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AUSTRALIA Indigenous Immersion: The Art of Storytelling

AUSTRALIA - INDIGENOUS IMMERSION

THE ART OF STORYTELLING

Darwin | Maningrida (Arnhem Land) | Elcho Island (Wessel Islands) | Groote Eylandt | Bamurru Plains | Kakadu National Park | East Alligator River | Davidson’s (Arnhem Land) | Mount Borradaile | Gunbalanya | Litchfield National Park | Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge | Nitmiluk National Park | Kimberley Coast | Darwin

DURATION

15 Days

EXPEDITION LEADER

Professor Jo McDonald

GROUP SIZE

2 to 10 travellers

FITNESS LEVEL

Easy

TOUR STATUS

Available

THE STORY

Indigenous Immersion: The Art of Storytelling

Around 65,000 years ago, Aboriginal peoples arrived in Australia and spread out across the continent, giving birth to a remarkably diverse set of cultures known for their art and storytelling.

Yet despite its rich cultural traditions, Aboriginal Australians remain one of the most misunderstood Indigenous populations in the world. Viewed through a Eurocentric gaze, the sacred values and teachings of Aboriginal history, customs and cultural practices of the estimated 500 distinct clan groups that were distributed across Australia has been largely unrecognised.

A keystone of Aboriginal heritage lies in the incredible rock art that remains in place. Amongst the finest in the world, exploring the rock art of Australia is one of the best ways to enrich our understanding of the continent and its ancient peoples. In the words of our Expedition Leader Professor Jo McDonald: “Rock art is the oldest evidence for human communication. This symbolic behaviour is the earliest surviving record for the transmission of complex thought and enduring communications between different groups and generations. Rock art lets us see what mattered to people many millennia ago. The value of these precious works of art, a record of our human journey, needs to be appreciated if we are to protect this heritage from destruction.”

This ground breaking expedition explores the ancient wisdom of the world’s oldest living culture. Through the lens of rock art and the stories of the Dreaming, our purpose is to take a deep dive into Australia’s extraordinary Indigenous culture. We travel back through the millennia, exploring the painted landscapes of Australia’s Top End, from the arrival of Europeans and the expeditions of the Macassans of South-East Asia to some of the country’s oldest rock art, the Gwion Gwion’s of the Kimberley region.

Led by renowned archaeologist Professor Jo McDonald, one of Australia’s most distinguished rock art experts, this private air safari travels to some of the remotest regions in the country while staying at the most luxurious camps and lodges the Top End has to offer. Throughout this immersive journey, we spend time with Indigenous custodians, meeting Indigenous guides, elders and artists, hearing their stories and looking at the history and culture of Aboriginal Australia through their eyes.

Arcadia Expeditions acknowledges Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people as the traditional custodians of country and honour their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the elders past and present and extend that same respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

Expedition Highlights

Interpret the meaning of ancient Aboriginal rock art with our expert Indigenous hosts and one of the country’s leading rock art experts, Jo McDonald

Explore remote destinations off the tourist trail by private plane including Groote Eylandt, Elcho Island and the iconic Kimberley Coast

Immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture with Indigenous-led bush tucker walks, river cruises and visits to Aboriginal art centres to meet with renowned artists

Travel to the heart of the little-visited Arnhem Land region and meet with locals from the Aboriginal community of Maningrida

Experience some of Australia’s most prolific wildlife on the floodplains and savannah woodland of Bamurru Plains and the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park

Travel on the magnificent Paspaley Pearling Mallard for an unforgettable flight over the Top End of Australia, taking in views of this stunning wilderness

Try your hand at barramundi fishing and catching mud crabs

Stay in some of Australia’s most lavish remote accommodation including Davidson’s Safari Lodge and Bamurru Plains Luxury Camp

ARCADIA EXCLUSIVES

On every Arcadia expedition we give you insider access to the most unforgettable and thought-provoking local experiences, curated exclusively by us for our guests. Here are some of the Arcadia Exclusives on this trip:

Day 01 – Arrive Darwin

On arrival into Darwin you will be met by your Arcadia Expeditions representative and transferred by private vehicle to your accommodation.

 

Darwin, a modern tropical capital set on a harbour twice the size of Sydney’s, is one of Australia’s most successful multicultural cities. The population of Darwin boasts more than 50 nationalities, including the Larrakia Aboriginal people.

 

Arcadia Exclusive
In the evening we meet at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where one of the curators will escort us on a private tour of the back of house stores. We are shown pieces from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards and then taken to the Saltwater Café verandah, where drinks and canapés are served while you watch the sun set over the Arafura Sea. Our Expedition Leader and Storyteller, Professor Jo McDonald gives an expedition briefing before we are taken to the Transformations Gallery for our welcome dinner, a display featuring the unique creatures and habitats found in the Top End.

