More than one million visitors make the trek to Australia’s most easterly point every year, but it is an Aboriginal culture-based experience in a nearby palm forest that is fast becoming one of the nation’s most sought-after tourist attractions.
The Arakwal people’s Dolphin Dreaming program at Byron Bay takes participants on a two-hour tour of Palm Valley that includes lessons in Aboriginal art, dance, music and stories.
Arakwal woman Delta Kay and her nephew Nigel Stewart have been leading the groups for 15 years.
Ms Kay said the experience was much more than a sight-seeing exercise.
“I look at kids today and I think ‘wow this next generation are going to be so environmentally switched on and they are going to have a true appreciation and awareness of Aboriginal culture’,” she said.
“I think our next generation will be leading the reconciliation charge — they’re going to be the ones that close this gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the future.
“It makes my heart sing, when I finish a program with our kids … there’s so much happiness in my heart to see them so switched on and the love in their eyes.”
The Dolphin Dreaming program has won many awards across business, tourism and cultural sectors including Gold at last year’s NSW Tourism Awards, and silver in the National Tourism Awards in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander categories.
It is a finalist again in this year’s NSW Tourism Awards, with the winners to be announced on November 24.
“We don’t go out there to win awards, but when we do I suppose it’s just a reminder how deadly this program is not only for our jarjums [children] but also for their families, teachers and our community,” Ms Kay said.
“It’s a really well known and respected program now.”
Mr Stewart said school groups participated in the program every week, but he particularly enjoyed interacting with international visitors.
“It’s not just for jarjums, it can also be for family groups and other people from overseas that don’t have an understanding of Aboriginal culture,” he said.
“We try to give them a little bit of an understanding of what it is to be an Aboriginal person in this country and also for young Australian people to create an identity basis to connect them back to country.”
Ms Kay said popular tourist destinations such as Byron Bay often struggled to manage their high visitor numbers, but programs like Dolphin Dreaming helped to foster respect.
“We want tourists to come here and do our programs because we want them to connect with the area,” she said.
“We want them to understand why this place is so special to us and once they understand that then they’ll be respectful of this place.”
alm Valley is located in the Arakwal National Park, which is jointly managed by the Arakwal people and the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Mr Stewart said he was proud that the Arakwal people had been officially recognised as traditional custodians of the land and that the Dolphin Dreaming program allowed them to share their culture.
“We’re very honoured and proud to represent our ancestors,” he said.
“It’s a very sacred place to the Arakwal family, my family, and also to all of our Bundjalung Nation who work together to keep Country healthy.”