Our History & Our Land

Prior to European settlement

In the year 1788, there were well over 500 Indigenous language groups (often incorrectly referred to as 'tribes') living in defined areas throughout Australia. Many of these language groups still exist today. The traditional lands of the Balabur, Bilbildjing, Mandangala, Neminuwarlin, Tiltuwum, Upper Jimbila and Yunurr peoples covered hundreds of kilometres including areas now designated as major towns, National Parks, pastoral and mining leases. The people of these three language groups maintain a strong culture by continuing their unique relationship with their lands that dates back more than 18,000 years.

Connection to Country

For Traditional Owners of the Argyle Participation Agreement, the land is extremely sacred and significant: it holds burial sites, ceremonial grounds, hunting places, history and stories of creation. The landforms are all part of the creation and hold utmost importance. As custodians of the land, Traditional Owners have certain obligations to care for the resting places of their spiritual ancestors and to ensure the land continues to be plentiful. Land is not something they own, but something that is a part of them and over which they have traditional rights. It is the basis of their spirituality. As custodians of the creation stories, the Balabur, Bilbildjing, Mandangala, Neminuwarlin, Tiltuwum, Upper Jimbila and Yunurr peoples have obligations to conduct ceremonies. To satisfy these, they need to visit the land.

Different Boundaries

A common misunderstanding amongst mainstream Australia was that Aboriginal people did not own land and just wandered around. This myth has come about because Indigenous people did not mark out their lands in ways that were obvious to Europeans.

There were no fences or barriers as in the traditional European way of marking land ownership and so the Europeans concluded that no one owned the land. In fact, Indigenous people had their own way of dividing areas into traditional lands by using geographic boundaries such as rivers, lakes and mountains. The knowledge about boundaries was then passed down by the Elders to the younger people through songs, dance, art and storytelling.

For Aboriginal people there is a common belief that we came from the land on which we live, and that we have occupied that land since the creation era known as the Dreaming. It is believed that during this time, spirit beings roamed across the land performing certain actions that modified or created natural features, made waterholes, springs and rivers, and filled the whole land with a spirituality that remains vitally potent to this day.

There is no, one Dreaming that is accepted by all Aboriginal people as the 'creation story'. This concept is recognised by different names in different areas.

In the time of creation, Spirit Beings roamed across the land modifying or creating natural features: waterholes, springs, hills, rocks and rivers. These Beings, who are able to change between human forms, spirits, animals, plants and rocks, filled the land with a spirituality that remains vitally potent. Whilst the different stories of creation provides a framework for Aboriginal people to explain and relate to times long ago or to the time of their grandparents, it also provides an important link to the present. Aboriginal people do not think of this time of creation in the past tense, it is something that is, was, and will continue to be into the future.

Native Title

In the Kimberley, Aboriginal people were able to remain on their traditional land by working on pastoral stations until 1966. Few indigenous people left their country, except those children who were removed by the authorities. When native title became a possibility, the boundaries of each language group became a recognized geographical reality as claims were registered with the National Native Title Tribunal.