Things you only know if you’re an Aboriginal cultural tour guide

Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alannah Le Cross
Arts and Culture Editor, Time Out Sydney
Tour guide Tim Gray stands amongst the leaves of a gum tree.
Photograph: Daniel Boud | Tim Gray, Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tours

… according to Tim Gray, tour guide at Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tours

Australia’s true history surprises people

Aboriginal history is only just starting to be told in schools, [which have] mainly focussed on colonial history. It surprises people, it also upsets people in a way, particularly the older people that come to our tours. It upsets them not because of what we’re talking about, but because they never knew about it. I’ve got 80 and 90-year-olds saying, ‘Well why weren’t we taught this in school?’ Then when I tell them that now it’s being taught, they’re happy with that. It’s a nice surprise, and sometimes not so nice.

Sandstone is the foundation of Sydney, in more ways than one

Anywhere you dig in Sydney you dig down to sandstone. The Gadigal people were actually known as saltwater-sandstone people, so the sandstone is really important to the way of life for Aboriginal people back then; things like carving, grinding food, grinding tools, and ochre came from sandstone. There are also in the colonial connections. The headland which is now Barangaroo reserve was quarried by convicts for sandstone to build the early buildings that were the beginning of Sydney, pretty much.

International tourists have a mixed understanding 

What I’ve found with a lot of international tourists is some of them know more about the history than Australians do… and some thought Aboriginal people were extinct. I’ve had six people in my life walk up to me and say sorry ‘for what my ancestors did to yours’. Only one of them was Australian, the rest were English, maybe because those convicts [who became Aussies] weren’t brought here willingly, so I think a lot of the English people are still carrying guilt. I don’t expect anyone to say sorry to me, but they’ve chosen to do that. 

Tim Gray, Barangaroo Aboriginal Cultural Tours

Photograph: Daniel Boud

The Internet is actually helping

A lot of people think that the Internet is a hindrance for our society but I think it's woken everyone up. There’s way more information accessible to us, if we had the internet back in the ’60s or ’50s I think we wouldn’t even need to be asking why is Australia Day this or that, because everyone would know and understand – but better late than never.  I call it Survival Day, I go to an event called Yabun. Australia Day for me is, like we do here at Barangaroo, remembering the fallen, like ANZAC Day, the massacres and the things that weren’t so nice and then after that coming together and celebrating as a nation. For me, that would be awesome if that was the case.

Sharing stories is the way to healing Australia

I think it's important that we learn all of the history of Australia, particularly from 1788 onwards. It actually will act as a healing process for us as a nation, and I’ve seen the elements of that already, especially with the old people… and the kids, because they’ll know both sides of the story they’ll grow up less ignorant, more educated, in regards to breaking down the barriers of prejudice it will just make Australia a better place. It’s not just Barangaroo tours, there are other tours in the area that are doing that. [Educating people is] the main reason why I love doing this job...I look forward to going to work because of that reason that we’re telling the other history [and] the story of Barangaroo. 

Inner-city reserves are important

[Barangaroo is] the most sustainable precinct on the planet, it’s got a six-star [green] rating, and that can be a whole tour on its own. There are 75,000 plants and shrubs in Barangaroo which are not only native to Australia but native to the area. We’ve got 88 species, 83 of those species are endemic to this area.

Find out more about Aboriginal cultural tours in Barangaroo.

Check out our interviews with SES volunteer Kathy Garancsi and Guide Dog puppy raisers Nathan Brooker and Georgia Pretty.

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