Where the Ancestors Walked: Australia as an Aboriginal Landscape

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Allen & Unwin, 2003 - Social Science - 282 pages
'Philip Clarke has penned an insightful and wide-ranging account of Australia's Aboriginal cultures from a perspective of great learning and insider privilege. It's an immensely significant work, revealing the extraordinary richness of one of the world's oldest continuous cultures.'

Tim Flannery, author of The Future Eaters

Since their arrival many thousands of years ago, Australia's Aboriginal people have developed a unique, rich and elaborate way of life. With a deep spiritual attachment to land and a strong sense of community, they have drawn on tradition to respond to new situations. In this way, they have thrived in Australia's changing and often harsh landscape.

Early European settlers in Australia judged Aboriginal culture as 'primitive'. Yet the Aboriginal people they encountered had, in fact, a highly sophisticated understanding of their environment and complex strategies for finding food and medicines, and for making tools and art objects.

Philip Clarke paints a picture of the culture and traditions of Aboriginal Australia. Drawing on research from anthropology, cultural geography and environmental studies as well as his own fieldwork, he explains the diverse ways in which Aboriginal people relate to the land across the continent. Heavily illustrated, Where the Ancestors Walked will appeal to anyone interested in understanding the traditional lifestyle of Aboriginal people.

'Phillip Clarke's clear, wide-ranging and sympathetic survey describes the manner in which Indigenous societies humanised and utilised landscapes from before European times to the present... This is an excellent introduction for interested lay readers and higher and tertiary education students.'

Emeritus Professor John Mulvaney, author of Prehistory of Australia

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Selected pages


First Human Colonisation
Religious Landscapes
Social Life
Materials of Culture
Hunting and Gathering
Aboriginal Artefacts
Art of the Dreaming
Regional Differences
Beyond Capricorn
Cultural Change
Northern Contacts
Arrival of Europeans
Aboriginal Australia Transformed
Changing Cultural Landscapes

Living in a Varied Land
The South
The Central Deserts

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Page 53 - They seem to have no fix'd habitation but move about from place to place like wild Beasts in search of food, and I believe depend wholy upon the success of the present day for their subsistance.
Page 74 - ... women are without this distinction; and girls of a very tender age are marked by it. On first setting foot in the country, we were inclined to hold the spears of the natives very cheap. Fatal experience has, however, convinced us, that the wound inflicted by this weapon is not a trivial one; and that the skill of the Indians in throwing it, is far from despicable. Besides more than a dozen convicts who have unaccountably disappeared, we know that two, who were employed as rush cutters up the...
Page 55 - ... and what impresses one in the writings of each and all of these observers is the extreme difficulty the authors encounter in arriving at even an approximation of the number of the aborigines. Eyre despairs of forming any opinion, even approximating the truth, of the aggregate population of the continent, or the average number of persons to be found in any given space. A district, he says, that may at one time be thinly inhabited, or even altogether untenanted, may at another be teeming with population....
Page 49 - When an individual dies, they carefully avoid mentioning his name ; but if compelled to do so, they pronounce it in a very low whisper, so faint that they imagine the spirit cannot hear their voice.
Page 215 - Trinity, the Incarnation, Sufferings Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Son of God ; the existence and communion of his Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. But I need not inform you, my Brethren, that, in connexion with these primary Articles of the Christian Faith, and in addition to them, there are many others, and much that...
Page 192 - Repeated accounts, brought by our boats, of finding bodies of the Indians in all the coves and inlets of the harbour, caused the gentlemen of our hospital to procure some of them for the purposes of examination and anatomy. On inspection, it appeared that all the parties had died a natural death. Pustules, similar to those occasioned by the...
Page 192 - An extraordinary calamity was now observed among the natives. Repeated accounts brought by our boats of finding bodies of the Indians in all the coves and inlets of the harbour, caused the gentlemen of our hospital to procure some of them for the purposes of examination and anatomy.

About the author (2003)

Philip Clarke is Head of Anthropology and Manager of Sciences at the South Australian Museum.

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