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Aboriginal cultural experiences to lead new tourism strategy in the Northern Territory

May 1st, 2019 | | industry

Thousands of years before the first stone was cut for the Pyramids of Giza or Olympians competed on the tracks of ancient Greece, Jamie Brooks‘s ancestors were painting rocks near the Katherine River.

Key points:

  • An Aboriginal Tourism Strategic Plan is set to be released in coming weeks 
  • It aims to position the NT as the nation’s leader in Aboriginal tourism experiences
  • But there have been cases where the NT tourism sector worked against Aboriginal people

Today, those paintings are still there for Mr Brooks to point out to tourists as he tells them about the oldest living culture in the world.

But it seems those 65,000 years of history are failing to attract even a fraction of the interest garnered by these other international monuments.

Tourism to the Northern Territory, which has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people, has been falling, with Kakadu National Park welcoming 40,000 fewer visitors in 2017 than in did in 2008. 

Of those domestic tourists that did come, only 15 per cent took the opportunity to experience Aboriginal culture, in the year to September 2018.

Data from the Northern Territory tourism department revealed that far more enthusiasm came from the international market, 69 per cent of whom experienced the culture.

However, a $355,230 contract has been awarded to put together an Aboriginal Tourism Strategic Plan for the Northern Territory and is set to be released in the coming weeks.

The NT Tourism department said the plan would aim to turn the Territory into the nation’s leader in Aboriginal tourism experiences.

‘They’re just astounded’

During the 22 years Dalabon man Mr Brooks has worked as a tour guide at Katherine’s Nitmiluk Tours, he had seen “quite a lot of very shocked people”.

Jamie Brooks wears his tour uniform and a cap and smiles at the camera

PHOTO: Jamie Brooks says tourists are often shocked by insights into Aboriginal culture. (Supplied: Nitmiluk Tours)

“You’ll tell the people that you’re with these are 8,000-year-old paintings, but they’re only young compared to some of the art sites that have been dated more than 30,000 years,” Mr Brooks said. 

“People don’t just think about how old or how long our people have been up here.”

He said it was a fact overlooked even among Australian tourists, with many never getting the chance to learn about Indigenous culture in school. 

Yet Mr Brooks did believe the word was getting out, with some tourists travelling from as far away as Iceland specifically to interact with Aboriginal culture.

NT Tourism pointed out that visitation to Darwin’s Aboriginal Art Fair has almost tripled in the past five years — from 4,891 in 2014 to 13,932 last year.

Garma Festival — described as “Australia’s Indigenous equivalent of the World Economic Forum — sold out last year and drew visitors from all states except Tasmania and South Australia.

Similarly, the Tiwi Islands grand final — an annual AFL match attended by about 1,000 locals and 1,200 visitors — is gaining a reputation as a “bucket list event”, similarly to the Birdsville Races, a Tiwi Islands Regional Council spokesperson told the ABC.

While the NT Government’s plan for a National Indigenous Art Gallery has made slow progress, it has also pledged $106 million to develop an arts trail and set aside $1 million to market it. 

NT Tourism said there were about 144 Aboriginal tourism businesses in the Territory, up by almost 50 per cent in a decade.

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow