The Most Sacred Places in Indigenous Australian Folklore

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Photo of Tom Smith
7 May 2021

Even when it was being colonised by Westerners in the late 1700s, Australia already had a long cultural history, courtesy of the Indigenous peoples like Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. The hugely spiritual peoples endowed many a local landmark with metaphysical significance, and that admiration continues to this very day. From shining rocks to sweeping dunes, these are the most spiritually significant spots down under.

Uluru

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AU - Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park:  Aborigine at Uluru  (formerly known as Ayers Rock)
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Sometimes known as Ayers Rock, Uluru is without doubt the most sacred site in Aboriginal folklore. It’s so sacred, in fact, that the government is banning visitors from climbing it. The hulking sandstone monolith has hosted Indigenous ceremonies for more than 10,000 years, and the local Anangu community believe ancestral beings continue to live on at the site.

Kata Tjuta

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Aerial View of Kata Tjuta at sunrise, Red Center. Northern Territory, Australia
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Another rock formation within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Kata Tjuta consists of 36 boulders dotted across the ochre-red Central Australian landscape, and also carries spiritual significance for Indigenous people. The domes are shrouded in mysterious Aboriginal myths, including one Dreaming legend about a snake king named Wanambi who lived on the summit of Mount Olga.

Wilpena Pound

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Aerial of Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges National Park.
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Yura Muda folklore says that Wilpena Pound was created by two Dreaming serpents who ate so many people during a celebration that they became unable to move; their stricken bodies formed this vast mountain range. This 800-million-year-old natural amphitheatre is the highlight of the Flinders Ranges, about five hours’ drive north of Adelaide.

Lake Mungo

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Mungo National Park, erosion patterns in the ancient sedimented shores of Mungo Lake
© Manfred Gottschalk / Alamy Stock Photo

50 years ago, archaeologists unearthed the remains of two people here: the Mungo Lady and the Mungo Man. The landmark discovery proved that Indigenous people had inhabited the Australian continent for more than 40,000 years. Thus, this Unesco Heritage Site is the oldest ritual burial place on the face of the Earth.

Devil's Pool

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The Devil's Pool at Babinda Boulders with Babinda creek running through the granite rocks. Near Cairns, Queensland, Australia
© Michael Willis / Alamy Stock Photo

This swimming hole near Cairns owes is named after an Aboriginal legend. The story goes that a young runaway bride named Oolana leapt to her death at this sacred site when she was stopped from marrying her one true love. Apparently, she’s seduced men into a watery grave ever since. The pool has claimed 17 lives since 1959; a plaque nearby reads, “He came for a visit and stayed forever.”

Arnhem Land

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Overlooking the  Gunbalanya community from  the  towering escarpment Injalak Hill. Arnhem land.Northern Territory .Australia
© Gary Blake / Alamy Stock Photo

The Yolngu people have called this north-east corner of the Northern Territory home for more than 60,000 years, so there’s rich Indigenous history all across this untamed terrain. Importantly, Arnhem Land is the birthplace of the didgeridoo. It’s also brimming with Dreaming stories, including one about a family feud that ended up with the creation of the jabiru (stork) and the emu.

Grampians National Park

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A guy standing on reeds lookout in the Grampians national park, Australia
© David Chrastek / Alamy Stock Photo

90% of all the Aboriginal rock art in the entire state of Victoria is located in the Grampians, a leafy national park three hours west of Melbourne. Learn about Indigenous folklore at the Brambuk Cultural Centre in Halls Gap before bushwalking your way around the colourful rock art sites.

South Australian Museum

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/Australia, South Australia, Adelaide, South Australian Museum, famous for his collection of anthropological aboriginal pieces
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While many Indigenous artefacts are found in the Australian bush, the South Australian Museum preserves plenty within four walls in the middle of Adelaide. The museum curates the largest collection of Aboriginal cultural items anywhere in the country: paintings, boomerangs, shields, weapons and even the only surviving intact bark canoe are dotted across five floors.

Black Mountain/Kalkajaka

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the distinctive black boulder hills of Black Mountain National Park seen from Mulligan Highway, Shire of Cook, Far North Queensland, Australia
© Manfred Gottschalk / Alamy Stock Photo

As if the name Black Mountain wasn’t ominous enough! The Aboriginal moniker, Kalkajaka, translates to “place of spear”. This otherworldly mound of black granite boulders in tropical North Queensland includes four sites of religious significance to the Kuku Nyungkal people: Kambi (a cave where flying foxes are found), Julbanu (a rock shaped like a kangaroo), Birmba (a stone cockatoos call home) and Yirrmbal: a spot the Indigenous consider taboo.

Worimi Conservation Lands

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Australia, New South Wales, Woromi Conservation Lands, barefoot man taking photo in desert
E1J18J Australia, New South Wales, Woromi Conservation Lands, barefoot man taking photo in desert | © Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Stockton Beach is across the harbour from Newcastle and boasts the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, towering 40m (131ft) high. However, the significance to Aboriginal folklore lies in the 12,000-year-old shell deposits (or middens), rich in cultural artefacts. Hop on an Indigenous tour of the sacred site to learn more.

These recommendations were updated on May 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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