Culture is defined as ‘that integrated whole that includes beliefs, knowledge, arts and other forms of expression, handed down through the generations’. It includes the many stories, songs, dances and paintings that represent cultural knowledge, power and identity. Culture is traditional. Culture is contemporary. Culture is always ‘living’, breathing and transmuting.
The time-depth of culture for Aboriginal Australia stretches back approximately 75,000 years. It is one of the oldest living, continuous cultures on the planet.
When we talk of Aboriginal Australia, the term ‘culture’ becomes inseparable from discussions about Land or ‘Country’ and the clan’s spiritual relationship to these spaces. Such spaces can include seas, cosmology, landscapes, people, flora and the fauna. It can also include totemic designs, the highly encoded drawings that explain clan ownership to lands and clan membership. All of these parts are viewed as an interconnected whole by the Anindilyakwa people.
Here at the ALC, the economies, technologies, values and other ‘domains of social and cognitive organisation’ are also viewed as part of the term ‘culture’. Today, these domains are being researched, described and recorded in digital format to enable the safekeeping and transmission of culture, into the future.
We are still researching the length of time that the Groote Archipelago has been occupied by the Anindilyakwa people. To do this, we turn to the elders, their language, oral histories, genealogies, rock art, artefacts, burial grounds and occupation sites, in the hope that we will unlock the island’s time capsules. However, there are some secrets that we may never know.
Groote Eylandt culture is highly gender separate with different types and degrees of knowledge disseminated to each gender within an age aggregate. The anthropology department hires a team of male and female cultural anthropologists who work to engage with key elders and community members to research, record and retain elements of their traditional culture, deemed of significance to them. This invaluable record of research, where deemed un-restricted, may one day be available to the broader Australian academic community and potentially the world. Other, highly restricted particulars of knowledge are preserved for posterity in safe-keeping places and in our cultural centres.