Indigenous tours study gets off the ground

Published on 07 March 2014

Anyone can drive into Loddon Shire and catch a glimpse of the rich indigenous history of those places.

The Dja Dja Wurrung people of the Kooyoora area depended on natural springs for their water and shallow rock wells atop the granite outcrops helped by storing rainwater. 

Rock shelters and caves protected them from the weather and the sandy floors have preserved many stone artefacts.  Numbers of trees in the district still bear the scars from when their bark was taken to make dishes and shields.

Lake Boort Reserve is Australia’s largest scarred tree site, with about 900 red gums and black box trees cut by the Dja Dja Wurrung.
Visitors today can see pieces of evidence of past Aboriginal occupation, but they can never know the stories behind them.

That’s about to change, with a bold new plan which, if successful, will see the first program of large-scale, organised Aboriginal cultural tourism established in central Victoria.

Loddon Shire has joined forces with the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DDWCAC), Bendigo Coachlines, Bendigo Regional Tourism, Mount Alexander and Central Goldfields Shires, the City of Greater Bendigo and other stakeholders to initiate a feasibility study into the idea.

The Central Victoria Indigenous Tourism Feasibility Study has been funded by a grant of $29,400 from the Victorian Government’s Regional Growth Fund, plus contributions of $1,600 from Loddon Shire and similar-sized allocations from other partners.

These funds will be used to undertake research into whether Aboriginal tourism could be a profitable business venture and, if so, funds will also be used to develop the business plan.

DDWCAC will provide support and administration and work within the Dja Dja Wurrung communities   to create itineraries which include relevant stories and knowledge and provide trained personnel.  

Bendigo Coachlines will  provide the transportation and the four partnering municipalities  will help  with marketing support.  DDWCAC will ensure cultural heritage sites and information are protected and managed appropriately.

Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation chair Graham Atkinson said this week the process was moving along well.

“In the past, we’ve had requests from schools and family groups for guidance on cultural tours, but this is the first time anything has been attempted in the way of Aboriginal tourism in Central Victoria on such an organised scale with key partners,” Mr Atkinson said.

“It’s been a lot of work, but Dja Dja Wurrung people have shown immense support for the project and are already undertaking preparation work in designing the tours and developing suitable itineraries.

“It’s a great opportunity for the Dja Dja Wurrung to look at servicing not only the domestic tourism market, but international as well.

“We are looking forward to the development of a steering committee with local governments involved to oversee this part of the process.   

“The project timelines lay down the end of May as the target for completing the study and we already have a memorandum of understanding with Bendigo Coachlines agreed and signed.”

Council Tourism Manager, Robyn Vella, said she was excited at the opportunities the study presented for the Shire.

“Indigenous tourism is growing and we have some enormously significant heritage sites right on our doorstep,” Mrs Vella said.

“This potentially creates a highly important attraction for our region, not just for domestic visitors, but for overseas tourists as well.

“The Dja Dja Wurrung are recognised as the traditional owners of Central Victoria, but, until now, there has been no organised way to tell their story and educate others about their cultural heritage.”