Begin a new conversation in the Top End

“In Aboriginal culture there is protocol, so there are things that you can talk about and things you can’t talk about… [but] we are open to questions,” says Lynette Kenyon, who with her husband, Graham, run Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours, a family-run cultural experience 40kms outside Darwin that is like no other.

The couple set the tour up 11 years ago and have been gathering glowing reviews on Tripadvisor ever since. Pudakul stands out from other Aboriginal cultural experiences by its openness to questions.

Graham is a Limilngan-Wulna Elder and the Kenyon Family are the traditional carers of Ludawei Long-necked Turtle Dreaming Story, with the tours conducted on Aboriginal owned and operated Limilngan-Wulna land.

“People that come want something answered within themselves,” says Lynette. “A lot of the time it is not about opening our culture up, it is about opening themselves up.

“It’s something in them that’s driving them rather than what our experience is. We are more like a support group for people who have unanswered questions.”

Pudakul’s Graham Kenyon is a musician, park ranger and Limilngan-Wulna Elder.

Some of these unanswered questions can be on topics as profound as the Stolen Generation to what is worn when the Elders take the younger boys into country. “Nothing,” says Graham to one astonished member of the tour, who asks whether they wear undies.

The two-hour tour on their land allows enough time to talk about the landscape, its plants and animals, their people and how they relate to the landscape.

“We not only teach people about the things we do, we can educate them about how we do things,” says Lynette.

For those that have longer to spare, there is also a day tour for up to 50 that offers a much more immersive experience.

“We actually take them 40kms out on country and get them to make their product from scratch – we teach them how to cut down and make a spear, how to make a fire, how to make clap sticks, it’s more a workshop experience than us doing it for them. It is about taking it back to that grassroots level,” she says.

Australia is a nation of foodies, and what better way to experience Aboriginal culture than through food. NT-based Karen Sheldon Catering launched its first Future Stars Indigenous Employment Program just over 10 years ago with the aim helping Aboriginal people transition from welfare and towards sustainable long-term employment and a future career in hospitality.

Some of Karen Sheldon Catering’s Future Stars outside Parliament House in Darwin.

“Over the years, our Future Stars Indigenous Aspirations and Employment programs have assisted more than 3000 Aboriginal jobseekers move up the continuum from welfare dependence to a life of self-determination and independence,” Karen says.

“Participants from our VTEC Program work in the catering department, both in our production kitchen and during busy function and events seasons to gain more workplace confidence and experience in a nurturing, empathetic work environment.”

The collaboration goes beyond training and into the menu, which highlights native Aboriginal bush foods.

“Our extensive knowledge in unique local ingredients and how these flavours work together allows us to showcase the Territory to the rest of Australia and the world,” she says.

Another Territory local who is showcasing his culture to the rest of Australia is dancer and choreographer Gary Lang. A Larrakia man, he has toured nationally and internationally with some of Australia’s best dance companies, culminating last year with a collaboration with the West Australian Ballet that was performed both in Perth and Darwin.

The NT Dance Company founder Gary Lang.

“I’m not a proper blackfella,” he says. “I’m from Larrakia…. [but] I look like an Indian person. How black do you have to be to be acknowledged as Aboriginal person?”

That’s a question that underpins Lang’s philosophy as artistic director of the NT Dance Company, which is made up of many ethnicities.

“My motto is I’ll work with anyone that wants to tell my story,” he says. “I can only my tell my family’s story. One thing about Darwin we don’t have enclaves – all down the street we have everyone black fellas, whites, Filipino, Greek – and that’s what my dance company is.”

Lang and his company have worked with conferences and groups, offering contemporary Aboriginal ballet through to traditional dance if that’s what you want. Lang also does Welcome to Country.

“I don’t do the history when I do a welcome to country,” he says. “I don’t want people to feel guilt. Inter-generational trauma is very real but I don’t want to blame. My father is white too. There is a point as an Indigenous man that I know we need to move forward.”

WA Ballet’s Milky Way – River of Stars was choreographed by Lang.

That step forward is something that needs to be taken by everyone though.

“It’s not for us to talk to you, it’s about you mob stepping up and having the courage to say ‘can we talk?’,” he says.  “We can come up with product but if you want to know more about us, come up to us. That’s it in a nutshell.”

To find out how to bring a deeper engagement with Aboriginal culture to your event or conference head here.