Aboriginal sacred sites are a contentious political issue in Australia, largely because of the cultural clashes that involve mining and other land development projects. Our people have been wrongly accused of fabricating stories about sacred sites to halt these initiatives, with disastrous consequences for everyone. The Hindmarsh Island (Kumarangk) fiasco is a perfect example of this. There are many others. What these cases reveal is not only a clash of cultural values but a total lack of understanding and respect of Aboriginal religious beliefs and practices. This chapter is an attempt to provide some basic understanding of what sacred sites are and why they are so important to our spiritual well-being.
I’m often asked: If all land is sacred to Aboriginal people, how is it that there are sacred ‘sites’? Isn’t this a contradiction? The term can be misleading because it implies that only a specific territorial tract of land is special as opposed to the entire continent. A more useful way to think about sacred sites is as places of power. These are places where the ancestral earth energies are highly concentrated at a certain spot that has spiritual meaning or associations connected to a Dreamtime story. As you travel along a songline, you will inevitably encounter these special places where a certain event occurred involving a creator. It may be where a dance or song was created or where some other significant event transpired. As part of the act of creation, a creator will leave behind energetic residue at that location. This is what is commonly referred to as the Dreaming of that place. In concentrated form this residue is so powerful it can overwhelm and disorient a person, especially if they are uninitiated in law from that area. And because sites are categorised according to gender, someone of the wrong sex approaching it may be spiritually and psychologically affected because they have ignored cultural protocols.
A young man from Noonkanbah in the Kimberley told me a story of the land changing its appearance before his very eyes so that he got lost. His explanation for losing his way was couched in spiritual terms of country having the power to do this. According to my teacher, David Mowarljarlai our gi (spirit) pushes us back. He says, “If you don’t have enough energy to concentrate, it pushes you back, can make you confused, even changing the painting or the area so it can’t be recognised.” Some Aboriginal people are afraid of the bush for these reasons. Ultimately there is nothing to be afraid of as my teacher, David Mowarljarlai would often say, “Munya, the bush gives us power.” This explains why you feel so refreshed and rejuvenated there. You may think you are going on a bush walk but you are doing much more than that – you are walking in the footsteps of our Ancestors for they are your Ancestors too, not just mine.
Has this article piqued your interest? If so there are many more stories like this in my book Journey into Dreamtime, available here.
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