Aboriginal Culture in Sydney

Aboriginal culture in Sydney

Aboriginal people are the oldest continually living culture on the planet and have a spiritual heritage that dates back some 60,000 years. Remarkably, it’s still strong after many millennia, and visitors can experience its significance on tours, at festivals and in galleries across the city. 

Aboriginal sites & rock art

Despite being Australia’s biggest city, Sydney is home to an immense number of sacred Aboriginal and rock art sites. These preserved pieces of history help tell the story of what life was like thousands of years ago. Many of the finest examples can be discovered on hikes and walks – highlights in their own right – and amid glorious national parkland that envelops the city.  

Sunrise at Curracurrong Falls and Eagle Rock in the Royal National Park, Sydney

Curracurrong Falls, Royal National Park

The oldest of its kind in Australia, Royal National Park in Sydney's south is a beguiling union of coastal cliffs, secluded beaches and eucalyptus bushland. Wander trails that criss-cross the immense nature reserve and you’ll discover wonders like the enormous marine life carvings at the Jibbon Headland, part of the Bundeena to Marley Head walking track. This is the place to put life into perspective. Other Aboriginal sites with rock art in the park can be found at Cabbage Tree Basin, Wattamolla and Curracurrang.

Wattamolla Beach at Royal National Park, Sydney South

Wattamolla Beach, Royal National Park - Credit: Andrew Richards/DPE

On the other side of Sydney sits Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney's north. Across its 15,000 hectares lie more than 800 Aboriginal art sites, not in the least the Basin Aboriginal art site near the start of the popular Basin Track.

Guringai Aboriginal art at West Head, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park

And if you're looking for a hike full of history, check out the Aboriginal Heritage walk. It's a moderately difficult 4.4-kilometre loop that combines the West Head and Resolute trails and includes the staggering Red Hands Cave, preserving ochre handprints from Indigenous generations past. Venture west into the Blue Mountains for a similar experience along the Red Hands Cave Walking Track.

Red Hands Cave, Blue Mountains National Parks

Red Hands Cave, Blue Mountains National Parks - Credit: Craig Marshall - NSW Government

Aboriginal art galleries & museums

The world’s oldest culture has accumulated a significant cache of art and artefacts over the millennia. From the ancient to the modern, you can dive deep into this Aboriginal heritage at many of Sydney’s galleries and museums. The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ eye-opening Yiribana Gallery includes a collection spanning everything from bark paintings telling Dreamtime stories to contemporary works, handmade crafts and jewellery. 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 Indigenous art history, as well as the present and the future.

Beyond these institutions, smaller galleries and museums across the city reveal Aboriginal history, like the Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Cultural and Education Centre, 40 kilometres northwest of the city, which has its own museum painting a fuller picture of Indigenous heritage.

Invisible Exhibition at Boomalli Gallery in Leichhardt, Inner Sydney

Boomalli Gallery, Leichhardt

In the Inner West, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-op in Leichhardt has been supporting and promoting Indigenous creatives for more than 30 years, and harnesses the deep Aboriginal pride of the residents of nearby Redfern. Also in Redfern is Cooee Art Gallery (there’s another outlet in Bondi), while Darlinghurst is home to The Artery and Rozelle the Kate Owen Gallery.

Art gets larger than life at 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 nightly from sunset (there are four scheduled illuminations), for a truly inspiring look at some of the country's most dazzling Indigenous art.

Badu Gili: Winter Nights light projection at Sydney Opera House, Sydney  city

Badu Gili, Sydney City

Aboriginal tours

Perhaps the ultimate way to gain a holistic understanding of Indigenous culture is on a tour with an Aboriginal guide who has lived and breathed this heritage for decades. In Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, Kadoo Indigenous Tours offers immersive experiences around La Perouse. Think smoking ceremonies to welcome you to Country, bush tucker foraging and dance performances.

Spear throwing lesson with Kadoo Tours at Pagewood, Sydney East

Kadoo Tours, Sydney east

The Rocks Dreaming Tour run by Dreamtime Southern X reveals how rich Aboriginal heritage is within the inner-city Rocks district of Sydney. The company is owned by a pioneer in Indigenous tourism (Aunty Margret), and her guides are brilliant storytellers when it comes to the Aboriginal significance of this pocket of land.  

As if the views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House weren’t reason enough to visit the Royal Botanic Garden, this leafy paradise lures you in with its Aboriginal Harbour Heritage Tourand Bush Tucker Tour. These experiences through expansive native gardens tells the story of the early days of Aboriginal traditions meshing with European influences on the shores of Sydney – there’s a similar tour on offer around the grounds of Barangaroo Reserve.

For some perspective, clasp yourself in and follow your Aboriginal guide to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In addition to BridgeClimb Sydney’s regular daily experiences, the Burrawa – Indigenous Experience is offered on the last Saturday of every month. Dazzling vistas aside, your guide will humble you with stories about Indigenous culture, and point out important sacred sites.   

Events & festivals

Sydney’s Indigenous culture is celebrated year round, kicking 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," this extravaganza has been uniting communities to spotlight traditions since 2001. Enjoy musical performances, panel discussions, children's activities and cuisine showcasing native ingredients.

Couple browsing through Aboriginal artwork for sale at the Blak Markets on Bare Island, La Perouse

Blak Markets, La Perouse

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 directly to Indigenous communities. There’s also a pop-up market held in The Rocks to coincide with NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week every July. Expect city-wide events over this period as well.