Custodians of the Land: Meet Western Australia’s Indigenous Noongar People

Introducing Dale Tilbrook, founder of the Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery which showcases local Aboriginal artwork and culture. Here, she details how travellers can support Aboriginal communities and shares stories of kinship and bush tucker from the Noongar community in Western Australia.

In partnership withTourism Australia

This article appears in Volume 33: Collective.

Swan Valley is a verdant, semi-rural pocket of northeastern
Perth, Western Australia, known for delicately manicured
vineyards, locavore eateries and big-hitting art galleries.

Connected to the city by the Swan River, which snakes between
its suburbs and the Walyunga National Park, the area is the state’s
oldest wine-growing region. Yet long before the vines were planted,
the Noongar Aboriginal people have been custodians of this

Aboriginal Australians are the longest-surviving continuous
culture in the world. The Noongar people have lived in the Swan
Valley for over 40,000 years – and they’re keen to share their
ancient traditions, stories and practices with the growing number
of travellers seeking a deeper understanding of Australia’s
historical roots.

A descendant of the local Wardandi Bibbulmun people – part of
the Noongar community – and an expert on native foods, Dale
Tilbrook is intent on preserving and future-proofing Aboriginal
heritage. In the 1990s, she and her brother Lyall founded the
Aboriginal Gallery
, a cultural centre showcasing Noongar
culture and bush tucker via local artwork and communal dinners
accompanied by traditional dance, music and storytelling.

Here, we ask Dale what we can learn from Noongar attitudes
towards the land and how travellers can sustainably support
Aboriginal communities.

Tell us about the Noongar community and its culture.

Our culture is rooted in a spiritual connection to the land of
our ancestors. We originate from Western Australia’s south-western
corner, and Noongar country is made up of 14 different language
groups. We’re bound by a kinship system and unwritten lore passed
down through our Elders which guides every aspect of our culture –
our relationships, trade and custodianship of the land.

How does the Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery fit into this, what do
you hope to achieve?

Our ethos is rooted in stewardship; we don’t own the land, we
belong to it. We are all custodians of the Earth and believe that
we each have a responsibility to look after it for the next
generation. As an Aboriginal-owned and operated enterprise, the
Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery wants to share and preserve this local

And how do you do this in practice?

We run Aboriginal cultural-awareness workshops and educational
programmes with local universities. Visitors can buy Aboriginal
art, hand-painted woodware such as boomerangs or clapsticks, and
take part in culinary experiences that feature produce from the
bush garden. We also run a catering service using these ingredients
– Lyall’s kangaroo sausage roll is very popular.

In Australia more generally, a brilliant law, The Resale Royalty
Right, was passed in the last decade, helping to support Aboriginal
artists. If you resell a piece of Aboriginal art for more than
1,000 AUD, you must pay five per cent to the original artist.
Slowly but surely, it’s helping to redress historical Aboriginal

Tell us more about the bush garden. What type of food can we
expect to try at Maalinup?

We collect a wide range of bush tucker from all over Australia
for people to sample here, but we also grow herbs, spices, seeds
and more in our bush-food garden. You’ll find quandong [a
peach-like fruit], wattleseed, pepperberry [a hot, aromatic spice]
and lemon myrtle.

We would love to learn more about Aboriginal art. What can we
see at Maalinup?

Within the cultural centre, our gallery focuses on local artists
from the west of Western Australia who are usually not as well
collected as those from Central Australia. As well as traditional
Dreamtime stories – depictions of our spiritual beliefs – we also
showcase a wide range of contemporary styles. I’ve gathered
extensive knowledge of Aboriginal art and artists over the years,
and we now offer a calendar of talks about native practices and
dot-painting sessions for visitors.

As travellers, in what ways can we support Aboriginal
communities when we visit Australia?

It’s key that Aboriginal stories are told by indigenous people
and heard first-hand. Ordinary, everyday interactions are very
important for cultural awareness; travellers should seek out
opportunities to connect with local Aboriginal people as much as
possible. There is a fantastic initiative called Camping with
Custodians, which lets travellers camp on Aboriginal lands as well
as meet and mix with Aboriginal people. All camping fees stay
within the community, creating income, employment and training
opportunities for Aboriginal people, while showcasing their local

The Lowdown

For more information on Aboriginal Australian experiences visit, or find out more about
Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery at

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