by Hannah Paine
For many Australians, the Dreamtime remains a mystery and, like most aspects of Aboriginality, is little understood. However, introductions to Aboriginal spirituality and culture are being offered every day of the week right in the centre of Sydney. The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour gives an insight into Aboriginal life during a walk around Sydney Harbour and The Rocks. During the 90-minute tour, Indigenous guides point out the cultural uses of plants and places and significant aspects of the environment to the Aboriginal people who lived in the area.
The tour was started in 2004 by Dunghutti-Jerrinja elder Margret Campbell who decided to share her special sacred knowledge of the Rocks and Harbour area after leaving the tertiary and primary school education systems. She says she felt frustrated at being unable to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge about land and culture into school syllabuses.
She says she soon realised that tourism would be a way to take the teaching to a wider audience.
“It struck me as a way I could take that little planned excursion in a school term and turn it around and make it available to anyone who could come along on a daily basis. We’ve got millions of visitors coming here and they are not meeting an Aboriginal person, except at Uluru,” she says.
Tour guide John Blair, of the Tingha-Gummilaroi people, joined the tour team six months ago after years specialising in Aboriginal cross-cultural training in schools.
“It’s great because it is my passion to teach people about Aboriginal culture and I was really looking for work I could be passionate about,” he says.
Perhaps vital to its success and longevity, the tour is completely Aboriginal owned and operated.
“Explanations can only be done by Aboriginal people because the information that we are giving to the general public is coming from a really strong cultural place which we respect,” John says. “There are over 60,000 years of Aboriginal culture that is an intrinsic part of who I am and who we are as Aboriginal people,” he says.
Since its inception, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People on the tours are genuinely interested in finding out about Aboriginal culture. Kids are always amazed by what they learn and it opens them up to the idea of getting more information in their local area by talking to Aboriginal people,” John says.
Professor Michael McDaniel, Director of Jumbanna House of Indigenous Learning at UTS, says that most Indigenous education centres like Jumbanna now have at least one Elder in residence to consult on cultural and historical knowledge.
However, Professor McDaniel says that, despite best efforts, more needs to be done to educate people about Aboriginal culture and beliefs. “I think most Indigenous Australians would say that not enough is being done and that this is evidenced by the general lack of knowledge of Aboriginal culture among Australians.”
Margret Campbell believes that it is still be an uphill battle to offer education on Indigenous culture and history to school children. “Teachers were struggling and they still are struggling,” she says. John Blair thinks the real problem lies in the lack of knowledge among the leadership of the Australian Government.
“We need to educate the Government first, especially politicians. People in power need to have more education and understanding and help bridge that gap,” he says.