Explore indigenous Sydney
Discover Sydney through the eyes of indigenous people, writes Elizabeth Fortescue
National Reconciliation Week is on from this coming Wednesday until June 3. What better time to start exploring indigenous Sydney? From learning to make your own spear to discovering bush tucker or taking an Aboriginal-led tour of The Rocks, there are some fascinating ways to learn about Sydney through the eyes of the people who have lived here for 60,000 years.
Most of these tours and events are on all year round, so mark them in your diary and let Sydney reveal another of its many faces.
Dean Kelly makes spears that look capable of bringing down a large kangaroo. But that’s not their true purpose.
“They’re not for killing things, they’re for pointing us in the right direction,” says Kelly, who runs spear-making workshops in the old military fortifications on Bare Island at La Perouse.
Kelly is one of the indigenous people behind the Blak Markets, which began about a year ago, attracting up to 2500 people on the first Sunday of each month to the beautiful Bare Island.
His workshops, at which participants can make a spear to take home and keep, are are a popular attraction at the markets. Visitors can also browse the 25 stalls run by indigenous people, offering everything from handcrafts to foods based on traditional bushtucker flavours.
Peter Cooley, founder of the Blak Markets, runs Catch N Cook classes as part of each market day. The friendship between Cooley and Dean Kelly goes back to when they were at primary school together. They have surfed and fished together ever since.
Every time Kelly runs a workshop, he offers something slightly different. It could be the type of spear the group makes, or the materials used. The one in our photograph is made from the stem of a grass tree, painted with white ochre. The tip is made from red ironbark and it’s all held together with grass tree resin, or “bush super glue” as Kelly calls it.
Kelly aims to introduce his workshop participants to the folklore and moral values surrounding the making of spears. “They walk away completely understanding the story of the spear in a cultural sense, but they also walk away with the physical artefact,” he says.
“It’s about life, survival, not becoming distracted, getting to your goals,” he says. “There’s a whole story about culture and life, and just doing the right thing, really.
“There’s a lot of stuff I can’t share that the old fellas have given me, but I can share surface culture without offending the old fellas.”
Kelly’s workshops run for about two hours.
“If I was in the bush with the old fellas, you would probably allow a week to make a spear,” he says, adding that he would never reveal how a spear is made under clan law.
Kelly’s grandfather was an artefact-maker, and Kelly believes he inherited the requisite skills.
“I think it just came down (to me) through the lines of kinship, because I had seen his work and one day it just came to me and I said, ‘This is what I do.’ ”
Peter Cooley set up his Catch N Cook fishing workshops as a way of getting kids off the TV lounge and into the fresh air with, hopefully, a fish on the end of their line.
“I teach them about the artefacts I have and we look at the different native plants and bush tucker,” Cooley says.
“I share stories of what it was like growing up (at La Pero Perouse) when we were kids.
““I always talk about the imp importance of sustainability – thro throwing back what’s too sma small and taking only what you need.”
C Cooley runs Catch N Cook on Blak Markets days, or on d demand. It’s $25 a head, bait a and fishing gear included.
Each month the Blak Markets offer a roster of different workshops. You m might find, among others, th the Yaama Boys Dance W Workshop ($20), the Kids We Weaving Workshop with Kar Karleen Green ($45), or the Shell Workshop with Maxine Ryan ($50). In addition, there are loads of craft and bush tucker food stalls, a smoking ceremony, dancing and a welcome to country. And the setting, right on the rugged coastline, is unbeatable.
Blak Markets, Bare Island, La Perouse; first Sunday of the month (next one June 7), $2 (profits go to a Back To The Bush program for Aboriginal youth at risk), book for workshops at firsthandsolutions.org
Farm Cove, or Wogganmagule as it is known by the Cadigal people, was and is an important ceremonial site, with diverse food sources, fresh water and plenty of harbour seafood.
Today, the area is home to the Royal Botanic Garden. But visitors can gain an expert insight into the indigenous history of the area thanks to the garden’s Aboriginal Heritage Tour. Clarence Slockee is one of the Aboriginal education officers who lead the tours through the garden, discussing important plants and sea creatures, the role the harbour played in clan
life, and the tools and weapons used by the original inhabitants.
“We acknowledge the place and the custodians, and put the gardens into context,” Slockee says.
Aboriginal Heritage Tour, Royal Botanic Garden, City; Fridays and at weekends if there is demand, adult $38, conc $18, bookings essential on 9231 8134, selfguided tour print-out available at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
NEW VIEW OF ZOO
Taronga’s Aboriginal Discovery Tour, Nura Diya (meaning “this country or camp”), reveals Sydney’s glorious harbourside zoo through the traditions and stories of indigenous people.
