The five planets we can see by naked eye were known to the ancient Greeks as “asteres planetai”, meaning “wandering stars”, due to their wandering journey across the sky relative to the fixed stars. This is where we get the word “planet”. But knowledge of the planets and their movements goes back much further, being prominent in the traditions of the oldest continuing cultures in the world.
A Yolngu artwork on aluminium depicting fish traps and the flow of water to the sea in the Arnhem Land wet season has won this year’s overall prize at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
This year five of the seven winning works are from Yolngu artists, including four from the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, an Aboriginal arts centre in Yirrkala.
The judges chose 66 finalists from more than 300 entries across the country.
“For me, the strength of the Yolngu work speaks to happy artists who are being well supported and artists who are being encouraged to be adventurous,” Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, one of the award’s judges, said.
Earlier genetic analysis of historic Aboriginal hair samples confirmed the incredibly long and deep relationships between individual Aboriginal groups and their particular country. The small locks of hair were collected during anthropological expeditions across Australia from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Analysis of maternal genetic lineages revealed that Aboriginal populations moved into Australia around 50,000 years ago. They rapidly swept around the west and east coasts in parallel movements – meeting around the Nullarbor just west of modern-day Adelaide.
Archaeological sites and dates (shown above) closely match the genetic estimates. This indicates a very rapid movement throughout Australia 48,000-50,000 years ago.
Out of Africa
It was only a few thousand years earlier that a small population of modern humans moved out of Africa. As they did, they met and briefly hybridised with Neandertals before rapidly spreading around the world.
They became the genetic ancestors of all surviving modern human populations outside of Africa, who are all characterised by a distinctive small subset of Neandertal DNA – around 2.5% – preserved in their genomes.
This distinctive marker is found in Aboriginal populations, indicating they are part of this original diaspora, but one that must have moved to Australia almost immediately after leaving Africa.
How to get to Australia 50,000 years ago
The movement from Africa to Australia culminated in a series of hazardous sea voyages across island southeast Asia.
Recent studies suggest the last voyage, potentially between Timor/Roti and the northern Kimberley coast, would have involved advanced planning skills, four to seven days paddling on a raft, and a total group of more than 100 to 400 people.
The possibility that earlier waves of modern human populations might have moved out of Africa before 50,000 years has also been raised.
But in our review of these events, we point out that there is no convincing fossil evidence to support this idea beyond the Middle East.
One of the most important claimed potential early sites is in northern Australia, at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in Arnhem Land. Human presence here was recently declared at more than 65,000 years ago.
But there is good reason to question a 65,000-year date, and the extent to which this contrasts with the sudden wave of archaeological sites that sweep across Australia shortly after 50,000 years ago.
These sites include Barrow Island and Carpenters Gap in the Kimberley, Devils Lair south of Perth, Willandra Lakes in NSW, and Warratyi rockshelter in the Flinders Ranges.
This rapid archaeological manifestation at 50,000 years is a perfect match for the genetic evidence from Aboriginal maternal, paternal, and genomic lineages, and a far better fit with the extinction of Australia’s megafauna around 42,000 years ago.
An age limit for human migration
One of the most interesting ways we can date the dispersal of modern humans around the globe, including Australia, is through that original interbreeding event with Neandertals as we left Africa.
About a decade ago, an ancient human leg bone was found on the banks of a Siberian river by an ivory hunter. Radiocarbon-dated at 43,000-45,000 years ago, the entire genome of this individual, named Ust’-Ishim after the site, was sequenced using the latest ancient DNA technology.
The genomic sequence revealed the bone contained the standard 2.5% Neandertal DNA signal carried by all non-Africans. But it was still present in large continuous blocks and had yet not been dispersed into fragments around the genome as we see in more recent ancestors and ourselves.
In fact, the size of the blocks showed that the 43,000-45,000-year-old Ust’-Ishim specimen could only be a maximum of 230-430 generations after that initial Neandertal liaison, dating our movement out of Africa to no more than 50,000-55,000 years ago.
50,000 years, or more than 65,000 years?
Given the evidence is so strong that the ancestors of modern human populations only started moving around the world 50,000-55,000 years ago, could the human activity at Madjedbebe really be more than 65,000 years old?
One of the major limitations of the Madjedbebe study is that the stone artefacts themselves weren’t dated, just the surrounding sand layers.
As a result, over time, even the slightest downward movement of the artefacts within the unconsolidated sand layers at Madjedbebe would make them appear too old.
We identify a range of factors which are common around the site, such as termite burrowing and heavy rainfall, that could cause stone artefacts to sink.
Many archaeological signs suggest activity at Madjedbebe is actually much younger than 65,000 years, and overall, the extent to which the site is an outlier to the rest of the Australian record should raise a red flag.
Connection to country
Either way, Aboriginal Australians have effectively been on their country as long as modern human populations have been outside of Africa.
How does this help us better understand Aboriginal history? By appreciating the enormous depth of time that Aboriginal groups have been on their own particular country, and the extent to which all their history, knowledge, and ancestors form part of that country.
It is this gulf between a European history of constant migration and global dispersal, and the profoundly deep Aboriginal connection to one particular part of the world, that leads to failures to comprehend why being on country is not simply “a lifestyle choice”, but a fundamental part of their identity.
Dr Graham Brown, a research associate from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, was a contributor on this article.
