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Arrente Women Dancing
Arrente Women Dancing, 1901

Women have their own ceremonies, with dances and decorations exclusively female. Spencer viewed one of the non-secret corroboree dances performed by Arrente women at Charlotte Waters; he was not overly impressed by the dance, which he thought monotonous because it consisted simply of the women swaying their bodies in unison, (l but he regarded the women's decorations as worthy of attention. Each woman had a broad, white band of down across her forehead, - in this case obtained from the rabbit, which has recently invaded the central area. The white fur on its tail is much appreciated...for decorative purposes. Each woman wore also a long string, made out of the same material, hanging pendent from the head-band over the shoulders on each side. Altogether the decorations of the women shown in the photograph must have represented several hundred rabbits. Every performer had a double continuous band of plant down running across the forehead and over the bridge of the nose. The other decorations consisted of lines of the same, the design varying to a certain extent on the different performers. In all there was a series running from the top of the shoulder on to the breast, where, except in one instance, they terminated abruptly against the upper side of an oblong drawn transversely across the breast. Other lines ran between these from side to side across the chest. On the upper part of the abdomen there was an isolated design which usually had the form of an oblong with one or more lines running horizontally across it. In one case the design had the form of a horseshoe, and in the other of an inverted T. On each thigh there was drawn an elongate ellipse.(2
(1 'Journal 1, Spencer-Gillen' Expedition, 1901-2, p 20
(2 'The Northern Tribes of Central Australia', pp 720-2

Keywords: aborigines, anthropology, Arrente, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, Central Australia, cultural preservation, culture, custom, Northern Territory, 1901

Photograph: Arrente women dancing to the music made by the men. Gillen records the dance was called the Unintha corroboree. Charlotte Waters, April, 1901. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor
© Museum Victoria