elders, you’ll be in awe of the knowledge, experiences and wisdom that they share.
LAURA ABORIGINAL DANCE FESTIVAL, TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
Hosted biennially, the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is a rare insight into the preservation process of Cape York’s Indigenous culture. As the core meeting ground, mobs travel across the region to participate in the festival and showcase their tribal songs and dances.
It’s the ultimate opportunity for old and new family members to reconnect, bond and pass on family histories, traditions and practices to the next generation to ensure the continuance of their Aboriginal culture.
The authenticity and rawness of the festival will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, especially when you’re invited to share the experience and camp under the stars.
Check out these pics from previous festivals and tell us that you aren’t moved?
RIVERLIFE MIRRABOOKA, BRISBANE REGION
Learn how to use traditional musical instruments at Riverlife Mirrabooka in Brisbane. From clap sticks to the infamous didgeridoo, you’re able to have a go and wow the crowd with your newly discovered talents.
Tip: When blowing into the didgeridoo, remember you need to breathe in and out simultaneously. Sounds easy, right?
When you’re not giving your lungs a workout, enjoy the educational talks and fully immerse yourself in Brisbane’s intricate Aboriginal history.
KUKU YALANJI CULTURAL HABITAT TOURS, TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND
In Tropical North Queensland, you don’t just watch Indigenous people practice their culture, you’re invited to participate.
Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours take you north of Port Douglas and onto Kuyu Kuyu (Cooya Beach) where you’re taught how to live off the land as the traditional owners have for thousands of years.
Armed with a traditional spear, your guides (brothers Linc and Brandon Walker) will take you through the coastal wilderness and show you how to stalk and hunt wildlife.
The walk isn’t strenuous and the best part is you get to eat what you collect!
Yarrabah Band Festival
Celebrating the diversity of Australian music talent, the Yarrabah Bank Festival showcases Indigenous musicians and their cultural and contemporary music.
Local bands and talented students from the area perform on stage and wow growing crowds. Over the years, the event has developed into a well-attended day of live music, food stalls and local art.
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
Hosted in Tropical North Queensland, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair is well attended by art enthusiasts, film buffs and fashion designers alike. The highlight of the event is the runway fashion show where local Indigenous designers showcase their creations.
During the day you’ll be entertained by dancing, singing and art gallery showings and at night you can participate in further celebrations and food stalls.
The event has a major focus on cultural education in its program. It hosts training workshops for children to learn more about the history of the art and furthers their understanding of the role artists play in current culture.