By Jade Johnston
When I was planning the Great Australian Overland Adventure, I knew that I wanted to include some tour partners that were either Aboriginal owned and operated, or that could provide insight into Aboriginal culture. It was a little bit difficult to find as well, since the vast majority of Australian culture and the Australian tourism industry if dominated by people of Western background. However, I did manage to find the Northern Territory Indigenous Tours.
Northern Territory Indigenous Tours
Northern Territory Indigenous Tours was started by owner and tour guide Tess Atie, when she realized what a gaping hole there was in the tour company market for Indigenous operators. People who come to Australia want to learn about the Indigenous viewpoint, and yet so few tours are able to offer this. Tess wanted to change that. Armed with the traditional knowledge of her people and the experience of working as a park ranger for many years, Tess started her business in 2009.
Northern Territory Indigenous Tours offers tours in the Darwin region, with the most popular tour being to Lithfield National Park. However, Tess also runs tours to Kakadu, and also organizes special group packages tailored to her clients specifications. One day she hopes to expand her business all over the Northern Territory, but for now her focus is on the Darwin region.
Litchfield National Park With Northern Territory Indigenous Tours
Tess grew up in the Litchfield region, and has a deep understanding of the nature and stories of the region. So it made sense that we joined her on this particular tour.
Right off the bat it was obvious that this was going to be no ordinary tour. We were part of a very small group, just four of us in total, and as we jumped into Tess’ truck we started to get to know each other. Instead of rattling off interesting facts and stories about the things we passed, like many tour operators do, Tess told us about her personal story and ties to the region. She pointed out areas where Aboriginal communities lived, and talked about some of the problems that they currently face. She told stories about her life growing up in this region and all the trouble she used to get into. She told us stories of taking her children on camping trips to teach them about bush tucker and how to survive in the bush.
Hiking And Swimming Holes
Litchfield National Park is famous for it’s cool swimming holes and waterfalls – a cool oasis in the hot and humid Darwin climate. Most tour companies to Litchfield focus on these swimming spots and really nothing more. The first time Lauren and I were in Darwin, she went on a Litchfield tour where she took these photos, and I went on a day trip to Kakadu with Darwin Day Tours. Her tour consisted of a crocodile cruise and then a visit to the two main swimming holes – and that was it. No mention of Aboriginal culture or legends.
If she had gone with Tess and Northern Territory Indigenous Tours, she probably would have learned that it is taboo for men to swim in one of the water holes. She probably would have learned what the waterfalls represent in Aboriginal culture, and during the hike down to the first swimming spot, she would have heard about the mischievous little people that hide in the rock crevasses and are rumoured to like to steal children.
And she would have gotten to taste ants.
Bush Tucker With Northern Territory Indigenous Tours
I love learning about bush tucker. The fact that Indigenous people can survive their whole lives in what to me looks like a dry and barren landscape is incredible. If I was faced with the same task, I would probably die of dehydration in the first day or two.
One of the main things we talked about with Tess was her love of bush tucker. She regaled us with stories of delicious turtles (apparently turtle is especially yummy) and possums, and how she makes sure her children grow up with this traditional knowledge. Almost every plant we passed had some sort of medicinal or nutritional value – even the dirt. At one point during our tour we stopped beside some termite mounds and Tess had us try some of the dirt that makes up the mounds. This is traditionally where the people of this region would get their iron from, and according to Tess, she craves it sometimes more than chocolate. Me though, I think I’ll stick with chocolate. Especially after learning that the mounds are made out of termite spit and excrement. Yum!
Also, as I mentioned before, we got to taste ants. Well – Dan got to taste ants. Apparently they are quite lemony. You don’t actually eat the ant, you just lick it’s butt to get the flavour. So I guess it’s a win/win situation? Maybe?
But the star of the bush tucker show was lunch. For lunch we stopped at a piece of land set off in the bush which Tess herself owns. There she began to prepare our lunch over a campfire. Kangaroo, crocodile, and barramundi were all on the menu, as well as some non bush tucker favourites like fruit and cheese and crackers. I just love kangaroo, it’s such a lean meat with no fat to be found at all.
The Nitty Gritty
- Northern Territory Indigenous Tours provides a complimentary water bottle and plenty of drinking water, so no need to bring you own. However remember to keep well hydrated, as it is easy to become dehydrated in this climate.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes. There is not a lot of hiking on this tour, but there is some, and it’s better to be comfy.
- Bring your bathing suit and a towel – there will be several swimming opportunities
- Bring a sense of adventure and taste the termite mound even though you now know what it is made of
- The Indigenous Litchfield tour costs $249 per adult
- For more information and to make a booking, visit the Northern Territory Indigenous Tours website
Our tour was provided complimentary by Northern Territory Indigenous Tours, but all opinions remain our own