Aboriginal experiences that will connect you to Country
Want to feel a real sense of connection to Country? These five immersive Aboriginal experiences do that – and more.
From the moment you meet Mark Saddler, you want to know more. About his life. His Wiradjuri heritage. The place he calls home. “Yamandhu marang mudyi?” he asks when he greets you on the banks of Wagga Wagga’s Murrumbidgee River. Are you well? “When you start to learn the language of the Country you’re in, you start to learn the Country itself,” he says.
It’s this connection to Country that is shared across many of the state’s most immersive Indigenous experiences.
Mark Saddler is the owner of Bundyi Cultural Tours, guiding tours around the Riverina region in southern New South Wales. His desire for people to discover the true essence of this part of the state is obvious from the moment you meet him.
“My goal is to get people to see the land differently,” he says. “We visit places that are very special to the Wiradjuri community, and where few others get to go. It should open your eyes and your mind.”
It certainly does that, whether you’re foraging for bush tucker, discovering freshwater middens (ancient piles of shells left behind by Aboriginal clans), or wandering around some of the Wiradjuri’s most spiritual sites – some hiding in plain sight – with permission from Elders.
A site with deep significance is Mungo National Park. With Mungo Aboriginal Discovery Tours you can hear the moving story behind the 2017 repatriation of the 42,000-year-old remains of Mungo Man – and Mungo Lady in 1992 – to his UNESCO World Heritage-listed home with a Paakantyi, Ngiyampaa or Mutthi ranger, the three Indigenous groups of the Willandra Lakes region.
Dreamtime stories have been passed down over the generations, recounting how the dry lakebeds and sand and clay dunes were created, and how they still contain some of the world’s oldest known human remains, and the earliest archaeological traces of Aboriginal people.
Travel to the very north of NSW to the town of Brewarrina for history just as ancient. The National Heritage-listed fish traps (Baiame’s Ngunnhu) here are astounding in their own right, the complex network of stones in the Barwon River arranged to form ponds and channels to catch fish as they travel downstream.
The fact that this ingenious system was devised more than 40,000 years ago makes it even more jaw-dropping. Your Ngemba guide will explain that this is one of the oldest human-made structures on the planet, and rich in Dreamtime lore.
Many of the meals dished up on a Yuin Retreat with Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness on the South Coast also include an Indigenous twist. The two-night experience, guided by Dwayne “Naja” Bannon-Harrison, traverses the heart of Yuin Country around Narooma, offering the rare privilege of visiting sacred Gulaga (Mother Mountain). For the Yuin, this is where life begins, and where it will end.
While following the Djiringanj Dreaming trail, you’ll participate in ceremonies and healing connection workshops, and in so doing “give a humility and much-needed voice to the First Nations,” says Dwayne. “I’m determined to change the narrative, shift mindset and help pioneer Indigenous ways of knowing… to help project the oldest living civilisation in the world.”
A taste of place
To get a real flavour for Country, join Kerrie Saunders’ Yinarr-Ma Bush Tucker Tours in Moree, which highlight the native bush tucker and medicine that have sustained the Kamilaroi People of this northern part of the state for millennia.
“Look after Country, and Country will definitely look after you,” she says. “Working with nature is harmony and peace to your soul.”
Wandering the countryside, Kerrie also forages for bush herbs and spices, native grasses and seeds that most people walk straight past – and then crafts damper with a distinct taste of place. She also makes a mean “native” pizza using binamayaa (old man saltbush) flour, bush tomatoes and ruby saltbush fruit.