Right along the West Australian coast these days Indigenous experiences are front-and-centre in the tourism landscape, with one noticeable exception.
The Ningaloo Coast has become a global tourism magnet for its whale shark swims, pristine reef and world-class fishing.
There’s windsurfing too, and breweries, food, hikes, Australian animal-spotting and a fascinating American military history to keep visitors coming back.
But the one glaring omission in the region’s tourism setup to date has been an Indigenous experience.
Baiyungu woman Hazel Walgar has grand plans for Indigenous tourism in the region, including Indigenous-led whale shark swims, cultural camping in the rugged Cape Range National Park and astronomy.
Those plans would mark a wholesale change to the local industry which, while well-respected and highly-successful, has lacked Traditional Owner voices.
For now Ms Walgar is starting small, running 4WD and sunset campfire tours out of the Indigenous-run Carbadia Station on Coral Bay’s doorstep through her new business, Baiyungu Dreaming.
“I really want to share my country and culture with visitors and this tag-a-long tour is to be the start of bigger things for me, my family and Baiyungu people,” Ms Walgar said.
“My vision is to employ young Traditional Owners or anyone who wants to do tourism.
“We go through that really hard time of getting back to country, we go through trauma in our lives, and I know on country and out there in my areas you get peace and healing – that is the journey I want to take young people on.”
While not successful for the “big money” through State Government grants, Ms Walgar said the Gascoyne Development Commission and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan had put in the hard yards to get her dream off the ground.
That help means Ms Walgar can now run weekly full-day 4WD tag-a-long tours to remote
places along the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast where, as well as enjoying the beaches and snorkeling the region is famed for, guests will also get insight into culturally significant places.
Short sunset tours are also on offer, where guests can sit around a campfire to learn about Dreamtime stories, station life, and archaeology.
Ms Walgar said growing Indigenous tourism on the Ningaloo Coast would help to connect a tourism “songline” with herself, Darren Capewell’s Wula Gura Nyinda in Shark Bay, and Clinton Walker’s Ngurrangga Tours in Karratha.
“We can join tourism like joining songlines, joining the people of the coastal tribes,” she said.
“Recognition of Aboriginal people, culture and country with other non-Indigenous Australians and visitors is so important.
“I would love for my cultural tours to play a part in that.”
There is also the matter of the 2023 solar eclipse in Exmouth, for which the town’s accommodation is already sold out.
Ms Walgar says there was a special story about the eclipse, one she would keep close to her chest until the night.