5 ways to experience ancient Indigenous rituals in Queensland

Rituals and ceremonies have always been central to Indigenous culture. From rites of passage and ceremonial gatherings through to healing rituals using bush medicine, these sacred traditions have evolved over tens of thousands of years – and many are still practiced today as a way for modern Indigenous Australians to stay connected to their culture and country.

A willingness to share their way of life with the rest of the world means there are countless opportunities to immerse yourself in these traditional aspects of Aboriginal culture.

Here’s a guide to how you can experience some of the more widely practiced Indigenous customs and rituals in Queensland.

Welcome to Country

Performed by elders to welcome visitors to their land and pay respect to their ancestors, this ceremony dates back many centuries to when neighbouring peoples sought permission to enter and pass through another clan’s territory – think of it as a kind of ancient visa-granting ceremony.

Today, Welcome to Country ceremonies are held to officially open cultural festivals and gatherings and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land. Join Quandamooka Tours on a day trip to the second largest sand island in the world, Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), for an authentic Welcome to Country performed by a local Quandamooka guide.

Smoking Ceremony

Jellurgal Dreaming Tour Smoking Ceremony | Indigenous rituals Queensland

A cleansing ritual to ward off bad spirits and omens which involves placing essential-oil-rich leaves of native plants on hot embers to produce a steamy, healing smoke, this is one of the oldest and most significant ceremonies in our Indigenous culture.

Head to the Mossman Gorge Centre in Tropical North Queensland or take a Jellurgal Dreaming Tour of Burleigh Head National Park to witness a traditional smoking ceremony and hear ancient stories of the Dreamtime.

Ochre Anointment

Ochre-Annointment-Pamagirri-Rainforestation | Indigenous rituals Queensland

Indigenous people have long believed in the spiritual power of ochre. Formed from hard clay which is dried out, ground into powder and mixed with water before being applied to the body, ochre forms the basis of many sacred ceremonies and has a powerful symbolism within Aboriginal culture.

Discover the significance of this ritual with an Indigenous cultural guide from Walkabout Cultural Adventures or on a Dreamtime Walk with a local Pamagirri guide at the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience just outside of Cairns.

Bush Medicine

Black Bean Indigenous Bush Tucker Mossman Gorge | Indigenous rituals Queensland

You’ve heard the old adage ‘nature provides’? Nowhere is this more apparent than in Indigenous culture, where the land furnishes everything necessary for survival, from food and shelter to ancient remedies. Learn how healers use native plants to soothe and cure as you explore the beaches and walking tracks of 1770 on a Goolimbil Walkabout Tour.

Or, get an insight into ancient medicinal plant uses from the women of the Tjapukai or experience the therapeutic powers of bush medicine at the Daintree EcoLodge and Spa. Named ‘Wawu-karrba’ or ‘healing of the spirit’ by the Kuku Yalanji people, the spa’s menu features ochre mud wraps, Aboriginal massage techniques and native ingredients like quandong, an Australian wild peach.

For more ways to experience Indigenous culture between Cairns and Cooktown, you can explore the history and Aboriginal rituals of Tropical North Queensland with this itinerary.

Bora Ring

Sacred-Bora-Ring-Nyanda-Cultural-Tours | Indigenous rituals Queensland

The presence of a bora ring (a circular shape on the ground with a raised embankment circling it) indicates that you are standing beside an ancient, sacred site that was once used as a ceremonial ground for rites of passage and initiation ceremonies. Many have been lost or destroyed over the years (only around 16 remain on Australia’s East coast) but you can see one of the few remaining bora rings at Nudgee Waterholes in Brisbane.

Take a tour with Nyanda Aboriginal Cultural Tours to learn more about the rituals that took place here as you listen to the sound of a bull-roarer – a traditional instrument that featured in Indigenous initiation ceremonies.