From new developments to timeless night skies, the Perth region offers countless ways to connect with the world’s oldest living culture.
Discover new Perth's ancient history
Kaya wanjoo wanjoo – hello and welcome. Perth is a modern city with plenty of reasons to stay another day, but the world’s oldest surviving culture is very much alive here.
You’ll see evidence of it sprinkled across the city – the warrior statue that dominates Yagan Square and the First Contact sculpture at Elizabeth Quay (Goomup) are two examples of Perth’s newest tributary developments – but for a more in-depth experience, join a Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences walking tour.
The Nyoongar people have called the Swan River (Derbarl Yerrigan) home for millennia, and elder Walter McGuire is the ideal man to take you along Elizabeth Quay, revealing significant sites, performing traditional songs, and telling Dreaming stories that will help you see Perth in a new – yet ancient – light.
Enjoying Kings Park with Go Cultural Walking Tours
The spectacular new $400 million WA Museum Boola Bardip — meaning ‘many stories’ in Whadjuk Nyoongar language — opened in November 2020. Woven throughout are the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, recognising the primary rights of Australia’s first peoples in practising and expressing their cultural heritage.
The main gallery dedicated to Indigenous culture is the Ngalang Koort Boodja Wirn, meaning ‘Our heart, Country, Spirit’. It shares the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Western Australia and honours traditional knowledge systems, protocols and ways of communication. It is an acknowledgement of the endurance, survival and strength of all Aboriginal peoples.
Create your own Aboriginal artwork
Aboriginal art and culture are inextricably linked, and Djurandi Dreaming combines the two in tours in and around Perth. If you want to create your own artwork, join local Aboriginal artist Justin Martin on an Art on the Lakes tour. An hour south of the city at Lake Walyungup (“place where Nyoongar talk”), Justin provides an education.
“We talk about the symbols and how to read Aboriginal art, and the different types of Aboriginal art around Australia,” he says. “Everyone gets a canvas and people create their own art to take home.” Djurandi also operates tours of Elizabeth Quay, Yagan Square and Point Peron. “I want to share my culture with as many people as possible,” says Justin.
Taste beautiful bush food in the Swan Valley
Just half an hour from Perth’s city centre, the Swan Valley is renowned for its wineries and gourmet food. Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery offers the chance to buy authentic Aboriginal art as well as participate in cultural activities including a bush tucker talk and tastings with Dale Tilbrook Experiences.
Dale is a descendant of the Wardandi-Bibbulmun people and reveals how locals traditionally combined agriculture (such as yam gardens) with sustainable harvesting, and offers visitors plenty of delicious bush food to try. “We want people to have a greater understanding of what traditional Aboriginal food was like, and how some of it still exists if you know where to look,” Dale says.
Maalinup Gallery, Swan Valley
See rare thrombolites from another angle
To scientists, thrombolites are mounds made up of ancient microbial communities. To the Nyoongar people of Mandurah, an hour south of Perth, they are Woggaal’s Noorook, eggs left behind by the creator spirit. George Walley, owner of Mandjoogoordap Dreaming, leads several Aboriginal tours in the area, including one to see these rare life forms at Lake Clifton.
“Whether you look from a scientific or a cultural viewpoint, this is a stunning place,” says George, who plays the didgeridoo to impart some good energy into the eggs. “It’s a beautiful place to stand still and take it all in.”
Thrombolites at Lake Clifton
Learn about Nyoongar culture at Yanchep National Park
Just 50 kilometres north of the city, Yanchep National Park offers historic buildings on the lake shore, coastal woodlands and limestone caves. Koala spotting, caving adventures, camping and even bush golf are popular. But Yanchep does more than protect nature and provide a playground for locals and visitors.
It also celebrates the culture and history of the Nyoongar people with an Aboriginal Cultural Experience at Wangi Mia, the meeting place. Didgeridoo playing, spear throwing, language, bush food and medicine, and the tradition of the passing on of knowledge, are all covered in an entertaining 45-minute talk.
Gaze at the stars through Aboriginal eyes
Aboriginal Astronomy nights at the Gravity Discovery Centre Observatory, an hour north of Perth, combine modern scientific and ancient Aboriginal interpretations of the night sky. After campfire stargazing with an Aboriginal elder, you head into the observatory for a laser-guided tour of the heavens, with both an astronomer and an elder on hand to offer explanations.
Many of the Aboriginal stories have sound scientific principles, says observatory CEO Jan Devlin: “The world’s oldest living culture had a science based around astronomy way before Western astronomy was developed.” It’s sure to add another dimension to your trip as you travel around WA soaking up those starry nights.
Walk with a Traditional Owner
Along the southern foreshore of Perth’s Swan River and opposite the glittering lights of the city, Whadjuk woman and traditional Nyoongar owner Kerry-Ann Winmar offers unique walking tours to discover significant cultural sites with Nyungar Tours.
The modern South Perth foreshore has long been an area of land separated from the glistening lights of Perth, and Kerry-Ann traces the footsteps of her ancestors along the trails, hunting grounds and sacred places dotted along the Swan River. Explore the tranquil oasis of the Scented Gardens, and learn about bush foods and medicine still found along the fertile banks of the river. All little more than a shell’s skim from the city and Elizabeth Quay.
Interested in more memorable experiences?
Check out the range of Camping with Custodians campgrounds - a uniquely Western Australian initiative where travellers enjoy a cultural experience with local people while staying on their country. Discover other amazing Aboriginal tours and experiences across the state here.
Published May 2021.