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7 ways to experience ancient Aboriginal rituals

Rituals and ceremonies have always been central to Aboriginal culture. From rites of passage and ceremonial gatherings through to healing rituals using bush medicine, these sacred traditions have evolved over tens of thousands of years – and many are still practiced today as a way for modern Indigenous Australians to stay connected to their culture and country.

A willingness to share their way of life with the rest of the world means there are countless opportunities to immerse yourself in these traditional aspects of Aboriginal culture.

Here’s a guide to some of the more widely practiced customs – and where you can experience them in Queensland.

Welcome to Country

Performed by elders to welcome visitors to their land and pay respect to their ancestors, this ceremony dates back many centuries to when neighbouring peoples sought permission to enter and pass through another clan’s territory – think of it as a kind of ancient visa-granting ceremony.

Today, Welcome to Country ceremonies are held to officially open cultural festivals and gatherings and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land.Join Quandamooka Tours on a day trip to the second largest sand island in the world, Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), for an authentic Welcome to Country performed by a local Quandamooka guide.

Smoking Ceremony

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A cleansing ritual to ward off bad spirits and omens which involves placing essential-oil-rich leaves of native plants on hot embers to produce a steamy, healing smoke, this is one of the oldest and most significant ceremonies in Aboriginal culture.

Head to the Mossman Gorge Centre in Tropical North Queensland or take a Jellurgal Dreaming Tour of Burleigh Head National Park to witness a traditional smoking ceremony and hear ancient stories of the Dreamtime.

Ochre Anointment

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Aboriginal people have long believed in the spiritual power of ochre. Formed from hard clay which is dried out, ground into powder and mixed with water before being applied to the body, ochre forms the basis of many sacred ceremonies and has a powerful symbolism within Aboriginal culture.

Discover the significance of this ritual with an Indigenous cultural guide from Walkabout Cultural Adventures or on a Dreamtime Walk with a local Pamagirri guide at the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience just outside of Cairns.

Bush Medicine

Black Bean Indigenous Bush Tucker Mossman Gorge

You’ve heard the old adage ‘nature provides’? Nowhere is this more apparent than in Aboriginal culture, where the land furnishes everything necessary for survival, from food and shelter to ancient remedies. Learn how healers use native plants to soothe and cure as you explore the beaches and walking tracks of 1770 on a Goolimbil Walkabout Tour.

Or, get an insight into ancient medicinal plant uses from the women of the Tjapukai or experience the therapeutic powers of bush medicine at the Daintree EcoLodge and Spa. Named ‘Wawu-karrba’ or ‘healing of the spirit’ by the Kuku Yalanji people, the spa’s menu features ochre mud wraps, Aboriginal massage techniques and native ingredients like quandong, an Australian wild peach.

Bora Ring

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The presence of a bora ring (a circular shape on the ground with a raised embankment circling it) indicates that you are standing beside an ancient, sacred site that was once used as a ceremonial ground for rites of passage and initiation ceremonies. Many have been lost or destroyed over the years (only around 16 remain on Australia’s East coast) but you can see one of the few remaining bora rings at Nudgee Waterholes in Brisbane.

Take a tour with Nyanda Aboriginal Cultural Tours to learn more about the rituals that took place here as you listen to the sound of a bull-roarer – a traditional instrument that featured in Aboriginal initiation ceremonies.

Want to learn more about Indigenous Queensland? Check out our free ebook and get inspired.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED AN ABORIGINAL RITUAL OR WELCOME CEREMONY? TELL US ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS.