WEST KIMBERLEY PLACE REPORT
DESCRIPTION AND HISTORY
ONE PLACE, MANY STORIES
Located in the far northwest of Australia’s tropical north, the west Kimberley is one place with many stories. National Heritage listing of the west Kimberley recognises the natural, historic and Indigenous stories of the region that are of outstanding heritage value to the nation. These and other fascinating stories about the west Kimberley are woven together in the following description of the region and its history, including a remarkable account of Aboriginal occupation and custodianship over the course of more than 40,000 years. Over that time Kimberley Aboriginal people have faced many challenges and changes, and their story is one of resistance, adaptation and survival, particularly in the past 150 years since European settlement of the region. The listing also recognizes the important history of non-Indigenous exploration and settlement of the Kimberley. Many non-Indigenous people have forged their own close ties to the region and have learned to live in and understand this extraordinary place. The stories of these newer arrivals and the region's distinctive pastoral and pearling heritage are integral to both the history and present character of the Kimberley.
The west Kimberley is a remarkable part of Australia. Along with its people, and ancient and surviving Indigenous cultural traditions, it has a glorious coastline, spectacular gorges and waterfalls, pristine rivers and vine thickets, and is home to varied and unique plants and animals. The listing recognises these outstanding ecological, geological and aesthetic features as also having significance to the Australian people.
In bringing together the Indigenous, historic, aesthetic, and natural values in a complementary manner, the National Heritage listing of the Kimberley represents an exciting prospect for all Australians to work together and realize the demonstrated potential of the region to further our understanding of Australia’s cultural history. The listing enriches and extends our understanding of the diverse histories and heritage values of the west Kimberley, perhaps in ways we are yet to fully understand and appreciate, potentially leading to unimagined benefits and new partnerships.
Given the scale of this assessment it is impossible to tell all the stories about the west Kimberley. The extensive bibliography of the National Heritage listing, including histories, personal accounts, academic treatise and scientific literature, will provide a resource for those interested in delving further into their specific areas of interest. These are living stories, about living places: they tell of the forces that continue to shape people's lives, and have made the Kimberley what it is today. The National Heritage listing of the west Kimberley opens the way to the discovery, by the Australian public, of these and many more stories, that have yet to be told.
A remarkable land- and sea-scape
The Kimberley occupies more than 420,000 square kilometres on the north-western margin of the Australian continent. Its rocky coastline edges the Indian Ocean, and off the coast lie thousands of islands, many fringed with coral. In the wet north-west, the Mitchell Plateau (Ngauwudu) rises to nearly 800 metres above sea level at its centre, in places dropping into steep escarpments, and losing altitude as it approaches the sea. Further south, Yampi Peninsula lies in a transitional area between the high-rainfall of tropical north Kimberley and the drier conditions characteristic of central Western Australia. These different environments meet in a complex landscape of plains, dissected sandstone plateaus, and rugged mountains. The central Kimberley, which includes the periphery of north Kimberley plateau country and the King Leopold Ranges, is very rugged; the physical structures here were formed by significant geological events which folded rocks intensely, many thousands of millions of years ago. That such evidence of a distant past can today be seen so clearly in the landscape is due to the region's remarkable geological stability. This stability has also allowed the much more recent appearance of extensive limestone ranges, built from the remains of an extraordinary reef complex which, over 300 million years ago, rivalled the Great Barrier Reef in size. The ranges have since eroded to form complex networks of caves and tunnels. Dinosaur footprints and tracks are another remarkable remnant of past life in the Kimberley; they are exposed in many places in the Broome Sandstone, along the western length of Dampier Peninsula. This coastline is subject to one of the highest tidal ranges anywhere in the world, and many of the fossil footprints can only be seen for short periods during very low tides. Inland of Dampier Peninsula, south of the broad floodplains of the Fitzroy River, the distinctive red of the pindan country opens onto a vast expanse of desert.
