Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Located in the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a massive sandstone monolith that holds immense spiritual significance for the local Anangu people. Uluru isn’t just a landmark; it’s a living cultural landscape considered sacred to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara, the Aboriginal people of the area. The site is connected to their Tjukurpa (creation time) and is adorned with ancient rock art and sacred Dreaming trails.
Each crevice, cave and formation around Uluru tells a story of ancestral beings such as Mala (rufous hare-wallaby), and Lungkata (blue-tongue lizard). Since October 2019, climbing Uluru has been prohibited, respecting the site’s cultural significance and the wishes of the Anangu people. Visitors can instead partake in guided tours around the base of the rock, visit the cultural centre to learn about Tjukurpa law and Anangu culture, or explore the nearby Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) formations.
Kakadu National Park
Stretching across more than 20,000 square kilometres in the Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest national park and a World Heritage site recognised for both its cultural and natural values. The park has been continuously inhabited by Aboriginal people for over 65,000 years, and it is estimated that up to 500 generations of Aboriginal people have lived here.
Kakadu is home to one of the highest concentrated areas of Aboriginal rock art in the world. Sites such as Ubirr, Nourlangie, and Burrungkuy (Nourlangie Rock) provide a window into Aboriginal life dating back thousands of years. These sites depict significant creation ancestors, important ceremonies, and the impact of changing environments on Aboriginal life. The rock art at Ubirr dates back as far as 20,000 years, with newer paintings superimposed onto older ones, creating a palimpsest of images and stories.
The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park
In Western Australia’s Turquoise Coast lies the Nambung National Park, home to the Pinnacles Desert. The Pinnacles are thousands of tall limestone spires that rise eerily out of the sand, a spectacle of natural beauty. The area is part of the traditional land of the Yued people, who have a deep cultural connection to this land.
While specific cultural stories related to the Pinnacles are kept private by the Yued people, the entire region holds immense cultural value, reflected in numerous archaeological sites, mythological beings, and oral histories. The region’s abundant flora and fauna were integral to traditional Yued life, providing food, medicine, and resources.
Grampians National Park (Gariwerd)
The Grampians National Park, or Gariwerd as it is known by its traditional custodians, is a rugged, mountainous area in Victoria that contains a wealth of Aboriginal rock art sites. For the Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali people, this region holds a deep spiritual connection.
The park has one of the highest concentrations of rock art sites in southeast Australia, with over 80 recorded sites featuring over 4,000 different motifs. The majority of these sites are believed to have been men’s sites, with several identified as women’s sites. These artworks depict creation ancestors, spiritual beings, and everyday life, reflecting a vibrant cultural tradition spanning thousands of years.
Quandamooka Coast (Moreton Island)
The Quandamooka Coast, including Moreton Island, is part of the traditional lands of the Quandamooka people. This region is rich in cultural heritage and archaeological sites, with middens, artefact scatters, scarred trees, and bora rings bearing testament to the Quandamooka’s enduring connection to this country.
Moreton Island is considered a place of gathering, where numerous families would congregate for feasting, ceremony, and the exchange of cultural and social information. The island’s dunes, freshwater systems, and the surrounding marine environment provided a rich resource base for the Quandamooka people, with the island’s resources intricately woven into their cultural practices and economic systems.
Ngarrabullgan (Mount Mulligan)
Ngarrabullgan, also known as Mount Mulligan, is a sacred place to the Djungan people of Far North Queensland. This flat-topped mountain located west of Cairns is the oldest occupied place in Queensland, with evidence of Aboriginal occupation dating back at least 37,000 years.
Ngarrabullgan is considered a ‘genius loci’, a place of powerful spiritual significance. Many Dreaming stories are associated with the mountain, and certain areas are designated for men’s and women’s business. The mountain’s base and cave systems contain significant rock art, some of which is believed to depict the arrival of Europeans.
Mungo National Park
Mungo National Park, located in south-western New South Wales, is a place of remarkable archaeological significance. Here, traces of Aboriginal occupation dating back over 50,000 years have been found, including the remains of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, the world’s oldest known ritual burials.
The Paakantji, Ngyiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi people are the traditional custodians of this area. The park’s ancient dry lake bed, the Walls of China, holds a wealth of archaeological treasures, including hearths, stone tools, and animal bones, providing an exceptional record of Aboriginal life over thousands of generations. The National Park offers guided tours providing insights into this ancient culture and the park’s unique geology.
Arnhem Land, a vast wilderness area in the northeast of the Northern Territory, remains one of the last strongholds of traditional Aboriginal culture. This area is the ancestral homeland of the Yolngu people and other Aboriginal groups who have retained strong cultural traditions and live largely according to their ancestral laws and customs.
Arnhem Land is famous for its Aboriginal rock art, including ancient x-ray art and Dreamtime stories depicted in rock shelters. One of the most well-known sites is Injalak Hill, where guided tours led by local Aboriginal guides showcase the area’s ancient art and share traditional stories. Additionally, Arnhem Land is renowned for its traditional bark paintings and didgeridoos, and numerous local art centres promote Yolngu culture by selling these traditional artworks.
The Flinders Ranges in South Australia is the traditional country of the Adnyamathanha people, whose name means ‘hill people’ or ‘rock people’. The ranges are rich in Aboriginal history and home to numerous cultural sites, including rock art sites, archaeological deposits, and story places.
One significant site is the Sacred Canyon, a narrow chasm in the ranges that features ancient petroglyphs, or carved rock art, created by the Adnyamathanha people. The engravings are thought to represent the tracks of ancestral beings who created the landscape. The Yourambulla Caves, another key site in the ranges, contains paintings of emu tracks, bird tracks, and human figures, with each cave having its distinct cultural story.
Torres Strait Islands
The Torres Strait Islands are a group of at least 274 small islands located in Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern mainland Australia and New Guinea. The islands and their surrounding waters have deep cultural and spiritual significance for the Torres Strait Islander people, who have lived in the region for thousands of years.
Each island has its unique cultural heritage, from ancient archaeological sites and historical places of contact with Europeans to areas associated with myths and legends. The Torres Strait Islands are also renowned for their vibrant cultural expressions, including dance, music, and visual arts. The Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island serves as a keeping place for the history and cultural heritage of the Torres Strait Islander people.
The Kimberley region in Western Australia is home to one of the world’s oldest living cultures, with archaeological evidence of Aboriginal occupation dating back over 60,000 years. The region is renowned for its rock art, particularly the mysterious Gwion Gwion (or Bradshaw) paintings and Wandjina figures.
The Gwion Gwion rock art, found throughout the Kimberley, is estimated to be up to 20,000 years old and depicts finely detailed human figures in elaborate ceremonial dress. Wandjina, the supreme spirit beings and creators of the land and culture for the Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunambal tribes, are represented with large eyes and no mouth on cave walls across the region. These sacred sites continue to hold deep spiritual significance and are essential to the cultural identity and traditions of the local Aboriginal people.