Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 7, 2019

Welcome to Country, a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia, by Marcia Langton (and other useful guide books)

ILW logo 2019

 

Cultural warning: Indigenous Australians are advised that some references in this blog include images or names of people now deceased.

I’ve hovered over Welcome to Country, a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia a couple of times in bookshops, but decided against buying it.  I think it’s a perfect book for international visitors, or for backpackers and grey nomads travelling around Australia, but I’m more interested in my local Melbourne history than this book has space to offer.  My Go-To book for the 60,000 year old story of Indigenous Melbourne is Meyer Eidelson’s Melbourne Dreaming (2014)published by the Aboriginal Studies Press, because it features lots of wonderful walks around my city.  You can see my adventures on the Bayside trail in my review.

I also have Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia (1988) which was recommended to me, I think, by Sue from Whispering Gums.  It’s a big coffee-table type book, with beautiful full colour photography illustrating Burnum Burnum’s journey all the way round Highway One (and not leaving out Tasmania!) Burnum Burnum (1936-1997) was a Woiworrung and Yorta Yorta man from Wallaga Lake in southern New South Wales, and was a high profile activist, actor and author.  A Churchill Fellow, he achieved remarkable things despite growing up in children’s homes run by NSW Aboriginal Welfare Board, but as Wikipedia notes:

He may be best remembered for planting the Aboriginal flag on the white cliffs of Dover on the Australian Bicentenary Day of 26 January 1988. This was his tongue-in-cheek way of claiming England, as Arthur Phillip had done to Burnum Burnum’s homeland in 1788 when arriving with the First Fleet.  (Wikipedia, lightly edited to remove unnecessary links, viewed 7/6/19)

As with the Langton book, I turned first to Aboriginal Australia’s section on Victoria, where there is an explanation of villages and farming techniques that are only now becoming more widely known thanks to Bruce Pascoe’s ground-breaking publication Dark Emu, Black seeds – agriculture or accident? There’s a whole double page spread with illustrations about the south-west Mara People’s engineering works for their eeling industry—in Lake Bolac, Mt William, in the Toolondo District, Lake Condah.  These are places close to home where I’ve visited, but not known the Indigenous story at the time.  This whole chapter features places I am likely to go to, while the extensive section on Melbourne itself includes the dreaming story of the Port Phillip region—the story of Bunjil the eagle whose statue stands seven metres high at Docklands.  The infamous story of Batman’s Treaty is retold, and there is a magnificent picture of William Barak in full regalia including what looks like his possum-skin cloak, but also sunglasses and an amused smile.  In fact there is a great deal to read and enjoy about Melbourne, and Victoria, and the other states of Australia as well.

But much as I like the wealth of detail in Burnum Burnum’s book and the walking trails to follow in Melbourne Dreaming, I think that Welcome to Country has a broader appeal.  It is written as a tourist guide, to enable travellers to plan an itinerary that includes Indigenous culture, and to encourage business and tourism operators to get a bit smarter about the opportunities that are out there.  If research has found that domestic visitors have little interest in Indigenous tourism, then Welcome to Country shows its readers that there are lots of interesting things to do, and they don’t all involve outback travel because many attractions (such as gourmet food and culinary tourism!) appeal to urban Australians like me.

Marcia Langton’s chapter about Victoria begins with a festival to attend: Tanderrum, a gathering of the five clans of the Kulin nation with a ceremony which marks the beginning of the Melbourne Festival in October…

… and continues with sporting activities to attend such Dreamtime at the G (the Melbourne Cricket Ground) or a visit to the Harrow Discovery Centre and Johnny Mullagh Interpretive Centre in the Wimmera to learn about the Indigenous athletes in the first Australian international test cricket team.  She covers Indigenous heritage in our national parks, including the Grampians National Park, the Brambuk National Park and Cultural centre, and she suggests cultural tours, such as the Aboriginal Heritage Walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens opposite Birrarung Marr; the self-guided driving tour along the Bataluk Cultural Trail; and the Tower Hill Visitor Centre near Warrnambool.