Indigenous guides like Shannon Foster reveal fascinating glimpses into bush knowledge such as the blooming of the Gymea lily which indicates that the area’s whales are heading north.
Heading to the koala enclosure, visitors can have an opportunity to pose with one of Australia’s favourite creatures.
“We talk about sustainability — nothing went to waste,” Foster says.
The eyes and brain of the koala were eaten by elders to strengthen them, the tendons were used to fix a stone head to a wooden handle, and the fur became clothes and blankets. Even the teeth and claws became body ornaments.
“There was a lot of decoration that people don’t realise,” Foster says.
As well as authentic insights like this, Nura Diya includes all-day zoo access, a round trip on the Sky Safari cable car, and morning tea.
Nura Diya tour, Taronga Zoo, Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman; adult $99, child (4-15) $69, bookings 9969 2777 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Aunty Margret Campbell established The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and she still runs daily tours of this historic precinct of downtown Sydney.
Aunty Margret speaks of how — even in the city — she is always “walking country”. On her tours, she walks country with her visitors, highlighting what usually goes unnoticed — the types of bushes that are in flower, for example, and how they were used for sustenance.
“When you’re walking saltwater country, you need to know where the hydration plants are,” Aunty Margret says.
Near the Argyle Cut, she points out the broken shells still visible in the mortar of a convict-era building. Those shells came from a nearby midden, built up by Aboriginal people over countless generations as they fed their families from shellfish harvested in the harbour.
Aunty Margret explains how Aboriginal people acquired their totems, some by birthright and others by allocation from elders.
“We have the whale dreaming here. That’s your automatic inheritance,” Aunty Margret says.
Totems become part of the indigenous concept of conservation, with individuals assuming resonsibility for protecting the plants and animals with which they are personally associated.
The Rocks Dreaming Aboriginal Heritage Tour, $42 for 90 minutes; 0428 661 019 or dreamtimesouthernx.com.au
Step aboard the cruiser Mari Nawi (meaning “big canoe”) and discover Sydney Harbour alongside Aboriginal tour guides who tell the stories of the Eora, Cadigal, Guringai, Gammeraigal, Wangal and Wallumedegal people.
The tour reveals the Aboriginal place names for Sydney landmarks, and introduces traditional fishing methods and food gathering techniques.
Participants also step ashore on either Goat or Clark Island for a guided walk with a National Parks and Wildlife ranger.
The cruise lasts for about two hours.
During Vivid Sydney, from tonight until June 7, on various dates, special cruises are on offer, taking in all the lights in the city’s extravaganza of illumination.
Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Cultural Cruises, adult $45, conc $40, child $30, family $135 (Vivid Cruises, adult $30, conc $25, child $20, family $79), 9699 3491 or tribalwarrior.org
INTO THE WILD
The Wilderness and Aboriginal Explorer Tour and Cruise offered by Sydney Outback Tours includes an Aboriginal welcome to country at stunning West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of Sydney.
This is followed by a bushwalk in which rock engraving sites are encountered, and seasonal bush foods are sampled, says founder and owner Paul Pickering.
A three-hour cruise then departs from Akuna Bay, with a tour commentary by Aboriginal guide Les McLeod.
A bush tucker-inspired lunch — with kangaroo sandwiches, lemon myrtle chicken wraps, tea and coffee — is included in the price.
“Once we’ve got them on the boat, they forget about the real world,” Pickering says.
Wilderness And Aboriginal Explorer Tour and Cruise is $199 for adults and $149 concession. Book at sydneyoutback.com.au
The Art Gallery of NSW displays its leading collection of indigenous art in its Yiribana gallery. The gallery offers a guided tour of Yiribana every day at 11am, except for between December 24 and January 1.
Yiribana, Art Gallery Of New South Wales, Art Gallery Rd, Domain; free tour, meet at the information desk
Sydney Coast Walks runs the half-day Jibbon Aboriginal Tour, where participants take the ferry to Bundeena, view Dharawal engravings, see a midden marking a 7000-yearold Dharawal camp site, listen to Dreaming stories, taste bush tucker and hear about flora and fauna from an expert guide.
Fashion and handcrafts on sale at the Blak Markets on Bare Island.
DeanDe Kelly, who runs spear-making workshops at the Blak Markets ( (main); Jibbon Aboriginal Tour (above); Clarence Slockee (far left); a and plants on the heritage trail at the Royal Botanic Garden (left); Tribal Warrior cruise (below). Main picture: Bob Barker.