The culture of the Northern Territory is extraordinary, and a revelation to overseas visitors, offering everything from ancient rock-art sites to bush tucker and ‘dreamtime’ walks.
The Northern Territory is the place to go to get close to indigenous culture, as well as contemporary highlights and in Darwin alone you’ll find historic museums, contemporary galleries and a constant stream of events, many outdoors.
Here, the must-see attraction is the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). There’s a host of exhibits, key among them its Aboriginal art collection, where the collections include bark paintings from Arnhem Land.
Watch also for the maritime archaeology and Southeast Asian art and the local history, with an exhibition about 1974’s Cyclone Tracey and the item everyone wants to see: a huge stuffed crocodile called ‘Sweetheart’.
Lovers of military heritage will also find Darwin of great interest, as it’s the only place in Australia where major conflict happened in World War II. The 1940s underground oil tunnels are a poignant and fascinating attraction, while the new Defence of Darwin Experience museum an immersive experience of wartime Australia.
Not all the culture of the Northern Territory is in the towns and cities. East of Darwin, to Kakadu, Arnhem Land and the Gove Peninsula – and into the ocean – there are wonderful beaches and amazing cultural experiences often related to the Aboriginal communities and including walking tours, demonstrations, art, dance and song.
On the lovely Gove Peninsula you can learn from the local Yolngu Aboriginal community about their traditions, including dancing and art and craft.
There’s ancient Aboriginal rock art at Mount Borradaile in Arnhem Land, though if you don’t want to venture that far there’s more accessible sites at Ubirr and Nourlangie in Kakadu itself. Over the sea at the Tiwi Islands, you’ll find a Polynesian influence on the local Aboriginal culture, in the Tiwi peoples’ bark paintings and wood carvings. Many pieces are for sale.
The Red Centre
In the Red Centre, meanwhile, culture meets nature. Alice Springs has the Museum of Central Australia, with exhibits from great fossils to artefacts from objects from indigenous ceremonies and a replica of an ancient watering hole.
There are several smaller museums here too, such as the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, showing the feat of connecting a then remote town.
In the Maruku gallery at the Cultural Centre within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, there’s the chance to learn about how rock and sand became used on canvas and demonstrations of art such as woven baskets and ‘punu’ or woodwork – again, much is for sale.
At the Sails in the Desert Hotel at Ayers Rock Resort, there is the Mulgara Gallery, which exhibits much Central Australian and indigenous artwork, as well as artefacts such as didgeridoos – and every month, runs an ‘artists and craftsperson in residence’ program. Proceeds help the local Aboriginal communities.
• At Merrepen Arts centre in the Daly River area, you can catch up on Aboriginal art painted by women. Screenprints and batik fabric designs are all on sale here.
• In Arnhem Land, you can still see ancient rock art or visit one of the local art centres to view and buy traditional art pieces.
• Near the Western MacDonnell Ranges 125km from Alice Springs, Hermannsburg (Ntaria) has a gallery at the one-time home of water colour artist Albert Namatjira and the National Trust-listed Hermannsburg Historic Precinct – a series of historic German-style whitewashed buildings
• The Araluen Cultural Precinct in Alice Springs is a cultural centre specialising in contemporary Aboriginal art, with exhibition space and a theatre
• The Nourlangie Rock Art Site, in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, testifies to an amazing cultural history and can be seen as part of a spectacular circular walk