Aboriginal tour guide Nunami can’t keep up with demand amid market gaps in Tasmania’s wilderness

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Nunami Sculthorpe-Green started leading tours telling the stories of her ancestors because she wanted those stories to be told.

“I grew up in Lutruwita/Tasmania in the 90s and early 2000s and I haven’t seen the stories of our people represented anywhere,” the Palawa and Warlpiri woman said.

“I felt that the truth of our history was not being told and that our people were not appreciated and recognized for all that we are and all that we bring with our culture and our stories.”

Ms Sculthorpe-Green has been leading her takara nipaluna (palawa kani for Walking Hobart) tour since earlier this year, and recently added mumara patrula (Wood for the Fire), a guided walk along a coastal path in Kettering which tells the stories of legendary Aboriginal figures from the region.

“I can’t keep up with the demand and it’s really given me a more positive view of our state and the people who come. [here],” she says.

“People want to know our stories, they want to walk with us and understand our history and our culture for ourselves.”

Last week, her efforts were recognized when she won the Young Achiever Award for 2022 at the Tasmanian Tourism Awards.

Nunami Sculthorpe-Green tells the stories of her ancestors on the tour she leads in Kettering, south-east Tasmania.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

There are other Aboriginal tourism offerings in Tasmania – including the state’s first Aboriginal owned-and-operated tourism business, the Wukalina Walk – but this is a recognized gap in the state’s tourism market. .

One place the state government would like to see more indigenous tourism offerings is in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) – 1.5 million hectares encompassing the south-west, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers, Mount Field, Hartz Mountains and Mole Creek Karst National Parks.

There is an Aboriginal Culture Walk at Melaleuca in the South West and, according to a 2015 Parks and Wildlife Service evaluation report, 92% of those who visited said the walk improved their understanding of Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage.

Rust-coloured metal panels with Aboriginal artwork depicting the story of creation, amid flowering native shrubs
Signs illustrating the story of creation are part of the Needwonnee Walk in Melaleuca.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The government’s tourism master plan for the TWWHA, released last year, says there is “a significant lack of opportunities for visitors to engage and learn about the indigenous cultural values ​​of the TWWHA in an authentic experience, in contrast to its natural values, which are well documented and understood”.

“It’s important for people to remember that the TWWHA has been listed both for its natural values, but also for its cultural values ​​- especially the Aboriginal cultural values ​​- so it has to be the Aboriginal culture that is really highlighted. value in any tourist offer.

“But I think the most important thing is that it has to be led by indigenous people, it has to be self-determined, so it’s not up to the government to choose how it wants to go about it, it’s can’t shut down our people exiting processes, like they did, if they want this to succeed,” Ms Sculthorpe-Green said.

A patchy grass plain, with trees in the middle and mountains in the background under a pink sky at dusk
The Tasmanian Government wants to encourage more Aboriginal tourism businesses in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“A great opportunity for the government and our people is perhaps to work together and the government can really invest in building the capacity of our people to provide these tourism opportunities.

“We may not have something fancy ready to go immediately, but we have ideas and that’s our legacy.”

The state government is preparing an interpretive guide for the presentation of indigenous cultural values ​​in the TWWHA. A preliminary version should be published in the coming months.

A grass hut among the trees
Installations on the Needwonnee Walk in Melaleuca, South West Tasmania.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Desmond Campbell, chief executive of Welcome to Country – a non-profit organization that promotes and supports Indigenous tourism products and experiences – said demand for Indigenous tourism experiences is growing in all states and territories.

“In 2019, 1.4 million international visitors, or 17 per cent, participated in Indigenous tourism across Australia,” said Mr Campbell.

He said the number of international visitors participating in indigenous tourism has increased by 6% each year since 2010.

About 1 million domestic tourists participated in indigenous tourism in 2019, and this figure is also increasing.

A man sits in a bright yellow chair and looks at the camera
Welcome to Country chief executive Desmond Campbell says demand for Indigenous tourism is growing in all states and territories.(ABC News: Andrew Whitington)

Mr. Campbell said that where governments provide support to Indigenous tourism businesses, successful businesses are created.

“In some states like Tasmania we are seeing there could be a lot more support in Indigenous tourism offerings.”

Mr Campbell said the Tasmanian government’s aim to increase Aboriginal tourism in the TWWHA was a significant opportunity.

“Tasmania has such a big, wide and expansive wilderness that the local palawa aboriginal people are still connected to through their culture,” he said.

“It seems like such a great opportunity to be able to work with [local] elders.”

A sign announcing the start of the Needwonnee Aboriginal Culture Walk in South West Tasmania
The Needwonnee Parkway in Melaleuca is one of the few opportunities for visitors to experience the region’s Indigenous cultural heritage.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Campbell said Indigenous tourism was also an important opportunity for Indigenous people “to continue to practice their culture and stay connected or reconnect to their culture” and for others to experience the world’s oldest living culture. .

For Ms Sculthorpe-Green, sharing the stories of her people with tour groups – 90 per cent of whom are Tasmanians eager to learn more about their island’s history – is her way of bringing those stories to the public.

“I hope our future generations won’t even know that there was a time when our stories were hidden from public view, I hope that really changes,” she said.

A close up of a native plant with small white flowers.
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area has been listed for its Aboriginal natural and cultural values.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)
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