Waterfall Way travels through the traditional lands of many Aboriginal nations. Learn about the Country you’re on and how you can journey through it respectfully by adding these spots to your itinerary.

Waterfall Way is located on Aboriginal land and sovereignty was never ceded. The region is the traditional Country of the Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati and Anēwan people and we acknowledge their ancestors, past, present and emerging.

 

We love ‘wild’ places at We Are Explorers, but recently we’ve been changing how we think about the word. ‘Wilderness’ is an English word that colonial Australia gives to areas unchanged (in its eyes) by human activity.

But this idea that we have to change and ‘tame’ the land to inhabit it erases the thousands of years of Aboriginal history present in nearly every corner of what we now call Australia.

Three quarters of the somewhat ironically named New England National Park is officially declared Wilderness, protected by the Wilderness Act. Yet it’s been home to Aboriginal Peoples for millennia and its current pristine state is a reflection of how the Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati, and Anēwan peoples work in harmony with the land.

Waterfall Way is a spellbinding scenic drive from Armidale through to the Coffs Coast. We’ve pulled together some important Aboriginal sites, tours, and information to help you experience the cultural importance of the region.

1. Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place

What better place to start your journey down Waterfall Way? The Cultural Centre is a not for profit that can be found right in town in Armidale and seeks to share the cultures of the more than 8,000 Australian Aboriginal people who live on the tablelands.

 

Waterfall Way Dreaming: Important Ways To Engage With Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati and Anēwan Culture on Your Journey, Tim Ashelford, museum,

 

The centre is run by an all-Aboriginal Board of Custodians and seeks to protect Aboriginal art, culture and heritage. Inside you’ll find exhibitions and craft, including Aboriginal artwork you can buy. Take a Cultural Excellence tour to be guided through the largest collection of Aboriginal artefacts in NSW or jump on a Bush Tucker tour to learn (and taste) the surrounding landscape.

 

Waterfall Way Dreaming: Important Ways To Engage With Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati and Anēwan Culture on Your Journey, Tim Ashelford, art

 

You might even catch a traditional dance or didgeridoo performance, call ahead to find out more!

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2. Wollomombi Falls Soundtrail

Wollomombi Falls drops into a steep gorge and it’s one of the biggest waterfalls in Australia. The name come from an Aboriginal word that means ‘the meeting of two waters’ and the falls do represent the dramatic combining of the Chandler and Wollomombi Rivers.

 

Waterfall Way Dreaming: Important Ways To Engage With Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati and Anēwan Culture on Your Journey, Tim Ashelford, gorge, waterfall, cliffs

 

You can add a layer of understanding to your walk along the edge of the gorge with a recently released walking tour. Download the Soundtrails app, head to ​​Wollomombi Falls – Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and plug in your headphones as Armidale Elder, Steve Widders, explains the Lyrebird Dreaming story and Anaiwan Elder, Les Ahoy, explains the signs of the Country.

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Read more: Underrated Gorges, Epic Hikes, & Wild Swims Along the Waterfall Way

3. Visit Martiam (Ebor Falls)

Guy Fawkes National Park, a 1000 square kilometre area, got its current name in 1845 after some Europeans explored the area on Guy Fawkes Day. But to the Gumbaynggirr people, the falls are called Martiam, which means ‘the great falls’. Archaelogical records indicate that the Guy Fawkes and Boyd Rivers were used as trade routes that flowed from the tablelands to the coast, a history that reaches back at least 10,000 years.

 

Waterfall Way Dreaming: Important Ways To Engage With Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati and Anēwan Culture on Your Journey, Tim Ashelford, waterfall, cliff, gorge

 

Here is a good place to reflect on the treatment of the local people. The history of the New England region is often violent and bloody, and despite the steps towards reconciliation, many of the streets of this small town are still  named after known oppressors.

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4. Visit Berarngutta (Point Lookout) – Or Maybe Don’t

Point lookout is a 200m accessible walk from the car to stunning views over World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest, so you might be surprised if you dig into the fact sheet on the national parks website and find out that it’s consider a ‘men-only’ place.

Berarngutta translates to ‘prohibited area’ in the local Aboriginal language (we couldn’t find out which one) and the New England National Park itself covers the land of the Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati, and Anēwan peoples. Many Aboriginal women continue to avoid visiting this area and although it’s not explicitly requested at this point in time, if you’re a woman you might like to respect this tradition and give the lookout a miss.

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5. Off-Track Hike to Majors Point and Darkies Point Massacre Sites

The line between dark tourism and respectful understanding is often grey, and this is a personal decision. In our opinion, knowledge is power, and even if you never intend to complete this off-track hike to the edge of the escarpment, it’s important to know the history.

Majors Point is named after Major Edward Parke, who aside from naming Guy Fawkes National Park, has a creek, street, and bluff named after him. Parke was feared by the Gumbaynggirr and in 1841 was involved in a massacre of up to 30 Aboriginal people at the nearby Darkies Point, in retaliation for the murder of three shepherds and theft of their sheep.

Hiker Yvonne describes Darkies point; 

‘There is no memorial here, no sign. Rocks cold to the touch, a shifty early morning breeze. I eat my muesli, the trees watching over me, while I struggle to make sense of this traumascape. Walking is a way I understand place and come to belong, but there is nothing to help me here.‘

If you’d like to see the area for yourself, you can find the details in Yvonne’s post, but you’ll need permission to cross some private farmland to reach Majors Point. In that sense, not much has changed.

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6. Visit Dorrigo National Park and Old Man Dreaming

The name Dorrigo comes from the Aboriginal word dondorrigo, which means ‘stringy-bark’. Dorrigo National Park is just down the road from the town and features ancient Gondwana Rainforest nestled into the hillside and a series of easily accessible walks.

Take a stroll out onto the Dorrigo Skywalk to look out across the valley to Old Man Dreaming. The mountain, also known as McGraths Hump, shows the profile of a warrior’s face, a man named Ngali. His job was to protect Gumbaynggirr women who came to the Bellinger Valley to give birth, but he fell asleep and was turned to stone as punishment.

 

Waterfall Way Dreaming: Important Ways To Engage With Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati and Anēwan Culture on Your Journey, Tim Ashelford, lookout, view

 

While you’re in the park, be sure to check out the Canopy Cafe, where you can buy a range of Aboriginal artworks, and chat to the rangers. Aboriginal Ranger tours sometimes run in the school holidays, so call ahead if that’s when you’re going!

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Read More: Must-See Stops When Driving Waterfall Way

7. Bellingen Museum

Darruyay Yilaaming Gumbaynggida jagunda (Welcome to the Gumbaynggirr Homeland) reads the banner on Bellingen Museum’s website – an instant indication of the Bellinger Valley Historical Society’s intentions. 

The museum features both Aboriginal and European history and with a $3 entry fee, you should definitely add it to your list. The collection includes a range of artefacts, including stone tools of many kinds. If you think you’ve found an Aboriginal artefact yourself, their advice is to leave it where you found it and contact the local Elders, as context is important for ongoing understanding and knowledge.

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Tread Gently on Country

Gumbaynggirr, Dhanggati, and Anēwan culture runs deep in these parts, and many more cultures and peoples have interacted with the area over thousands of years. Taking the time to listen, respecting the wishes of the Traditional Owners, and supporting Aboriginal businesses are all great ways to expand your understanding and add depth to your journey down Waterfall Way.

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