Throughout the Kimberley, where water meets land – in estuaries, mangroves and mudflats, in moist vine thickets, along the banks of rivers and creeks, around waterholes or soaks – there is an abundance of plants and animals, some of which live only in the Kimberley, while others may have travelled from the far side of the world to nest or breed here. Animals rely on these refuges to congregate, feed, rest and reproduce. Such places also sustain Aboriginal people: for millennia these places have had important subsistence and sacred values, and have been the focus of ecological knowledge and traditional practices over seasons and lifetimes, for millennia (Pannell 2009).
European settlers saw the Kimberley's vast tropical landscape as the last frontier: a remote place with lush river floodplains ideally suited to pastoralism. To the European eye, this untapped, undeveloped wilderness was rich with opportunity and ready for exploitation. But the Kimberley was already occupied by Aboriginal people who were the country's owners and custodians, and regarded the land and its natural resources as having been created and maintained by their Dreamtime ancestors who gave them responsibility to look after country and abide by its rules.
Indigenous foundations of the Kimberley
Like other Indigenous societies across Australia, Kimberley Aboriginal people believe that their traditional countries have been formed during an era of creation often described in English as 'the Dreaming' or 'the Dreamtime'. During the Dreaming both the natural and human world are formed coterminously by ancestral creator beings who are manifestations of powerful spiritual forces that permeate the cosmos (Blundell and Doohan 2009). The Dreaming is not a theory of creation out of nothing: before the Dreaming, the world was already in existence, but it was unformed or 'soft' as some Kimberley Aboriginal people explain (Lommel 1997).
In contrast to ontological views of the West, the Indigenous story of creation is non-linear in the sense that aspects of the present are considered both to affirm and to re-enact the events of the Dreaming. The Dreaming exists in a continuous past-present-future continuum, in what Stanner (1987) calls 'the everywhen'.
Each Kimberley Aboriginal society has a rich body of religious narratives that concern the Dreaming. While such narratives are distinct for each of these societies, they all contain accounts of creator beings who 'gave' them their laws and customs. Importantly, across the Kimberley, these narratives describe how ancestral creator beings have 'made' the Indigenous countries that comprise the west Kimberley region. During their many travels and other exploits, such beings are said to have carved out the rivers, lifted up mountains and transformed themselves into rock formations and other features of the land, the sea and the sky.
Some of the ways in which these Dreaming-derived laws and beliefs are transmitted from generation to generation are in the form of traditional narratives, art forms, and enactments through dance and song. Aboriginal children are taught these laws through 'wudu' or observation and practice. These verbal and visual expressions tell the history or stories of Kimberley Aboriginal people. In the words of one Bardi woman 'they are living stories; they are the spirit of us'. As integral strands in a broader corpus of Aboriginal being and knowing, stories are forceful social expressions. Explaining this relationship between power and knowledge, a senior Wunambal man stated, 'the story can't be told just anyway, anytime, people can get killed if they have the wrong information, and do not know how to respect the place, the place is still alive'. As this Traditional Owner's comments imply, the reproduction of stories has serious implications and sometimes dangerous consequences. So while some stories are public, others are more restricted in their use. Kimberley Aboriginal people have carefully considered the kind and nature of the stories they have contributed towards this National Heritage listing of the west Kimberley.
'Making' the country
The Wanjina-Wunggurr people of the north-west Kimberley – which includes the language countries of the Worrorra, Ngarinyin, Unggumi, Umida, Unggarrangu, Wunambal, and Gaambera – explain that one of the most important activities of the powerful creator beings, Wanjina (Wandjina) and the Wunggurr Snake, is their role in 'making' the country. Like other aspects of their belief system, the Wanjina-Wunggurr people and indeed all Aboriginal people's concept of 'country' stands in stark contrast to Western views.
In Western thought, country is often described with reference to its geology and topography, its climate, and its characteristic animal and plant forms. Country is considered an aspect of nature. It is a geographic space, often seen as untapped wilderness that becomes transformed into a culturally meaningful place through the actions of its human inhabitants, for example when humans create an agricultural or urban landscape. Such a Western perspective differs markedly from Indigenous views, including those of the Wanjina-Wunggurr people. For them, country is far more than a geographic location with particular topography, flora and fauna. Marcia Langton, one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal scholars, explains that while White settlers in Australia 'see an empty wilderness, Aboriginal people see a busy spiritual landscape, peopled by ancestors and the evidence of their creative feats' (Langton 2000:14).
