Territory Stories

West Arnhem Shire Council Annual Report 2009 - 2010



West Arnhem Shire Council Annual Report 2009 - 2010

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West Arnhem Shire Council


West Arnhem Shire Council reports; Reports; PublicationNT




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Local government -- Northern Territory -- Jabiru -- Periodicals; West Arnhem Shire (N.T.) -- Periodicals; West Arnhem Shire (N.T.). -- Council -- Periodicals

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West Arnhem Shire Council

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Made available via the Publications (Legal Deposit) Act 2004 (NT).

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Pre-European Settlement History Where we have come from Page 19 The Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land are estimated by Western archaeologists and scholars to have inhabited these areas for more than 50,000 years using many different languages, customs and laws all woven together to produce a strong cultural identity and relationship with their native homelands. Indigenous Dreamtime traditions describe how Aboriginal people have been present on their lands since the beginning of time. The communities now recognised within the West Arnhem region: Jabiru, Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Minjilang and Warruwi, were areas through which Aboriginal people travelled with their clan members following the seasonal varieties of food, bush tucker, water supplies and ceremonial commitments that their nomadic lifestyle provided. The connection with country and culture made for a strong framework of both social and religious values within clans. Ceremonial dance, art works and hunting tools which are now valued and regarded as art forms were primary elements supporting this complex and culturally rich structure which has existed for thousands of years. Clan identity and clan relationships are confirmed through dance with their designs, songs and dances enabling Aboriginal people to express the stories they tell of their Ancestral Beings. Aboriginal men would (and still do) paint themselves in ochres and clays with designs that have since become widely sought after in Indigenous art. Accompanied by the power of the didgeridoo and clap stick sounds, ceremonies would be held by senior tribesman who recreate the vivid dreams where the spirits from their ancestral lands come to them to pass on the songs and dances of their clan. Ceremonial gatherings within the Aboriginal social organisation, simply run in patterns held secret from outsiders. These ceremonies are tightly ordered, mostly danced by young men and sung by old.1 The stories told tend to have a simple structure, but with multiple layers of meaning which is also expressed in the many rock and bark paintings famous to the West Arnhem Land regions. In Kunwinjku culture, Djang (word for Dreaming) exists within the land and is replicated in monochromatic paintings depicting life as it was many thousands of years ago. These works tell vivid stories of land, animal species, fellow tribes, tracks and areas of country and the Ancestral Beings that created the world. The oldest paintings in the Shire are dated at over 20,000 years old, and geological evidence suggests that rock art has been practised in Arnhem Land for at least 50,000 years. The earlier images were of hand and plant imprints followed by animals and spiritual figures. The famous x- ray style paintings are believed to have been formed around 3,000 years ago, many of which depict contact between the Macassans from Indonesia and, some time later, Europeans.

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