 

Adina Waterfront Apartment Hotel | Meals: D

Day 02 – Darwin – Groote Eylandt

After breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport before boarding a private charter flight. We spend the day visiting two remote communities: Maningrida in the heart of Arnhem Land and Elcho Island, known to locals as Galiwin’ku.

 

Arcadia Exclusive
After a short but very scenic flight from Darwin, we land at Maningrida for an immersive tour of the renowned Djomi Museum. The museum holds an internationally significant collection of Indigenous art including bark paintings, weavings and sculptural works. We continue to the Babbarra Women’s Centre for a unique textile printing demonstration followed by a warm welcome at the Maningrida Art Centre, an important institution that empowers local people to pursue artistic careers and promotes their work to collectors and institutions throughout the world.

 

A stop for a fresh, open-air lunch will be enjoyed before rejoining our aircraft and continuing to Elcho Island. Located at the Southern end of the Wessel Islands, this gem is home to a small Aboriginal community. Upon arrival, you will be treated to a traditional welcome with dancing and song before getting to know how the locals live. We then explore Yolngu Art at Elcho Island Art and Craft Center in the Marthakal Art Hub and the mystery of African Coins and the strange ships and figures that may be Dutch or Portuguese.

 

Returning to the aircraft, the flight continues to Groote Eylandt Lodge for a two-night stay. This remote lodge is filled with suspended timber boardwalks, unspoiled views of the ocean with absolute beach frontage and a waterfall pool.

 

Groote Eylandt Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 03 – Groote Eylandt

This morning we explore Indigenous Anindilyakwan rock art by boat with a local Indigenous guide and our Expedition Leader Jo McDonald. With an emphasis on the recent contact period, this fascinating rock art depicts Macassans, Europeans and their ships.

 

Arcadia Exclusive
In the afternoon, we meet the curator of the Anindilyakwan Art and Cultural Centre and view various medium including bark, shell, clap sticks, wood carvings and traditional weaving.

 

Groote Eylandt Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 04 – Groote Eylandt – Bamurru Plains

After breakfast, board a private 4WD to explore Groote Eylandt, taking in the past and present of its history. Explore the historic mission church, Indigenous kitchen, Milner Bay Port and Market Garden with your local guide before stopping for lunch. Cave paintings can be viewed along the way as well as an opportunity to purchase locally made products at the Bush Medijina.

 

Departing from Groote Eylandt, fly by private aircraft to Swim Creek, where upon arrival you will be transferred to your luxurious accommodation at Bamurra Plains.

 

This stunning property encompasses a variety of habitats including vast river frontage, coastal floodplains, savannah woodland, and paperbark swamps. The focus of your stay at Bamurru is in the environment around you and the wildlife and birdlife for whom it is home. The individual tent style safari suites are designed to blend in with the surrounding bush and allow the sights and sounds of the bush to envelop around you.

 

We spend the next few days exploring the surrounding country away from the lodge, with airboat trips on the wetlands, river cruises in search of crocodiles, bird watching, astronomy evenings, bush drives, quad bike safaris and guided wilderness walks.

 

Bamurru Plains Wildbush Luxury Camp | Meals: B,L,D

Day 05 – Bamurru Plains - West Arnhem Land

Rise early to join an airboat safari experience, heading through the floodplain wetlands of the Mary River, home to thousands of Magpie Geese, Plumed Whistling Ducks, Ibis and Melaleuca trees.

 

Return to spend some time in camp enjoying lunch before a relaxing afternoon at leisure where you can choose from the multitude of activities offered at the lodge.

 

Bamurru Plains Wildbush Luxury Camp | Meals: B,L,D

Day 06 – Bamurru Plains - West Arnhem Land

This morning we transfer to the Swim Creek airstrip to re-join your aircraft. You will be provided with a gourmet packed lunch. After a thirty-minute flight, we arrive at the legendary Kakadu National Park, where your local Indigenous expert will privately guide you through various rock art sites including the Red Lily site where we will have our morning tea.

 

In the afternoon, join a private Guluyambi Cultural cruise on the famed East Alligator River, followed by a sunset tour of Ubirr rock art site. After sunset, we drive to Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safari Lodge for a four-night stay.

 

Situated in a natural bush setting, Davidson’s is located in the North West corner of Arnhem Land and adjacent to Kakadu National Park and Coburg Peninsular. This is a landscape of rugged ranges fringed by idyllic billabongs, flood plains brimming with wildlife, paper bark swamps and monsoonal rainforests – an incredibly beautiful wilderness.