The relationship between Aboriginal people and country is one of reciprocity. While country is the source of their spiritual and physical well being, indeed their very identity, it is the responsibility of Aboriginal people to ‘look after’ or ‘care for’ it. Such responsibilities are defined by the traditional laws of each Kimberley Indigenous society. They include acknowledging and respecting their country’s resident spiritual beings, and extracting their country’s resources in a non-wasteful way.
'Country' is not limited to dry land. 'Saltwater country' is a term that Kimberley Aboriginal people, and other Indigenous people around Australia use, in their efforts to demonstrate to others that their country—no matter what its component parts—is meaningful. Saltwater country is meaningful through the events of Lalai, the Wanjina-Wunggurr term for the Dreaming. Country is an undivided and enlivened space, regardless of its material composition. It includes land, fresh waters, islands, rivers, reefs, sea, and the heavens. As such, country is both the consequence of, and consubstantial with, the ‘everywhen’ that is Lalai.
There are many accounts across the west Kimberley of the role of creator beings in 'making' the country. One such narrative from a senior Worrorra/Wunambal woman describes how the Lalai Wunggurr Snake opened up the space where the Prince Regent River now flows by travelling from the inland toward the sea. Rock Cod and the Baler Shell, as Wanjina in their animal forms, then created Malandum (the Prince Regent River) by swimming upstream through this space. At the place known today as King Cascade, Rock Cod was forced to stop abruptly by the Lalai Bowerbird. As Rock Cod 'put on the brakes', she was thrust against the soft mud. In this way she created the step-like formation where today water cascades into the Prince Regent River from a stream atop the plateau where Bowerbird now lives. Travelling back toward the sea, but unable to go any further, Baler Shell became tired and swam around in a frenzied way. She was 'looking for a home' where she could 'stop,' and in the process created a huge basin (St. George Basin). Finally Baler shell 'stopped' and transformed herself into St. Andrews Island, which takes its Worrorra name of 'Ngarlangkarnanya' from Baler Shell. Meanwhile, Wanjina in the form of a Flat-Headed Fish lifted up part of the land that adjoins this basin, thus protecting Mt. Trafalgar from Baler Shell’s frantic activities (Blundell et al. 2009).
Kimberley Aboriginal people share this remarkable Australian land- and sea-scape with the animals, birds and plants that are found in the region; all these living things are intrinsically linked to the actions and travels of creator beings, and the ongoing rituals and ceremonial actions of Traditional Owners. Speaking of this living, interconnected world, a senior Wunambal man and senior Wunambal/Worrorra woman explain what it means for those Aboriginal people who identify as members of the Wanjina-Wunggurr community: 'we call it a gift, it's all been brought to us from Wanjina. That's the Law, we have always had it. Wanjina gave it in a way for us to appreciate it. The stories can't be put in and out, this is religion. It's the very highest point, what we are, what created us. It's religious country' (Wunambal and Wunambal/Worrorra Traditional Owners pers. comm. May 2010).
Images in rock and other physical manifestations of Creator Beings
In many parts of the Kimberley, ancestral spirits have transformed themselves into paintings in the numerous caves and rock shelters that dot the region’s landscape. These painted images have attracted much interest from the outside world since the arrival of the first European explorers and are considered to be one of the longest and most complex rock art sequences anywhere in the world. For the Wanjina-Wunggurr community these painted images play a crucial role in demarcating social boundaries, connecting individuals and local groups to local countries, which anthropologists call clan estates; and connecting Wanjina-Wunggurr people to their conception sites and language countries. Capricious and harmful spirits whose painted images often occur at these rock art sites are a constant reminder of the disorder that failure to follow traditional laws can bring (Layton 1992a; Blundell et al. 2009).
To outsiders the paintings of the Wanjina are most prominent: the large-eyed, mouthless, anthropomorphic beings depicted with a halo-like ring encircling their heads that appear alone or in groups, some of them walking the earth, others floating in the sky. Painted with natural earth pigments often on a white background that is typically a wash of the mineral huntite, some Wanjina are truly monumental, extending up to six metres across the walls and ceilings of rock shelters. The human-like paintings of Wanjina were first brought to the attention of the outside world by Lieutenant (later Sir) George Grey during his explorations in the Kimberley in 1837 (Grey 1841, Blundell and Woolagoodja 2005). According to McNiven and Russell a painted figure reproduced by Grey "was to become the most historically significant Aboriginal rock painting recorded by Europeans in the nineteenth century" (2005:133).
