David Yencken and John Fien
Country (to Aboriginal people) is a place that gives and receives life…. People speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, feel sorry for country and long for country.
(Deborah Bird Rose 1996:7)
'Pity we didn't get here first' he said.
'We the Russians?'
'Not only Russians…. Any people who could cope with wide horizons. Too much of this country went to islanders. They never understood it. They're afraid of space. We could have been proud of it. Loved it for what it was.'
(Bruce Chatwin 1988:142)
The Australian land mass was once part of the great southern Gondwana continent, comprising the present land masses of South America, Africa, Antarctica and New Zealand. Some 45 million years ago the Australian continent broke away from Gondwana. Since that time Australia has been physically separated from the rest of the world. This long isolation has given rise to a distinct and remarkably diverse flora and fauna. Australia is widely recognized as one of the great bio-geographic regions of the world. Flannery notes that Australia supports 25,000 species of plants compared to only 17,500 species in the whole of Europe (including Turkey, the Eastern part of the old Soviet Union and the Mediterranean islands) and that there are more species of vascular plants in the Sydney region alone than in the whole of the British Isles (Flannery 1994:75).
The qualities of the Australian land and landscape have had a profound influence on indigenous people and more recent migrants alike. For Aboriginal people the land-country in Aboriginal English-is a 'nourishing terrain'. Not only have Aboriginal people, described by the French anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss as 'the intellectual aristocrats among early peoples' (Flood 1995:15), occupied every part of the land, adapted to it and it to them, it is also for them a living landscape peopled by mythological beings from the dream time. Country is a part of Aboriginal being and thus a defining concept. Aboriginal people have not, however, been