Arnhem Land to forge new era in Aboriginal tourism

Arnhem Land to forge new era in Aboriginal tourism

The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land are embarking on a bold plan to create thriving Indigenous-owned tourism businesses across Australia’s spectacular Top End, boosted today with the announcement of a Federal Government grant of A$825,000.

The Yolngu Cultural Tourism Masterplan is the first of its kind in Australia and aims to develop new tourism opportunities for businesses owned and operated by Indigenous people. Launched by the Minister for Tourism, the Hon Martin Ferguson, and the Chairman of the Lirrwi Yolngu Tourism Aboriginal Corporation, Djawa Murrmurrnga (Timmy) Burarrwanga, the Masterplan aims to create sustainable employment and lasting economic benefits for Yolngu people throughout Arnhem Land.

It has been developed by Mr Burarrwanga, a Gumatj man from Yirrkala in North East Arnhem Land, who established Lirrwi Tourism and created a long-term vision based on Aboriginal leadership.

“We have been sharing our culture with visitors for many years, but we now want to move to the next stage and create a new economy based on cultural tourism in Arnhem Land,” Mr Burarrwanga said. “We want to introduce people from Australia and all over the world to our country, our dance, our music, our ceremonies, our art and our unique way of life.”

“During the next 20 years we will see the creation of many new small businesses which our children will inherit,” he said. “This will help us stay connected to our homelands and our culture, creating employment for hundreds of Yolngu people while providing life-changing experiences for our visitors.”

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The Masterplan has been developed with the support of a former Managing Director of the Australian Tourist Commission (now Tourism Australia), Mr John Morse AM, who has been visiting Arnhem Land for many years.

“The Yolngu people have an extraordinary vision and want to share their knowledge, culture and homelands with the outside world,” Mr Morse said. “The potential is very exciting and stands to benefit not just the Yolngu people but also the wider Australian tourism industry.”

Mr Morse said the Masterplan was a new model for Indigenous economic development, based on the principles of Aboriginal leadership, empowerment, continuity, respect for culture and responsibility. It would draw from the experience of the most qualified people in Australia to help build sustainable businesses. 

An Expert Panel of high-profile people is being formed to provide direction and advice to the development of the Masterplan. This will be led by Yolngu Elder from Elcho Island, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM, along with Tourism Australia Chairman Geoff Dixon, tourism industry leader Bill Wright, Head of Tourism Division at the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (RET) Jane Madden, and prominent Melbourne academic and cultural advisor Andrea Hull AO.

In addition to the grant announced today by the Minister under the TQual Strategic Investments Grants initiative, Lirrwi is also seeking support from the private sector. Seven corporate partners have already committed to the plan and 10 more are sought.

“The enthusiasm and support for the Masterplan indicates a very strong will by the Government and the corporate sector to listen to the voices of Aboriginal people and help make a significant difference to their economic and cultural future,” Mr Morse said.  “This potentially has significant implications for Aboriginal people across Australia who see tourism as a new way forward.”

Mr Morse has been engaged by Lirrwi Tourism to manage the Masterplan and said the fundamentals were already in place, with excellent air connections, a strong and well-respected tourism organisation and a unique long-term strategy to develop tourism.

“Arnhem Land is a place of great natural beauty, with islands, beaches, river systems and a unique way of life that can’t be found in other parts of the world,” Mr Morse said. “Imagine a network of small cultural tourism camps dotted across Arnhem Land and it’s very easy to see how exciting this concept is.”

Mr Morse said the Masterplan was in part inspired by successful African safari camps managed by Indigenous communities in Botswana.  It would benefit from strong interest in Indigenous culture in several of Australia’s traditional tourism markets like Germany and the United States, as well as in emerging markets in Asia and the large Australian domestic market.

“Australians have a strong desire to learn about and connect with Aboriginal culture,” Mr Morse said. “A survey in 2010 revealed that 94 per cent of Australians believe their children should learn about Aboriginal culture and considered this an important part of reconciliation.”

“Arnhem Land will never be a mass tourism destination, but it will be important in building Australia’s image around the world and creating a new future for the Yolngu people.”