Australian novelist Richard Flanagan says the Turnbull government wrote itself out of history and wasted a chance at reconciliation when it rejected last year’s Uluru Statement which recommended giving Aboriginal people a voice in parliament.
Mr Flanagan said most Australians didn’t know about and would be horrified at the full extent of massacres and “wars of extermination” that had never ended for Aboriginal people to this day.
“My warning is this: if we here in Australia do not re-imagine ourselves we will be undone,” he said.
The colonisation of Australia was wrong and illegal and more land should be handed back to traditional owners, says activist Galarrwuy Yunupingu.
Aboriginal leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu has told the federal government it must face up to the fact the colonisation of Australia was wrong and illegal and more land should be handed back to traditional owners.
Dr Yunupingu, a 70-year-old land rights activist and leader of the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people, opened the 20th Garma Festival in East Arnhem Land, where he made the remarks, on Friday.
Next week, art lovers from all over Australia (and the world) will gather in the Top End as Darwin hosts the 12th year of the prestigious Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) and is transformed into an internationally recognised epicentre of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) culture, art, fashion, music and food.
The only national event of its kind, DAAF generated a record $2.23 million in 2017 and a total of $8.83 million over the past five years and has secured a reputation as one of the country’s most significant and internationally recognised arts events
It’s set to be the largest one ever as, showcasing the work of more than 2000 Indigenous artists from across Australia with 100 per cent of revenue going back to remote communities.
It is an exciting week for Arnhem Land as 6 centres will be representing the region and showing off its own work at DAAF:
Bula’bula Arts (Ramingining)
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka (Yirrkala)
Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts (East Arnhem Land)
Injalak Arts (Galbanyala)
Ngukurr Arts Aboriginal Corporation (Ngukurr)
Milingimbi Art and Culture (East Arnhem Land)
Darwin will again be transformed into an internationally recognised epicentre of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) culture, art, fashion, music and food, as the Top End hosts the 12th Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) this August.
Created 12 years ago, DAAF has cemented itself as a platform to ethically promote the artwork of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Centres and communicate the important economic role they play in generating revenue for remote communities. It has also become a wider platform to discuss modern Indigenous culture, issues and ideas.
Growing annually and with almost 10,700 attendees in 2017, the 2018 DAAF will feature a selection of prestigious cultural events and activities, kicking off with the popular From Country to Couture fashion show on 8 August.
DAAF will showcase the work of more than 2000 Indigenous artists from across Australia, with 100 per cent of revenue going back to remote communities.
The only national event of its kind, DAAF generated a record $2.23 million in 2017 and a total of $8.83 million over the past five years and has secured a reputation as one of the country’s most significant and internationally recognised arts events.
Executive Director of DAAFF, Claire Summers, said she expected the New York Times’ recent recognition of the Top End as one of the “Top 52 Places to Go in 2018” would bolster already growing international visitor numbers this year.
“It was humbling to see DAAF named as one of the key reasons to visit the Top End, and fantastic to see our region receive such positive international endorsement,” she said. “We’ve been steadily building our international curator visitor numbers in recent years, and expect this to increase following the New York Times’ recognition.”
Each year DAAF showcases a spectacular diversity of artwork and provides visitors with a genuine opportunity to meet Indigenous artists, performers, and arts workers who have travelled to Darwin from some of the most remote regions of Australia.
This year’s calendar includes cultural performances, workshops and demonstrations, kids activity stations and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) panel discussion.
“DAAF provides a genuine opportunity for arts industry buyers and art and design aficionados to purchase art directly from Indigenous owned and incorporated Art Centres from right across Australia,” Ms Summers said.
“We have visitors come from all over the world for the opportunity to purchase stunning art and experience the rich diversity of artwork that has been inspired by Australia’s most remote desert and coastal regions, to rural and urban communities.”
DAAF offers a range of styles, mediums and products including paintings on canvas, bark paintings, works on paper including limited edition prints, sculpture, didgeridoos, fibre art and cultural regalia.
DAAF is held annually in August, and is proud to sit under the umbrella of the Darwin Festival. DAAF is owned and operated by a membership of ATSI Art Centres and its mission is to encourage the production of Aboriginal arts and assist with the promotion in an ethical business environment. DAAFF is committed to professional development opportunities for artists and Art Workers, and to continually contribute to the cultural aspirations of the Art Centres.
DAAF was originally conceived and designed to complement the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA). It also celebrates the National Indigenous Music Awards and the Garma Festival which are held over the same week. Together, these prestigious events mark the most significant national festival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts in the world. DAAF is also proudly supported as an umbrella event of the Darwin Festival.
For further information, visit www.daaf.com.au .
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“The kids are growing and not knowing how to write their own Yolngu Matha name,” laments Jane Miyatatawuy, a former teacher from the Top End coastal communities of Ramingining and Milingimbi.
In a step to providing better resources for children who speak Yolngu Matha languages, a new and improved illustrated dictionary has been created — containing close to 300 words and watercolour pictures.
Senior indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu has admonished Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten for the slow pace of indigenous constitutional recognition, almost a year after he believed both men were going to make the issue a priority in the parliament.
Penning a heartfelt chairman’s essay for his Yothu Yindi Foundation’s annual Garma Festival in August, Mr Yunupingu, a leader of Northeast Arnhem Land’s Yolngu people, expresses disappointment that the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have not translated their forceful words at last year’s event into adequate action.