By Janine Roberts - from her book, 'Massacres to Mining.'
The gorge was narrow, the cliffs low but steep. The sun glared from the exposed rocks. I clung to the shade as I explored its winding course. It was dry underfoot but when rare desert rains came it would turn into a deadly torrent. I was in the Flinders Ranges, the range of deeply eroded hills that divide the vast salt bush plains of south Australia.
I had not gone far before I came upon circles carved deeply into rocks. Then, turning a bend, I entered a flat sand floored arena. On either side the cliffs were intricately carved with lines, curves, spirals and circles. It was a strange place of magic that held me. Clearly this was a place naturally made for dancing and ceremony. I had been told that Aborigines were so primitive that they had no writing. Commen prejudice told me that these were primitive drawings by a tribe unable to draw the realistic paintings of the north. But suddenly, sitting there, contemplating them from a rocky seat, I realised that prejudice had blinded me. These were no poor drawings. They were abstract hieroglyphics belonging to a written language. I was latter to learn that this ancient writing was over 23,000 years old - and that it was still understood by a few surviving descendents today.
Aboriginal people were in Australia over 40,000 years before the first Europeans reached the continent. Some now say for over 100,000 years. Their culture thus predates by tens of thousands of years the building of the pyramids in Egypt a mere 4,500 years ago. The Bunggunditj tribe of around Mt. Gambier in South Australia has in its oral history how Mt. Muirhead erupted (20,000 years ago) and then how Mt Gambier erupted (5,000 years ago). At Keilor near Melbourne a 31,OOO years old Aboriginal camp has been found. People then hunted wombat-like creatures, today wild pig sized animals, then as big as rhinoceroses as well as ten foot high kangaroos. These became extinct many thousand years ago but they are still remembered in Aboriginal history told from generation to generation
Before the British came there were some 500 Aborginal nations, many of whom have now been wiped out, and as many languages. Each nation or tribe was made up by a number of clans (and still is). Each clan held (and many still hold) its own land and they invite others to use it for particular hunts or crops at the right time. There was no special castes of priests or centralised systems of authority.
Silas Roberts, an Elder and first Chairman of the Northern Land Council, explained how they feel about land. 'Aborigines have a special connection with everything that is natural. Aborigines see themselves as part of nature. We see all things natural as part of us. All things on earth we see as part human. This is told through the idea of dreaming. By dreaming we mean the belief that long ago these creatures started human society; they made all natural things and put them in a special place. These dreaming creatures were connected to special places and special roads or tracks or paths. In many cases the great creatures changed themselves into sites where their spirits stayed.
My people believe this and I believe this. Nothing anybody says to me will change my belief in it. This is my story as it is the story of every true Aborigine.
These creatures, these great creatures, are just as much alive today as they were in the beginning. They are everlasting and will never die. They are always part of the land and nature as we are. We cannot change nor can they. Our connection to all things natural is spiritual. We worship spiritual sites today. We have songsand dances for these sites and we never approach them without preparing ourselves properly. When the great creatures moved across the land, they made small groups of people like me in each area. These people were given jobs to do but I cannot go any further than that here.
It is true that people who belong to a particular area are really part of that area and if that area is destroyed they are also destroyed. In my travels throughout Australia I have met many Aborigines from other parts who have lost their culture. They have always lost their land and by losing their land, they have lost part of themselves.'
This is from a speech made by Silas Roberts opposing the mining of uranium on tribal land.