‘Nothing never change’: mapping land, water and Aboriginal identity in the changing environments of northern Australia's Gulf Country

Richard J. Martin, David Trigger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Gulf Country Aboriginal people perceive water as an integral part of the broader cultural landscape rather than a conceptually distinct element. Customary connection to and ownership of water therefore intersects with links to contiguous areas known in the anthropological literature as ‘estates’ and in local parlance as ‘countries’. For many Aboriginal people into the present, the ‘law’ which underlies this system of ‘countries’ was laid down in the Dreaming and does not change. ‘Nothing never change’ is the local form articulating this conviction. While a powerful expression of traditionalism, the commitment to leaving everything ‘like it is now’, in our findings, in fact involves an acknowledgement of environmental changes resulting from introduced plants and animals along with Euro-Australian settlement. Notwithstanding determined traditionalism, Aboriginal law, like settler law, changes constantly, responding to new challenges by transforming continuing traditions and incorporating influences from the broader society which are genuinely new and different. Drawing on the results of ethnographic research during cultural mapping work in the Gulf, we address this theme particularly in the context of land rights and native title processes over recent decades.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-333
Number of pages17
JournalSettler Colonial Studies
Volume5
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

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