South Australia's Adventures of a Lifetime: Explore Ancient Cultures

Discover South Australia's Aboriginal culture.

Aboriginal settlement of Australia dates back at least 50,000 years, making the indigenous cultures of Australia the world’s oldest continuous living cultures. At the time of European settlement, around 270 language groups spoke more than 600 dialects. Aboriginal culture thus encompasses many cultures, though most share similar social structure, lore, taboos, and spirituality called the Dreaming, which is expressed through story, song, art, and dance.

In South Australia, most traditional Aboriginal areas are in the remote north and west of the state. Of the many peoples, two of the better known are the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, whose lands in the northwest cross over to the Northern Territory and include the geological landmark Uluru, and the Adnyamathanha from the Flinders Ranges region.

Aboriginal Adelaide

Adelaide has long been a center for Aboriginal studies, and a good place to start exploring Aboriginal culture is the South Australian Museum, which has the country’s largest collection of Aboriginal ethnographic material. Also in Adelaide, Tandanya is the arts center and gallery space for the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute, with rotating exhibitions, an arts shop, and cultural performances.

Rock Art

Aboriginal rock art sites are scattered all across the state but most are not readily accessible to visitors. The best place to see rock art is in the Flinders Ranges, including the Arkaroo Rock ochre paintings that recount the creation of Wilpena Pound, the Mount Chambers Gorge engravings of circles and goannas, and the Yourambulla Caves, depicting emu, kangaroo, and other animal tracks.

Aboriginal Tours

By far the best way to experience Aboriginal culture is with an indigenous guide. Iga Warta in the Flinders Ranges has a host of informative tours with Adnyamathanha guides, including visits to the Malki paintings, Red Gorge engravings, learning about plant medicines and their uses, and bush tucker tours, sampling traditional food. Four Winds Cultural Guiding, near Quorn, has sessions explaining the Adnyamathanha people, their customs, traditional practices, and bush tucker, as well as longer tours in the Flinders Ranges.

Aboriginal Cultural Tours in Point Pearce on the Yorke Peninsula has highly regarded tours, including four-hour excursions to the former Point Pearce Aboriginal mission with an Adjahdura (Narungga) guide, one-day coastal or inland tours, and five-day trips from Adelaide to the Yorke Peninsula and sites further north.

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Wulde Waiirri Cultural Tours on Kangaroo Island has short tours of their property and a guided walk at Port Ellen, interpreting the cultural and archaeological sites and explaining the connection to the area, as well as a Dreamtime story.

Indigenous Tourism Trail

In the far west of the state, the Indigenous Tourism Trail allows for self-guided exploration, stopping in Aboriginal centers and communities. Start near Port Lincoln at the old Poonindie Native Training Mission, established 1850, and its historic church. At Port Lincoln’s Kuju Aboriginal Arts, you can see superb art and find local artists at work. The Ceduna Arts and Culture Centre also showcases local Aboriginal art, and its language center promotes the traditional languages of the region. On the Eyre Highway, which crosses part of the vast Nullarbor Plain, you’ll find the desert community of Koonibba, which was once a Lutheran mission. Further west, the Scotdesco community at Bookabie welcomes visitors and is keen to promote tourism, as evidenced by the Big Wombat, a roadside attraction. Stop for coffee and a chat and visit their art workshop. The trail ends at the Head of the Bight, with spectacular views over the ocean.

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