6 questions with Rob Hyatt - Koorie Heritage Trust

1. How long have you been working for Koorie Heritage Trust, and how did you get involved with indigenous culture and community? 
I have been working at the Koorie Heritage Trust for three years. As an Aboriginal man, I have been involved in the Aboriginal community and culture for most of my working life through various government roles and now for the Koorie Heritage Trust. I am of Gunai/Wotjobuluk descent from Victoria.

2. What is the Aboriginal Tourism workshop all about?
The Aboriginal Tourism workshop has a number of key elements to its purpose. The first is to provide cultural awareness and cultural competency to the broader tourism industry to better understand the local Aboriginal history and culture and the impact of colonisation and past government practices on Aboriginal people. This leads to the second purpose which is to enable the industry to gain an understanding of the Aboriginal community and people today so as to inform the need for strong working relationships and partnering with Aboriginal communities and organizations to support the appropriate incorporation of Aboriginal culture and knowledge into tourism products and experiences. The third purpose is then to provide guidance to the industry in how to work with Aboriginal people, communities and organisations to develop relationships and partnerships. The final purpose is to provide the industry with insight into current Aboriginal tourism operations and the living Aboriginal culture that is being experienced through these including stories and how they are being told and significant sites.

3. Why do you think this workshop is important in today’s tourism industry?
It's important because we are experiencing a want and desire from visitors to understand local Aboriginal people and stories as a part of their own experiences while here in Melbourne. The importance in this is that they are not simply asking for an example of Aboriginal culture and performance but more the story of our history, what has happened and where we are at today. Visitors are wanting the opportunity to hear this from an Aboriginal person, to have the time to listen and ask questions. Just as important is that we are providing an Aboriginal experience for our visitors in an urban setting and illustrating that there is more to Aboriginal Australia than just the outback/bush experience and that this can include the stories as well as significant sites (traditional and contemporary).

The workshop provides the broader tourism industry with the opportunities to incorporate Aboriginal stories and experiences through working with Aboriginal people from employment opportunities to developing relationships and partnerships with Aboriginal operators.

4. What are some interesting case studies that are thriving in this area? 
There are a number of case studies that could be great to talk about at the workshop through Aboriginal tourism providers and visitor experiences from Bunjilaka to the Royal Botanical Gardens which of course would be best shared by them. For the Koorie Heritage Trust, an example of working with another tourism experience is the development of a partnership with the MCG. The MCG has a number of significant sites around it in Yarra Park and also has a significant Aboriginal cultural story to tell from pre-colonisation through to today. The Koorie Heritage Trust has been operating walking tours from Federation Square to Yarra Park and the MCG for a number of years telling the Aboriginal cultural story and history along Birrarung Marr to the ‘G’. While at Yarra Park, our guides take visitors to culturally significant sites and talk of the traditional Aboriginal use of the land pre-settlement and what the sites tell us of the traditional landscape then compared to now. The guides will also provide a history of the MCG from an Aboriginal experience which includes involvement in sports such as cricket and AFL football through to ceremonies and engagement in major events.

The MCG has a number of tours that they operate within the ‘G’ and National Sports Museum and so we have been having discussions for around a year on the potential to combine a tour that takes in the Aboriginal story around the ‘G’ and Yarra Park before visitors then take in the MCG experience. The development of the partnership has been very important and the MCG has ensured cultural appropriateness in the fact that they are partnering with us so that it is Aboriginal people telling the Aboriginal story. This development has been great as in the past, discussions with some other tours have simply asked us for our stories and cultural knowledge to appropriate into their own product. The partnership with the MCG is an exciting opportunity for the Koorie Heritage Trust as the ‘G’ is a modern significant meeting place in Melbourne that draws a lot of visitors and therefore provides us with the opportunity to increase our visitation as well as continue to tell our story. I am sure that our stories and cultural knowledge will only enhance the visitor’s experience to Yarra Park and the MCG. 

5. What are some of the challenges Koorie Heritage Trust faces when trying to work with the tourism industry?
At the moment our key challenge is the development of our own product to ensure it is a quality experience that can be promoted through the tourism industry and our work with Visit Victoria and John Huggins has us reaching that point. Our other key challenge involves other walking tour operators in particular, especially when we have been approached to educate other operator’s guides on local Aboriginal culture and stories. Our aim is to work with other operators that can support the Koorie Heritage Trust with an understanding that our Aboriginal guides tell their own unique stories and express their own unique culture. It is not as simple as handing over knowledge which can be taken and then provided in another context by a non-Aboriginal person as the cultural property of each individual Aboriginal person/guide is very personal and it is important that they are able to tell their own story. This concept will come across in the workshop, in particular through the elements of understanding the history and the context of its ongoing impact today. Developing relationships and partnerships across the tourism industry for us is therefore a key challenge for the Koorie Heritage Trust.

6. Lastly, what would you like to see more of in the tourism industry, in relation to Aboriginal culture and history?
I would like to see the tourism industry respectfully telling the story of our history through education, and understanding that Aboriginal culture is not just the outback experience but is alive and playing a role in our urban settings as well. It is a shared history that can be told but having the industry in a position to be knowledgeable on the history is critical. To this end, I would also like to see a tourism industry that is mature enough to share opportunities with the Aboriginal community which would enhance their own products. This can include employment opportunities for Aboriginal people into the industry by operators, as well has the development of partnerships with Aboriginal operators and product. 

Rob Hyatt is the Education Manager at the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc and the facilitator of Destination Melbourne's Aboriginal Tourism Workshop.