Aboriginal culture doesn’t just exist in the bush. Within Sydney’s city centre, and around its coastlines, you can find Aboriginal tours, cultural sites, and thousands of years of history to help broaden your understanding of Australia’s Traditional Custodians.


For 60,000 years, Australia has been covered by a network of more than 250 separate Countries that still endure to this day. These countries are distinguished by language groups with more than 700 dialects spoken at one point in time.

It’s amazing to travel to remote and diverse landscapes to learn about Aboriginal cultures, stories, and experiences far removed from urban life. But you don’t have to go that far to appreciate Australia’s 60,000 years of living culture.


Dreamtime Southern X tour with Marget Campbell at Balls Head, Waverton in Sydney


Even in the heart of Australia’s biggest city, there are incredible ways to strengthen and deepen your understanding, appreciation, and connection to the land and its Traditional Custodians.

When the First Fleet arrived, the Sydney area was inhabited by 29 clans, now collectively referred to as the Eora Nation. As the area of first contact, it was also the first to have its population decimated.

According to the Aboriginal Heritage Office, more than half of the original inhabitants of the Sydney Basin died from smallpox within a year of the First Fleet’s arrival. So much knowledge has been lost and destroyed, but so much remains if you look closely and are willing to learn. 

Here are some ways to learn more about Aboriginal culture and heritage in Sydney; from walks through beautiful bushland scattered with rock engravings and infused with spirit, to tours led by First Nation guides.


Aboriginal educator Tim Gray leading guests on an Aboriginal Cultural Tour in Barangaroo, Sydney

Royal Botanical Gardens Bush Tucker Tour

Where: The Garden Shop, Royal Botanical Gardens
When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11am-12pm
Cost: $30

This 60-minute tour is only long enough for a taste but gives wonderful insight into the incredible knowledge of plants, animals, and ecosystems spreading across the continent.

When I visited, we only covered a tiny area of the Gardens but learnt so much: taking one common plant as an example, golden wattle can be used as a soap, added to waterways to stun fish, and its flowering denotes whale migrations in Sydney and mullet season in northern Queensland. 

I’m sure every tour’s different, depending on the season and interests of the group. During our tour, we tasted finger limes, native ginger, and raspberries, got tips on recognising the scat of powerful owl (look for bones and undigested fur!) and much more.

The knowledgeable guides also run an Aboriginal Harbour Heritage Tour along the foreshore, detailing the Gadigal lifestyle, traditions, and heritage.


Learning about the rich Aboriginal culture of the Gadigal people on a guided tour in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

The Rocks Aboriginal Dreaming Tour

Where: Cadmans Cottage, George Street, The Rocks
When: 10.30am and 1.30pm daily
Cost: $59

Dreamtime Southern X’s tour showcases the Aboriginal culture, natural features, and landscape hidden under the urban façade of The Rocks. Examples are diverse and surprising: there’s a beach lurking under the foundations of the Hyatt; crushed shells visible in the mortar of old buildings, once part of massive middens where the Opera House now stands.

These nuggets help you imagine what once was and see what still is. Our group was tiny, so we had 90 minutes of chatting to Amanda, our Aboriginal guide, about everything from weaving to boomerangs, totems to initiation. We were also shown a canoe tree high in The Rocks and an ochre pit in the midst of the Argyle Cut.

Berry Island

Where: End of Shirley Road, Wollstonecraft
When: Whenever you want!
Cost: Free!

The short 750m walk around Berry Island packs in a bunch. The Gadyan Loop Track takes you through some of the most pristine bushland in North Sydney: a quietly spectacular show of twisting Sydney red gums and Red bloodwoods with shrubs flowering below.

There’s evidence that this area was special to the Cammeraygal people too: middens once dotted the shore, with the track being named for the Sydney cockles found there. On a flat ledge is one of the biggest engravings found in the Sydney area – a well-preserved 10-metre creature.

There’s a small, deep rock pool nearby – believed to be used for water storage – with grinding grooves used for sharpening axes. 

Rock Engravings Around Dobroyd Head

Where: Along the Spit to Manly walk
When: Whenever you want!
Cost: Free

If you’re looking for another reason to do the awesome Spit to Manly walk, why not check out the significant Aboriginal historical sites along the way?

Just off the track at Grotto Point is a rock platform with engravings of whales, fish, boomerangs, and more. They’re easy to see, particularly in the soft light of sunrise and sunset, and it’s a beautiful spot, with views to the Heads and beyond. 

Tiny Reef Beach is a gorgeous spot – shallow water, a small creek, rock overhangs – it’s easy to see why it’s been popular for millennia.

There are engravings here too, usually covered with sand. A large midden once stretched the length of the beach. Little of it is visible now, although there is a plaque commemorating it.


Grotto Point Aboriginal engravings along the Spit Bridge to Manly walk

Want to learn more?

The Aboriginal Heritage Office is a joint-council initiative to provide protection and education of Aboriginal heritage in northern Sydney. This extends to talks, walks, and activities, as well as a museum.

Bondi Aboriginal Walking Tours is a gentle walk taking in the history of Bondi, traditional bush foods, and medicine.

Bush to Bowl is an Aboriginal-owned native plant nursery in Terrey Hills. They also run workshops, tours, and more.

Many local councils run regular ‘walk and talk’ sessions about First Nations culture in their area. Check out your local council’s events, particularly around NAIDOC week in July.

You don’t have to travel far and wide to get a sense of the Aboriginal culture of this land. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the city!


All photos thanks to DNSW