Dialectical Anthropology

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 431–445 | Cite as

Arts of flow: poetics of ‘fit’ in Aboriginal Australia

  • Deborah Bird RoseEmail author


This paper takes an ethnographic approach to non-anthropocentric cultures. The method is to follow a logic of connectivity and fit. Building on 30 years of research with Aboriginal Australians, including work on numerous claims to land, I explore the ecological patterns of the Simpson Desert into which humans pattern their social, ecological and cultural relations. I sidestep questions of ‘nature’ entirely, in order to examine the workings of the life of country in one of the world’s least hospitable deserts. By following the pulses of water and life, it becomes possible to see something of a human culture that itself pulses and flows within the patterns of surrounding life. The result is a poetics of flow that arises from the action of water, works its way through the revitalization of life, and is articulated by humans in all domains: livelihood, social relations, Dreaming interactions, and performance.


Indigenous ecological knowledge Indigenous poetics Simpson Desert Aboriginal Australia Dreaming connectivities 


  1. Ah Chee, Dean, with permission of the southern Arrernte Elders. 2004. Kwatye (water) in the Great Artesian Basin. In Making connections: A journey along Central Australian Aboriginal trading routes, ed. Val Donovan, and Colleen Wall, 65–68. Brisbane: Arts Queensland.Google Scholar
  2. Benterrak, Krim, and Stephen Muecke. 1984. Reading the country: An introduction to nomadology. Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.Google Scholar
  3. Burarrrwanga, Laklak, Ritjilili Ganambarr, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Banbapuy Ganambarr, Djawundil Maymuru, Sarah Wright, Sandie Suchet-Pearson, and Kate Lloyd. 2013. Welcome to my country. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  4. Cruikshank, Julie. 2005. Do glaciers listen? Local knowledge, colonial encounters, and social imagination. Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
  5. Gould, Richard. 1982. To have and have not: The ecology of sharing among hunter-gatherers. In Resource managers: North American and Australian hunter-gatherers, ed. Nancy Williams, and Eugene Hunn, 69–112. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  6. Hercus, Luise. 1990. The grinding stone from Pulawani. In The honey-ant men’s love song and other Aboriginal song poems, ed. R. Dixon, and M. Duwell, 118–123. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  7. Hercus, Luise. 2004. In the Simpson Desert. In Making connections: A journey along Central Australian Aboriginal trading routes, ed. Val Donovan, and Colleen Wall. Brisbane: Arts Queensland.Google Scholar
  8. Hercus, Luise, and Peter Clark. 1986. Nine Simpson Desert wells. Archaeology in Oceania 21: 51–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hoogenraad, Robert, and George Jampijinpa Robertson. 1997. Seasonal calendars from Central Australia. In Windows on meteorology: Australian perspective, ed. Eric K. Webb, 34–41. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.Google Scholar
  10. Howell, Nancy. 1979. Demography of the Dobe! Kung. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  11. Ingold, Tim. 2000. The perception of the environment: Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kimber, D., and M. Smith. 1987. An Aranda ceremony. In Australians to 1788, ed. D.H. Mulvaney, and J.P. White. Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates.Google Scholar
  13. Kimber, Richard. 2001. Australian Aboriginals’ perceptions of their desert homelands (part 1). Arid Lands Newsletter 50: 6–7.Google Scholar
  14. Kohak, Erazim. 1984. The Embers and the stars: A philosophical inquiry into the moral sense of nature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. McBryde, Isabel. 2000. Travellers in storied landscapes: A case study in exchanges and heritage. Aboriginal History 24: 152–174.Google Scholar
  16. Plumwood, Val. 2002. Environmental culture: The ecological crisis of reason. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Reid, Julian. 2009. Australian Pelican: Flexible responses to uncertainty. In Boom and bust: Bird stories for a dry country, ed. Libby Robin, Robert Heinsohn, and Leo Joseph, 95–120. Melbourne: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  18. Robin, Libby. 2005. Migrants and nomads: Seasoning zoological knowledge in Australia. In A change in the weather: Climate and culture in Australia, ed. Tim Sherratt, Tom Griffiths, and Libby Robin, 42–53. Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press.Google Scholar
  19. Rose, Deborah. 2005a. An indigenous philosophical ecology: Situating the human. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 16(3): 294–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rose, Deborah. 2005b. Rhythms, patterns, connectivities: Indigenous concepts of seasons and change, Victoria River district, NT. In A change in the weather: Climate and culture in Australia, ed. Tim Sherratt, Tom Griffiths, and Libby Robin, 32–41. Canberra: National Museum of Australia.Google Scholar
  21. Rose, Deborah Bird. 2007. Gendered substance and objects in ritual: An Australian Study. Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief 3(1): 3–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rose, Deborah Bird. 2008. Fitting into country: Ecology and economics in indigenous Australia. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 19(3): 117–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shephard, Mark. 1999. The Simpson Desert: Natural history and human endeavour. Adelaide: Corkwood Press.Google Scholar
  24. Simpson, Jane. 1997. Perceptions of meteorology in some Aboriginal languages. In Windows on meterology: Australian perspective, ed. Eric K. Webb, 20–28. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.Google Scholar
  25. Smith, M.A. 1989. The case for a resident human population in the Central Australian Ranges during full glacial aridity. Archaeology in Oceania 24: 93–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Transcript of Proceedings: North West Simpson Desert Land Claim (No. 126). 1990. Adelaide: Commonwealth Reporting Service, Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  27. Tsing, Anna. 2012. Unruly edges: Mushrooms as companion species. Environmental Humanities 1: 141–154.Google Scholar
  28. Tuan, Y. 1974. Topophilia: A study of environmental perception, attitudes and values. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  29. Walker, K., J. Puckridge, and S. Blanch. 1997. Irrigation development on Cooper Creek, central Australia—prospects for a regulated economy in a boom-and-bust cycle. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 7: 63–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Walker, Keith, Fran Sheldon, and Jim Puckridge. 1995. A perspective on dryland river ecosystems. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management 11: 85–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ward, J., and J. Stanford. 1995. Ecological connectivity in alluvial river ecosystems and its disruption by flow regulation. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management 11: 105–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. White, Mary. 2000. Running down: Water in a changing land. Sydney: Kangaroo Press.Google Scholar
  33. Williams, George E. 1970. The central Australian stream floods of February–March 1967. Journal of Hydrology 11(2): 185–200. doi: 10.1016/0022-1694(70)90103-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Humanities ProgramUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations