Written by Aunty Munya Andrews
The name Australia is a colonial term. Possibly because it was not taught in schools, many Australians don’t know where the term comes from or what it means. It comes from the Latin for Terra Australis Incognito or Unknown Southern Land.
Most people get the Terra Australis part but often leave out the ‘Unknown’. They also often mistake it for ‘Great Southern Land’ as in the pop song by Australian rock band Icehouse. I say to people, it’s important to refer to the whole phrase Terra Australis Incognito because of its implications for Australia being declared Terra Nullius – Empty Land or ‘Land belonging to no one’, by the invaders. Matthew Flinders populated the term Australia by placing its name on the maps he drew.
Australia was not unknown, unsettled or unnamed by its Indigenous people
In the Kimberley, where I am from, this land is known as Bandaiyan. Bandaiyan incorporates the Gaia concept that the land is a living, breathing, sacred and sentient being. Bandaiyan is a bisexual being lying on thier back in the Southern Indian and Pacific oceans. its head is in the north, its lungs extend across the Pilbara, Northern Territory and Queensland. Uluru is not the heart of Australia as the tourist industry would have you believe but is instead the naval or sacred omphalos. The southern states represent the genital region and Tasmania is not forgotten as its legs extend out under the Southern Ocean where its left foot pops up.
What is the significance of the Rainbow Snake?
Within the body of Bandaiyan lies the Rainbow Snake, the supreme creator. Right across Australia, Aboriginal people have stories about the Rainbow Snake who is said to have created our world. As Worrora Elder, David Mowaljarlai from the Kimberly writes in Yorro Yorro, “She grows all of nature outside of her body”.
What does this teach us?
What’s interesting about this Aboriginal model of Australia is that it demonstrates that Indigenous people were aware of the length and breadth of this country. It also reveals how Aboriginal people as far away as the Kimberly’s knew of the existence of Tasmania through their songlines and trading routes.