09 July, 2019

Explore Aboriginal culture old and new on this ancient island home

Take a journey of discovery with Tasmania’s first people, from art to the land itself.

Indigenous history and culture is all around the state – but often you have to know where to look. Take a guided walk in the wilderness, follow trails with interpretive signs, or ponder exhibitions both beautiful and confronting. The palawa, Tasmania’s Aboriginal people, have 40,000 years of stories to tell.

Walk into wonder and understanding

If you only do one Aboriginal experience in Tasmania, make it the wukalina walk. This medium-grade guided hike and cultural journey is the only one of its kind, created and managed by Tasmania’s Aboriginal community. After being welcomed to country by a palawa Elder, you’ll walk to the summit of wukalina/Mount William, then make your way south to the spectacular larapuna/Bay of Fires coastline over four days.

Each day there’s lots of time for cultural experiences, including hearing the palawa Creation Story and learning about traditional food and medicine. Each night you’ll settle into comfortable accommodation nestled in this ancient, awe-inspiring landscape, and enjoy meals created with its natural bounty.

wukalina walk (: Image Rob Burnett)
(wukalina walk: Image Rob Burnett)

Stroll a path of recognition and celebration

When a bush tucker trail along the Meander River near Deloraine was proposed, the idea quickly grew into the Kooparoona Niara Cultural Trail. Taking its name from the palawa moniker for the nearby mountains, now commonly known as the Great Western Tiers, this easy 700-metre-return path reveals the region’s first people’s way of life through art.

From sculptures of native animals to paving stones inspired by ancient rock carvings, the trail can be explored any time, or as part of the guided Kooparoona Niara Tours of this culturally significant region.

Yarning Circle (Image: Jade Hallam)

Follow in the footsteps of the Larmairremener

In the south of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, near the eponymous lake known as leeawuleena (sleeping water) in the palawa language, there’s a cultural heritage walk with creative interpretation panels along the way. Explore the way of life of the area’s Aboriginal custodians, the Larmairremener, following in their footsteps through diverse vegetation from buttongrass plains to rainforest ferns. Starting from the Lake St Clair Visitor Centre, where you’ll find a sculpture woven from local natural fibres by Aboriginal artists, the Larmairremener tabelti walk takes about an hour return.

Lake St Clair (Image: Cam Blake)

Open your eyes and heart with art

A highlight of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) in Hobart is the permanent ningina tunapri gallery, which means 'to give knowledge and understanding'. This showcase of palawa art and culture, both past and present, includes beautiful shell necklaces and ingenious kelp water carriers. Until 3 November, TMAG is also hosting the confronting Tense Past exhibition by Aboriginal artist Julie Gough. In various media, she explores the impact of British colonisation on Tasmania’s first people.

Human Nature and Material Culture 1994 bathroom scales, carpet, wool, oil on tin National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (Image: TMAG)
Julie Gough: Human Nature and Material Culture, 1994. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (Image: TMAG)

Also in Hobart is Art Mob, a commercial gallery dedicated to contemporary Aboriginal art from across Australia. Exhibitions change frequently, so it’s always worth a visit to see and even buy authentic Aboriginal art, including traditional bark paintings, striking modern canvases, handmade rugs and jewellery.

Pansy Wall (Image: Art Mob)
Pansy Wall (Image: Art Mob)

More ways to explore Tasmania’s Aboriginal culture

Devonport’s Tiagarra is an important Aboriginal cultural centre and keeping place for palawa artefacts, including the ancient petroglyphs, or rock carvings, that surround it. The centre is open by appointment for groups.

The Putalina Festival, named for Oyster Cove’s Aboriginal moniker and held every January, is a great opportunity for everyone to celebrate palawa culture. There’s also the Nayri Niara Good Spirit Festival, which takes place every two years on lunawunna alonnah/Bruny Island. The next gathering to share music, art, ceremonies and knowledge will be in 2021.

Nayri Niara Good Spirit Festival (Image: Nayri Niara Good Spirit Festival)

Spirit of Tasmania would like to thank Elder Clyde Mansell for his advice and guidance for this piece.  


Information included in this blog is correct at the time of publishing. Please contact individual operators for further information.

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