Perhaps equally well known are the elegant human-like painted images of the Gwion Gwion/Girrigirro, commonly referred to as Bradshaw figures, named after Joseph Bradshaw, another early European explorer who encountered the images whilst looking for pastoral land in 1891. Bradshaw, like Grey before him, was the first European to record and publish examples of these images. Like the Wanjina paintings encountered by Grey five decades earlier, Joseph Bradshaw's 'stylized recordings' of these figures were interpreted by Europeans as non-Indigenous in origin (McNiven and Russell 2005), a view that was supported by the late Grahame Walsh, who spent many years recording the Gwion Gwion/Girrigirro painted images (see Walsh's 1994 publication "Bradshaws: Ancient Paintings of North-West Australia"). The claims of Walsh and others of a non-Indigenous origin for these paintings have been strongly challenged by members of the Wanjina-Wunggurr community and many specialist commentators, starting with André Lommel in the 1930s, whose work with Wunambal Traditonal Owners connected paintings of Gwion Gwion with a Lalai bird called Kujon [gwion] (Lommel 1997). Other researchers including Shultz (1956), Crawford (1968), Layton (1990, 1992a), Redmond (1998, 2002), Blundell and Woolagoodja (2005), McNiven and Russell (2005) and Welsh (2007) have placed the Gwion Gwion/Girrigirro painted images strongly within Indigenous tradition and with an Indigenous origin.
For Wanjina-Wunggurr people, the Wanjina and Gwion Gwion paintings are of significance to them in accordance with their practices, observances, customs, traditions, beliefs and history. For Balanggarra people, the Girrigirro painted images are also an important component of their contemporary belief system. However, unlike the Traditional Owners of the Wanjina-Wunggurr country, Balanggarra do not associate Gwion Gwion/Girrigirro with Wanjina. Nor do they consider them to be paintings that were 'put there' by spirit beings during the Dreaming. Instead, they believe that these paintings were produced by their own human ancestors and that they depict the aspects of their earlier everyday life (Blundell et al. 2009).
Wanjina and associated paintings found in caves and rock shelters across the Wanjina-Wunggurr homeland are ritually repainted in order to ensure the regeneration of country as well as the ongoing continuity of Wanjina-Wunggurr society. Ritual repainting or 'freshening' of painted images has been recorded since the early decades of the twentieth century. Wanjina-Wunggurr and Balanggarra people continue to pass on their traditional knowledge to the next generation through the production of contemporary art in community art centres across the region.
Paintings in rock shelters are not the only physical manifestations of creator beings. For Wanjina–Wunggurr people, Wanjina have made their mark all across the country; they have shaped the course of rivers, raised mountain ranges, and changed themselves into other features of the land, sea and sky, where particular events took place. One such event was a battle between a Wanjina known as Namarali and local coastal Wanjina at a place called Langgi. After Namarali arrived on the coast in Worrorra country he established his dominance and the Wanjina with whom he was doing battle transformed themselves into the elongated stone boulders that dot this rocky coastal beach today (Blundell 2009). Sometimes Wanjinas leave their image on boab trees. Wanjina are also seen as cumulo-nimbus clouds, which are a dramatic presence in the sky during the build-up to the wet season (Crawford 1968). They also appear in the night sky, for instance as Wallanganda, the Milky Way Wanjina (Redmond 2001). Like Wanjina, the Wunggurr Snake also appears in the form of numerous rock formations and manifests as islands, reefs, and waves in the sea.
Geikie Gorge: more than just a beautiful place...
