Aboriginal Culture in Sydney

The importance of Aboriginal culture on Sydney, and the rest of Australia, cannot be understated. The First People of Australia are the oldest continuing living culture on the planet – a storied history cultivated over thousands of years. The impact of Aboriginal heritage can be found all around the NSW capital. Incredible rock carvings share stories from centuries past and Aboriginal tours and galleries give fascinating insight into traditions and beliefs. Events and festivals feature dancing and music performances as well Aboriginal crafts and tools.

Grotto Point Sydney Harbour National Park Aboriginal cultural heritage, historic rock art, interpretive signage

Aboriginal sites & rock art

One of the best ways to learn about and experience indigenous culture is through Aboriginal sites and rock art in Sydney. These preserved pieces of history help tell the story of what life was like hundreds of years ago. Many of the best examples of these works are found as part of fantastic hikes and walks, and some of Sydney's most famous and beloved national parks are home to protected Aboriginal sites.

The Royal National Park in Sydney's south is the world’s second oldest national park. Here you'll find a variety of Aboriginal sites and rock art. Make sure you check out the enormous marine life carvings at the Jibbon Headland, part of the Bundeena to Marley Head walking track. This is one of the best Aboriginal art sites in Sydney, with an excellent viewing platform from which you can see it all. Other Aboriginal sites with rock art in the Royal National Park can be found at Cabbage Tree Basin, Wattamolla and Curracurrang.

Friends visiting the Grotto Point Aboriginal engravings along the Spit Bridge to Manly walk

On the other side of Sydney sits Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney's north. This is another massive national park with more than 800 Aboriginal art sites. One of the most popular is the Basin Aboriginal art site near the start of the popular Basin Track.

And if you're looking for a loop full of history, check out the Aboriginal Heritage Walk. It's a moderately difficult 4.4km loop that combines the West Head and Resolute walking tracks and includes the famous Red Hands Cave, as well as plenty of other engravings and art. (Note: There's also a Red Hands Cave Walking Track in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney.)

Art After Hours at the AGNSW

Aboriginal art galleries & museums

Many Sydney galleries and museums have significant collections of Aboriginal works. One of the best is the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is home to the Yiribana Gallery. There you'll find a sensational collection of paintings, handmade crafts, jewellery and other works that explore the emotion, spirituality and meaning behind everything from ancient Dreaming stories to more contemporary themes. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Circular Quay is also dedicated to the promotion and exhibition of work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Its rotating exhibitions and programs provide insight into Aboriginal art history, as well as the present and the future.

There are also plenty of smaller Aboriginal art galleries and museums in Sydney that provide access to these incredible stories. About a 35min drive northwest of the Sydney CBD is the Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Cultural and Education Centre, which has its own museum that helps paint a fuller picture of Aboriginal history.

Family enjoying a visit to the Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Cultural and Education Centre in Rouse Hill, Sydney West

In the Inner West, you can check out the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-op in Leichhardt. Boomalli, which means to strike, to make a mark, to fight back, to light up in the languages of the Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri and Bundjalung peoples, harnesses the deep Aboriginal pride of the residents of nearby Redfern and other First Peoples who reside in Sydney. You can also try the Cooee Art Gallery in Paddington and Bondi, The Artery in Darlinghurst and the Kate Owen Gallery in Rozelle.

And for a one-of-a-kind art experience, make sure to check out the Badu Gili exhibition, which turns the sails of the Sydney Opera House into a canvas for phenomenal Aboriginal art displays. The works are projected onto the building at sunset for a truly unique look at some of the country's most amazing work. In 2021, Badu Gilli features the work of six female First Nations artists.

Sydney Opera House During Badu Gili

Aboriginal tours

For a more holistic look at the city's history, Aboriginal cultural tours in Sydney can give you access to the experts who have lived and breathed this great heritage for decades. In Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, Kadoo Tours of Watsons Bay provides a first-hand look at Aboriginal practices regarding foraging for food, developing medicine and other health treatments and key ceremonies. Guides will introduce you to bush tucker, spear throwing and even a traditional welcome to country ceremony.

Margret Campbell holding seasonal native plants from the Dreamtime Southern X, Sydney

The Rocks Dreaming Tour run by Dreamtime Southern X provides an authentic look at Aboriginal life during a walk through one of Sydney's oldest sections. As you make your way through The Rocks, your Aboriginal guide will introduce you to the history of the First People in Sydney Harbour and how the Dreamtime Southern X influence can still be felt in today's urban setting.

Women learning about Aboriginal culture on a tour with Aboriginal Cultural Tours, Barangaroo Reserve, Sydney City

On the other side of Sydney Harbour, in the gorgeous Royal Botanic Garden, you can take part in the excellent Aboriginal Cultural Tour. This amble through the bursting blooms and luscious greenery tells the story of the early days of Aboriginal traditions meshing with European influences on the shores of Australia.

 

Events & festivals

In addition to the preserved sites, galleries and museums and tours that you can experience just about every day of the year, Sydney is home to a collection of annual events and festivals that are worth planning your trip around.

Aboriginal cultural dance and music performance at Blak Markets, Bare Island, La Perouse

It kicks off in January with the Yabun Festival in Glebe. Touting itself as, "the largest one-day gathering and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia," it has been bringing thousands together to celebrate this amazing culture since 2001. You'll find everything from traditional Aboriginal music performances, panels discussing the history of The First People and their place in today's world, children's activities and more.

In the spring, you can check out the Whale Festival, which explores the close relationship between Aboriginal people and these giants of the sea. The Whale Festival celebrates this ancient connection through song, dance and storytelling. The quarterly Blak Markets in La Perouse provide Aboriginal artists and craftspeople and opportunity to sell their wares directly to the public, ensuring money goes into indigenous communities.