Aboriginal Culture Museums & Sites
Museums & sites
The world’s oldest known civilisation, Aboriginal Australians have a history that dates back more than 60,000 years. Understandably, this heritage, and the culture that comes with it, has shaped, and continues to shape, Sydney – and the rest of Australia.
Museums & galleries
Art lovers are well catered for in Sydney, with galleries, museums and cultural centres ranging from spaces you could easily lose yourself in for a day, to intimate independently-owned establishments where you can meet the maker. And an increasing number are dedicated to sharing and studying Aboriginal history through exhibitions, speaking events and workshops.
Enter The Australian Museum in Sydney’s central business district, near leafy Hyde Park. The space’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection sits across two permanent exhibitions: Bayala Nura (Yarning Country) and Garrigarrang (Sea Country). Together, they form one of the world’s most significant First Nations collections. As you cross Hyde Park, on the way is Yininmadyemi Thou Didst Let Fall is a powerful piece by Indigenous artist Tony Albert, which acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served, sacrificed and survived.
It’s a short walk to the Art Gallery of NSW, host to the eye-opening Yiribana Gallery (reopens in December 2022). Permanent and temporary exhibits reveal the influence of Aboriginal heritage and culture through bark paintings, weavings, sculptures and more. Then overlooking Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s extensive collection of Indigenous art includes an annual exhibit to celebrate up-and-coming First Nations creatives under the age of 35.
The Australian National Maritime Museum sits on the cusp of Darling Harbour. If the views don’t wow you, then the Eora First People exhibition will – it honours the traditional Gadigal owners of the land and their connection to the land and sea.
You don’t need to be inside to appreciate the impact of Indigenous culture on Sydney – there are thousands of preserved Aboriginal sites allowing you to go straight to the source. Many are featured along Sydney's best hikes and walks, giving you the chance to get back to nature while discovering ancient rock engravings, perhaps, or sacred middens (piles of shells left behind by generations past that reveal a tale of conservation).
In the north of the city, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is home to more than 800 recorded Aboriginal sites, from those middens to axe grinding grooves, rock paintings and stencils. Lace up your walking shoes to take on the Basin Track, which has one of the park’s most significant art sites: a series of animals and human figures dating back millennia.
Still in the park, West Head is the launch point for the Aboriginal Heritage Walk and Red Hands Cave Walking Track. You only need to walk 10 minutes to discover eye-opening rock art, while further along the trail lie historic occupation shelters where families would shelter from the elements.
In the Northern Beaches, Grotto Point is located inside the Dobroyd Head section of Sydney Harbour National Park. This is your chance to see Aboriginal engravings up close. Here, everything from kangaroos, whales, fish, humans and boomerangs are etched into sandstone, with informative signage to heighten your visit. While you’re here, keep your eyes peeled for axe-grinding grooves near the foreshore.
In the opposite direction, south of the city, Royal National Park’s standout attractions are the great whale and sky spirit engravings at Jibbon Head. There are ample viewing platforms to ogle the art, as well as interpretive signs offering insights into the lives of the traditional owners of the land, the Dharawal people.
Near the airport, Kamay Botany Bay National Park includes multiple sites that played host to important moments in Sydney's Aboriginal history. This is where Captain Cook landed in the Endeavour, and the native Gweagal people resisted the arrival of European settlers. The Kurnell Visitor Centre gives an overview of the impact the arrival had on Indigenous communities. Then pick up a map and navigate the Burrawang Walk, which further transports you back to that first formative meeting between the Aboriginal people and Europeans.