 

Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safari Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 07 – West Arnhem Land

After a late breakfast, we set off on a private tour to Awunbarna (Mount Borradaile), where we visit a wealth of extraordinary rock art sites with a local Indigenous expert. With more than a dozen rock art galleries, Mount Borradaile is home to some of the finest rock art in Australia. Unrivalled in terms of artistic quality, colour and preservation, this art tells stories that spans tens of thousands of years and offers a tantalising window into the past.

 

One of the highlights we will view is an enormous ochre painting of Aburga, the local name for the Rainbow Serpent. Aburga has a central role in the creation stories of this region and was responsible for the positioning of rivers and mountains. We also take in expansive contact galleries, early naturalistic animals, dynamic figures and X-ray art whilst we also come across artefacts that have been left in place in rock shelters that have been occupied by Aboriginal people for over 50,000 years.

 

This afternoon you are free to explore this region with your private guide before dinner – choose from a boat trip, barramundi fishing or bush walking.

 

Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safari Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 08 – West Arnhem Land

After breakfast we explore additional Awunbarna (Mount Borradaile) rock art sites, followed by lunch at Davidson’s Camp.

 

In the afternoon, we visit the Inalak Art and Crafts in Gunbalanya community, where some 200 artists produce exquisite Indigenous art. Here you have the opportunity to meet and watch traditional local artists in action – Injalak’s artists produce authentic art inspired by ancient Dreamtime stories, images from the nearby rock art galleries and an unbroken link between the present generation of Kunwinjku people and their ancestors. This offers an intimate setting to get to know the artists and see firsthand how artworks are created.

 

Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safari Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 09 – West Arnhem Land

This morning we take some time to relax, some down time allowing us to process what we have seen on the expedition so far.

 

Enjoy some lunch at Davidsons Camp before an afternoon of camp activities, such a fascinating bush tucker & medicine walk with an Indigenous guide or bird watching.

 

Davidson’s Arnhem Land Safari Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 10 – Litchfield National Park - Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge

After a leisurely breakfast, we depart Davidson’s to take a short private charter flight to Litchfield National Park for morning tea and sightseeing in the Southern Litchfield Region. Here, you may explore the wartime cemetery or private waterholes before continuing to Nitmiluk George by bus. Upon arrival a Nitmiluk Gorge, we are transferred to Cicada Lodge for lunch and a two-night stay.

 

Cicada Lodge is located just outside Katherine inside the Nitmiluk National Park, home to Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge. Cicada provides an authentic and unique Indigenous experience in the heart of one of the most spectacular parts of Australia. With views across a lush yet rugged Australian landscape and embracing the sounds of the native bush, rich Indigenous artwork from local artists is featured on the walls weaving ancient stories with the contemporary décor.

 

Dining in the restaurant is about the total experience, incorporating native Australian foods into a modern menu, using the best of local ingredients to allow guests to taste the best of Australia.

 

Relax at the lodge with sunset drinks before a three-course dinner with paired wines.

 

Cicada Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 11 – Nitmiluk Gorge

This morning after breakfast we explore the evocative rock art of Nitmiluk Gorge with a local Indigenous expert and our Storyteller Jo McDonald to help us interpret what we are seeing.

 

After lunch, we join the Jawoyn tour guides on an ancient Garlarr River safari. Learn about the geology and geography of the gorge while taking in a stunning back drop of rugged cliff faces. This relaxed-pace cruise gives an insight into the local cultural history and what Jawoyn life was like in the past. Find out how the Jawoyn have great respect for their country and still practice many of their cultural traditions, such as painting, basket weaving and digeridoo making and playing.

Spend the afternoon at leisure at the Lodge before dinner.

 

Cicada Lodge | Meals: B,L,D

Day 12 – Nitmiluk Gorge – Kimberley Coast

After breakfast, we head for the airport via the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre to see the work of local artists. We then board our private flight to Darwin, where we connect with our chartered Paspaley Pearling Mallard and fly to the beautiful Kimberly Coastal Camp. On arrival, you will be shown to your private bungalow to settle in, take a dip in the freshwater pool and explore the camp and seaside.

 

The minute you arrive at the resorts remote, pristine beach you will know you have arrived in a truly spectacular region of Australia. Your hosts, Tub and Jules will greet you like you are family. With bird watching, cooking classes, fishing, shark & eagle feeding available at the camp, among many other activities, you are sure to have a memorable stay.

 

In the evening, enjoy some sundowner nibbles and drinks by the fire before a 3-course gourmet dinner of freshly caught fare.

 

Kimberley Coastal Camp | Meals: B,L,D

Day 13 – Kimberley Coast

After breakfast, we set off in search of Gwion Gwion (previously known as Bradshaw figures) and Wandjina Art with Kimberley Coast Camp expert guide, Tub. Begin your walking tour into the Dreamtime stories behind the incredibly preserved rock art that Tub will lead you to.