Many visitors to the region are drawn by the Kimberley's dramatic and beautiful scenery. One place that is well recognised for its aesthetic values is known as Geikie Gorge or Danggu by its Bunuba Aboriginal Traditional Owners. Danggu lies in the south-west Kimberley, at the junction of the Oscar and Geikie ranges, where limestone that was once a reef is cut by the flow of the Fitzroy River into a 30-metre deep, sheer-walled gorge. This permanent pool on the Fitzroy is an important wetland and refuge area for freshwater and marine fish, especially in times of drought (WWF 2007). It is a spectacular place, with colourful cliffs and sculptured rock, its deep waters lined by lush vegetation. The gorge features in many tourist brochures and travel itineraries, and because of its easy accessibility receives over 30,000 visitors each year.
A visitor to Geikie Gorge can gain a sense of the great antiquity of the Kimberley landscape and the complex history of its formation. The limestone ranges, formed from the ancient barrier reef system, wind across the country between 50 and 100 metres above the surrounding plains, in much the same way that the reef would have reared above the ancient Devonian sea floor more than 370 million years ago. From the air, it is easy to imagine that the sea has just withdrawn, leaving the reefs uncovered. Fossils of ancient reef fauna can be seen in the rocky outcrops, showing glimpses of life from the time before reptiles or mammals evolved. In the gorge itself, the reflective surface of the water hides and reveals an abundance of life – fish, turtles, yabbies and freshwater crocodiles swim here, and birds nest in forest alongside the river and take what they need from its pool and banks.
But Geikie Gorge is much more than a beautiful national park. For the Bunuba people, Danggu is a cultural refuge within the catchment of the Fitzroy River, a place of deep spiritual significance created by its resident Rainbow Snake or Wunggurru. The gorge is located in a section of the river known as Bandaralngarri, which extends north from the 'Old Crossing' in Fitzroy Crossing to Dimond Gorge. The name is derived from bandaral, the silver-leafed melaleuca which lines the river in this area and was used to construct log rafts for travelling short distances.
Danggu is also the name given to the large limestone boulder (another name is Linyjiya) located in the middle of Geikie Gorge – this is a Dreamtime place associated with a resident Wunggurru, or Rainbow Snake (KLRC 1998). The boulder is a malay, an increase place, critical to maintaining the abundance of fish in Geikie Gorge, and is an important ceremonial and fishing spot for Bunuba people. At sand patches within Danggu, Bunuba people camped and held ceremonies with other river people from the surrounding region. Such ceremonies are still held today. Like many places in the Kimberley, Danggu has darker resonances too. A massacre of Bunuba people took place here in the late nineteenth century, and stories of this event are still recalled by the living (Pannell 2009).
Geikie Gorge is described here not for its undeniable uniqueness and aesthetic appeal, but because it is like so many places in the Kimberley – complex, layered in meaning, valued by different people for different reasons, and associated with many and varied stories.
Throughout the west Kimberley, geological activity and geological stability have spectacularly shaped and preserved the landscape over hundreds of millions of years, and scientists identify significant biodiversity values. While visitors are struck by its ancient beauty, the land, sea and sky of the Kimberley, and the diversity of life there, hold profound spiritual meaning for its Traditional Owners. Aboriginal law and culture remain strong across the Kimberley, even in the face of a shared history of violent disruption brought by colonisation.
Cycles of life
In the Kimberley, as in other parts of Aboriginal Australia, traditional life revolved around variations in the weather and the seasons. Movements of family groups were based on the availability of food, and on obligations to relocate to particular areas for ritual business. During the dry, from about April to August, the weather was a little cooler and there were abundant resources. The most critical time for food supplies was the build-up, before the onset of rains. Once the wet season broke, more food became available. The coming of the wet with the north-east monsoons brought oppressively humid weather, and some Aboriginal groups moved to rock shelters and more substantial huts on higher ground at this time. Seasonal movements differed between groups living in the desert, near the coast, and in the wetter north Kimberley, and were often determined as much by the need for water as for food.
Many groups managed their food and water resources to maximise availability and variety throughout the year: people stored foodstuffs in dry places in different locations, so that they could always have access to a range of food, even when it was not in season. The ritual business necessary for the maintenance and increase of food sources and the arrival of the rains was the responsibility of both men and women, and at times was undertaken cooperatively and at times exclusively, depending on the ritual (Choo 2001).
