Review: Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney’s east explore local customs and traditions

Sydney's beautiful Eastern Suburbs have long been home to the city's wealthy elite, but long before that these shores were home to Indigenous clans. This Aboriginal cultural tour with an Indigenous guide will introduce you to the region's history and heritage - and give you a taste of local bush tucker. Review: Joanne Karcz

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney
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  • Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney's east with Kadoo Tours
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  • Last modified: February 21, 2018

These Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs will immerse you in Indigenous history and heritage around Watsons Bay. Learn about the local flora and fauna, and taste an array of bush tucker options, including wattle seeds, quandong berries and more.

Tour name: Watsons Bay Walkabout Cultural Tour
Runs: Sundays
Departure point: The Gap, Watsons Bay
Departure time: 11am
Duration: 1.5 Hours (approx.)
Inclusions: Guided walk with an Indigenous guide, commentary and national park entry fee

Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.

Many people visit the Red Centre or Northern Territory to learn about Indigenous Australia, but there’s an opportunity to do that much closer to home.

Located right here in Sydney, Kadoo Tours offers a unique insight into the city’s rich Aboriginal culture and heritage. These Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney’s east are led by a local indigenous guide, and I jumped at the opportunity recently to join a tour.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney: Catch a ferry to Watsons Bay.

The meeting place is the stairs up to The Gap in Watsons Bay, and for me the best way to get there is by ferry. It’s Sunday and all-day travel on public transport is only $2.50. The ferry speeds past the Opera House gleaming in the sun. Three adventurous men on their stand-up paddle boards are paddling furiously across the middle of the harbour. They are taking a big risk with all the traffic on this busy waterway.

It’s an easy walk from Watsons Bay wharf through the beautifully laid out Robertson Park to the lookout at The Gap. An emergency phone is available, as sadly many lives have been lost here.

Tim arrives dressed in his official Kadoo shirt and a big smile. We chat while waiting for the rest of our small group, which includes a local family and a couple of overseas visitors. One of twelve children, Tim was born in nearby La Perouse and grew up learning his heritage from his father and uncles. He now shares that knowledge with guests.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Image: Joanne Karcz

As there is no word in the Aboriginal language for welcome, Tim does it in the traditional way. First, he mixes natural white clay with a little water in a coolamon (a multipurpose flat dish made from bark). He then puts a finger print of the wet clay on each of our foreheads. It is cooling and reminds me of the welcome I received in a little village in India recently.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney. Image: Joanne Karcz

Three colours are used in Aboriginal ceremony. Red is only used by men, white is for children and for teaching, and yellow is reserved for women. Tim then proceeds to paint white stripes on his forehead, cheeks and arms. There are thirteen stripes in all. Thirteen represents the thirteen lines on the underside of a whale (one of his totems), thirteen local laws and thirteen song lines.

It’s customary in Western culture to knock on the door when visiting friends, and similarly Tim lets the four major clans of the area know that we are entering their country. This will ensure a safe passage. He holds a stick up in front of him and strikes it once with a second stick. He does this four times, facing a different direction each time.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney. Image: Joanne Karcz

We climb the stairs and settle down on a flat piece of ground. Tim reminds us that the Aboriginal language is not a written language. Culture is passed down through stories, song, carvings and rock paintings. The stories he shares have been handed down by his ancestors. He takes a treasure trove of artefacts out of his backpack and explains their uses. Stringy bark is used to make rope, while an echidna quill serves as a good needle. The two types of boomerangs have different uses – one doesn’t come back.

The Australian bush is a rich source of food and tools for survival. Animals, plants, leaves and bark can be used. Tim emphasises the importance of mother earth ‘who provides for us’. He demonstrates how a large rock (possibly quartz) has been used for thousands of years to crush shellfish. The rock fits neatly in my palm. It’s quite heavy, and the smooth under-surface is stained from years of use. A smooth grey rock used to skin animals is not from around here. It was traded with another clan.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Image: Joanne Karcz

Tim is a great educator. He engages everyone in the group, drawing us in with his stories. He gently weaves in information about the adverse effects of European settlement on his people. None of this is new to me, but it still jars. We hear of the high rate of Indigenous incarceration and policies that meant his mother’s mother was not allowed to use her indigenous name – Kadoo. Today, the tour company is named after her. Times have changed but there’s so much more that needs to be achieved.

This part of Sydney Harbour National Park was once a military base and the bush has been invaded by asparagus fern and other exotic species. But the plants that the Indigenous population relied on for their survival remain. There are leaves that when crushed and mixed with a little water can be used as soap. Tim distributes a leaf high in vitamin C to be chewed on and spat out. Early settlers could have avoided scurvy if they had known about this vine.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney: Watsons Bay

At the next lookout Tim explains that during the whale season his people light fires along the coast. They dance and celebrate, and name the whales. On cue, a humpback whale breaches in the distance! It is whale season and we sit and watch for a while.

Tim distributes samples of bushfood-inspired tucker from the  Bush Food Shop. The bush tomato seasoning has the familiar flavour of tomato crisps and would go well in savoury muffins. The dried quandong feels and tastes like a piece of flavourless bark, but there’s a pleasant peachy after taste.

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney

On the way back to our starting point, Tim points out a lilli pilli and jokes that it make edible hedge! These amazing Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney pack so much information and knowledge into a short ninety minutes, and our group is all the richer for the experience.

Joanne travelled as a guest of Kadoo Tours.

Additional images: Bigstock


About the writer

Joanne Karcz published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs. She has travelled through Europe and South America and taken a group of friends on the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Her visits to Cuba and India were bucket list items, but she still has a few destinations to tick off!

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