History tours that really connect you with the past
From Sydney Harbour to Griffith, Newcastle to Canowindra, these tours connect you to history through the captivating yarns of modern-day storytellers.
Think all history tours are created equal? Think again. Some guides have a real knack for storytelling, helping you relive moments in history with compelling persuasion.
Whether you like to freak yourself out with haunting tales, want to delve into 60,000 years of Aboriginal culture or need to know about Australia’s lawless bushrangers, these immersive tours will really connect you to the state’s past.
Dreamtime Southern X
Many credit Margret Campbell with pioneering the Indigenous tourism movement in NSW. An elder from the state’s Dunghutti-Jerrinja nation, she guided visitors on a whale Dreaming cruise across Sydney Harbour in the 1990s, and now operates Dreamtime Southern X walking tours around the harbour foreshore and The Rocks. To say she’s passionate about this place and its Aboriginal heritage is an understatement.
The tour experience varies depending on your guide – Margaret encourages each to let their personality shine, and to share their stories and anecdotes, their interests and knowledge. You might delve deep into Dreamtime stories while sitting under a Port Jackson fig, discovering meaning behind totems and songlines. Or walk the footsteps of those arriving ashore in the First Fleet in 1788. The Gadigal were camped watching as the ships drew close to The Rocks.
It’s the little secrets revealed that will change the way you look at Australia’s largest city. The midden (a pile of ancient shells created by Aboriginal ancestors) most people walk past. The berry on that bush which few know is not only edible, but packed with vitamin C. The engravings that are thousands of years old. It’s enlightening, if you know where to look. Thanks to Margaret’s crew, you do.
Newcastle Afoot’s Eat & Drink History Walk
Newcastle plays an important role in Australia’s history, as its second-oldest city and home to a bevvy of significant heritage buildings and attractions. It’s also graced by a former pub dating to 1869 (Grapes Inn). The convict settlers enjoyed a drink or two, and you’ll get to follow their lead with Newcastle Afoot’s Eat & Drink History Walk. This isn’t just any pub crawl; it’s a glimpse into the city’s changing nightscape, connecting you to the stories and characters – infamous or otherwise – who shaped life here.
Which is not so say you won’t enjoy a tipple or two while guides reveal the places where moonshine was once made, the establishments sailors and convict workers frequented (you’ll pass the one-time site of the always rowdy Black Diamond), and the popular haunts for the six o’clock swill – that last-minute rush to buy drinks before the bar closed. Back in the day, pubs were off-limits on Sundays. Proprietors, it turns out, knew how to skirt the law by hosting a hidden bar for regulars. Crane your neck – it’s back there somewhere.
Q Station Ghost Tours
When your skin prickles, the hair stands up on the back of your neck and your mouth goes dry, you know Q Station is getting to you. A quarantine station for 150 years, the buildings laid out harbourside in Manly were once filled with newly arrived travellers. They often brought with them the Spanish flu, smallpox and bubonic plague, and were remanded here to stop the spread across Sydney.
Needless to say, the station’s rooms and hallways tell stories of love. And lots of loss. And many of the souls who didn’t make it out are said to still haunt the estate. You’ll feel their presence while wandering the grounds – in the dark, of course – and learn about ghost sightings and paranormal activities that have occurred here throughout history. If your arms go cold and your fingers tingle as you pass the burial grounds, this is because “little Isaac” – a one-time resident trapped here forever – is holding your hand and walking around with you.
Blind Freddy’s Bushranger Historical Tours Canowindra
You can’t help but be swept up in the romance (and lawlessness) of Australia’s bushranging era when you meet Craig Lawler, your affable guide: part comedian, part historian and full-throttle storyteller. He paints a vivid picture of life in the central west of NSW in the 1860s on his Blind Freddy’s tours around the Canowindra countryside, unveiling a trove of artefacts and historic sites, and unravelling just as many myths and stories that he’s spent more years than he cares to remember researching.
He’ll captivate with tales of how Frank Gardiner and his entourage held the roads in this part of the state, harrying wealthy passers-by and eluding the police for five years. And then reveal why Ben Hall became a folk hero, and how Johnny Gilbert was able to commit more than 600 robberies before his rampage was put to a halt by a gun-wielding constabulary.
Griffith Pioneer Park Museum
From the 1907 St James Church to the 1901 Gunbar Gaol, a remarkable 40 historic buildings from Griffith and surrounds were meticulously transplanted to the grounds of this enormous park. Tours begin at Goolgowi Railway Station, once located 50km to the northwest – the experience will appeal to kids and grown-ups alike, not least due to the engaging guide accompanying your journey.
This town in southwestern NSW is the state’s unofficial Little Italy – migrants once flocked here to make wine, grow oranges and open delis. Today their descendants host an annual Salami Festival to prove their curing skills, as you’ll discover in the park’s jam-packed museum, a shrine to the region’s European heritage. Your guide (of Italian heritage) will take you behind the wild and wonderful scenes of the community here over the decades: the good (amazing age-old gelato shops), the bad (the heated competition and raised tempers at said festival’s salami contest) and the ugly (mafia wars were real).