Impacts on Aboriginal Spirituality and Culture from Tourism in the Coastal Waterways of the Kimberley Region, North West Australia

Document Type

Journal Article




Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management




Smith, A. J., Scherrer, P., & Dowling, R. K. (2009). Impacts on Aboriginal Spirituality and Culture from Tourism in the Coastal Waterways of the Kimberley Region, North West Australia. Journal of Ecotourism, 8(2), 82-98. Available here


The Kimberley coast in Australia’s far northwest stretches from Broome, Western Australia, for over 3000 km to the Northern Territory border. The largely undeveloped and remote area has gained increasing popularity in recent years for its spectacular scenery, Aboriginal rock art and native wildlife that forms the platform for a strong and uniquely Australian ecotourism experience. This paper examines the cultural impacts of tourism on the area, with focus on the expedition cruise industry. Visitors to the area access many land-based attractions of significance to Traditional Owners. Unlike at other tourist destinations, non-indigenous cruise operators offer the indigenous experience, without any contact with the Traditional Owners of the areas visited. This project worked in close consultation with representatives from the four native title groups, expedition cruise operators and other stakeholders to assess cultural and environmental management practices and identification of current and potential impacts of ecotourism activities. The study found that the issue of cultural and spiritual impacts on sites of Aboriginal significance, coupled with issues of on-site visitor management, requires urgent attention. Impacts included lack of consultation with Traditional Owners, permission not being sought for access and cultural protocols not being followed resulting in a perceived lack of respect for traditional custodians. There are currently considerable variations in operational practices that should be addressed through the development and implementation of good practice guidelines and operational standards. There is also a need for an improved governance framework and the development of appropriate statutory and non-statutory mechanisms to facilitate sustainability in coastal planning and development of the Kimberley coastal area. The appointment of an adequately equipped body to oversee and drive the regional planning and development process, including the development of a coastal planning strategy, could provide the capacity for such a process.





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