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Arrente Family - Alice Springs
Arrente Family - Alice Springs, 1896

'It is the season which determines the movements and the camping grounds of Aboriginal groups within their own area of a tribe's territory. (1 When food and water are plentiful camping sites will be spread over a wide area and communication will be limited, apart from times when important ceremonies involving all tribal members are held. In times of drought people will concentrate in areas where water and game are assured, such as permanent waterholes. Wherever a local group establishes its camp each family will have its own shelter of boughs, or mia mia, as a protection against the winds of winter and the summer sun. (3 Within the camp life assumes a routine disturbed only by occasional ceremonies and dances, or by the need or desire to pay visits to people at other camps. (4 The distribution of people over the camping ground is not a random process or a matter of families selecting their neighbours by choice.

... every camp that is of any size and occupied for any length of time is really divided into two, though the division often depends on a natural feature and is not noticeable as being made deliberately. The whole tribe is divided into two main groups. If you are passing by a camp in hilly country, you may notice that some Mia-mias are on the flat, others on the higher ground, or some will be built on one side of a small stream, others on the other, . . Everything is more or less definitely arranged. If you spend any time in a camp of any size you notice that there are, at any rate, two special wurleys, or Mia-mias, set quite apart from one another and bigger than the others. You will see that that one is strictly confined to men, the other to women and children. The former is the Ungunja of the men, -the latter the Lukwurra of the women. (5'
(1 'Across Australia', p233
(2 Ibid.
(3 Ibid.
(4 Ibid. p247
(5 'Wanderings in Wild Australia', p207

Keywords: aborigines, anthropology, anthropology, Arrente, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, Central Australia, culture, 1896

Photograph: Arrente family with possessions in front of a bough shelter. The man is smoothing a spear shaft, while a woman is grinding seed. Alice Springs, 1896. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria.
Author: Nettheim, Garth