Langston also suggests art galleries, museums and cultural centres such as the Altair Fine Art Gallery in Werribee South; Birrarung Marr in Melbourne; the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum (a must-see, IMO); the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre near Torquay; the Sandra Bardas Art Gallery in Healesville; and the Koori Heritage Trust at Federation Square.  And there’s also an invitation to sample Indigenous food and cooking at the Charcoal Lane Restaurant in Fitzroy. So although there’s only eleven pages in this Victorian section of the book there’s plenty to do.

But that’s not all there is in Langton’s book.  In fact, I’ve traversed it back-to-front, because it begins with an extensive Introduction to Indigenous Cultures, offering information and guidance about how to enjoy authentic tourism opportunities.  The ToC gives an indication of the topics covered:

  1. Introduction
  2. Prehistory
  3. Cultures and Languages
  4. Kinship
  5. Art
  6. Performance
  7. Storytelling
  8. Native Title
  9. The Stolen Generations
  10. What if your guide is not Indigenous?
  11. NAIDOC Week
  12. Business and Tourism
  13. Cultural Awareness for Visitors
  14. Glossary
  15. Endnotes.

Welcome to Country is a beaut book to whet the appetite for learning more about the world’s oldest living culture.  It’s available in digital editions, which are probably the most suitable way for travellers to buy it because the hardback edition would be heavy in a suitcase or backpack.

Author: Marcia Langton, a descendant of the Yiman and Bidjara nations in Queensland
Title: Welcome to Country, a Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia
Publisher: Hardie Grant, 2018, 233 pages (hbk.)
ISBN: 9781741175431
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: Marcia Langton: Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia and all good bookstores


Responses

  1. I saw on the news last night (I’m STILL at mum’s) the World Heritage listing for the Budj Bim eel traps. I’m not able to tell whether or not they are part of Lake Condah – whose Indigenous history I was entirely unaware of when I was at high school nearby.

    I have two ILW posts written and will put up the first tonight.

    Like

    • I saw that news report too, and the name was unfamiliar to me though I’ve known about the eel traps for a while, so I think Budj Bim must be the Indigenous name for the area.
      You may be relieved to hear that crook or not, I have managed to finish all but one of my reviews for ILW so there will be something new each day.
      *pause*
      Budj Bim was named Mount Eccles but was returned to its original name in 2017: see https://www.racv.com.au/royalauto/travelling/victoria/indigenous-tourism-victoria.html

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      • I used to camp at Mt Eccles. It’s a volcano with a lake in the middle and only a few miles from Macarthur where we lived in the school house.

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        • From the photos at that RACV article, it looks like a beautiful place.
          Wouldn’t it be great to walk that trail they’re developing? Not with my ankle, but in my younger days…

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  2. You’ve convinced me – I’ll buy the digital version of these because as you know I do like travelling all around Australia, albeit more comfortably than Grey Nomad style.

    I have an ILW post in draft, plus an idea for tomorrow’s Monday Musings, and hopefully a second (non-Aussie) ILW book if I get it finished in time.

    BTW I’m sorry to say that the Burnum Burnum recommendations didn’t come from me!

    Like

    • Never forget what Anita Heiss says about travel in the Outback: she would rather sleep under five stars than millions of them!
      Can’t wait to see what you come up with for Monday Musings:)

      I wonder who suggested I should read Burnum Burnum…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wish I knew … and yes, I’m with Heiss too on where I sleep.

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  3. Hi Lisa, I borrowed Welcome to Country from the library last week. I agree, a great book not only for overseas visitors, but also for Australians. I loved the short chapters which include all the interesting information you need to know without overloading on facts. Very happy to watch the news last night and see Budj Bim Cultural Landscape now on the World Heritage List.

    Like

    • Yes, it’s a great way to begin NAIDOC Week, an announcement like that makes all Australians feel proud and pleased.
      LOL Of course it makes Marcia Langton’s book just a little bit out of date, but hopefully there will be one new edition after another as tourism operators realise that people are interested in ancient stories about our land.

      Like

  4. A literary guide to Indigenous Australia would be a fine thing too! Perhaps that is included in the Storytelling chapter?

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    • Hey Claire W By W, have a look at Lisa’s “ANZLL Indigenous Literature Reading List”.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. […] See my review (part of my review of Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country) […]

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