 

Painted on a white background, the black, red and yellow Wadjina figures we will see are considered by the local Mowanjum community to be creation beings who have influence over the landscape and its inhabitants. These spirits were vital to ensure rain, and once they found the place where they would die, the spirits painted their images on cave walls, which were then refreshed by Aboriginal people as a method of regenerating the spirits power. Repainting has occurred so often that at some sites, archaeologists have found 60 layers of paint going back 4000 years on the same figures.

 

Gwion Gwion artworks date back 12,000 years and have a distinctive style. The silhouetted human figures are depicted dynamically, suggesting running, hunting or dancing and are ornamented with accessories such as bags, tassels and headdresses.

 

After immersing ourselves in Dreamtime stories, we have the very special experience of a picnic lunch in a cave that is adorned with ancient rock art – the most unique ‘restaurant’ you will ever enjoy.

 

For those looking for adventure, spend the afternoon in a boat and wind your way into crab creek, where you can try your hand at catching mud crabs. Enjoy a cool drink on the boat and listen to a few funny yarns from your guides. We may even be lucky enough to spot some crocodiles!

 

Head back to camp for a quick freshen up, sundowner drinks & a gourmet meal prepared by the chef.

 

Kimberley Coastal Camp | Meals: B,L,D

Day 14 – Kimberley Coast

This morning set off in search of more coastal Gwion Gwion Art by speed boat with Tub.

 

Mid-morning try your hand at fishing for your lunch in the areas pristine waters with experienced guides. We then have the memorable experience of having lunch on a private island – consisting of salad and your catch! After a slow cruise back to camp, you can relax by the pool or pop your name down for one of Chef’s famous cooking classes, using local produce & Indigenous infusions.

 

In the evening, relax with a sundowner, followed by dinner and a well-deserved sleep.

 

Kimberley Coastal Camp | Meals: B,L,D

Day 15 – Kimberley Coast

After breakfast we board the Paspaley Pearling Mallard back to Darwin. Upon arrival into Darwin, you will be met and transferred by private vehicle to the Darwin Airport.

 

Meals: B

Important Notes

• Accommodation is subject to availability
• Expedition Leader Jo McDonald cannot be guaranteed for every private departure. A suitable, similarly qualified rock art expert will be found if Jo is not available for your dates
• Due to the nature of travelling in this remote part of Australia, included activities as stated cannot be guaranteed, however suitable substitutes will be arranged in case of last-minute cancellations

YOUR EXPERT EXPEDITION LEADER

Expedition-leader-Jo-McDonald

Professor Jo McDonald

Jo is one of Australia’s most distinguished Aboriginal rock art experts. A specialist in Indigenous archaeology, she has been recording rock art for almost 40 years and is the Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research & Management at The University of Western Australia.

Starting her career working on the rock art of Kakadu in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1986, Jo has researched rock art sites around the world including in Nevada and California. Her recent research projects have been on Murujuga (The Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia), where she works closely with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation. As well as documenting thousands of rock art panels across the outer islands of the archipelago – and being on the team which found the first submerged site on the continental shelf in Murujuga’s sea country and the earliest stone houses in Australia (8,000 years old) – her analysis of the rock art and stone structures in the Dampier Archipelago led to their inclusion on the National Heritage List.

Before entering academia in 2012, she was a leading cultural heritage management practitioner. Jo is part of the International Getty-based Rock Art Network, and advises State and Federal Governments on matters around local, national and international rock art management. She has given a TedX talk on why rock art is so important and is a strong advocate for the protection of rock art as an Australian national asset.

ACCOMMODATION HIGHLIGHTS

DATES & PRICES

From: $27,935

PER PERSON, TWIN SHARE

INCLUSIONS

  • Meals as per itinerary (14 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 14 dinners) including welcome and farewell dinners
  • Private domestic flights as per itinerary in a dedicated private aircraft
  • Private airport transfers (arrival and departure)
  • Accommodation as stated on a twin-share basis
  • Porterage at hotels
  • All land transport by 4×4 vehicles, river boat and charter plane
  • Services of an Arcadia Expedition Leader throughout and Indigenous guides at some locations
  • Sightseeing as specified including entrance fees to sites mentioned in itinerary
  • Reusable responsible travel water bottle with daily drinking water provided
  • All taxes

EXCLUSIONS

  • Return international flights
  • Passport and visa charges
  • Items of a purely personal nature (i.e. telephone calls, drinks, laundry etc)
  • Excess luggage
  • Lunch and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in itinerary
  • Travel insurance

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