Capturing Intangible Cultural Impacts from Tourism on Aboriginal Land in Australia's Kimberley

Document Type

Journal Article


Centre for Tourism, Research and Development


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management




Scherrer, P., & Doohan, K. (2011). Capturing intangible cultural impacts from tourism on Aboriginal Land in Australia's Kimberley. Tourism Recreation Research, 36(3), 271-280. Available here


This paper highlights the gap in current indicator-based approaches to address intangible cultural impacts and traditional owner values and ontologies in the development and management of tourism. Present approaches to management and assessment of tourism impacts on indigenous land and sea country (where “country” denotes Aboriginal space and place) are heavily influenced by “objective” science-driven approaches which rationalize and instrumentalize human–nature relationships into measurable units and quantifiable methods and indicators. They reflect a western Eurocentric cultural framework that erases indigenous peoples’ worldviews, associations and relationships, viewing indigenous spaces as ecological landscapes rather than as culture-scapes in which “nature” and “culture” are inseparable and rules for access apply. Based on a case study from the Kimberley coastal region of Australia, this paper finds that the “wicked problem” of tourism access without traditional owner permission, a longstanding unresolved issue, continues to be the overarching cultural impact on traditional owners and precludes the finer scale assessment of site-based impacts. The manifestations of the impacts of unsanctioned access range from the scale of individual persons to regional climatic effects and are deeply embedded in the traditional owner ontology. It concludes that, first, there are essential prerequisites to the development of effective local-scale sustainability indicators of intangible cultural impacts of tourism. Second, the paper highlights an urgent need for working within (rather than on) indigenous ontologies in order to overcome the continuing embeddedness of colonizing practices in reductionist indicator-based approaches.




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