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January 12, 2018

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Cultural Burning as Heritage Preservation: An Archaeologist's 'View'

July 22, 2019

In the Esperance region of southwestern Australia, while standing atop a large granite dome several hundred meters above an expansive coastal plain, you see the panoramic views of the integrated cultural landscape of the Esperance Tjaltjraak Traditional Owners.  Isolated blue-grey granite monoliths dot the landscape, places of spiritual significance, associated with traditional names and stories, of history, heritage and connection.  Below, you see creeks running across the plain, lined with an array of flowering trees and an incredible variety of shrubs and plants that make up this biodiversity hotspot. 


You see circular freshwater pools, stained tan brown with the fringing tea tree and swamp paperbarks, and gently swaying reeds and rushes in between.  You see the patches of flat granite outcrops, shimmering in the open sun by the water that has pooled in shallow depressions, and some deeper waterholes, created by the Ancestral Tjaltjraak, capped with granite slabs, are gently overflowing from the last series of winter storms - the freshest of water.  You turn north to see the Mallee Country blur into the bright blue-sky horizon.  You turn south to the view the flooded landscape that is now an archipelago of one hundred granite domes floating on the ocean, beyond only Antarctica. 


And then, after spending years walking and exploring this land with the People, you also see the movement, a network of slowly rising smoke from small fire hearths as small family groups prepare a morning meal of freshly smoked fish, dried wallaby, wattle-seed damper, swan eggs, bush tomatoes, salted, native asparagus, youaq (a native carrot, Platysace) and djeeljiri cakes (macrozamia), and sweet, vitamin-rich native plum.    


You see a group of young fellas run off from camp, darting through the bush, laughing and shouting with their stone-barbed spears, following a well worn path that links this summer camp to a flat granite outcrop, crosses between two large swamps, and keeps going to the next granite dome by the coast – Mandoweernup.  They're not allowed to go there they know, as its close to ceremony time. When western rivers mob from Walitch Brenweenerup journey over for trade, feasting, dancing. 


As they ran, one quickly scurried off the track, chasing a fat kurda (monitor lizard) that ran onto a small granite outcrop, set already with five or so traps, and the unlucky lizard scuttled under one such trap, thinking it safe.  But this young girl followed it flicked the carefully placed pedestals propping up the granite slab, pinning the kurda (monitor lizard), and she skillfully stabbed her long-barbed spear into the front side of the kurda, pulling it out still attached to her shaft, whooping with delight.  The others smiled as she held it a loft, then broke its neck and tied it to her skin belt.   She took off with a skip back to her friends, then remembered her Elders’ words, and ran back to re-prop the lizard trap. 


An Elder laying down on his grass tree and paperbark bed, just outside his small, durable mia mia - made up of flexible tea-tree bent across each other and lined with the water resilient and fire resistant paperbark - hollers at the kulyungars as they run off, telling them to be quieter. But they already too far gone, so he grumbles and puts his head back down, warm and content in the rising sunshine, and pulls his yonga (kangaroo) boka (cloak) down off his shoulders, ready to recommence his snores.  He glances over at his old hunting partner, yokin/dwert (dingo), who always sat proudly, ready, but just out of camp on the nearby rocky outcrops, and they nodded at each other.