Knowledge was the primary tool used by Aboriginal people to occupy and manage the Australian continent (Rose 1991). Aboriginal knowledge systems, which support sustainable relationships with the land, have developed through many millennia of observation, experimentation and teaching (Horstman and Wightman 2001). Kimberley people lived and prospered in country where having enough to eat and drink year round depended on intimate, exact knowledge of country.
Each year the Kimberley, subject to the monsoonal patterns of the tropics, is transformed by the passing seasons. As the wet season breaks, the landscape changes. Where the ground is sandy and porous, water soaks through to recharge underground aquifers, and spreads out forming broad seasonal floodplains, renewing plant and animal life. In the higher, rockier country of the north Kimberley, water masses and pours into mighty rivers that gush to the sea with tremendous force, carrying huge volumes of sediment, reshaping beaches and mudflats. It is not just the visible landscape that changes: during the oppressive build-up to the wet, the volume and variety of bird calls increases, and the piercing drone of cicadas fills the humid air. When the rains start, frogs greet them with raucous song (Gueho 2007).
Six seasons in Nyikina country
Nyikina people, whose country encompasses the lower reaches of the Fitzroy River, follow a calendar which describes six seasons. Like all Kimberley Aboriginal groups, the Nyikina seasons are defined with reference to their particular country:
Wilakarra (December to February): Wilakarra, around Christmas time, is the wet season. When it starts to rain, it's spinifex time, moordoon, when all the spinifex turns green and Nyikina people use it to make wax, called limirri, for fixing spearheads and other tools. Koongkara (conkerberry) and magabala (bush banana) start flowering. Around February, when green berries are growing on the koongkara, little orange beetles climb all over the koongkara bush, making the berries ripe. In March or April, when the beetles have done their job, the conkerberries are ripe and people can start to eat them.
Koolawa (March to May): 'Knockem down rain' comes at the end of the wet season, before it goes into Koolawa time, the start of winter. Yabooloongarra is the name for grass after it's knocked down. During koolawa, the colour of the morning sky changes, so that it looks like the colour of the ground, of the sand. After knockem down rain the smaller birds start nesting: honey birds and little parrots, kinykiny (budgerigar). The bigger birds start to mate, and they look for hollow trees to nest in. Going into May the wind changes, the Seven Sisters start to appear again, and some of the wattle trees begin to flower, going into Jirrbal (Milgin et al. 2009).
Jirrbal (May to June): At this time the Seven Sisters come out early in the morning. The bright pinpoint light of these stars warns that cold weather is on the way.
Wilbooroo (June to August): Trees begin to flower. Warimba (bohemia), nganybarl (bush orange) and koolbarn (a kind of wattle) are all in bloom. Some of the flowers tell you it's time for crocodile eggs, and that birds are starting to nest. At the end of July, when koolbarn leaves turn green, the cold weather is coming to an end.
Barrkana (September): Warimba flowers dry up, and kardookardoo (whitewood) flowers begins. Kardookardoo flower is the main food for cockatoos while they're nesting. Crocodiles and snakes are laying eggs and soon their young will hatch. The pods on the warimba tree go red, and when they start to dry that's the start of Lalin.
Lalin (October to December): This is the build up to the rainy season. White gums and coolibahs, walarriy (white river gum) and majala (freshwater mangrove) are all in flower.
Dampier Peninsula – resources from the land
Because of its proximity to Broome, Dampier Peninsula is one of the best-researched areas in the west Kimberley for ethnobiology – traditional knowledge about native species and natural systems. Over the past 70 years, researchers have collaborated with elders, particularly Bardi elders who live in and near Broome, to record details such as plant names, and the methods of preparation and use of important species. They have also recorded information about the seasons and seasonal cycles of plant and animal use (Kenneally et al. 1996b; Smith and Kalotas 1985). On Dampier Peninsula, as throughout the Kimberley, plants have provided Aboriginal people with food and medicine, and the raw materials used to construct weapons, ornaments and shelters.
