Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'Ah That I Could Convey a Proper Idea of This Interesting Wild Play of the Natives': Corroborees and the Rise of Indigenous Australian Cultural Tourism

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

'Ah That I Could Convey a Proper Idea of This Interesting Wild Play of the Natives': Corroborees and the Rise of Indigenous Australian Cultural Tourism

Article excerpt

Abstract: The nineteenth century Aboriginal corroboree performed for non-Indigenous settler audiences was Australia's pre-eminent prototypical Indigenous cultural tourism product. Options for the development of this product by both Aborigines and settlers were fashioned by competing and complementary strategies of various colonial interest groups. The implementation of these strategies acted directly to restrict supply of traditional corroboree performances and access to markets. Producers had to find new socially acceptable genres, such as minstrelsy and temperance entertainments in order to reproduce their product. This necessarily resulted in product transformation, but enabled continuity of a performance tradition to the present day. The Tjapukai Aboriginal Dance Theatre and the Bangarra Dance Theatre are but two modern inheritors of this tradition.

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Come Share Our Culture, the title of the Northern Territory Tourism Commission's first Indigenous tourism information brochure (NTTC 1993), sums up the core invitation extended by Australian Indigenous cultural tourism to consumers. However, there are different types of Indigenous cultural tourism enterprises, each allowing a different kind of interaction between host and guest, and, in consequence, a different kind of 'sharing experience'. These types of Indigenous cultural tourism can be characterised in terms of degrees of intimacy. Within ranges along this continuum, various types of tourism enterprises, defined by their core business, may be distinguished in terms of exhibiting low, medium and high levels of intimacy.

The lowest level of intimacy is provided by forms of indirect tourism, where no face-to-face encounter takes place, and where the cultural experience is entirely brokered. One example is the provision of themed tourist accommodation, in which an Indigenous group may simply hold equity. But in Australia the major example of Indigenous indirect cultural tourism is in the purchase of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and craft from non-Indigenous retailers in capital cities. In Australia, the overwhelming majority of Indigenous peoples in remote areas involved in the tourism industry are represented by this area of indirect tourism: the distant sale of art and craft products, and the licensing of reproduction rights.

The typical Indigenous cultural tourism enterprise exhibiting a medium level of intimacy is the Indigenous-owned art and craft retail outlet. There is a face-to-face encounter between the Indigenous salesperson and the customer, but it is necessarily restricted in scope, being framed by an arena of commercial transactions. The explicit focus of the encounter is upon the prospective sale/purchase, rather than on imparting a cultural experience and the sharing of cultural knowledge.

Indigenous cultural tourism enterprises displaying high levels of intimacy are typically those that bring or invite tourists into their communities or onto their traditional lands. They include, for example, interpretive guided tours of sites by traditional owners, and the equivalent of 'farm-stay tourism' experiences in Indigenous communities or homelands. While the overall encounter between host and guest is structured by these enterprises' commitment to delivering the attractions and highlights promised in their brochures with continuous face-to-face encounters, there are generally more opportunities for unstructured interaction and free-flowing questioning and discussion between host and guest, opportunities that obviously increase with the extension of the time frame.

As these categories relate to core business activities, they may not necessarily be exclusive to a particular enterprise. A retail art and craft store or space may offer a higher level of intimacy between host and guest groups than that normally offered by retail transactions through fostering highly interactive encounters between their clientele and performing artists and musicians. …

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