Aboriginal Culture Discovery

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 In Aboriginal Culture, Adventure, Cairns & The Great Barrier Reef, Ecosystems, Environmental Studies, Sustainability

Aboriginal Culture Discovery

Far North Queensland is rich with Indigenous traditions, and a confluence of cultures brings together a striking blend of art, language, dance, food and ceremony. On this educational excursion, you discover similarities in Aboriginal culture as well as vast differences among the Tjapukai, Kuku Yalanji and Mandingalbay Yidinji through talks, walks and fun activities. Learn how Traditional Owners communicate in a fading tongue, catch your own seafood under the instruction of two Aboriginal brothers, and spend the night camping in the company of Indigenous elders.  Authentic interactions with Traditional Owners reveal their respect for land and reverence for traditions long forgotten by Indigenous people in other parts of the world. Share in the discovery of a 40,000-year-old culture while enjoying gorgeous natural places of the tropics.

5 Days/4 Nights
Cairns, Australia
Minimum 10 paying participants
$1098 per person (including GST)
for 15 or more students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)
$1126 per person (including GST)
for 10-14 students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)


  • Learn basics of the Djabugay language
  • Create your own dot painting under the tutelage of an Aboriginal artist
  • Search the mangroves with Kuku Yalanji guides for “bush tucker”
  • Discover Indigenous story places on an overnight camping trip
  • Understand rainforest plants used for food and medicine
  • Learn to throw a spear to catch your own food and then cook it
  • Observe how tradition and modernity combine in Aboriginal peoples’ lives
  • Swim, snorkel and see  the Great Barrier Reef through Indigenous eyes

  • Risk assessment
  • Cairns airport transfers
  • Small World Journeys guide days 1-2
  • Aboriginal guides days 3-4
  • Specialty guides and educators
  • All activities and entrance fees as described in the itinerary
  • Transportation to activities
  • 3 nights at Cairns budget accommodation (4 or 6 share dorm rooms)
  • 1 night bush camping (tents, sleeping pads and bags provided)
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners
  • A hand-painted canvas to take home
  • Pre-trip educational information
  • 5 metres square Daintree rainforest plot adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue
  • A BPA free reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag


*Two teacher rooms (private twin or triple share rooms) are included in the trip price for groups of 15 students or more. For trips with low numbers (10-14), one teacher room is included. A supplement of $240 AUD is charged if an additional private room is required for the trip. If teachers are happy to share a room, no additional costs are incurred.

Small World Journeys reserves the right to change the order of activities for logistical reasons. Prices are valid for travel from 1 April 2021 to 31 March, 2022.


  • Airfare to Cairns
  • Travel insurance (highly recommended)
  • Personal expenses (phone, laundry, etc.)

  • Optional trip to the Great Barrier Reef on an Aboriginal Culture Cruise (add $199 AUD; includes all snorkeling gear and buffet lunch)


Arrival in Cairns: Welcome to the tropics! On arrival you are met by a Small World Journeys staff member and transferred to your accommodation.

Accommodation: Your accommodation is at a comfortable hostel in the centre of Cairns’ restaurant and shopping district, and only a few blocks from the waterfront. The hostel is committed to sustainability and even has their own herb garden for guests use! A lush swimming pool and spa, and large common areas, the hostel also features free internet in common areas and air conditioning in each room.

OPTION 1 – Aboriginal Language Lesson: Next you can choose to have a special lesson in learning the basic language skills required to speak a local Aboriginal language of the Irukandji people.  The Irukandji spoke Yirrgay, one of the five dialects of the language group generally known as Djabugay, but the last fluent speakers died in the 1960’s. You are taught by a respected member of the clan who is now actively trying to retrieve and preserve the language.  Your Aboriginal host teaches you in a fun and dynamic way how a local Aboriginal language, stories and culture are delightfully intertwined.  This is a unique Indigenous cultural experience.

– OR –

OPTION 2 – Doctor’s Talk on Aboriginal Health: Alternatively, you can choose to gather for an insightful talk about the disparity between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people’s health. Facilitated by a local doctor with extensive experience with Aboriginal health issues, this talk will cover environmental, genetic and socio-cultural factors that affect wellbeing and life expectancy.  This doctor will also discuss her mobile outreach service, which brings patient-centred medical care to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients who may feel uncomfortable receiving treatment in a conventional clinical setting. With time for questions and answers, this activity can be a starting point for further discussions on social justice and reconciliation.

Accommodation: Cairns budget accommodation
Meals Included: Dinner

Aboriginal Painting:  Today you tour an art gallery owned by a Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal artist that is filled with paintings, didgeridoos and artefacts.  The Aboriginal artist-in-residence teaches you how to re-create the dot paintings that are a typical aboriginal style and symbolic of Australian art. He explains the meaning behind his paintings and what this art means to his people. You are able to take your small canvas painting home with you – a perfect souvenir for your time in northern Australia!

