They’re the visually stunning and culturally rich holiday spots in our own backyard, but respected academic and author Marcia Langton says Indigenous tourist destinations in Australia have mostly been kept secret by those few in the know.
Langton’s new book Welcome to Country, released this week through Hardie Grant, opens up hundreds of those secret locations to anyone with a map, and a willingness to understand more about Indigenous culture and history.
Langton, a well-known academic and pre-eminent voice for Indigenous Australia, penned the book with help from two Indigenous post-graduate students at the University of Melbourne, who helped compile detailed location and event entries.
Part cultural primer, part tourist directory, Langton had ruminated on the travel guide for years. The first half of the book acts as an explainer of Indigenous culture and history; offering insight into everything from language and art, to native title and the stolen generation. The second half guides readers to almost 200 tourist attractions throughout the country.
Langton says it was important to set the context before telling tourists to pack their bags.
“People are going to get to Uluru after October next year and want to know why they can’t climb it,” she says, referring to the decision made late last year by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park board to ban climbing at the landmark.
“That was in the news as I was writing, and I thought, that is so important to include because it leads you to the big question: how do you actually pay respect to the traditional owners of the country, while travelling through it?”
The title Welcome to Country, a familiar custom from the start of events or speeches, is about respecting the traditional owners of the land, Langton says. And tourism is vital to helping support local indigenous people to start and maintain businesses, share cultural knowledge and protect historic landmarks.
“Tourism of course is a double-edged sword; a place can have too many tourists and that can cause damage, but it also has its upsides,” Langton says. “It shows the authorities that people value places … and bring[s] the significance of places to the attention of the Australian people.”
Langton says many of the locations mentioned in the book have been undervalued. “People come from all over the world to Australia and we know from the surveys that international tourists want to see Indigenous culture. They’re often told, ‘Well there nothing to see’, but of course, that’s not true. There’s something to see everywhere, as the book shows.”
Yet Langton feels the tide is turning, and that many Australians – both indigenous and non-indigenous – are starting to see the beauty around them. “I think Australians are becoming more accustomed to the idea of being Australian, and living in this place called Australia,” she says. “It’s become quite a fashionable, underground movement.”
While she admits some destinations are hard to get to and expensive, Langton says local travel costs are dropping. “Of course people can jump on a Jetstar flight and go skiing in Japan or go to Bali, because it’s so cheap, but there’s nothing more beautiful than Australian beaches, Australian mountains, Australian caves and Australian forests.”