Aboriginal Women and Sacred
Landscapes in Northern
In Australian Aboriginal society women have an exemplary role as ‘sacred custodians’ of the earth. The environmental values which characterize Aboriginal relations with land are deeply affective, and land is central to all aspects of Aboriginal life. There is little separation of the spiritual, the social and the material in Aboriginal culture and the sanctification and care of the landscape, and the reproduction of a particular kind of environmental relationship is represented in many everyday activities. In this interaction with the environment, with a belief that the connections between people and their ‘country’ are permanent and inalienable, women share with men a responsibility for caring for the land ‘for all time’. Historically, women’s interaction with white Australians has, to some extent, advanced their role as teachers of environmental and spiritual values, and today they retain key roles as communicators with the wider Australian society.
This chapter examines the lives of Aboriginal women as ‘custodians of the earth’, and considers how this role has been affected by the colonial experience. It draws mainly on fieldwork conducted in the Aboriginal community of Kowanyama, which is on the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland.
The community in Kowanyama consists of about 1,200 people and is composed of three major language groups: the Yir Yoront,