Indigenous Pilgrimage: The Dreaming Trails in Australia

Much like the Native Americans before they were “discovered” by colonialists, the indigenous people were the only inhabitants of Australia. An important part of their culture is walking the Dreaming trails. To me, they seem to be similar to a special form of pilgrimage, which includes the guidance of elders, storytelling, and singing among the many unknown for an outsider part of it. Here are three places that could be explored in order to find out more.

The Red Center or Uluru

Uluru is a red sandstone monolith of 823 m height above sea level, also known as the “Red Centre” or “the heart of Australia”. Besides being an impressive red color and surrounded by a red sand desert, Uluru is a sacred place to Pitjantjatjara Anangu indigenous people who live in the territory and believe that the spirits of ancestors live on the top of it. At the base of Uluru, visitors find a board with a request of the landowners not to climb their sacred place out of respect for their traditions. As of 2019, Uluru will be probably closed for climbing, but you can still do the base walk around it (~9 km long, approx. 3-4 hours) and enjoy the waterfalls and the prospering nature that they create. There are self-guided walking trails and park pass inclusive Ranger-guided tours that start in the Mala car park, Uluru (May- September 8 a.m., October – April 10 a.m.). By the way, according to the beliefs, the ones who take a piece of Uluru will be cursed to misfortune, so think what you are doing there.

Another sacred site to Anangu people is located not far away from Uluru is Kata Tjuṯa. It is a group of 36 dome – form sandstone rock formations with the highest one of 1066 m above sea level. Kata Tjuta is also a sacred site for Anangu people where they perform their spiritual ceremonies.

Both places are not far away from each other and can be visited in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (see the link for visiting information, including fees to the park). Keep in mind that you are visiting a desert and the temperatures can get really high. Therefore, at all times drink a lot of water and do not walk outside during summer after 11 a.m.

The accommodation possibilities in the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park are Yulara town near to the Ayers Rock Airport, and more interesting Mutitjulu town where Anangu people live (you need to contact them first and get permission for that though).

The Bundian Way

The Bundian Way is also known as the Aboriginal track path. It lies between Targangal (Kosciuszko) mountain and Bilgalera (Fisheries Beach) beach town near Eden, New South Wales. This path is ~365 km long and connects the highest mountain of Australia and the coast. The route was and is important for indigenous people because it is a straight way from the highlands to the coast to hunt some whales in spring and back to hunt the Bogong moths in summer. The Bundian Way was announced as World Heritage site in 2012.

Unfortunately, it seems that the path is not open to the public yet (end of 2018) due to ongoing infrastructural decisions. However, some people walked it already and here are some reads about it while we wait: The Guardian interview with John Blay (the local bushman and author of a book about the Bundian Way), The Drawing Room podcastand official websites for The Bundian Way and Twofold Aboriginal Community.

The Lurujarri Heritage Trail

The Lurujarri Heritage Trail lies in the Western part of Australia and starts in the Goolarabooloo Community, near Broome town. The history of walking the trail goes back to 1988 when Mr. P. Roe OAM led university students and his family through the trail for the first time. Due to high popularity, the trail was opened to the public in 2012.

So, from the Goolarabooloo community, you will be guided by the greatgrandchildren of Mr. P. Roe OAM, who continue his work after he passed away. They will take you for a 9-day and ~90 km walk through the history, dreaming and songs of their culture that is more than a thousand years old. For a sneak peek into the walk, you might want to watch a documentary about it called “Lurujarri Dreaming” (see the trailer on Vimeo). Contact the Goolarabooloo community for more information about walking the trail. 

The Dreaming track in Cape York

The Dreaming track is an on-going project to establish a 2000 km track (the longest trail in Australia is 1200 km long Heysen Trail) through Queensland territories in North-East Australia. The first part of 24 km track was opened in 2014 in Cape York (Gamaay Dreaming track map). To walk it you need to get a special permit from the authorities and be sure to have an experience in bushwalking due to the unmarked and difficult terrain with no cell service in some parts of it (difficulty grade 5). Find all information and contacts at Tropical North Queensland website.