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02 MAY 2015

Aboriginal People's Relationship to Land

"Every different clan group has stories about their beginnings. Stories are like our archives, detailing how Creator Beings from under the earth arose to shape the land and to create the landscape. There are myriad variations of the story, but the theme stays the same.

The whole surface of the earth was like a moonscape, no features, no flora and fauna, just bare open plain. But there were Creator Beings sleeping in a state of potentiality just under the surface. At a certain time they were disturbed, whereupon their potentiality transformed into actuality and they arose out of the ground. When they finally emerged, they were very big and tall. These beings were spirit ancestors of many of the varieties of flora and fauna, especially large animals, in Australia. When this emergence was completed, the spirit ancestors started to interact with one another, fighting, dancing, running about, making love, killing. All of this activity shaped the Australian landscape as we know it today.

Throughout this period humans remained asleep in various embryonic forms, in a state like a kind of proto-humanity. They were awakened by all the activity above; the Creator Beings helped these proto-humans to become fully human, teaching them the Laws of custodianship of land, the Laws of kinship, of marriage, of correct ceremonies-they gave them every kind of knowledge they needed to look after the land and to have a stable society.

When this work was finished, the Creator Beings went back into the land, where they all still remain in the same eternal sleep from which they awakened at the beginning of time. The locations to which they returned have always been and are still today regarded as very important sacred sites.

Wherever the Creator Beings travelled, they left tracks or some kind of evidence of themselves. These traces determined the identity of the people. In other words, every Aboriginal person has a part of the essence of one of the original creative spirits who formed the Australian landscape. Therefore each person has a charter of custodianship empowering them and making them responsible for renewing that part of the flora and its fauna. The details of this metaphysics varied widely across the land with the physical environment, but the spiritual basis-the understanding that what separates humans from animals is the fact that each human bears a creative and spiritual identity which still resides in land itself-provided and still provides in many places the religious, social, political and economic force throughout Aboriginal Australia."

(Mary Graham, 2008)

Australian Humanities Review 45 (November 2008): "Mary Graham: Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews". This essay was originally published in Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion 3 (1999): 105-118.




Aboriginal Australia • Aboriginal mythology • Aboriginal worldviews • ancestral beings • Association for the Study of Australian Literature (ASAL) • Australian Humanities Review (AHR) • Australian landscape • beginnings • belonging • charter of custodianship • clan • clan group • creation narrative • creative and spiritual identity • Creator Beings • custodianship • customs • embryonic forms • eternal sleep • fauna • florafolkloreIndigenous Australians • Juanita Bailey • Kombu-merri person • landland custodianshiplandmarkslandscape • Lilla Watson • Lin Morrow • Mary Grahammetaphysics • open plain • origin mythphysical environment • potentiality • proto-human • proto-humanity • sacred sites • spirit ancestors • symbolic placetimeless time • under the earth • under the surface • worldview


Simon Perkins

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