Boort Aboriginal Eco Tours

Published on 24 November 2015

A MAJOR new tourism initiative is about to be unveiled in Loddon Shire, offering experiences never before available in the area.

Indigenous eco-tours for school students and the retiree market are to be introduced on Little Lake Boort from early next year.

The program has been designed by Gulpilil’s Australia, an indigenous tour company operating seasonally in East Arnhem Land, around Swan Hill and on Melbourne’s Yarra River.

Its business activities include catching crocodiles, game hunting, heli-fishing and running corporate cultural awareness and health and well-being programs.

These tours have been a long-held objective of Loddon Shire’s Tourism Strategy and Nature Tourism Plan.

The company’s operations manager, Jida Gulpilil, is the son of acclaimed actor and dancer David Gulpilil, who has starred in such iconic Australian movies as Walkabout and Storm Boy and who won a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival last year for his work in Rolf de Heer’s film, Charlie’s Country.

“The company was established in 2012, but I’ve been running cultural events and programs both across Australia and internationally for more than 30 years,” Mr Gulpilil said.

“My culture has taken me all over the world, but I’m now focusing on developing tourism products and educational projects in the Bendigo region and around Boort – the area where some of my ancestors were born.”

Mr Gulpilil’s great-grandfather was Sir Douglas Nicholls, born in 1906 on the Cumeroogunja mission, near Barmah in southern New South Wales.

In his time, Sir Douglas was an outstanding footballer, boxer and athlete, later becoming pastor of the first Aboriginal Church of Christ in Australia.

His stature as a champion of his people culminated in his becoming the first Aboriginal person to be knighted and his appointment as Governor of South Australia in 1976.

“I draw a lot of empowerment and inspiration from him for what I do,” Mr Gulpilil said.

“The idea of running these eco-tours at Boort has been developed collaboratively between myself and members of the local community over 10 years or more.

“Boort is a unique place with hundreds of sites of Aboriginal heritage significance – some recorded back in the seventies were carbon-dated as over 3000 years old and we definitely have sites in the Dja Dja Wurrung area that were carbon-dated recently to 31,000 years ago.

 “On top of those that have been recorded, there must be over 2,000 more at the Boort lakes– and it’s the largest known site for scar trees in the world.

“There’s nowhere else like it – Boort is up there with Kakadu, Lake Mungo and the Gunbower Forest for cultural heritage and environmental values.

“It really should be a World Heritage-listed area.”
Mr Gulpilil said the schools and retiree markets were the logical places to start for the new venture.

“We already know schools visit the area and the over-50s are brought in through Council’s popular Discovery Tours,” he said.

The program will feature boomerang and spear throwing and lessons in the history, customs and beliefs of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Yung Balug people of the Loddon Plains.
Tours will have a local Aboriginal guide.

“We’ll also be focusing on Aboriginal language, kinship and connection to country, including offering smoking ceremonies and flat-water canoeing and visiting ancient burial sites,” Mr Gulpilil said.

“There’s no doubt the enterprise will be a boost to the town’s economy, with local businesses invited to offer their support in areas such as catering, event management and accommodation.

“We could well stage cultural festivals in the area in future, as well as showcasing the talents of indigenous artists while encouraging the development of a cultural centre or precinct with cabins and canoe hire.

“We’re really about creating a tourism product that’s unique, cultural, educational and informative.”

The tours at Boort will be offered during one week each month.
Costs for students are $86 half-day and $161 full day.  The over-50s pay $55 per person, or $46 without the proffered picnic lunch.

Groups of 15 or more will be required in both cases.

For more details, phone Sandra Steel at the Loddon Visitor Information Centre on 5494 1257 or email ssteel@loddon.vic.gov.au