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Aboriginal people in the Red Centre

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The Red Centre includes the lands inhabited by the “Anangu”, which simply means “Aboriginal people” in the languages of the Western Desert. Tribes include the Arrernte from the Alice Springs area, Luritja from the Papunya area, the Pitjantjatjara from the region stretching from Uluru/Yulara to Docker River, and the Yankuntjatjara and Antakarinja, from the areas in between. Notwithstanding massacres as late as 1928, the Aborigines of the central deserts were fortunate in being among the last to come into contact with white settlers, by which time the exterminations of the nineteenth century had passed and anthropologists like Ted Strehlow were busy recording the “dying race”. However, their isolation is thought to have made adjustment to modern life more challenging for them than for Aborigines of the northern coast, whose contact with foreigners stretches back to before European colonization.

At the centre of Anangu life and society is the concept known as Tjukurpa, sometimes translated as “Dreamtime”. It’s a complex concept that encompasses the past, present and future; the creation period when the ancestral beings (Tjukaritja) created the world; the relationship between people, plants, animals and the land; and the knowledge of how these relationships formed, what their meaning was, and how they should be maintained through daily life and ceremony. In Aboriginal society their stories (which can sound simplistic when related to tourists) acquire more complex meanings as an individual’s level of knowledge increases with successive initiations. When you visit the Uluru–Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre, join an Anangu tour, and read the interpretive signs at the base of the Rock to learn about Tjukaritja such as the Mala (rufous hare wallaby), Liru (venomous snake), Kuniya (python) and Kurpany (monster dog).

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