A range of important food species have been recorded from Dampier Peninsula. Acacia, the most broadly distributed and abundant plant group, is an important and versatile resource. Acacia seeds can be roasted and eaten, or collected dry and ground into flour. Acacias are also a source of medicine, and their branches are used by the Bardi and other groups for making spears, boomerangs and shelters (Lands 1997; Paddy and Smith 1987; Kenneally et al. 1996b). One species – Acacia wickhami – has strong-smelling leaves that are tied through a hair belt when swimming, and reputedly act as a shark repellent, which people wear when recovering turtles (Paddy and Smith 1987).
A number of Terminalia species are highly prized for their fruit and seeds, and some also have medicinal properties. Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana), known as Arungal, Mador or Gubinge in Bardi and Gabiny in Nyul–Nyul, is thought to have the highest vitamin C of any known food: its fruit contains more than 50 times the vitamin C of oranges. The fruit, seeds and gum are all eaten, and an infusion is made from the bark to treat rheumatism, sores and itchy bites (O'Dea et al. 1991; Paddy and Smith 1987). Another tree called Joolal in Bardi and Jilangen or Joolangen in Nyul–Nyul (Terminalia canescens), produces a highly-prized edible gum. Branches are used in constructing shelters, and are a good source of hot-burning firewood (Paddy and Smith 1987). The pindan quondong (Terminalia cunninghami), known as Jamdalngorr by Bardi people and Gumpja by Karrajarri people at Bidyadanga south of Broome, also has an excellent tasting edible seed. This tree has recently been cultivated, along with Kakadu plum, in an orchard south of Broome (Kenneally 1996b; ABC 2008).
Species of fig, which grow in and around Broome and elsewhere on Dampier Peninsula, provide many useful resources. Shields are made from mature tree trunks, and string is woven from the outer bark of aerial roots. Fruit is eaten raw when ripe (Paddy and Smith 1987). One species (Ficus opposita, the sandpaper fig) shares its Bardi name with the rough-skinned black swordfish, Ranyja. Ranyja has a sweet edible fruit and, as its common name suggests, its leaves can be used as sandpaper (Lands 1997).
Some plant species are highly regarded for their medicinal properties. Eucalypt gum is used to treat sore teeth and gums (Paddy and Smith 1987; Kenneally 1996b). The bark and wood of Lysiphyllum cunninghamii (Kimberley bauhinia) known as Jooma or Jigal in Bardi, are an antispectic, and a remedy for headache and fever (Kenneally 1996b; Paddy and Smith 1987). Owenia reticulata (desert walnut), known as Lambilamb in Bardi and Limbalim in Nyul–Nyul, is reputed to have powerful medicinal qualities, and is used to treat rheumatism, cuts and sores (Kenneally et al. 1996a). The Bardi rub their feet with leaves of Wudarr (Gardenia pyriformis) to protect them against cuts from the reef and stonefish stings (Lands 1997).
Caring for and regenerating country
There are a number of important rituals regularly performed by Kimberley Aboriginal people that maintain the ‘brightness’ of country, including the 'freshening' (repainting) of Wanjina rock art, burning off the bush, cleaning certain places (for example, the graves of deceased relations), and ‘talking to’ resident spirit beings. Kimberley Aboriginal people also regularly visit places in the country so that country does not ‘get lonely’ or, in the case of shelters and caves along estuarine river systems, ‘hide themself’ from traditional owners. Caring for country also requires the asking and giving of permission to access country, as well as rituals that welcome, introduce, or re-introduce people to country. When traditional owners invite outsiders to visit country with them, they smoke their guests. This eliminates foreign scents and allows the country to recognize the visitors. These rituals reflect the sentient nature of country which will protect people it recognizes as belonging to it, or people who have been properly introduced and smoked by the country’s traditional owners (Blundell and Doohan 2009; Blundell et al. 2009).
In the Kimberley, the diversity of the biological environment is paralleled by the diversity of the cultural and linguistic environment. Linguists have shown that languages spoken north of the Fitzroy River are different from those classified as the 'Pama–Nyungen' languages, spoken everywhere else on the Australian continent (McConvell and Thieberger 2005). Kimberley Aboriginal people typically have multiple affiliations based on their language groups and their numerous connections to country: ranging from specific sites to large tracts of country. These connections include knowledge of Dreaming stories across the Kimberley that tell of the creation of country and its features, plants, animals and people by ancestral creation beings.