Travel News

Can ‘Aboriginal Tourism’ Be Authentic?

Aboriginal tourism is a double-edge sword. At best, travelers begin to understand a culture’s compelling and long history. At its worst, it’s exploitive and misinformed. Virtuous Traveler Leslie Garrett examines the full range of experiences from the superficial presentations of beads and feathers to a deeper understanding of another culture.

The dancers wore loincloths, their faces and chests streaked with ochre. As more than 80 travel journalists looked on, cocktails in hand, the performers danced and whooped, stomped and drummed.

It was the Warrama, which I was later told by David Hudson Kahwurr, general manager and dancer at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, a ceremony that mimics waves rolling onto shore and features the “shake a leg” movement.

The dance gave us just a glimpse into a culture that is, according to Aboriginal scholar Annie Vanderwyk, “the longest living culture on the planet.”

Aussie cricket superstar, Matthew Hayden, who recently agreed to take on the role of travel ambassador in the wake of the Queensland floods, noted publicly that “Indigenous people of Australia are the rightful custodians of this land.”

At its best, Aboriginal tourism takes travelers into a compelling and long history. At its worst, it’s exploitive, inauthentic, shallow, and sometimes misinformed.
In any case, it often brings up uncomfortable issues about the marginalization of Aboriginal peoples not just in Australia but our home countries. And it can make us unsure of our role as tourists and spectators to the dances and ceremonies, given the dark history of colonization and our ancestral complicity.