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Oz's top tour guide says people crave Indigenous culture... but she needs help

David Prestipino -

The desire of tourists for a deep dive into Indigenous culture and experiences has never been more evident, according to Australia's 'top tourist guide'.

Rosanna Angus is a proud Jawi woman whose family lived on Sunday Island on the Dampier Peninsula coast before the missionaries took over in 1962.

She said the highlight for the majority of guests on her Oolin Sunday Island Cultural Tours - which operate along WA's beautiful Kimberley coast - is the knowledge they glean of Indigenous culture, lore and traditional ways of life.

While tour participants always revel in the beauty of the scenic, untouched saltwater country she leads them through, Ms Angus says they get a kick most from her sharing stories of Aboriginal life and the enduring culture and traditions of her family, part of the Bardi Jawi Saltwater People, the traditional land owners from the tip of the Dampier Peninsula and the islands at the entrance to King Sound.

Ms Angus, who claimed the top spot in the tour guide category at the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards at Parliament House last week said she was thrilled to be recognised for her tours, which she first imagined as a child while immersed in the history and culture of the traditional people on Sunday Island.

What she couldn't anticipate then or when she launched her business during the pandemic was the tourism lull that lingered.

While navigating her first season of tours during COVID posed logistical and financial challenges, it gave Ms Angus time to ease into things, get a feel for what people liked and what could be further explored, be it leading them through whirlpools and eddies between Jooloom and Jayirru in the Kimberley or showing them how the massive tidal currents were used by her people to hunt, fish and trade.

After national recognition this week at the gala event in Canberra, and similar honours on a state level, Rosanna's tours are sure to be on more bucket lists of visitors to WA's North West, but that won't equate to more Oolin's growth as a tourism operation.

Like many Indigenous tourism businesses in the North West and across Australia, taking the next step to a bigger operation, with multiple staff and assets, is a challenge for Ms Angus, especially in a crowded market.

"It's fantastic to have the credibility that comes with being recognised like this, and all the exposure it generates for the business, but I still don't have the capacity to grow," said Rosanna, whose business still doesn't return a profit, despite the accolades and growing demand for Aboriginal tourism experiences.

"At the moment, my boat can only take 11 people, so I'm limited by that, plus there's all the logistical stuff at the backend that you have to manage."

She is currently upskilling as she strives to leverage her success, taking a business course she hopes will land her vital grants and funding required to grow Oolin and show more people the beauty and traditions of life in her saltwater country.

"Being a sole operator is tough for Indigenous tourism businesses; I've had great support, especially from Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, which allowed me and the business to grow," she said.

Tourism Council WA CEO Evan Hall said Ms Angus was an innovative leader and a worthy national finalist for WA in the national tour guide category.

"Rosanna has made a significant contribution to the public's understanding of Aboriginal culture through her guiding, alongside work supporting and inspiring Aboriginal women in her local community," he said.

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