Before Farming

Woman, man, land: an example from Arnhem Land, North Australia

Before Farming (2003), 2003, (2), 1–15.

Abstract

This particular study of Australian Aborigines' religious beliefs explores the spiritual and geomorphic interaction between Ancestor Beings and the creation of land formations. Examples are abundant in mythology and rock-paintings of the clans who lived in the stone country of western Arnhem Land in northern Australia. This location flanks Cooper Lagoon near the sacred land formation called Awunbarna, also referred to as Mt Borradaile. The study concentrates on the recent infill tradition of rock-painting, between 2000 years ago to present, and the continuing tradition of oral transmission of belief systems as they pertain to the land. The polymorphous nature of Ancestor Beings in the Aboriginal belief system is vividly reflected in the mythology and iconography of the Aboriginal people across the vast Australian landscape. In Aboriginal oral tradition the original Ancestor Beings of the Aboriginal people created the first shapes in the landscape. In the area surrounding Awunbarna, human, insect, animal, snake and fish features are frequently painted in rock shelters. These rock-painted figures are either incorporated within human body shapes or painted along side, recalling mythological and ontological nuances found in the oral remembrances of these northern clans. What the Aboriginal artists display in their choice of representation shows the impact of strongly held perceptions toward their origin stories. Their (re)constructions of the landscape are contextualised in rituals and rock-paintings centred around these strongly held beliefs. The whole culture is infused with a sense of land-based oral history.

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Author details

Grove, Margaret