Australia-One Land: Two Peoples

By Suter, Keith | Contemporary Review, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Australia-One Land: Two Peoples

Suter, Keith, Contemporary Review

NATURE periodically reminds Australians just how fragile their hold on the land is. The country's Indigeneous Peoples have always had a keen awareness of this but the Europeans have had a greater confidence in their ability to tame the land. Are the Indigenous Peoples being proved right?

Australia is a great deal larger than it appears on most maps of the world. Most maps use the Mercator projection (named after Gerardus Mercator, 1512-1594, a Flemish cartographer and mathematician), that is an orthomorphic map projection on which parallels and meridians form a rectangular grid, with the scale being exaggerated with increasing distance from the equator. This exaggerates, for example, the size of northern Europe and reduces the size of Africa and Australia. Greenland, which looks so large on most maps, is only about a quarter the size of Australia's landmass. Australia is, in fact, over 80 per cent of the size of the continental United States or about the size of Europe from Spain across to the Urals. A jumbo jet can fly straight for about six hours and still be within Australian territory.

Australia used to be part of the super-continent called Gondwanaland. Gondwanaland gradually split up into Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea. Australia has been physically isolated from the rest of the world's landmasses for over 40 million years. This long period of isolation has given rise to a unique flora and fauna. This has been assisted by Australia's passage north from Antarctica. Earth has chilled considerably over the past 40 million years but as Earth has chilled so Australia has moved towards the Equator so that the temperature has remained much more stable than it might otherwise have done. No other continent has experienced the same degree of geological quiet that Australia has experienced over the past 40 million years.

There are so many species unique to Australia that, along with New Guinea, Australia forms one of the world's greatest zoogeographic realms. For example, there are more species of ants inhabiting the hill called Black Mountain in Canberra than there are in all of Britain. In Australia's arid deserts there are more species of reptiles than exist in one environment anywhere else on Earth. Australia supports at least 25,000 species of plants; Europe--which is taken to include Turkey, the former USSR and the Mediterranean islands--supports only 17,500 species.

Australia is the world's driest and flattest continent. It is an immense land of climatic extremes. For example, it is not unknown for February to register a temperature of 100 degrees F in Western Australia for most of the month and for it to be snowing in Tasmania. This variety would not seem strange in Europe or Africa but it seems odd for one country. Australia is the world's only country to occupy an entire continent.

Indigenous Peoples

The legends and religious beliefs of Australia's Indigenous Peoples have no stories of migration. There is no collective memory of Peoples having roots other than those of Australia.

There is a continuing research on how and when the Indigenous People reached Australia. It is assumed that they must have journeyed overland, before the seas rose and created islands out of the land bridge. But the most obvious mystery is that there are presently no people resembling the Indigenous Peoples of Australia (or New Guinea) in the south-east Asian region. Like their languages, Australia's Indigenous People seem to be unique.

Indigenous Peoples look back to the Dreaming to explain this mystery. There is no journey to Australia: Australia is the timeless land and they are the timeless people.

Creation beliefs vary considerably from region to region. But they generally describe the journeys of ancestral beings, often giant animals or people, over what began as a featureless domain. Mountains, rivers, waterholes, animal and plant species, and other natural and cultural resources came into being as a result of events that took place during these Dreamtime journeys. …

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