Aboriginal Culture and Food Gathering: Next you walk with two gentle Aboriginal guides of the Kubirri Warra clan along the coast they’ve called home for thousands of years. Your Aboriginal guides teach you to throw a spear and you try your hand at catching food the traditional way — hunting for fish, mud crabs, mussels and other “bush tucker” (food) along the beach and among the mangroves.  Along the way, your guides share their knowledge of country, wildlife and of local edible and medicinal plants.

Cooking What You’ve Caught: Later you are invited to your indigenous guide’s home where you meet the family, learn more about Aboriginal culture and feast on what you’ve caught.  This is an authentic interaction with Aboriginal people that allows you to see how indigenous traditions are integrated into the modern world.   

Optional Evening Activity – Documentary Film: Documentary films can inspire discussion and action, in addition to complementing the content of your trip. Tonight you have a choice to view one of several optional films that relate to Aboriginal culture (no extra cost).

Accommodation: Cairns budget accommodation
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Welcome to Country and Mangroves Cruise : During this experience, you are led by Mandingalbay Yidinji people into their “country”, which straddles the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage areas.  A boat ride across the inlet takes you through intricate mangrove and freshwater wetland environments beneath rainforest draped mountains. With a traditional smoke ceremony, you are then welcomed onto Mandingalbay Yidinji land.  You get an orientation to your site, set up camp, and your hosts speak to you about their spiritual and cultural connection to country.

Trapping and Food Preparation: Next you learn how the Mandingalbay Yidinji people created pig traps to traditionally catch their food. You then learn to prepare and put kup murri in the ground for dinner. A kup murri is an earth oven dug into the ground, using heated hot stones and sand/soil to cook the food.  Damper, meat such as pork or fish and vegetables such as taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin and cabbage are wrapped in banana leaves/coconut leaves and placed in the centre of the hot stones. The kup murri enables the individual to reconnect with the four elements that maintain life and to celebrate and thank the creation spirits for looking after culture, customs and spiritual beliefs. Later you gather around a campfire to discuss Mandingalbay Yidinji traditions and customs.

Accommodation: Bush Camping with Aboriginal Hosts (tents, sleeping pads and bags provided)
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Hiking and Bush “Supermarket”:  You wake to birdsong in this secluded corner of the park. Through a walk and ranger talk this morning you learn some of the work that Aboriginal rangers are doing to manage their land, through both traditional and contemporary methods.  As you hike to a set of waterfalls in the national park, you learn how wind is important in hunting, how the Mandingalbay Yidinji people turned poisonous seeds into bread dough, and why and where they migrated with the seasons.  A host of edible and medicinal plants line the pathway, creating a virtual supermarket and pharmacy, and you can taste the tangy native coriander, smell the sweet scent of coconut laurel and wash your hands with the soap tree.  After lunch you have time for discussions on totems and the protection of animals, Native Title Acts and biodiversity surveys.

Discussions with Hosts: After lunch you have time for discussions on totems and the protection of animals, Native Title Acts and biodiversity surveys. You are returned to Cairns in the afternoon having had an authentic experience with Far North Queensland’s Indigenous peoples.

Accommodation: Cairns budget accommodation
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

After breakfast this morning you have free time for last-minute shopping or souvenir purchases and then you are transferred to the Cairns airport.

Alternatively, you can add on an optional reef trip:   

Boat Ride to Reef with Aboriginal Culture: Your day begins with an air-conditioned boat ride to the outer Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World-Heritage site and one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet.  On the way, you are treated to the recounting of creation stories by the Aboriginal staff as well as a demonstration of Indigenous tools and instruments. A presentation by a marine biologist will help you understand the marine species you are likely spot today at the reef.

Snorkelling: Snorkelling can be done right off the back of the boat.  For snorkelers, giant clams, angel, butterfly and parrot fish, turtles, sea stars and corals of a thousand hues are all within reach.  Among the 1,800 species of fish and 450 species of coral, you can expect to see Wally the giant wrasse, fan corals, sea cucumbers and just about the entire cast of “Finding Nemo”.  You also may see beauties such as luminescent parrot fish, the chocolate-dipped damsel, the Picasso triggerfish and several species of turtles.

Field Guide: 101 Animals of The Great Barrier Reef, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand the underwater world and is yours to keep.  Later you are transferred to the airport for your evening flight. (Plan to depart after 7 pm if you choose the reef option).

