Cultural Memories

Volume 4 of the series Knowledge and Space pp 329-345


Landscape, Transformations, and Immutability in an Aboriginal Australian Culture

  • Robert TonkinsonAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Western Australia Email author 

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Aboriginal Australian societies are notable among hunter-gatherers for the seemingly contradictory co-presence of high mobility and a deep emotional attachment to their homelands. Totemic geography underlies people’s multiple linkages to place, and certain acts of the living may also be memorialized, inscribed, and objectified in landscape. Using examples drawn from a Western Desert people, I show that, despite a dominant ideology that stresses “immutability” and stasis, there is a lack of closure in their richly complex religious system, allowing the accommodation of an inevitable dynamism. Openness and flux are, in significant measure, consequences of broadly ecological variables in one of the world’s most marginal environments for human survival. Among these desert people, identity politics, though more complex than ideology alone suggests, are significantly constrained by a religiously saturated worldview.