Meals Included:  Breakfast (Lunch is also included with reef trip)

Check out this tour's educational outcomes
“We chose Small World because of the programs offered, value for money, variety of activities and quality of guides. Outstanding organisation and customer service. Marketing material was accurate and reflected the program and activities experienced by the students. Information provided pre-trip was comprehensive and timely which allowed us to plan the trip easily. Well informed and professional guides – impressive! [Accommodation] was clean and close to the centre of Cairns. Learning opportunities were closely aligned with our Stage 6 Geography and Aboriginal Studies courses.”
–Vicki S., teacher, Wollongong School of the Performing Arts, Wollongong NSW (Oct ’18 and ‘19)

How Your Trip Makes The World A Better Place

We’re not talking rainbows and unicorns. We’re talking about how we have put significant thought into how to make our student tours as safe as they possibly can be while still being fun; encouraging students to learn about and contribute to the community they are travelling in; and teaching them what “sustainability” really means.


Although we wear bras and brush our teeth, you could say we are a team of hippy tree-huggers. This is why we run our office on renewable energy, voluntarily offsetting our carbon emissions, and fulfilling our policy to give at least 5% of our annual net profits to local environmental and community organisations and charities. Here’s what else we are doing:

HELPING THE REEF: In addition to the coral tree we sponsor, we pay to “adopt” coral at Fitzroy Island through our partner. The coral propagation happening there is unprecedented and is being celebrated as a significantproject to help save the reef. Each of our groups that visit the reef receives a certificate on the tour and later receive updates on the coral.

ADOPTING A RAINFOREST PLOT IN YOUR NAME: We pay to have a 5-square metre plot of rainforest is adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue. On your excursion, your group will be presented with a certificate detailing the significance of this gift to the environment. In 2018-19, we purchased more than 100 square metres of rainforest adopted in our groups’ names.

CREATIVE WASTE REDUCTION: We give you your own water bottle and cloth shopping bag to eliminate the need for disposable bottles and plastic bags (and saves them from going in landfills!) We also recycle BOTH our hard plastics and soft plastics (through RedCycle) and have transitioned into NO WASTE snacks and NO WASTE lunches. Our food scraps get composted and put into our community garden, our bin liners are paper (not plastic) and we even wipe our bums with Who Gives a Crap 100% recycled toilet paper!


SUPPORTING OUR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY: It is our policy to include a talk or an activity with an Aboriginal person on every trip we offer. By taking this trip, you are supporting grassroots indigenous tourism ventures and encouraging Aboriginal pride in culture. We are proud to say that in the financial year of 2018-19, we gave over $43,000 in business to Aboriginal-owned ventures.

Additionally, our student community service project involves students in making “Moon Sick Care Bags” which supply re-usable sanitary products to Aboriginal women in remote communities — this helps both Indigenous women AND the environment! (Ask us how your group can do this on their tour)

SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES: It is our policy to use locally owned suppliers and businesses unless their standards are not up to par (for example, if they have a bad environmental record). In 2018-19, three quarters of our expenses were paid back into the local economy.

VOLUNTEERING IN OUR COMMUNITY: Small World staff are incentivised to volunteer in the community, and are given time to do so during work hours. As a team, we also clean up our local mangroves once a quarter, recognising their importance at the nursery to the Great Barrier Reef.


SUPERB SAFETY RECORD: We’ve had thousands of students travel with us, and our safety record is excellent. Ask us for teacher references specifically regarding safety.

RISK ASSESSMENT FOR EVERY TRIP: We do a risk assessment for every student tour we run, and is sent to your organising teacher. We have safety protocols for our activities and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Manual that documents these protocols. We also have a complete Crisis Management Plan. In addition, students are given a safety briefing during orientation that addresses hazards and risks for this region.

SAFE BUSES: All of our buses are equipped with seatbelts for every seat. While this is not a Queensland law to have them, we feel your safety is a priority. Our guides do safety checks at the start of each day of the trip. In addition, vehicles go through a Department of Transport safety inspection every six months.

SAFE GUIDES: Small World Journeys’ guides hold current Senior First Aid and CPR certificates, along with government-issued Driver’s Authority (if driving) and Working With Children cards (also known as a Blue Card) after passing a thorough background check. For more information on our guides, see About Us.

We do custom trips!

Still haven’t found exactly what you are looking for? All our tours are fully customisable and can be catered to suit your time-frame, student interests and budget. A geography excursion to the Great Barrier Reef? A biology excursion to the Daintree Rainforest? An Aboriginal culture excursion? Our educational trips in Queensland and New South Wales are hand-crafted for those who cannot find exactly what they want from the inflexible set itineraries of large tour operators.

If you are looking for a science trip, ecology trip, Aboriginal culture, or just a sample of the best of Australia – we can help.

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